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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native Equivalents to Lily of the Valley

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Thursday - February 24, 2011

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflowers
Title: Native Equivalents to Lily of the Valley
Answered by: Brigid & Larry Larson

QUESTION:

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majuscula) with its delicate drooping flowers is my favorite flower. Unfortunately, it's hard to get in central Texas as a cut flower, much less to grow. Are there any native alternatives with a similar look? Do you have any general suggestions for how to handle falling in love with a plant that's not a native? Thank you.

ANSWER:

 Convallaria majuscula (American lily of the valley) is certainly a lovely plant, isn’t it?    It’s not surprising that it’s hard to get around here as it is native to the Central Eastern seaboard and won’t particularly care for Central Texas conditions at all!

 
Convallaria majuscula

Finding a similar look is quite an exercise.   There are tons of spectacular blooming Central Texas natives, but they are all a bit different in their own distinctive way.

There are a couple lilies that are native to Central Texas, they are certainly lovely but are small compared to the American Lily of the Valley.  Cooperia drummondii (Evening rain lily) has a lovely white or pink bloom and is exciting to see it appear after a rain!  Habranthus tubispathus (Copper lily) has a lovely copper color.  There is also a “Spanish” version:  Lila de los llanos;   Echeandia chandleri (Chandler's craglily)

                             
Cooperia drummondii
               Echeandia chandleri            Habranthus tubispathus

 Moving away from lilies, many Central Texas natives have showy blooms:  Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine) has lovely flowers.  It's plant record says "This beautiful woodland wildflower has showy, drooping, bell-like flowers equipped with distinctly backward-pointing tubes, similar to the garden Columbines".   Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) most often grows 3-5 ft. tall and usually just as wide.  It has long, arching branches and yellow-green fall foliage, but its most striking feature is the clusters of glossy, iridescent-purple fruit (sometimes white) which hug the branches at leaf axils in the fall and winter.

 


Aquilegia canadensis


Callicarpa americana

 

Here are a few local natives that have colorful blooms and combine this with an interesting body style.    Clematis pitcheri (Purple clematis), also called Bluebill or leather-flower is an herbaceous, perennial vine climbing to 10 ft. by means of twining petioles. The Flowers are nodding, on long, slender stems from the leaf axil. Hesperaloe parviflora (Red yucca) carries a combination of a lovely flower and a distinctive body/leaf style. Also consider : Ipomopsis rubra (Standing cypress)Alophia drummondii (Propeller flower)Liatris mucronata (Cusp blazing star); Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower) [cardinal flower]. 

                       
Hesperaloe parviflora
                Clematis pitcheri                      Ipomopsis rubra

I found most of these by scanning the “Recommended Species” list for likely candidates.   Another good way to shop for new favorites is to scan books.   "Native Texas Plants" [by the Wasowkis], "Wildflowers of Texas" [Ajilvsgi], and "Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country" [Enquist] all give a delightful and beautiful read!

 What are my general suggestions for how to handle falling in love with a plant that's not a native?   It’s a bit trite, but I fall in love with a new native plant virtually every time I see one.  It is actually ok to fall in love with non-natives. I was a California transplant, where virtually anything you put in the ground grew with spectacular results, I was ready to plant all my California plants in my garden – I did and they all failed. I was heartsick. Then I learned about the Wildflower Center, and I learned about native plants, and I grew to appreciate everyone of them, and the fact that they grow with little attention, no harsh fertilizers, little water, and most of them come back year after year in places where you least expect, because you have forgotten where you planted them (or because you thought they were dead). They are wonderful, colorful surprises. I promise that you will fall in love with natives when you learn more about them.

As Mrs. Johnson said, “I want Texas to look like Texas and Vermont to look like Vermont and every state to look like itself."

 

 

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