Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Thursday - March 24, 2005

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Water Gardens, Cacti and Succulents, Ferns
Title: Tropical-looking landscape in Austin, TX
Answered by: Joe Marcus and Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I'd like to have a tropical-looking landscape in my front yard. What plants would you recommend for Austin, Texas? I would prefer plants that can stay outside year-round, but will take suggestions on any kind of plant that will thrive outdoors in full to partial sun. I'd also like to know if bird-of-paradise is a good option. I saw a lot of them planted in the ground in San Diego, and their winters seemed just about as cold as ours.

ANSWER:

There are several suggestions for native Texas plants to give your yard a tropical look. For instance, you might consider:

Palmetto (Sabal minor),
Texas palm (S. mexicana),
Spanish dagger (Yucca treculeana),
ferns such as cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), and
heartleaf hibiscus (Hibiscus martianus).

We wouldn't really recommend Bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia reginae) for Austin since it is non-native (from South Africa), but also because we are too far north and too dry for it. A hard winter would do it in. Austin's summers are probably just as big a problem for many non-native tropical plants as its winters. Our summers are so hot and dry that many tropical plants succumb to desiccation. Likewise, our winters are not usually very humid so that desiccation, as well as freezing, are problems for evergreen tropicals. The tropical look you are trying to achieve will require more maintenance and resources if you use non-native tropical plants.

You might try visiting some of the better (locally-owned) garden centers in the area. The tropical look is popular and the Austin garden centers are used to accommodating such requests and stock plants, both native and non-native, for that specific purpose. You can find a list of native plant nurseries in Texas on the Wildflower Center web page and Native Plant and Seed Sources for Texas from the Texas Parks & Wildlife web page.

Finally, If you were interested in creating a water garden, you would have a number of choices for "tropical-looking" native plants. For instance, you could consider:

pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata),
one of the Texas arrowheads, such as duck-potato (Sagittaria latifolia),
one of the Texas horsetails, such as field horsetail (Equisetum arvense),
water lilies, such as American water lily (Nympaea odorata) or the yellow water lotus (Nelumbo lutea),
and larger plants such as marshmallow hibiscus

The Austin Pond Society web page has links to regional water gardening nurseries where you might find these recommended native plants.

 

More Cacti and Succulents Questions

Plants to accompany cactus and agave
October 09, 2005 - What plants would look well with cactus and agave to soften the look of spikiness? Also, a homeowner in our association wants the association to plant a pyracantha at the corner of the street to preve...
view the full question and answer

Native perennial winter plants for Waco, TX
November 03, 2004 - I live in the Waco area, and would like to know winter plants that I could use that would come back each year, flowering or otherwise.
view the full question and answer

Skin Reaction form Cochineal on Prickly Pear
February 16, 2015 - I have severe burning and peeling skin on pads of fingers after touching "white stuff" on a prickly pear. White stuff tuned purple then burned skin even after washing hands. Skin has been cracking a...
view the full question and answer

Black rot at center of Agave from Clovis CA
May 12, 2013 - We have some beautiful variegated "Green & Cream" Agave plants in our cactus garden. One in particular has done quite well for several years and is the largest, about 18" tall & across, it has neve...
view the full question and answer

Trimming freeze-damaged Agave Americana in Alvarado TX
April 08, 2010 - What is the best way to trim Agave Americana cactus? The freeze this winter when it snowed has caused the leaves to die towards the bottom of the plant.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.