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Agriculture Today

‘Mystery plants’ revealed

‘Mystery plants’ revealed
Purple coneflower, a perennial wildflower, produces seeds that are favorites of finches.

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April 5, 2011
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Take a closer look at Plant ID features

By Calvin Finch

In the seven weeks leading up to Wilson County Gardening Day March 5, the Wilson County News ran a “Plant ID” contest. Each week until the event, the newspaper featured a different “mystery plant” for readers to identify.

For those who want to know more about the mystery plants that have appeared in the Wilson County News as a build-up to the Wilson County Gardening Day, consider these brief descriptions.


Coreopsis, or tickseed, is a wildflower that prospers in vacant lots or roadsides and other sites where the plants receive full sun and do not have to compete with sod or a heavy cover of weeds. It blooms over a relatively long period for a wildflower -- sometimes from March into May. Coreopsis is a favorite butterfly plant.

Plant it by seed in fall for spring blooms. Spread the seed on top of the ground.

Passion flower

Passion flower vine does not always make a good screen, but it is a tough vine that produces attractive purple, red, pink, or white flowers and interesting seed pods.

Some gardeners grow it strictly for the butterflies. The gulf fritillary butterfly lays its eggs on the foliage. The caterpillars often feed to the extent that all the leaves are consumed. Don’t worry; it refoliates and continues to bloom.

Plant it in full sun on a fence or arbor for the blooms and as a caterpillar food source.


Rutabaga is a root crop; it resembles a turnip, but produces a larger, sweeter root over a longer season. They grow well when planted by seed in November to be harvested now. They are also called “Swedes” because of their extensive use in the Midwestern states, where Scandinavians reside.

Rutabaga was included as a mystery plant because, as one of my favorite vegetables, it was discussed on the KLUP “Gardening South Texas” show on a regular basis. My colleague, Jerry Parsons, does not have the same appreciation as I do for this easy-to-grow vegetable.

Plant it by seed in October for harvest over the winter and into spring.

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflower is a perennial wildflower that can be grown by seed or as a transplant. They require full sun and will bloom in the fall. The butterflies like them very much and buntings and other finches harvest the seed from the spent flowers.

In addition to one of the flowers in a wildflower planting, they can be planted in a row in the flowerbed for their blooms.

Queen’s crown

Queen’s crown or coral vine is a very aggressive sun-loving vine that can grow to the top of a tree in one growing season if it is an old, established vine. The pink blooms are very showy from May to November.

The only thing that keeps it from taking over the neighborhood is that it dies back to the root with cold weather. There are red and white versions, in addition to the pink. Red seems less aggressive.

Use it for summer-long color and as a vine to cover unsightly buildings or vistas.

Turk’s cap

Turk’s cap comes in two versions. The native plant grows to about 4 feet tall with nickel-sized blooms. The non-native version will make a shrub 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide. It has larger blooms.

Turk’s cap usually freezes back to the ground unless the winter is mild. Grow it in light shade or the sun for the red blooms that are a favorite hummingbird nectar source. It is not a favorite deer food and may survive their limited interest.

Use native Turk’s cap as a tall ground cover in the shade and/or use the larger version as a specimen plant for the red blooms.

Sand burs

Sand burs are one of our most despised weeds. They favor sandy soils in full sun where plant competition is limited.

Prevent sand burs by having a shady landscape and/or a thick lawn. A pre-emergent herbicide, such as XL or Amaze, works if applied now and again on or about June 1. The nasty bur is the seed.

Visit for more detailed information or controlling this problem weed.

Calvin Finch is a horticulturist and the San Antonio Water System’s project director of regional initiatives and special projects. Hear him on “Gardening South Texas” on KLUP 930 AM radio Saturdays noon to 2 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Or, e-mail him at

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