Six Native Texas Plants that Can Tolerate Flood and Drought
Texas weather can be fickle to extremes, especially when compounded with global climate change and changes in storm patterns. In the past year Central Texas and the southwest experienced both extended drought and historical flooding resulting in altered landscape conditions. ESC has observed a few plants in both our residential landscape projects and ecological restoration efforts that have achieved a “strong future” status in response to unpredictable weather extremes. The six examples below are just a few possibilities.
Tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)
Tropical sage, a member of the mint family, has showy red blooms making it a great hummingbird plant. It is also deer resistant. It often blooms year-round. This 12”-30” tall, somewhat bushy plant likes shade or partial shade, but has been known to thrive in full sun as well. It can withstand brief periods of water inundation and likes relatively moist soil, but is also one of the last to die back in extreme drought. Germination is typically quick from seed, but 4” or 1 gallon stock is also available from area native plant nurseries. Be sure to ask for the species native to Texas, as cultivars have emerged in the nursery industry.
Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora)
Sometimes considered a pest in traditional monoculture lawns, this low growing member of the verbena family thrives in full sun and part shade, making it a good groundcover companion to the more shade-friendly (and also somewhat flood/drought tolerant) straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis. The white, almost cylindrical blooms (appearing May-Oct.) attract butterflies and other pollinators. In cold winters the green leaves can take on an interesting purple tinge. Frogfruit can tolerate extended flood inundation and yet survives even our hottest, most extended droughts. 4” flats are available at native plant nurseries, but it also transplants well from salvage areas.
Big muhly (Mulhenbergia lindheimeri)
An attractive climax grass, big muhly has been an ornamental favorite for decades. It typically grows from 2’-4’, and has fine, blue-green leaves. It is deer resistant and the showy seed heads attract pollinators from May-Oct. Big muhly likes sunny areas and xeric conditions, but can also withstand moderate to extended flooding. Its deep, fibrous roots also help stabilize soils and prevent erosion. Many people cut the plant back in winter, however pulling out dead thatch from within the plant is all that’s necessary to keep it thriving. Big muhly is available from native plant nurseries in 1 gallon and sometimes 5 gallon sizes. Seed is a bit harder to come by, but scattering just a handful from an existing plant (especially living in similar conditions to yours) can yield results over time.
Bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus)
Mainly a full sun, wetland edge, bar ditch, and prairie pocket plant, bushy bluestem has a surprising resilience during drought conditions in part due to its deep and fibrous root system and efficient dormancy period. This relatively tall grass starts with young blue-green leaves that turn a remarkable shade of deep copper in fall and winter. The fluffy, copper-white seedheads put on a striking display in low-angle winter sunlight. It is largely deer resistant and attracts butterflies and other pollinators, as well as many birds. Native plant nurseries typically sell bushy bluestem in 1 gallon and 5 gallon sizes, however wild harvested seed is also a viable method of propagation.
Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)
The ancient horsetail plant is another native species that thrives in wetland edge and ephemeral conditions. It can be resilient to drought, though results can vary. It is a unique, reed-like plant that fits well in situations where a more defined structure is desired. The high silica content in the stems make it very deer resistant. Also known as “scouring rush” for its abrasive properties it was used by Native American tribes. It does not “bloom” but instead produces cones. Because horsetail can sometimes spread aggressively in long-term sustained moisture we suggest using resilient companion plantings or hardscape barriers. Nurseries sell horsetail plants in small containers, but propagation from salvaged material is just as viable (even if it dies back briefly). Plant one and see how quickly the dragonflies arrive to enjoy a new perch.
Roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii)
Many woody species can tolerate both flood and drought due to deep root systems and efficient dormancy regimes, but roughleaf dogwood is a particularly strong performer in this regard. This small tree/shrub stands between 10’ and 25’ when fully grown, and is often found at creek edges. Its clusters of small white flowers appear in mid to late spring. The flowers the benefit butterfly species and the following fruit clusters provide food for birds. It is deciduous, with leaves turning reddish/purple in the fall. Roughleaf dogwood spreads through runners and the suckers may need to be cut back back. Roughleaf dogwood is commonly available from native plant nurseries in 5 gallon to 30 gallon sizes. Note that this plant is not deer resistant, so some browsing may occur during times and places when deer forage is scarce.