Surprises and Not So Much: Part 1

People have asked me about what it’s like in my new town, many less familiar with it here than they even were with where I last lived 21 years.

Part of that involves “what kinds of plants do you have?”

Since I had seen a number of plants over a year ago, that I never photographed, I set out to capture those: some usual, expected, and surprising plants for El Paso. Photos from the last 2 weeks –

I spotted this a few times on work errands…

Crape Myrtle is common here and other high desert towns; I’ve seen countless ones here. But many, even in more heavily irrigated situations, look stunted at best.

They lack the lushness in foliage and flower that they do in, say, New Orleans or North Carolina. Crape Myrtle is native to the steamy summers of southern and eastern parts of Asia (analogous to the US southeast, including Austin, Jacksonville or Memphis), not the dry heat of a desert.

Crape Myrtle / Lagerstroemia indica – common, though not so much as in Abq
nice bloom, and this is on a hot south-facing aspect…

It seems success here is by choosing a proven, superior selection or cultivar for here, plus deeper soil, a less dry microclimate and similar companion plantings. (not one sage and one yucca, with 10 feet of landscape gravel between them!)

I spotted these happy crapes on many trips towards Las Cruces and points north…
also on a hot S exposure, yet fine…

Jeff Anderson, the Doña Ana County extension horticulturist in nearby Las Cruces, showed me his own ‘Natchez’ and ‘Muscogee’ selections, and they looked much more full and lush than the norm. I hear there may be a couple more, that can handle our high desert conditions.

a few crapes  in a a densely planted landscape…they were planted at 10’+ tall several years ago…
still looking happy…not a clue on their varieties…

Now for something unusual:

Ponderosa Pine / Pinus ponderosa – very uncommon here

I spotted that tree on a couple mountain bike trips, returning from the trail another way. This one is actually not bad – about how the exceptional ones mostly grow in miles of Albuquerque – short of expensive spray applications for pine tip moth, favored cooler parts of town, or possibly with lower elevation selections.

Note all the heavily irrigated lawn, and a crammed-in Southern Magnolia to its right…poor thing!

Still, P. ponderosa would be best enjoyed in cooler places, above 7500′ in elevation. The taller Italian Stone Pine, which I cropped in front of the ponderosa, are far more suitable here. Even far from the “bucolic hills of Tuscany” which I’ve seen several times in person.

Arizona Cypress / Cupressus arizonica var. glabra – very common, always happy…even in that gravelscape front yard
Piñon / Pinus edulis – uncommon but many here grow well
a hedge of Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata – common in the wild, but there are more in Albuquerque landscapes than here
Velvet Mesquite / Prosopis velutina – unusual here, common just to our west
bluer leaves, smaller leaflets…more delicate than honey mesquites….
a tough, old-fashioned standby found across the US…
Rose of Sharon or Althea / Hibiscus syriacus – unusual here
Littleleaf Cordia / Cordia parviflora – unusual here
the way the large, floppy blooms dot the plant, it reminds more than I of someone’s front yard getting teepeed, at least from a distance…
a locally native trio of Fouquieria splendens, Tecoma stans var. angustata, Yucca torreyi – very common

Even the expected here look amazing, and rarely grow this well anywhere but the 3000-5500′ elevation belt, a few hours either side of I-10…which happens to be the sweet spot of where chiles reach their pinnacle.

What are your favorite common and uncommon plants? Or reasons you think they are that way?