En Español

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?


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

Wednesday - September 23, 2009

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Native specimen tree for Houston, Texas
Answered by: Janice Kvale


Looking for recommendations for a specimen tree to flank our front steps. Evergreen, 15 feet tall, maybe 10 feet wide. Will be near icee blue Japanese yews and nearly wild rose bushes. Ideas?


The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is devoted to the preservation and cultivation of North American native plant species. Native plants are often more tolerant of regional variations in moisture and soil. The landscape specimens you already have, though non-native, present an attractive picture. The following suggestions for evergreen shrubs and trees are all native to your southeast area of Texas. They should thrive in full sun (6 or more hours per day) or part shade (2-6 hours of daily sun) and dry soil. In terms of size, judicious periodic pruning can keep a potentially taller speciman close to 15 feet. Likewise, a slender speciman may require more than one plant to grow 10 feet wide. Therefore some attractive, but not 10 X 15 foot trees are listed. Before you make your final decision, you may want to visit our Plant Database and read the full description of the possiblilties. Just type in the scientific or popular name of the plant to read the description. Here is our list:

Described as a specimen tree, Magnolia virginiana (sweetbay) is actually semi-evergreen. Similar to the larger magnolia tree, it is an excellent size for your location with multiple slender trunks and horizontal branches. The fragrant white flowers are open during the day from April through July. One of my evergreen favorites is Sophora secundiflora (Texas mountain-laurel) with its fragrant purple flowers blooming in February and March. The size closely fits your specification both by height and width, as does Ilex vomitoria (yaupon).This tree produces white blossoms in April and May yielding brilliant red berries that persist through winter and are popular as decor at Christmas. Most nurseries stock female trees but a male is needed for it to produce the berries. Because it is such a popular landscape speciman, there may be a male tree somewhere in the neighborhood. Or you could plant a trio of these trees. Also in this size range is Pistacia mexicana (American pistachio), which is evergreen in south Texas. This is another speciman that produces fruit only on female trees and while handsome as an ornamental, it is not a common landscape tree. This may not be a problem as the foliage is a showy dark red in the spring making the clusters of tiny white blossoms that persist from March through August less important. If a conversation piece is your goal, Aralia spinosa (devil's walkingstick) is an accent ornamental with white blossoms from June to August. It tends to be aggressive and will need occasional discouragement from taking over your space. 

This next group of trees are in a bigger size class but may serve your purposes with periodic pruning.  Ehretia anacua (knockaway) is a popular subtropical ornamental in Texas. While it remains evergreen, it replaces its leaves each spring and has white blooms each April. Multiple trunks give it width. White blooms June through August also grace Ebenopsis ebano (Texas ebony), a dense bushy tree providing shade. The Juniperus virginiana (eastern redcedar) is a possibility though it will present less contrast in your grouping since you already have the yew, which is similar in coloring if not size. With graceful branches and profuse yellow blossoms from April through August, Parkinsonia aculeata (Jerusalem thorn) can provide a pleasant contrast in your grouping. Keeping it pruned to 15 feet may be the only concern as it is a relatively care free plant to grow.

Once you have selected two or three specimans to investigate further, you will want to search for a supplier. Check our Suppliers list for your area. The supplier may also have experience with these plants in Houston and be able to provide you with more information. Best of luck with your project!

Magnolia virginiana

Sophora secundiflora

Ilex vomitoria

Pistacia mexicana

Aralia spinosa

Ehretia anacua

Ebenopsis ebano

Juniperus virginiana

Parkinsonia aculeata




More Trees Questions

Honeybees swarming around galls on oak trees
September 28, 2015 - A large number of honeybees have descended on a live oak tree in my backyard. They appear to be feeding on the numerous galls on the tree as if they were flowers. What's going on?
view the full question and answer

Tulip tree with white spots on leaves in Mississippi
July 31, 2008 - I have a tulip tree in my yard that blooms in the spring that is about 10-15 years old. However just this past week or so we have noticed that there is lots of white spots on the leaves and the branc...
view the full question and answer

Why is non-native peach tree not going dormant in Owensville IN
December 19, 2011 - I have a peach tree I grew from a peach pit. It is about 2 years old. I planted the tree in my yard this summer. It is now about 3' tall. My problem is it is not going dormant. We have had several fr...
view the full question and answer

Transplanting crabapple tree from root sprouts
March 24, 2005 - I have a Crabapple tree that is sending up sapling shoots. Can these be dug up and planted?
view the full question and answer

Austrian pine in landscape in Denver CO?
May 30, 2009 - I'm relandscaping my yard and want to use all or mostly native plants, as I want to create a wildlife. My landscape designer has indicated she wants me to use Austrian Pine in as a specimen tree in t...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center