If scavenging deer, ravenous insects, scorching sun or freaky frosts have ever threatened the existence of your favorite flowering plants, don’t despair. Native plants are superheroes waiting to defeat them all.
Here are three that sport crackling red blooms and thrive despite their natural predators.
Flame Acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii) is one of the first native plants we introduced into our garden over 20 years ago. It has survived extreme temperature swings, the flooding of Hurricane Harvey and the deadly freeze of 2019. It has not suffered any discernible damage from insects or disease.
Growing a modest 3 feet by 4 feet, Flame Acanthus is a multi-stemmed, woody shrub. It is deciduous and should be cut back by two-thirds in late winter to encourage bushy growth and increase flowering. It loves well-drained soil and full sun, but also tolerates shade. Its fallen seeds produce some slender offspring, but it is non-invasive. Dried, brown seed pods can be collected before they open for saving and planting the following spring.
Flame Acanthus doesn’t interest deer, but hummingbirds, butterflies and bees seek nectar from its red flowers. It is host plant for purple spotted and Texas crescent butterflies. It is a well-behaved, long-lived, and pollinator-friendly addition to any landscape.
The Turk’s Cap Lily (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is also a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub that should be cut back in late winter. However, its varieties range in size from three feet tall to over five feet.
The main attribute of the Turk’s hat is its ability to bloom profusely in full shade. Its flowers are not flat but have the petals wrapped around their center, forming a tube. Pollen-tipped stamens protrude from the end of the tube and look like adornments on turbans, hence the name “Turk’s Hat”. The common green-leaved variety produces fiery red flowers, but others available include one with pink flowers and a “Fiesta” with variegated leaves.
The Turk’s cap can be propagated by picking its small, red, fully ripe fruits in autumn. These must be dried until the pulp can be removed from the seeds. Turk’s cap seeds are sensitive to cold. The soil must be thoroughly warmed and the threat of frost passed before they are planted.
Although small and mealy, the fruit is edible. Its apple scent gave it its Spanish name Manzanita, “little apple”. Hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy its flower nectar and it is a host plant for skipper white butterflies. It’s deer proof.
The most unusual of our three red-flowering plants is the coral bean (Erythrina herbacea). It can grow into a 10 foot tall tree or be trimmed into a shrub. In early spring, large flowers appear on bare branches. Composed of many individual scrolls of scarlet petals, they are spectacular in an otherwise dead landscape.
Heart-shaped leaves with soft thorns on the stems emerge next. In late summer, accumulating seed pods form. When each 6i to 8 inch pod ripens black, the pods burst open revealing cream-colored linings. The bright red beans appear glued to the very edge of each pod.
Important warning, the red beans are very poisonous. Do not place this plant or its seeds in places accessible to children, livestock or pets. Seeds collected from pods have an extremely hard outer layer that needs to be cut or filed and soaked in water for several days before planting.
Put this plant where you want it. Over time, it gets wider with more stems. Deer don’t mind.
I hope you see more natives like these three plants as hardy, beautiful, and virtually carefree additions to your garden. You’re worth it.
The Gardeners’ Dirt was written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational initiative of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Submit your questions to Advocate, PO Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or email@example.com, or comment on this column on VictoriaAdvocate.com.