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Monday - February 08, 2010

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


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?


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










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