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Anita’s Blog – What’s That Plant?

The earth thinks it’s spring in the Rio Grande Valley, so I’m going with that – but with caution.

It’s not yet February and although we’re tempted to hold our breath until after that month’s third week – past the killing freeze dates of February 2021 – the next two weeks can be put to good use out in the yard, if we trust the temperatures listed in my phone weather app.

New little plant leaves are pushing up all over. Why is this important now?

Many of you may recall, the South Texas Border Chapter, Texas Master Naturalists had a booth last spring at the annual Rio Grande Valley Home and Garden Show at the McAllen Convention Center. We sold a record number of native plants at our booth. Plants our chapter Master Naturalists propagated and donated.

This year’s event is March 31 through April 2, 2023 – mark your calendars!

While the weather’s pleasant, it’s not too early to begin potting up some of those little upstarts for our booth event and other native plant selling opportunities.

The next portion of this post is a tutorial for our new class members and those who’ve never tried their hand at sharing plants -- and also for anyone who wants to share their plants with friends but are afraid to. If you already have an efficient system, skip this tutorial, and scroll down to the next subhead: Plants to be on the lookout for

Tutorial for potting native upstarts:

Ideally, those ubiquitous one-gallon plastic pots are the right size for this project. These pots have drainage holes in the bottom. For plant sales, it’s good to put something in the bottom of the pot so the soil doesn’t fall out (and mess up the sales table). Useful ideas are coffee filters no longer useful in the kitchen (and pretty cheap in the grocery stores), a square of newspaper, dead palm fronds cut in 3- to 4-inch lengths, banana plant leaves that have dried, or those large, rubbery banana flower petals that have fallen to the ground, live oak tree leaves – see how creative and inexpensive this part of the project can be?

Speaking of inexpensive, nurseries may have a pile of used one-gallon plant pots they are willing to give away or sell new ones relatively inexpensively. Shopping around online might be helpful, too. If you frequent estate sales . . . you get the idea.

For soil, this will be an expense. Many people buy good potting soil. Others may compost throughout the year and then buy lesser expensive bags of soil and mix their own like so: purchased bagged soil, homemade compost and yard soil – perhaps bagged manure, if you want to throw this into the mix, too. I scoop various amounts of each into a five-gallon bucket and then pour it into another one and do this back and forth several times to get it mixed.

However you deal with the soil mix, cover the holes in the bottom of the pot with your chosen material, scoop some soil in – you’ll have to judge how much by the length of the roots of the plants you dig up; tamp the soil down, you may even wet the soil at this point. Gently dig up the new plant, put it in the pot and scoop more soil around the roots; fill to about one to two inches from the top rim. Press the soil down firmly to get out air pockets. Water the pot – only water can carry nutrients from soil to the plant’s roots. If you have the means, set your potted plants in a tub of water for a couple of hours instead of knocking the shocked plants about with a spray from the hose.

I recommend digging up one plant at a time and putting it in a pot. The longer the roots are exposed, the harder it is on the plant’s recuperation.

Once you have plants potted up, make a little temporary nursery for ease in caring for them in a relatively shaded area protected somewhat from the wind. They will need to be checked frequently and watered, especially during the first two weeks.

Plants to be on the lookout for:

Some plants are prolific on their own and will migrate to yards without human intervention, like our roadside common sunflower, Mexican hat, passion vine, tropical sage and scorpion’s tail.

Now is the time to dig them up and pot them when they are just pushing leaves through the winter ground.

Other plants that easily propagate themselves from plants we’ve purchased and added to our gardens also are coming up and can easily be transplanted before their root base gets too big. A few of those plants are listed here, too.

The following photos are meant to give you a clue as to what to look for in the plants’ early leaf stages. All the below plants are described, with leaf detail, in our favorite book: Richardson, A., King, K. 2011. Plants of Deep South Texas: A Field Guide to the Woody and Flowering Species. Texas A&M University press, College Station. – available at local wildlife centers and on Amazon.

Photo gallery of plants in alphabetical order by common name:

Basket flower, Plectocephalus americanus, page 117. New plant leaves are in a small rosette and basically flat on the ground at this stage. If you had this plant previously, it most likely will reseed.

Basket Flower. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Common sunflower, AKA Mirasol, Helianthus annuus, page 105. You may think no one would want to purchase this because they are so prevalent, but local experts are witnessing that even “weeds” are disappearing from farm field edges because of continued use of herbicide, mowing and weed-eating, as noted by local native plant expert Christina Mild in the February Native Plant Project newsletter: “This adds to the argument that native plants around our homes are becoming ever more vital for ongoing health of the ecosystem,” she also wrote.

The Native Plant Project meets in Weslaco most months. Check out their meeting information:

Even the young leaves of newly emerging sunflower plants are large; they are soft at this stage and just a wee bit hairy on the underside, the edges are just beginning to appear toothed.

Common Sunflower. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Crucita, blue mist flower, Chromolaena odorata, page 91. Fall blooming mist flower leaves are elongated to a point. Young leaves show texture and venation and are toothed. Spring blooming mist flower leaves are shorter and fat, somewhat heart shaped.

Crucita. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Frostweed, Verbesina microptera, page 134. Most likely you planted this one and it is reseeding. It might get confused with emerging sunflowers, but on close inspection, frostweed leaves are concave compared to the mounds between the sunflower veins. A caution about frostweed, get it soon before the root base gets too big. Mature plants can be dug up and potted also; remove the spent stalk, and beware, the root base is quite large and thick, sort of like an octopus on steroids, and you may want to prepare a larger pot than a one-gallon size. These plants, no matter the size, are quite forgiving when transplanted.

Frostweed. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Heliotrope, Scorpion’s tail, Heliotropium angiospermum, page 144. Sort of crinkly looking, noticeable texture. Most likely, even at three inches tall, the tell-tale bloom will be showing.

Heliotrope, Scorpion's Tail. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnifera, page 121. Really fun looking leaves at any stage – the botanical (professional) term is deeply lobed.

Mexican Hat. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Passion vine, Corona de Cristo, Passiflora foetida var. gossypifolia, page 346. This is such a delicate plant, but believe me, it’s hearty. I dig it up between our land and the next-door farm field – the farmer knows. The plant in the photo has come up from one of those previous transplants. The leaves at this stage are a lime green, brighter than most of the other green in your yard; the leaves are sort of the shape of a trefoil, have noticeable venation and a textured look, although they are thin and delicate. The plant usually transplants successfully, but not always.

A passion vine, Passiflora foetida. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Pigeon berry, Rivina humilis, page 349. This plant’s claim to fame is that it grows in full sun or full shade here in the Rio Grande Valley. If you’ve previously added one to your landscape, check around it for wee babies. The leaves sort of look like they could almost have a red tinge around the edges. Your best clue is, if it’s around the mother plant, chances are . . . .

Pigeon Berry. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Pink mint, Stachys drummondii, page 291. Lovely, crisp, textured and serrated-edged leaves. If you’ve got one pink mint plant, you’ve got hundreds – and enough to share. Pot these up now or wait a couple of weeks. To be honest, transplanting can be hit or miss but worth the try. Even the wee plants could be blooming already.

Pink Mint. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Skeleton leaf golden eye, Viguiera stenoloba, page 135. This plant probably won’t have wandered onto your yard by itself, but if you have one already, look for babies – and they won’t be under the mother plant. Even at three inches in height, the “boney fingers” shape is present. I’ve had success transplanting or potting up this plant when they are around six inches tall. Birds eat the seeds, which undoubtedly helps them get to the far points in our yard.

Skeleton Leaf Golden Eye. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Snapdragon vine, Maurandya antirrhiniflora, page 387. This is also one of those that if you planted one, you’ll soon have many times many. Tiny, heart shaped leaves, near-succulent feeling; it also is one that is hit or miss with successful potting up – perhaps I don’t hold my mouth just right. The woman who gave me my first snapdragon vine was successful in the endeavor so it’s certainly possible.

Snapdragon Vine. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus drummondii, page 313. This photo is a bit rough looking; it shows bug activity and that’s a good thing! Turk’s cap leaves are darker green than most of the green in your yard. The leaves are large, even at the tiny plant stage, heart shaped with toothed margins. Even at a four-inch height, it might be blooming so there’s a good clue!

Turk's Cap. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Turkey tangle frogfruit, Texas frog fruit, sawtooth frog fruit, Phyla nodiflora, page 418. By whatever name, it’s probably frog fruit. iNaturalist* uses turkey tangle for this particular species on our land. Yes, looking rough after the December 2022 two-day freeze, but not dead. I’ve personally not tried to transplant this or pot it up for sales so I have no words of wisdom, but someone will, and it’d be great if they’d like to share their information, thanks.

A Frog Fruit. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Tropical sage, red sage, scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea, page 288. The leaves look almost like everything else I’ve described so hopefully you’ve found new plants near ones still blooming. Propagation is by division – or what I call potting up.

Tropical Sage. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Not listed in PDST but planted in our Texas Master Naturalist pollinator garden at St. George’s in Pharr, is antiqua sage, red rocket, firecracker plant, russelia sarmentosa. It is native to Mexico. Its crimson-coral red tubular blooms differ in color to the red of tropical sage. Leaves are noticeably veined, blueish-green, small and roundish with toothed edges. Kinda dime sized. Like Salvia coccinea, it blooms during all seasons, sun to partial shade. Nectar for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; R. sarmentosa is host to common buckeye butterfly.

Antiqua Sage. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

* is a joint initiative California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic Society worldwide nature identification. There’s a phone app also. If you are not yet knowledgeable about iNat, Urban Ecologist John Brush will be leading a workshop at Quinta Mazatlán’s Center for Urban Ecology, in McAllen, Saturday, March 4th from 2 to 4 p.m. for a $5 fee. For more information, e-mail:



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