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Texas and Southwestern Native Plants for Butterflies, Honeybees and Hummingbirds

Texas and Southwestern Native Plants for Butterflies, Honeybees and Hummingbirds

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Synopsis: Many gardeners and wildlife lovers in states with recurrent drought choose to increase the number of native plants in their yards. This is especially true of Texas, where statewide drought began in 2010 and hasn't yet abated. Native plants appeal to local wildlife, including pollinators. To help gardeners from Texas and the Southwest who want to create wildlife habitat, Flowers by the Sea (FBTS) suggests 25 Salvias and companion plants appropriate for Texas and Southwest gardens.

Instead of simply waiting and hoping for rain, many gardeners and wildlife lovers in states with recurrent drought choose to increase the number of native plants in their yards. This is especially true of Texas, where statewide drought began in 2010 and hasn't yet abated.

Its dry out there!

Native plants are ones indigenous to your region; they have existed locally since before Columbus stepped on American shores. Native plants and wildlife, including pollinators, coevolved over time to meet each other's needs. Near-native plants from neighboring areas often also appeal to local wildlife.

To help gardeners from Texas and the Southwest who want to create wildlife habitat, Flowers by the Sea (FBTS) ends this article with a list of 25 Salvias and companion plants appropriate for your gardens. All are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds; most are agreeable to honeybees -- what we call The Big Three pollinators.

The plants listed here are native to Texas, except for:

  • Mountain Sage (Salvia microphylla), which is from Arizona, New Mexico and parts of Mexico bordering Texas
  • Jame Sage (S. x jamensis), a Northern Mexico discovery that is a hybrid of the Texas and Mexican native Autumn Sage (S. greggii, also a close relative of S. microphylla) and
  • 7-UP Plant (Stachys albotomentosa), a delightfully fragrant Mexican species.

Before you start drafting a garden plan, here is more information about native and near-native plants for combating drought and supporting pollinators.

Meeting Each Others' Needs
Scientists theorize that the long thin beaks of hummingbirds -- a Western Hemisphere phenomenon -- developed to access nectar in the deep tubular flowers of North, Central and South America. Consequently, an abundance of tubular flowers coevolved to meet the dietary needs of the birds.

Some flowers evolved in ways that allow them to attract butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds. A good case in point is Autumn Sage ( S. greggii), which is a favorite native species for many Texans.

First, Autumn Sage comes in an array of bright colors, which are necessary to attract The Big Three. Second, the double-lipped, tubular flowers are just deep enough for hummingbird beaks and butterfly tongues but shallow enough for bee burrowing.

A honeybee at work

Third, the flowers have broad lower petals that allow butterflies and honeybees to perch, which is essential since they can't hover. Fourth, Autumn Sage withstands fluctuations in moisture ranging from drought to heavy downpours (provided soil drainage is good), which are characteristic of Texas.

Identifying Texas Native Plants
One of the best resources for identifying native plants within Texas and beyond is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is part of the University of Texas at Austin. Another excellent source for Texas gardeners is the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

Texas Wildlife Diversity Program

The Wildflower Center's interactive map of the U.S. divides Texas into six geographical regions. Click on a region, and a page opens containing a long queue of native plants for that area.

An interactive map at TPWD provides short lists Texas native plants by region. TPWD divides Texas into ten areas. The agency guides the wildlife gardening efforts of Texans by awarding two kinds of certificates for creating native habitat:

25 Salvias & Companions for Texas Gardens
Each section of the following FBTS list indicates the areas of Texas or types of terrain (based on the 6 regions of the Wildflower Center's map) where the plants are found in the wild. The regions are East, North Central, High Plains, West, Central and South Texas.

Flaming Reds & Oranges
S. coccinea: East, Central, South
S. regla: North Central, Central, West

Forest Fire Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea 'Forest Fire') Zones 9 to 11
Give this sage rich, well-drained soil and average watering based on local conditions.

  • Deep red flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 36 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Mid-green foliage and reddish-black bracts
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Lady in Red Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea 'Lady in Red') Zones 9 to 11
This sage enjoys ample moisture, but does fine with average watering. Give it rich, well-drained soil.

  • Bright red flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 36 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Fuzzy, deep green foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Jame Orange Mountain Sage (Salvia regla 'Jame') Zones 7 to 10
North Carolina plant explorer Richard Dufresne found this large-leafed sage near Mexico's village of Jame.

  • Persimmon-orange flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 60 inches tall and wide
  • Fragrant, mid-green foliage with rosy, pale green bracts
  • Full sun
  • Drought tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, but not deer

Orange Mountain Sage (Salvia regla 'Royal') Zones 7 to 10
This is our smallest variety of Salvia regla.

  • Persimmon-orange flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Fragrant, mid-green foliage and bright orange bracts
  • Full sun
  • Drought tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, but not deer

Sky-Blue Beauties

We love our hummingbirds

S. pitcherii grandiflora: Throughout Texas
S. texana: From North Central Texas southward thoughout the state
S. farinacea: All of Texas

Big Pitcher Sage (Salvia pitcheri grandiflora) Zones 4 to 9
This a tall, sprawling sage with large flowers.

  • Two-tone violet flowers bloom in fall
  • 60 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Bright green, blade-style foliage and dusky purple calyxes
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought, heat and cold tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Texas Blue Sage (Salvia texana) Zones 6 to 9
Colorful and short, this sage is a good groundcover. It appreciates a bit of partial shade in super hot climates.

  • Violet flowers with white beelines bloom summer to fall
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 12 inches wide
  • Fuzzy, deep green foliage and bracts
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Drought tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, but not deer

Mealy-Cup Marriage
S. farinacea: All of Texas
For a story about the discovery of these varieties side-by-side in a Texas country graveyard, please see Salvias in the Cemetery: Meet the Duelbergs.

White Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea 'Augusta Duelberg') Zones 7 to 10
Texas horticulturist Greg Grant found the Duelberg sages in a bone-dry cemetery near Austin, Texas.

  • White flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Mid-green foliage
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Blue Mealy Cup Sage (Salvia farinacea 'Henry Duelberg') Zones 7 to 10
Texas horticulturist Greg Grant found the Duelberg sages side by side in a bone-dry cemetery near Austin, Texas.

  • Blue flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Mid-green foliage
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Rainbow of Autumn & Mountain Sage
S. greggii: North Central, West, Central, South
S. microphylla: Not native, but a good fit
S. x jamensis: Not native, but good fit
S. lycioides: Texas hillsides and slopes

Flame Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Flame') Zones 6 to 9
Flame looks pretty as a container, border or groundcover planting.

  • Crimson red flowers bloom spring to fall
  • Small-leafed, smooth, mid-green foliage and reddish-green calyxes
  • 30 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, but not deer

Lipstick Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Lipstick')
This is a very long-blooming sage.

  • Pink flowers with white throats bloom spring to fall
  • Small-leafed, smooth, mid-green foliage and rosy gray calyxes
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought, heat and cold tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Salmon Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Salmon') Zones 7 to 9
The creamy blossoms of this sage fit well in a pastel garden.

  • Salmon-pink flowers with white throats bloom spring to fall
  • Small-leafed, smooth, mid-green foliage and rosy beige calyxes
  • 24 inches tall and wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Teresa's Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Teresa') Zones 7 to 9
In full bloom, this sage is like a large bridal bouquet.

  • Powder-pink and white bicolor flowers bloom spring to fall
  • Small-leafed, smooth, mid-green foliage
  • 36 inches tall and wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Wild Thing Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii 'Wild Thing') Zones 6 to 10
What can we say? Wild Thing is wildly popular.

  • Coral pink flowers bloom spring to fall
  • Small-leafed, smooth, mid-green foliage with burgundy calyxes
  • 36 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Saint Isidro's Sage (Salvia lycioides x greggii 'San Isidro') Zones 6 to 9
This is a dwarf cross of two Texas natives.

  • Lavender flowers with white throats bloom spring to fall
  • Minty green foliage with purple-green calyxes
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 18 inches wide
  • Full sun
  • Drought, heat and cold tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

18th of March Mountain Sage (Salvia microphylla 'Dieciocho de Marzo') Zones 7 to 9
Although Autumn and Mountain sages are closely related, they have significantly different foliage.

  • Raspberry-pink flowers bloom spring to fall
  • Minty green, fragrant, veined foliage and green calyxes
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 48 inches wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Big Sheet Mountain Sage (Salvia microphylla 'Hoja Grande') Zones 7 to 9
Mountain sages are ideal for dry gardens.

  • Bicolor magenta and cherry-red flowers bloom spring to fall
  • Mid-green, fragrant, veined foliage and green calyxes
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 48 inches wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Trinity Mountain Sage (Salvia microphylla 'La Trinidad Pink') Zones 7 to 9
This sage is named for a mountain in northern Mexico's Sierra Madres.

  • Bright pink flowers bloom spring to fall
  • Mid-green, fragrant, veined foliage and green calyxes
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 48 inches wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Pat Vlasto Hybrid Jame Sage (Salvia x jamensis 'Pat Vlasto') Zones 6 to 9
British plant explorer Dr. James Compton discovered this hybrid of Autumn and Mountain Sage in the North Mexico village of Jame.

  • Creamy tomato-red flowers bloom spring to fall
  • Mid-green, fragrant, veined foliage and green calyxes
  • 36 inches tall and wide
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Shady Groundcovers
S. arizonica: West
S. lyrata: East
S. roemeriana: North Central, West, Central

Arizona Blue Sage (Salvia arizonica) Zones 6 to 11
This sage is a native of mountain canyons.

  • Dusky, violet-blue flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 24 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Mid-green foliage
  • Morning sun to full shade
  • Drought, heat and cold tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds, but not deer

Purple Prince Lyreleaf Sage (Salvia lyrata 'Purple Prince') Zones 5 to 11
Native Americans used the leaves of Lyreleaf Sage in folk remedies. Another common name is Cancerweed.

  • Tiny white flowers bloom spring to summer
  • 18 inches tall in bloom, 12 inches wide
  • Deep reddish-purple foliage
  • Full shade to full sun
  • Water loving and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana) Zones 7 to 9
This widespread woodland groundcover also works well as a container plant.

  • Scarlet flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 20 inches tall in bloom, 12 inches wide
  • Dark green, basal rosette foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Select Salvia Companions
Agastache x 'Ava': West
Anisacanthus wrightii: Central, West, South
Malvaviscus drummondii: Central, South

Ava Hybrid Anise Hyssop (Agastache x 'Ava') Zones 5 to 9
Ava is related to the Texas native Hummingbird Mint ( Agastache cana).

  • Rosy pink flowers bloom summer to fall
  • 48 inches tall in bloom, 36 inches wide
  • Minty green, fragrant foliage and raspberry calyxes
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds

Texas Firecracker (Anisacanthus wrightii) Zones 7 to 11
Although similar in appearance to Bears Breeches ( Acanthus), the Anisacanthus genus doesn't have thorny sepals.

  • Bright orange trumpet flowers bloom spring through fall
  • 36 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Dark green, lance-shaped foliage
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Red Texas Firecracker (Anisacanthus wrightii 'Select Red') Zones 7 to 11
Anisacanthus means "without thorns." The name of this species honors 19th century American botanist Charles Wright who collected plants in Texas.

  • Deep red trumpet flowers bloom spring through fall
  • 36 inches tall in bloom, 24 inches wide
  • Dark green, lance-shaped foliage
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Pam's Pink Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus drummondii 'Pam Puryear') Zones 7 to 11
Malvaviscus drummondii is a synonym for the Texas native M. arboreus var. drummondii. This hybrid is a cross between M. drummondii and M. arboreus.

  • Peachy pink flowers bloom in summer
  • 72 inches tall in bloom, 46 inches wide
  • Mid-green foliage
  • Full sun
  • Drought and heat resistant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, but not deer

Hidalgo or 7-UP Plant (Stachys albomentosa) Zones 7 to 9
This close relative of the Salvia genus has a powerful fragrance of bubbly soda pop.

  • Apricot-coral pink flowers bloom spring to fall
  • 20 inches tall in bloom, 18 inches wide
  • Fuzzy green, fragrant foliage
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Drought tolerant
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds

Questions About Native & Drought-Tolerant Plants
Persistent drought doesn't just kill plants by starving their roots. It also slowly extinguishes their population by causing their pollinators either to die or leave the area due to food shortages. Agriculture, parks, open space and home gardens all are harmed by a shortage of pollinators.

If you have questions about wildlife gardening or Salvias and companion plants that are drought tolerant and native to your region, please contact us. We're always glad to help you and The Big Three.


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