Chinese indigo ( Indigofera decora )

I love this plant. So I planted him right outside my office window. However, it is far shadier than he would like. Indigo prefers part sun, but it can become invasive given too much sunlight. It will send out suckers and become very dense over time. It is often used as a ground cover in difficult forested areas.

Leaves fall off in the fall and return early to late spring depending on how much sun the indigo receives. It can die back to the ground in cold winters, but will return when the weather warms.

In time it will become a full bush with lots of flowers every summer. This indigo was planted last summer and is barely settled in this year.

It is not particular about the soil and is known as a good plant to try in difficult areas. It is a spreading shrub, so be sure to give it some room.

Once established it is heat and drought tolerant.

Indigo will reach about 3′ tall in full sun 1′-2′ otherwise with a 2′-3′ spread.

Flowering is on new branches.

It is a very, very slow grower.

This died back to the ground in the cold winter of ’09-’10 and didn’t reappear until late May.

I find them easy to propagate with cuttings.

In times of famine the seeds have been boiled and eaten or ground into flour.

Survived, grew and bloomed during the heat wave-drought of summer 2011.

Sago Palm ( Cycas revoluta )

Sagos grow leaves from a central trunk that can get 2′ in diameter, very old sagos have been found with trunks 20′ across. Trunks may branch.

Leaves are 3′-4′ long. Leaves are longer on plants grown in shady areas.

These plants send off suckers near the base that should be cut back. This is not easy as they grow close to the main plant which has a rough stem with barbs. Wear your thick leather gloves to prune this plant. Reproduction is also by seed.

Sago palms grow best in full sun. I have one in almost full shade and one in full sun. Both are doing well. The one in the sun is taller with shorter fronds. The one in the shade only has 3 flushes of leaves, but they are much longer than the other. I’ve found with a yearly dose of either Shultz with rooting hormone or worm castings once a year the sago in the shade will put out one flush for me and the one in front will put out two flushes a year.

Do not over water them. They are drought tolerant, but will grow slowly, if at all during droughts.

They can comfortably with stand temperatures as low as 25’F. It was about 18’F that burned the one in the photo. All over town they look like that.

Cycads are one of the oldest living plants on earth. They were here 270-280 million years ago, that would be predate the dinosaurs. They are considered the missing link between non-seed plants and plants that propagate by seed. They have also changed little in the 275 or so million years they have been here.

There are at least 185 species known of cycad now, some common, some endangered. If you see an unusual one at the nursery, bring it home and plant it. It is up to gardeners to spread out and propagate all the threatened species we run across.

If you are having trouble getting your sago to flush ( make new leaves ) remove the bottom third of the fronds. The plant will try to keep roots and leaves in balance. When you remove the leaves it will get busy making more of them. You can remove up to half of the lower fronds each year with out hurting the plant.

The seeds are toxic, female plants take about 9 months to fully develop the seeds so you’ll have lots of time to remove them. They will kill a small dog or cat if eaten. The leaves are also toxic containing carcinogens and neurotoxins.

I am not sure but I believe only the female sagos get the pups off the main stem. I’m still looking for more sources to confirm that.

In Houston manganese deficiencies are common, if new leaves are yellow your plant needs manganese. If new leaves are pale green it is likely iron you are lacking.

Fungal leaf spot can be a problem in high humidity. It appears as black spots with yellow rings, just like black leaf spot on roses.

Scale is a problem until the plant gets tall enough to keep the fronds off the ground

My sago is getting pups which are baby plants off the trunk of the mother. These need to be removed. It’s going to be more of a project than I thought. I’m told washing the dirt away with a garden hose, then using a saw to cut them from the mother plant is the best option. If you cut the leaves off the pup then replant the pups about half way in soil. You will get new plants. It may take a couple of years to get the new plants so plant them somewhere out of the way in your garden.

One of the few plants to thrive during the 2011 drought and heat wave.

More information:
Are cycads social plants?
Cycas revoluta known as King Sago Palms
The Sago Palms, Cycas revoluta

Queen Palm ( Palma de reina / Cocos plumosa / Syagrus romanzoffiana )

I know the queen palms are difficult to see in these photos, I’ll post clearer ones as they mature. They are the tall, thin palms with arching leaves 10′-15′ long. They usually retain a canopy of about 12-18 leaves.

They’ve been in the ground about 4 months and already they’ve grown a foot or two. I picked up 3 at $10/each last spring. Any plant being sold cheap you can count on to be a fast grower.

The expected height at full growth is 50′ with a 30′ spread according to the tag, yet all the ones I’ve seen around town are quite compact in width. Time will tell.

They like sun, semi moist soil and the tag claims they can handle temperatures as low as 10’F but most sources say no lower than 20’F. This year has been quite dry and one of the three palms is located where the irrigation does not reach, weekly watering seems sufficient for them.

There seems to be some confusion about the botanical name, there are three I’ve found it keeps being moved from one location to the next.

They are native to South American and the Caribbean, considered invasive in Florida and parts of Australia.

These died the first winter I had them. idk? The stores always have them, but they didn’t handle the cold in my gardens.

Candle Bush ( Cassia alata )

Candle Bush

Candle Bush

This plant showed up of its own accord and grew to about 3′ in a month.

A bit of digging revealed it to be a Candle Bush. Since it was in the butterfly garden next to the driveway I thought I’d leave it a bit and see what happened.

It will grow 3′-4′ tall around here, I met someone who claims to have one 6′ tall in her garden. Flowers are yellow, spiky and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. They do not winter over in cold years.

Like most butterfly attractor plants it does best with lots of sun.

Unfortunately they also attract fire ants, I had been warned of this and inspecting the plant last week I found several fire ants crawling around the base and a nest built right next to the trunk of the plant, so out it went.

It is supposed to be a good fungicide for ringworm and other skin fungal infections. It also well known as a laxative among other medicinal uses.

Like most plants here it is toxic, do not use it medicinally with out more research.

Native to east Africa.

More information:
Candle Bush at Dave’s Garden

Bay leaf tree ( Sweet bay, Laurelia sempervirens )

This was a gift, and I’m told it will grow any where under any conditions in Houston. I’m testing that – it’s planted in a shady, dry area.

Originally from Chile where it normally grows in moist coastal forests. Heavily exploited for its timber it is now a protected plant in Chile. It is also native to India, South and Central America, Russia and Asia.

Evergreen shrub to tree growing as tall as 50′ in proper conditions. It can also be pruned and maintained as a small shrub.

Leaves are used in cooking. Let dry several weeks before using, these are one of the few herbs that get stronger and more distinct after drying.

Difficult from seed, easier to propagate from stem cuttings or suckers that appear on roots.

Drought and heat tolerant

I lost this in the winter of 2016-2017. The leaves began to wilt, then curl, then a white power covered the leaves. It looked a lot like Sudden Oak Death. I’m not sure if that effects Bay Trees?

Japanese Lantern aka Flowering Maple ( Abutilon sp )

I’m told this plant does well in dry, shady areas, but it will also handle moist, well drained soil.

It can handle shade to part sun, but no direct sun. Yet some people report growing it in full sun. It is one of the few plants that has bright colored blooms in shady areas.

Protect from cold, but it should return from the roots if we have another bad winter. It’s really only rated to zone 10a.

If it dies back during a drought, it should re-appear once we start getting rain again.

Should reach 3′-5′ in height, can reach 10′.

Supposed to be a butterfly attractor, it’s too soon for me to tell, I’ve only had this plant since March Mart.

Blooms non-stop in Houston.

Loves to be pruned frequently.

Does not transplant well, choose a planting location carefully.

Like most plants that grow here it is toxic.

Propagate from stem cuttings.

Go easy on the fertilizer.

Susceptible to whiteflies, spider mites ( shouldn’t be a problem with the humidity here ), scale( keep branches from touching the ground, prune up ) and mealy bugs.

Note: Did not survive the extreme heat and drought of summer 2011 It reappeared in 2012 and is about 6′ tall now. I took several cuttings. It is easy to propagate.

The 6″ tall cuttings I put in the ground late spring are now at 4′-8′ tall at the end of Aug. I figure it helped that we had rain once or twice a week all summer.

Cameo Quince ( Rosaceae Chaenomeles )

Back in Boston I had a quince that came with our home outside my office window. It was the first plant to flower every spring and my favorite.

This year in Houston, the first plant to bloom is the quince. Last fall I found a Cameo Quince and put it outside my office window down here in Houston.

We are really at the lower edge of where it will grow ( zone 5a-8b ) and I’m not sure how well it will do in the summer but I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

This quince is planted in part shade but it will do well in full sun.

Chaenomeles cameo quince does not have the thorns many other quinces do.

In a cold winter quince will drop its leaves, this one retained its leaves all winter.

Watering needs are average.

Needs little pruning to keep its shape. Quince will reach about 5′ tall by 6′ wide.

Quince was a staple in Victorian gardens. The fruit must be cooked before eating. It was commonly baked in pies that are similar to apple pies.

Note: Another survivor of the summer 2011 extreme heat and drought.