Pretty desert plant thrives on neglect

Published on Wednesday, 30 July 2014 23:37 - Written by Dee Bishop, In Our Garden

Do any of you know a book called “Riders of the Purple Sage?”

The purple sage in that title was the beautiful desert plant called Leucophyllum frutescens. We often hear it called silverleaf, cenizo, Texas sage or purple sage. If you look about town, you will most likely see it growing here and there, especially on commercial properties and subdivision entrances.

I will call it cenizo because that is what I have always heard it called. Whatever you choose to call the plant, just consider all its great features.

If you have a really hot, dry, hard-to-water spot in full sun that needs a really pretty shrub, cenizo is the shrub for you. A desert plant from Mexico and the dry western areas of Texas and the Southwest, cenizo will also grow here in East Texas — if you do not water too much and you give it perfect drainage. Just don’t sprinkle it. It needs neglect to grow to its best form. They will take a touch of shade, but revel in full sun.

Lynn Lowery and Benny Simpson, both late, great plant gurus, worked with cenizos to overcome some of their worst characteristics like flopping in moist areas and mildew in high rain areas. These guys improved these plants both by breeding them to be more compact and bloom more heavily.

There are many sizes, from very short 2 to 3 feet up to 10 feet and all in between. The foliage can be almost snow white, gray or a silvery green to green. Flowers are deep purple, light lavender, pink and white, so there is one for every landscape.

Cenizos can be clipped into hedges, but they are prettiest when grown as single plants. If you need a beautiful entry planting for a driveway that gets full sun and is hard or impossible to water, cenizo will be happy there. Some of the most simple and attractive plantings I have seen include cenizo, red yucca, color guard yucca and stone or gravel mulch.

These plants bloom after summer showers and bloom off and on (mainly on) during the hottest summer and early fall months. Some varieties have scented flowers that exude a heavenly smell after summer showers. If we have a no-rain summer, they will happily bloom after a good soaking. Just don’t plant them where they are always getting hit by sprinklers. Drip irrigation works best for these guys.