Grumpy delights in bringing to your attention little-known plants worthy of your garden. Here is one such character that needs little care, thrives in heat and drought, and blooms off and on all summer.
Call it Texas ranger, Texas sage, or cenizo -- it's safe to say that unless you live in Texas and Mexico, where it's native, you probably aren't familiar with this shrub. But that doesn't mean you can't grow it. Winter-hardy in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South (USDA Zones 8-11), it needs only sun and well-drained soil. And if winters are too cold where you live (it's hardy down to 10 degrees), you can grow it in a container and bring it indoors to a bright window until spring.
In its natural form, Texas ranger (Leucophyllum frutescens) grows into an oval to rounded, medium-sized shrub from 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. A compact form well-suited to containers called 'Compactum' grows about half as big. Fuzzy, soft, silvery-green leaves cover the branches. Texas ranger has a peculiar, but welcome habit of blooming several days after a rain, smothering the branches with showy, purple flowers about an inch long. This trait gives it yet another nickname, "barometer bush."
Here's a pretty Texas ranger blooming now on our Southern Living grounds in Birmingham, Alabama. It gets no special attention and I have yet to notice a single bug or fungus that bothers it. Because it blooms off and on according to the rain, you can prune it nearly anytime of the year. But really, it doesn't need much cutting at all.
Good drainage is the key to keeping it alive. It'll survive on 15 inches of rain a year or 55. But it won't last long in heavy, soggy soil.
Where To Buy Check out home and garden centers first. Like I said, it's quite common in Texas -- a mainstay in xeriscapes -- but I've also seen it for sale where I live. You can also try a couple of mail-order sources -- Stokes Tropicals, Plant Lust, and TopTropicals.
Do You Love Hummingbirds?
Of course, you do! Well, if you're anywhere near Holly Springs, Mississippi (just southeast of Memphis) on September 11-13, you should check out the annual Hummingbird Festival at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center. Each year, around 10,000 visitors congregate there to witness the migration (and banding) of ruby-throated hummingbirds. For details, just click here.