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The Graceful Eve's Necklace


evesnecklacec04-16-10.jpgEve's Necklace, Styphnolobium affine/Sophora affinis, also known as Texas Sophora. I once underappreciated this small native tree growing wild in my sideyard, because as a young and small sapling dominated by the cedar elms above it, it was hard-pressed to grab my attention.

As the small saplings became bigger, however, I began to notice the black string of pearls -- its seed pods -- for which it earned its name.

evesnecklacea04-16-10.jpg evesnecklaceb04-16-10.jpg

And its light to dark green leaflets I always dubbed as "cute." I'm so technical.


evesnecklacek04-16-10.jpgThis spring, however, the pink wisteria-like blooms finally caught my eye, and I have been spending many a morning gazing up at the somewhat wispy understory trees.

evesnecklacee04-16-10.jpgevesnecklacej04-16-10.jpgWith more available sun, I know, it gets much denser and takes on the more classic tree look. It can also eventually reach 30 ft, but my tallest is about 15 feet, and I suspect it will always stay less than 25 feet tall due to its location under the much larger shade trees.

evesnecklacef04-16-10.jpgEve's Necklace loves alkaline soil, of which I have plenty, and it is quite adaptable as long as the earth is well-drained. It's fairly fast-growing and germinates well on its own. It's native to Central Texas and hardy to Zone 7.

evesnecklaceh04-16-10.jpgThe tree has moderate deer resistance, but the deer in my neighborhood have left the saplings alone. It serves as a pollen and nectar source, and when dense enough it's a good nesting and cover site.


There's an advantage to living in a place for years and not doing anything with it -- one is that sometimes you get to find gems like Eve's Necklace coming up naturally. I think that I'll scatter the seeds about to get some growing in other places around my yard. I won't eat them though (not that I would) -- they're poisonous!  

EDIT: My husband's response to reading this was "Huh." Turns out he had no idea we had Eve's Necklace in our yard (he'd probably never heard of it either). It's a good thing I write this blog, so he can learn about our yard!   

Love It or Leave It: Horseherb


Ah, Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis), also called Straggler Daisy. There doesn't seem to be much of a gray area on this one. People either truly love this little groundcover or hate it with a passion. I'm of the former variety. I adore this little plant.

horseherba10-02-09.jpgWhy do I love it? If you've ever walked past a field of horseherb, you are presented with an incredibly lush sea of green, with the daintiest of little yellow flowers throughout to catch your eye. I've seen some gorgeous fields, and each time I was mesmerized by the beauty and serenity of the scene. 


Field of horseherb at Hornsby Bend

I almost don't want to walk on it -- it's so pretty in appearance -- but for a non-lawn groundcover, it can withstand some foot traffic. It only needs water in the worst of droughts, and it loves shade and sun.

Horseherb is also native to the southern U.S. on into Central America, and it makes a great alternative to the exotic and water-hogging Bermuda and St. Augustine grasses. I'd love to see it replace Asian jasmine, as well -- now THAT is a plant that will take over a garden bed and yard. Horseherb is considered semi-evergreen, blooming most of the year except in cold winter areas, and if you like you can mow it, or you can let it grow to its typical max height, which is about 8 inches. But as bonus, horseherb also attracts small butterflies, including sulfurs and skippers. And think of all the happy little lizards that will zip underneath the foliage!


It's an eco-friendly solution to having a lawn without having to resort to heavy chemicals or fertilizers or ridiculous amounts of water to sustain it. Lawn irrigation tops the list on where our municipal water goes, and the time for water conservation is now, especially in Texas.

Why do some people want to leave it? Well, in some yards it can be a big nuisance. For those who keep a grass lawn, horseherb is a competitor, and it can be difficult to get rid of. And it can spread into garden beds, though I've found that so far it doesn't bother much with my well-mulched beds. In fact, one of the characteristics of this plant is that it supposedly doesn't do well in areas that have heavy leaves that take a long time to decompose. It spreads by both seeds and runners, which means that if the goal is to remove all of it, you're going to have a challenge. In a wildflower field, I have to imagine that it would be another competitor, but it's going to depend on the goals you have for your yard or area.

But for now I prefer to embrace its desire to spread. What I loathe is the Bermuda Grass and St. Augustine in my yard. I loathe the unnamed weeds that dominate my backyard. I love my buffalograss in the back, but it too is losing to the weeds, and in the drought, the buffalograss was dead most of the time, so I didn't end up loving it as much as I wanted to - I loved it when I could see it.


What would you choose: spotty grass or spreading horseherb? 

Will I regret it? Some gardeners are going to shout out an absolute yes to that question. But I do regret having Bermuda and St. Augustine (not that I planted it; that was the previous owners), so it's not a big deal to switch from frustration with the grasses to frustration with another groundcover, unless I've got all three to deal with at the same time. At least horseherb is native. But I'm going for the complete wildscape, and I have a lot of ground to fill and a lot of grass to get rid of. In those bed areas I want to keep maintained, I'll do my best to keep horseherb in check. And love it everywhere else!

So how about you? Do you prefer to love it or leave it?

The Aptly Named Beautyberry


The American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is truly a sight to behold in the fall. The strikingly vibrant magenta-colored berries stand out boldly against the light-green foliage of this open, airy shrub.

beautyberrya09-12-09.jpgBut aside from its beauty, what makes this shrub truly valuable is that it is a fall and winter food source for more than 40 different songbird species, as well as other birds. It also is enjoyed by mammalian wildlife, including the opossum and raccoon. Its deer resistance probably depends on your area and the harshness of seasonal weather. In some areas, deer leave the mature plants alone, but they're happy to nibble on young shrubs and sometimes the berries. In general, though, it's best to plant the shrub in a protected area if you are concerned about deer.

American Beautyberry is an excellent shrub for understory growth, and understory plants are a key part of successful wildlife habitats. They can provide food and/or places to hide, and despite its airy nature, the Beautyberry does both, particularly when several of the shrubs form a small colony.

beautyberryc09-12-09.jpgIn the summer, the shrub has delightful pale flowers. But it is the beautiful clusters of purple berries that really provide that wow factor come fall. There is also a white variety, but if choosing a color most attractive to birds, I'd stick with purple.

beautyberryb09-12-09.jpgThe deciduous shrub is typically 5-6 feet tall when mature, but I've seen some get more than 8 feet tall. It prefers partial sun/partial shade, but with extra water and attention, it can handle more sun, too. But as an understory plant, it is at its best.

American Beautyberry, according to, is native to all the states of the southern U.S., on up into Maryland, Missouri, and Oklahoma. It thrives in a variety of conditions of soil, water, and light conditions, and it is easily grown from seed as well. A worthy plant for your wildlife habitat! 

Backtracking -- The Shade Sails, April '09


We've been busy with home improvement projects, seemingly nonstop since spring began. In April we finally covered our back porch with some shade-giving sails. To do something fancier was pretty pricey, so we opted for these fun and not-so-common shade sails. Here Grover distracts Michael from his hole digging.


What we thought was supposed to be relatively quick turned out to be an all-day process -- starting with the holes. Stepan came over to help hold the posts, but as it turns out he also got to help dig through bedrock, lift 12-foot cedar posts, climb ladders, place plumb lines, mix and pour cement, etc. Hey, at least we fed him! 


Of course, rain and hail threatened over the next few days, so we didn't actually set up the shade sails until days after the cement cured. The dogs began laying in the shade before the first sail actually got completely hung up.

Shade sail.jpg

But we are very, very happy with the shade sails. They add shade when it counts but also allow enough morning sun to grow plants around the posts and in containers on the porch.


I already have crossvine growing up the posts -- I'll post pictures of the lovely tangerine flowers sometime later. You can tell by the photo that painting is soon to be in our future!


Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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