Native Plant Society of Texas
Texas is a large, diverse state and plants that work for one region may not always be the best choice in a different region. The Native Plant Society of Texas created the N.I.C.E. Native Plant Partners program to help nurseries offer natives that are right for the local environment. Two local chapters of NPSOT, the Kerrville and Fredericksburg chapters, implement this program by choosing one native plant to promote each season – in cooperation with wholesalers, in order to assure availability – and in cooperation with participating local nurseries.
The N.I.C.E. acronym stands for “Natives Improve and Conserve Environments.” The goal of the program is to introduce people to great native plants that are available locally to use in place of non-native species.
Why native plants?
The home page of the state website, NPSOT.org, says:
• Native plants are drought tolerant, naturally conserving our precious water resources;
• Native plants provide habitat and food for birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife;
• Native plants don’t need special pampering or fertilizing;
• Natives are natural to their eco-system, and;
• Natives help us maintain biological diversity.
This winter season (which began on Monday, Dec. 21), the Kerrville and Fredericksburg NPSOT chapters are featuring the Kidneywood Tree (Eysenhardtia texana), at five local nurseries as their N.I.C.E. Plant of the Season. It is a small flowering tree in the legume family Fabaceae (the pea family.) It is commonly known as Texas kidneywood, bee-brush, or vara dulce.
Why is it named for an organ of the body? The tree of this wood “fluoresces” in water – becoming brilliantly colored and emitting light. For this reason, both kidneywood species – E. texana and the more westerly E. orthocarpa – were once thought to possess magical healing powers. They were harvested to treat disorders of the kidney and bladder, hence the name.
Texas kidneywood is an open, airy shrub or small tree with sweet-smelling white flowers and small compound leaves. It normally grows to about 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide, often with several trunks, and is particularly attractive when pruned into a small tree.
It is a fast grower that prefers to grow in the sun, but will tolerate partial shade. The leaves have a pungent smell of citrus when crushed, and the entire plant is a favorite of deer, livestock, and other wildlife.
A Texas native, Texas kidneywood can be found growing in dry, brushy hills, canyons, and rocky limestone soils in Central and West Texas and south to central Mexico. It is very drought tolerant once established, although it may drop its leaves in periods of drought. It will grow faster with more moisture, but still must be planted in well-drained soil. Texas-tough, it is tolerant of heat, cold, and drought, making it an excellent landscape plant for this area.
Although Texas kidneywood is in the same family as acacias and mimosas, it does not have their characteristic thorns. Its small compound leaves, very mimosa-like, are finely divided, light and airy.
The blooms of kidneywood occur intermittently from April to October, especially after rains. The most flowers appear in late August to September. These flowers are like magnets to butterflies and bees seeking nectar. Kidneywood is also a host plant for the Southern Dogface butterfly, whose larvae (caterpillars) eat the leaves of Kidneywood (so leave them be!) In September, it bears fruit in the form of small brown pods attached to the ends of stems. The kidneywood tree is deciduous, meaning that it loses its leaves each winter.
In a list of plants that are browsed by deer, kidneywood is in the column “Highly Preferred.” For this reason, unless it is behind a fairly tall fence, it must be protected with a wire cage as high as the deer can reach. Even rabbits will graze on it when small, so the base of the tree also must be protected with a barrier until it develops a tough layer of bark. Other than that, no maintenance is required except for shaping and pruning as desired.
Where to find it
Our local N.I.C.E. nurseries have happily agreed to stock up on our Plant of the Season in order to have it available to the public. These independent nurseries carry only the best plants for our area, as well as high-quality soil amendments and gardening supplies.
Look for the “N.I.C.E. Plant of the Season” sign stake at these nurseries and growers in Kerrville, Fredericksburg, and Medina:
• Natives of Texas, 4256 Medina Highway, Kerrville, 830-896-2169
• Plant Haus 2, 604 Jefferson Street, Kerrville, 830-792-4444
• The Gardens at The Ridge, 13439 S. Ranch Road 783 (Harper Rd.), Kerrville, 830-896-0430
• Friendly Natives, 1107 N. Llano Street, Fredericksburg, 830-997-6288
• Medina Garden Nursery, 13417 Tx. Highway 16, Medina, 830-589-2771
Our chapter website contains articles of past N.I.C.E. plants, going back as far as 2009. To peruse the list, go to the following link: https://npsot.org/wp/kerrville/nice-2 and scroll to the bottom of the page for the list of featured plants.
Why go native?
To sustain our local ecosystem, native plants are essential, and many non-native plants are extremely detrimental. Non-natives may seed out more easily, grow faster, and use more water – proliferating and crowding out native species until the natives become extinct.
Native plants, on the other hand, have lived here for centuries (without fertilizer or pesticides); have evolved to withstand our temperature and moisture extremes and our poor soil; and have supported the local wildlife by providing food and shelter for our native animals, birds and insects.
As they are forced to compete with non-native plants for resources, the native plants become fewer and fewer until they are crowded out or eaten to extinction.
– From the Native Plant Society of Texas, Kerrville Chapter and Fredericksburg Chapter:
• The Kerrville Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas hosts monthly programs at the Riverside Nature Center, 150 Francisco Lemos St., Kerrville, September through May. See npsot.org/kerrville for details.
• The Fredericksburg Chapter of NPSOT meets monthly at Presbyterian Memorial Church, 601 North Milam Ave., Fredericksburg. See npsot.org/fredericksburg for details.
Cindy Anderson is a member of the Native Plant Society of Texas (Kerrville Chapter) and the Hill Country Master Gardeners. An enthusiastic (though often frustrated) gardener, she has learned first-hand the value of native plants, and gladly shares reviews of her favorites in this quarterly seasonal column.