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South Texas Living

Mystery revealed: More about specimens featured in Plant ID contest

Mystery revealed: More about  specimens featured  in Plant ID contest

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Special to the Wilson County News
March 14, 2012
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In the nine weeks leading up to Wilson County Gardening Day March 3, 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 featured during the contest, we present a brief description of each.

1. Stock

Stock, featured Jan. 4, is one of the winter annuals that we use in full sun. It is a superior cut flower, because of the wonderful fragrance and long-lasting pastel flowers. Plant stock in September for an October through April bloom period.

2. Bright Lights Swiss Chard

This nutritious green is very attractive, with yellow, red, orange, green, and off-white stalks. Plant it in full sun in September in the garden or container for decoration and greens until May.

3. Cenizo

Cenizo, also called Texas sage, is a native evergreen plant that is a problem weed in pastures of West Texas, but is a good xeriscape plant for area landscapes. It grows in full sun with very little water and blooms pink before or after rain. The silver foliage is distinctive.

4. Primula

Primula or primrose is a winter annual grown in the shade; it produces intensely colored flowers. Pick your favorite color: red, blue, purple, yellow, or white. It resembles pansies in growth habit, but the colors are more intense and the leaves are crinkly and Kelly green. Protect primula from slugs and snails with bait.

5. Firethorn

Also called pyracantha, this thorny shrub in the apple family produces a plant full of attractive red fruits every winter. The fruit is a favorite of the birds and quickly disappears after the first freeze. Pyracantha can be pruned as espalier or tree form. Grow it in full sun.

6. Maximilian sunflower

This Texas native is a favorite wildlife food. It grows in reseeding beds to bloom in midsummer all across South Texas. Typically, the 6- to 10-foot tall plants will be alive with lesser goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, and other seed eaters.

7. Phaleonopsis orchid

Also called butterfly orchid, this beauty blooms in white, pink, maroon, violet, and bicolor. They are easy to grow inside the house near a south- or east-facing window. They are often planted in bark chips. The bloom lasts from February to July most years.

8. Mexican olive

It is not really in the olive family, but produces an olive-like fruit that some mammals and birds eat. Mexican olive grows to 30 feet tall in good soils, but tolerates poor soils. Its main claim to fame is the silver-dollar-sized white blooms that cover it in the spring and fall. It sometimes freezes back to the ground in severe cold spells.

9. Mustard

Mustard is a very productive green that is grown in Southern gardens in the wintertime. One or two plants grown in full sun will produce enough nutritious greens for a family if the leaves are harvested as needed.

The Plant ID contest will return in January 2013, in anticipation of next year’s Wilson County Gardening Day.

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, email him at His regular column, the “South Texas Gardener,” can be found in “Agriculture Today” in this issue.

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