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FLORA FACT: NATIVE POLLINATOR PLANTS

Summer’s Blooms Bring Bees and Butterflies


Remember all that hard work planting natives in your yard, supplementing the water when rains didn’t come, worrying when the caterpillars chomped their share, reminding yourself not to pull them when they looked like little more than weeds?

Well, it’s payback time. As masses of colorful blooms now ebb and flow along our roads and in our yards, we are rewarded not only by the floral palette but also by the accompanying array of wildlife attracted to the pollen hidden inside. Bees, beetles, spiders, hummingbirds and, of course, incredible butterflies are in constant motion as they capture and transport those bits of magic dust.

Four more species to include in our yearlong look at native pollinator plants are perfumeballs, Dutchman’s breeches, Shinner’s tickletongue and Western ironweed. Doesn’t it seem as though wildflowers have the best names of any species?

 Steven Schwartzman / LBJ Wildflower Center

Perfumeball (Gaillardia suavis)

Just hearing the name tells you a lot about this member of the aster family (think daisies and sunflowers): it smells great (especially on a warm day) and is ball shaped, with no projecting petals. That’s why they also call it the pincushion daisy or rayless gaillardia. Rays, or tiny petals, are scarce and fall off quickly, leaving a ball of reddish-brown or purple disc flowers. The plant has few petals and leaves only at the base, so the pincushion top balances on a slender, 24-inch-tall stalk.

Gaillardia suavis is well adapted to prairies, desert scrub and juniper woodlands here. It occurs in northeastern Mexico and in the plains north to Kansas. Butterflies love them, and they attract large numbers of native bees.


 Stephanie Brundage / LBJ Wildflower Center

Dutchman’s breeches (thamnosma texana)

In May, we told you that calico flower is also called Dutchman’s pipe; well, now we’ve found his pants. Thamnosma texana is also called blisterweed, Texas desert-rue and rue of the mountains (ruda del monte). Thamnosma is Greek for flowering shrub.

After blooming through June, the plant puts out a two-lobed fruit that looks like a pair of puffy pants — hence the name. (If you’re in a state east of Texas, Dutchman’s breeches is a different, well-known spring flower.) The leaves are aromatic when you crush them in your fingers.

More common west of the Hill Country, in thin soil on top of limestone, Dutchman’s breeches is a host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly.


 RW Smith / LBJ Wildflower Center

Shinner's Tickletongue (Zanthoxylum parvum)

Also known as small prickly-ash (but that’s not half as much fun), this shrub native to the mountains of the Trans-Pecos grows up to 6 feet tall. Other types of Zanthoxylum species include the toothache tree. All parts of the plant including the bark will numb the gums and tongue when chewed. The red berries produced in the fall are used as a spice; Native Americans brewed a tea for sore throats from them.


 Bruce Leander / LBJ Wildflower Center

Western Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii)

Another member of the aster family, Western (or Baldwin’s) ironweed displays 6-inch-wide clusters of magenta flowers with a fuzzy appearance on up to 5-foot stems. The bloom period lasts from summer until frost, attracting butterflies, birds and bees as a late-season source of nectar. The caterpillars of some moths — the Parthenice tiger moth, red groundling and ironweed borer moth — feed on this ironweed. Like milkweeds, ironweeds taste bitter, so deer and cattle won’t eat them.


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