Text and photos by Eric Duran
By the time you sit down to read this, our first spring wildflowers will be in bloom. Blessed as we are with temperate short winters, we are also blessed with an early and long blooming season for wildflowers in the Houston area.
This is important to a wide variety of pollinators, animals who feed on flower nectar and pass pollen between flowers. It’s important to resident animals to sustain themselves and to visitors on their migratory journeys north.
This not only happens in the wild but is something we can contribute to by planting and maintaining native wildflowers in pollinator gardens around our homes and businesses. Let’s have a look at a few species you can easily grow in your West University and Bellaire gardens.
First, let’s define our terms. “Wildflowers” refer to plants that normally grow on their own out in nature, without needing our care, and not flowers whose current forms have been developed in the nursery industry. For our purposes, if a flower is generally unchanged from its wild form, even if bought at a nursery, we’ll call it a wildflower.
“Native” simply means that it’s from this region (i.e. “Texas native”). Native, and generally unchanged in form (unlike some nursery trade cultivars) is important, because many of our native pollinators already know how to use and feed from native plants and may not know how to navigate certain flowers from elsewhere. This means some non-native garden plants are pretty but generally not helpful to wildlife.
Here are a few beautiful native plants you can grow in your yard that pollinators will love:
Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) aka Firewheel is a colorful relative of daisies and sunflowers. Popular with bees and butterflies, these showy flowers bloom from late February through December. The long blooming period of this annual, its hardiness and wide appeal to a variety of pollinators make it perfect for home gardens. They only grow 1 – 2 feet tall.
Butterfly Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), as the name would suggest, is popular with a number of butterfly species. They grow tall flower stems topped with delicate white and pink flowers. They go well behind other shorter plants and are tolerant of full sun and part shade. Guara bloom from April to November.
Lemon Beebalm (Monarda citriodora) and Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata) are both very popular with large bees and butterflies, and they are gorgeous, complex flowers. Beebalms grow from April through July. They’re in the mint family and have a history of medicinal use and are perennials, coming back from root stock each season.
Winecups (Callirhoe involcrata) are native ground creeping mallow (Hibiscus) that grow open, shallow wine-colored flowers appealing to a wide variety of bees, beetles and smaller butterflies which may not be able to feed from some larger or deeper flowers. Each plant grows 8-12 inches tall and spreads out to 3 feet. It’s a perennial that grows through the spring and again in late summer and early fall.
March is a good time to get these plants in the ground or plant seeds for flowers coming up in late spring, summer, and fall. Check your locally owned nurseries for native plants, and visit the annual plant sale at the Nature Discovery Center from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on March 17. Call the center for more details at 713-667-6550 or visit www.my-ndc.org
Duran is staff naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr. in Bellaire