22 March 2009


Some of the plants in our yard aren't really known for their showy flowers, but their flowers are important nonetheless. Take, for example, our native yaupon, Ilex vomitoria. These small trees and shrubs are known for the bright red berries that last all winter long - both beautiful in the brownish winter landscape and also important bird food.

I planted a few dwarf yaupons recently (Ilex vomitoria 'Nana,' I think). I've heard that the dwarfs are generally male, and they are good to have around because the females need the males to make berries (yaupons are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are different plants).

Our dwarves are in full bloom with tiny white flowers.

The larger varieties I have planted around that I know to be female ('Pride of Houston,' I think), aren't flowering yet.

They are covered in buds alone. So, the males and females are out of sync in our yard this year. Perhaps the male flowers stay open later and their pollen will be around once these females' bloom. I doubt these are wind pollinated - those white petals are trying to attract some kind of pollinator - but I've yet to see any critters on the flowers.

The native Texas persimmon, Diospyros texana, is another dioecious tree that has visually inconspicuous flowers. Tiny they may be, but they are extremely fragrant, and smell a little like honeysuckle. The POs planted a persimmon in our yard that I believe to be a male. It flowers every year but never produces the black, sweet fruit that a female would. In bloom, I can smell this tree from the house.

The nearest female tree that I'm aware of is probably about 1 mile away, planted in the front yard of someone in our hood. I don't know if our pollen makes it that far, but bees (native and European) can roam far and wide. It definitely reminds me that, as a gardener, my yard is part of a larger ecosystem. The plants that we plant here in our yard are interacting with those sprouting up between cracks in the asphalt, growing along our creeks, and most importantly, living in our neighbors' yards (since yards most definitely dominate the landscape).

Without this connection to others of its kind, a plant is simply ornament. Like an ex-pat who doesn't speak Spanish sitting alone in a cafe in Mexico City, a plant out of its context is a lonely being. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, particularly after reading Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, but Douglas Tallamy.

But, I digress.

Here's another dioecious tree native to our area, the southern wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera.

These female flowers are not conspicuous, nor do they have a scent. I've never seen a pollinator on them, and all this leads me to believe these are wind pollinated. These flowers will eventually produce clusters of plump blue-gray berries held tight to the stem if there is a male nearby. Another favorite of the birds.

On a parting note, this is a plant that I believe to be lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata), and I bought it because I really wanted a groundcover that would spread around and explode in light blue flowers in spring, timed with the yellow columbine.

Strangely, I've never seen these have blue flowers; they send up flowering stalks but nothing blue ever happens there. They are spreading around, so I know they are producing seeds, and they have a nice leaf. But still, I wonder what's going on with that. Maybe I'm just missing them...

And here's a shot of a stone path, Texas betony (not native to our area, but loved by hummingbirds and humans) blooming in the foreground with the tall perfect yellow columbine going strong at the bend in the road.


Jennings said...

Hi, Lee,
You educated me in male/fem plants, importance of knowing you're part of the larger ecosystem. Thanks!

Rock rose said...

That's interesting what you say about never having seen the flowers of the lyre leaf sage. I have the same experience. Seed heads form and I wonder why I didn't see the flowers and as you say it seeds around all over the place. I must pay closer attention this year.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Lee. Lots of good info. I hadn't noticed whether the Texas persimmons in my yard are blooming, and I haven't noticed a fragrance, but I will be sure to look tomorrow.

That sure does look like lyre-leaf sage. I had some in my old garden, and it did bloom, but frankly it was pretty inconspicuous and the bloom period was short. I didn't bring any with me to the new garden. However, the foliage is pretty by itself.

Cindy, MCOK said...

Lee, last year was the first time I saw the blooms on my Mexican/Texas persimmons. I missed seeing them again this year but the calyces (I guess that's what they are) are shedding everywhere.

The lyre leaf sage blooms are tiny and a pale lavender/blue. There's a hybrid variety called Purple Knockout Sage whose blooms are a bit more noticeable. Both of them seem to go to seed VERY quickly, though.

Nancy said...

Last year I had a little group of this wonderfully pale blue flowers that I had to search for their identity. They were Venus's Looking Glass and seeded themselves. I had a few come back this year dispite the drought and hope they are permanent. I love your blog! Thank you so much!


Mary Beth said...

I planted Pride of Houston Yaupons five years ago and have not been blessed with one single berry - the nuseryman told me to plant any type of Yaupons so 18 months ago, we put in a bunch of dwarf yaupons. I have my fingers crossed for this year - Sounds like you have a hold on Yaupons and their habits. I'd love any suggestions you have!