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Release date: May 02, 2013 What to Take Along to a Desert Island: The Top Ten Plants

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CONTACT: Ernie Edmundson

Or Nancy Freeman 361-790-0103

RELEASE DATE: May 02, 2013

What to Take Along to a Desert Island: The Top Ten Plants

By Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners

Remember Tom Hanks and the movie CAST AWAY? Imagine for a moment he was an avid gardener and the desert island was in the Gulf of Mexico around latitude 28°02’ just off the Texas coast. He would have Wilson for companionship and plenty of native game and fresh vegetables. But one thing would be lacking – okay, two things.
Being a gardener, and on a desert island, he’d miss his plants. The Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners have voted and here are our top ten plants that would grow on his sandy spit of land. He’d have to come up with enough initial water to get their roots systems expanded so they could survive on minimal rainfall and enrich the sand just around the plants with organic matter to hold onto that water. Once on their own, these plants should be able to survive several months of no rain, blistering heat, high humidity, salt air, wind, and the occasional light freeze. Here we go!
1. From Linda Frank: Just because I’m on a desert island doesn’t mean I can’t have beautiful plants that benefit wildlife around me.  Native Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus 'Drummondii') is a shade loving shrub that attracts birds and butterflies with its beautiful turban-shaped red flowers.  It blooms from spring until it freezes so it may bloom all year on this island!

2. From Amanda Steves: Red Yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) is a must-have for your semi-arid garden.  While not a true yucca and not red, it’s a low-maintenance accent plant that can grow in sand and even rocky areas.  In spring, it sends up dramatic blooming spikes that provide color through the summer, followed by seed pods in the fall.   Hummingbirds love the red flowers, and the open pods provide a banquet for local birds.

3. From Connie Hohmann: If purple is your color, Purple Trailing Lantana (Lantana montevidensis 'Purple') may be just what you are looking for! This perennial has vibrant purple flowerets atop dark green foliage. It’s the perfect pop of color in the garden. Full sun is preferred but a little shade is welcome. You can expect blooms spring, summer and fall. Best of all it attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

4. From Karen Jennings: The thread-like appearance of the foliage gives Greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium) its common name. An herb used to make a beverage tea for people, it is also a food source for the painted bunting and host to the larval stage of the dwarf yellow butterfly.  Flowering from February through December, the entire plant can be boiled to make a rust-colored dye.

5. From Anneliese Dahle: Bougainvilleas (Bougainvillea sp.) are very colorful tropical flowering shrubs and vines. These plants must have full sunlight at least six hours a day to bloom properly. Water when the soil is dry two inches deep. They do need to be protected from hard freezes. Fertilize twice a year with an all-purpose fertilizer such as 10-10-10.

6. From Beth Wilson: American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a sprawling native deciduous understory shrub (6 to 8 ft. wide and tall). It has slender arching stems bearing 4”-6” opposite leaves. Purple berries are produced in the fall. It grows best in sandy loam soils that don’t get too dry from mid-summer onwards as the fruit develop, though it can withstand drought.

7. From Elaine Faulkner-Overturf: Just about the time you think all the spring flowers are gone – Here they come – Indian Blankets (Gaillardia pulchella) bringing forth such an array of dark red and yellow-tipped flowers. They are seen along the highways, fields, and pastures all over this part of Texas. Great color, hearty, lasting, and a joy to see.

8. From Christine Grohman: Madagascar Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) is a low showy tropical plant with glossy leaves and profuse continuous blooms in a multitude of colors. Pest-free, it is great for low maintenance areas but can spread into adjacent areas and may become untidy over the years.

9. From Pat Stanton: Few trees can rival the beauty of the flowering Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis). This drought tolerant, hardy tree has trumpet-shaped sweetly fragrant flowers and performs well but is not actually a true willow tree.   Water established desert willow trees every two weeks in the summer and every month in the winter. It blooms on new wood – the more it is pruned, the more it flowers.

10. From Patty Bidwell: Esperanza (Tecoma stans) is a perennial shrub that grows well in South Texas. It can be grown in a pot or in the ground in full sun with low water. This plant needs lots of room as it often grows six feet tall and four feet wide with bright yellow tubular flowers from spring thru fall. Fertilize in spring and fall, mulch heavily, and enjoy.

You can view photos and more on all these plants at our website
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service - Aransas County Office is located at 892 Airport Road in Rockport. AgriLife Extension education programs serve people of all ages, regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, handicap or national origin.

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