En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
1 rating

Monday - February 08, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Small shrub with thorns for Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I'm looking for a shade-tolerant 2-3' shrub with thorns, native to Texas (ideally central Texas) - an alternative to Barberry? Does such a plant exist?

ANSWER:

If your question is: "Is there a  plant native to Central Texas with burgundy leaves, growing to 2-3 ft. tall and thorns?" The answer is no. If your question is: "How can I create a barrier to keep out small animals or children?" The answer is yes, but none of them fill all your conditions perfectly. And, finally, if you are saying "I need a low-growing hedge that is deer resistant," we can help you with that, too. There is not one plant that covers all those needs, so we'll see what we can find. All of these plants will tolerate part shade, which we consider to be 2 to 6 hours of sun a day. 

For a short living barrier: A shrub that short is something of a challenge to begin with, but the thorns are just not there. There is one shrub native to Central Texas, Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita), that does not have thorns but really stickery leaves. It ordinarily grows from 3 to 6 feet, but could be kept trimmed to size. It is evergreen and very hardy, with low watering needs.  You might consider some of the succulents like agaves, or low-growing sharp-edged grasses. Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana (Parry's agave) and Agave havardiana (Havard's century plant), both of which grow in the Austin area, are actually native to the  Big Bend area. They have formidable thorns on them, and will grow to about the height you are asking for. However, we ordinarily recommend that these plants not be placed where children or pets might stumble into them, as they could be seriously hurt. A grass-like plant, Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista), is evergreen, grows 1 to 6 ft. tall. The word "sacahuista" is derived from two Aztec words meaning "thorn grass." Another plant in the same genus, Nolina lindheimeriana (devil's shoestring), has finely serrated teeth on the leaves. Both are native to the Austin area.

If you are searching for something the deer won't eat unless they are very hungry, which is usually, take a look at our Deer-Resistant Species. By going there and searching on Texas, "sub-shrub" for General Appearance,  and "part shade" for Light Requirements," we found 1 plant that fit that description.  Jatropha dioica (leatherstem) apparently has an astringent sap that deer don't care for. Doing the same search, but with "shrub" under General Appearance, we found a list of 43, some of which are repetitions of some of those we have already mentioned. Two more plants from that list coming closest to your requirements are:

Cylindropuntia imbricata var. imbricata (tree cholla) - a tough, thorny plant, growing 3 to 8 ft.

Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) -3 to 5 ft., aromatic leaves

Follow the links to our webpages on each plant to learn more about it. We should caution you that if you are looking for a deer barrier, they will snicker behind their hooves if you expect to keep them out with a hedge 3 ft. tall. Even a very small fawn can leap over that and go on to chow down on the more palatable goodies in your garden.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery: 


Mahonia trifoliolata

Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana

Agave havardiana

Nolina texana

Nolina lindheimeriana

Jatropha dioica

Cylindropuntia imbricata var. imbricata

Larrea tridentata

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Shrubs Questions

Native plants for a barrier hedge
October 13, 2008 - Is there a native hedge I can plant to provide privacy? I have hostile neighbors behind me and would rather plant a hedge than put up a fence. I looked through the Virginia native species and didn'...
view the full question and answer

Florida shrub with tiny green pumpkin-like fruit
July 23, 2008 - I live in Central Florida and have a fast-growing shrub with long stems. The leaves are similar to sassafras and from a distance the red flowers resemble those of a geranium. It has pods that look l...
view the full question and answer

White flowers to plant in front of evergreen tree screen in Altoona PA
June 15, 2010 - I have planted about 30 evergreen trees (as a screen). I would like to plant a row of low maintenance whitish flowering bushes or low maintenance large flowering plants in front of this row. Any sug...
view the full question and answer

Are Chickasaw plums evergreen?
August 13, 2014 - Are Chickasaw Plums evergreens? I've been very interested in planting a few but some websites say they are evergreens while others say the opposite. Furthermore, would I have to plant a male and fema...
view the full question and answer

Pruning of Burning Bush in Missouri
October 15, 2008 - I live in MO and am pretty sure I have burning bushes on either side of my deck. My question is that they are huge and overgrown but I feel if I cut them lower and shape the sides up I will be left w...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center