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 –

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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.

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Crape Myrtle / Lagerstroemia indica – common, though not so much as in Abq
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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!)

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I spotted these happy crapes on many trips towards Las Cruces and points north…
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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.

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

Now for something unusual:

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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.

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Arizona Cypress / Cupressus arizonica var. glabra – very common, always happy…even in that gravelscape front yard
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Piñon / Pinus edulis – uncommon but many here grow well
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a hedge of Creosote Bush / Larrea tridentata – common in the wild, but there are more in Albuquerque landscapes than here
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Velvet Mesquite / Prosopis velutina – unusual here, common just to our west
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bluer leaves, smaller leaflets…more delicate than honey mesquites….
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a tough, old-fashioned standby found across the US…
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Rose of Sharon or Althea / Hibiscus syriacus – unusual here
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Littleleaf Cordia / Cordia parviflora – unusual here
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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…
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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?

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7 Replies to “Surprises and Not So Much: Part 1”

  1. I have to say I’m not a fan of crepes in the desert. They are overused in the South, including Austin, but their lush foliage and heavy bloom just don’t look right in your dry region. I’d go with a native flowering tree instead, or even jacaranda. Or is it too cold for jacaranda in El Paso?

    BTW, datura is perennial here in Austin.

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  2. Last pic is by far my fav!!! I think I love gardening in Texas so much because most natives are exotic and cool to me.

    Good year for crape’s here in SA this year….more flowering than norm….vibrant. Still happy I took that one out of our yard though.

    Thanks, though I was pleasantly surprised at the crapes here.

    I remember my first trip to visit NM when I was 15 (about 10 years ago, dontcha know?), enroute from Denver to Carlsbad Caverns. We stayed at a then-nice motel court on Rt 66 in ABQ…many Yucca faxoniana in the medians, so exotic; so was their spring weather compared to Denver’s or the previous day in Santa Fe. I’ve tried to never lose that wonder that our natives are others’ exotics – in wetter climes most actually are not crazy about forcing dryland natives into miles of every neighborhood, as are some desert towns in forcing high mountains or cold / wet places’ natives everywhere.

    We have more cheap water than brains about living with where we are. We place cultural geography (what people in a place prefer) over what can be sustained beautifully (and will regenerate).

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  3. Amazing pictures of this nice area!

    Thanks, and that from someone who knows amazing photos.

    I’m enjoying your blog posts from all over, plus I remember München just passing through when I was younger, between Belgium and Italy. But we never stopped. And a happy Oktoberfest!

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  4. I grew up thinking Crepe myrtles (the way we always spelled it – like crepe paper which shares a ruffled edge) were native to Austin because I’d seen so many. I’m not sure why, but in Austin this past summer they were all in tip top form – covered with blooms for weeks all around town. A little less heat and a little more rain (not much!) seemed to suit them well.

    A new favorite uncommonly common plant for me is Datura (Jimson weed). It is so striking for much of the hot part of the year it has gone into more common rotation here though years ago you’d only find it out in the “wild”. Interestingly, when I first saw one with only seed pods and minus the characteristic white trumpet blooms, I thought for sure it was some exotic import.

    I used to spell it that way and figured that was the reason for the name, until reading too many blogs, I bet! Your reasoning for this year’s growth makes sense.

    Datura – I keep hearing that yours’ are annuals, but out here, there are 2-3 species, and 2 of those are perennial. I liked mine and the nighttime fragrance…the bats liked it even more, since their favorite sphinx moth snack flew to them nightly. But after pulling countless seedlings and waking up to terrible headaches, reported to be from the toxins, I pulled mine…

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  5. It’s interesting to see what is considered common and uncommon there. Crape myrtles do grow here in the PNW, but not as well or as common as in the Southeast. Do the ones growing there in the desert still have lovely bark?

    And such a list would have some interesting local preferences in all SW towns! Yes, the larger crapes develop that nice splotchy bark, some very nice fall color.

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  6. My first impression is, very pretty and clean looking.

    Yes, a good look in those areas. Well-cared-for, considering some of this area is so neglected.

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  7. It seems Texans can’t get enough of crape myrtles. They were amazing all summer in Alabama. Not so much in San Antonio where they bloom just once and drop their leaves for months. Dynamite crapes are a promising variety but I’ll let the neighbors plant them and keep space for more natives.

    Your description of Littleleaf Cordia is accurate. It’s a traffic stopper in bloom, as in “Who put the Kleenex all over that plant?”.

    Love the composition in the last photo.

    I think “kleenex bush” or “tissue bush” is better than mine! I wonder if you’re getting just a little too hot and not wet enough in summer for crapes? The last photos is a good one…I like driving that route for such scenes.

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