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Two must-have native shrubs to benefit birds, the habitat and yourself

Yellow Sophora blooms (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Published in the McAllen Monitor, December 23, 2023

Story and photos by Anita Westervelt

As 2023 winds down and we look toward a new year, consider adding to your residential landscape with beneficial, attention-getting native shrubs.

The ideal time for planting in the Rio Grande Valley is during our cooler months: November through February. Even after a record summer of harsh heat and drought, native plants survived with remarkable aplomb – and minimal maintenance – living up to their expectations.

Two of my favorite shrubs are yellow sophoraSophora tomentosa, and Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus drummondii.

Yellow sophora is a stand-alone thornless shrub that can reach heights of three to six feet with about a six-foot spread. It has delicate-looking, long graceful arching branches with soft gray-green leaves and long-blooming spires of yellow flowers.

Yellow Sophora (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The shrub is as hardy as it is beautiful. It survives temperatures to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and will come back from the roots if frozen to the ground. During a severe drought, it may look dead but will remarkably revive with watering. Flowers draw hummingbirds, butterflies and bees to nectar during the day and moths and other nectar-insects at night.

After blooming, long strands of seedpods develop, turning from pale green to yellow to dark brown when ripe. The pods can hang on the branches for two years. Insects may eat the seeds in the pods and seeds falling under the mother plant produce new plants that can easily be dug up and planted elsewhere or potted up and shared.

Yellow Sophora seedpods (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Turk’s cap is another must-have plant, especially if you want to attract hummingbirds. This shrub is one of the few native plants that will grow and bloom in shade as well as in full or partial sun. I planted one at the base of a mature honey mesquite tree several years ago. It has colonized and now surrounds the tree trunk in a display of a good 12-foot ring. The shrub is equally productive as a standalone. Expect blooms eleven months of the year, mostly February through December. It is a great source of entertainment; plant it where it will best be visible.

Turk's Cap blooms. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Local native plant growers recommend cutting Turk’s cap back to about six inches every two, or three years. The week-long wind and freeze of 2021 promoted that activity and new growth returned by spring. The plants were unharmed with last year’s three-day freeze.

Three- to four-foot-long branches tend to sprawl. Bright red flowers only partially open; hummingbirds, with their long beaks, have no problem extracting nectar from the flower openings. Orioles, on the other hand, with their shorter beaks, stab the base of the flower directly to the sweet spot.

Female Hooded Oriole at Turk's Cap flower (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Turk’s cap shrubs form a dense shelter for insects; many birds hop among the foliage, gleaning food. Resident black capped titmice and curve-billed thrashers frequent the shrub for insects. Groove-billed ani and blue grosbeak birds just passing through have visited the shrub. Resident great kiskadees swoop in, plucking the fruit from the plant. Turk’s cap is a host plant to a rare to the Valley moth, Eusceptis flavifrimbriata.

Male Blue Grosbeak in Turk's Cap bush (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

In the event the above link isn't working for you, below is the information from that Web page, but be sure to scroll all the way down to read a brief about Texas Master Naturalists and how they help our Texas parks -- not just with labor!

Valley Native Plant Growers & Nurseries


 La Maceta Nursery (956) 562-6030*

 Reyes Nursery (956) 380-1528


 Grimsell Seed Co. (956) 423-0370

 Heep's LRGV Native Plant Nursery (Mike Heep) (956) 457-6834*

 Stuart Place Nursery (956) 428-4439

 Wild August Nursery (956) 535-2117

La Joya

 Perez Ranch Nursery (956) 580-8915

Laguna Vista

 J&R Landscaping (956) 433-5109


 Waugh's Nursery (956) 686-5591


 National Butterfly Center (956) 583-5400

 Oleander Nursery (956) 607-3304

 Shady Acres Nursery (956) 581-7783


 Caldwell's Jungle Nursery (956) 689-3432

Rio Grande City

 Rancho Lomita Native Plant Nursery (956) 486-2576*

San Benito

 River Oaks Nursery (956) 399-4078


 Valley Nature Center (956) 969-2475*

* Native Plants Only

List revised December 2022

Any registered nursery that offer Rio Grande Valley native plants for sale and would like to be listed here, please e-mail: 

  Excellent field guides to Lower Rio Grande Valley native plants:

Wildflowers and Other Plants of Texas Beaches and Islands 2002 by Dr. Alfred Richardson

Plants of Deep South Texas 2011 by Dr. Alfred Richardson and Ken King

Native Host Plants for Texas Butterflies: A Field Guide 2018 by Weber & Wauer

Native Plant Project Handbooks available at

Planting guide for RGV Plants Planting Guide for RGV Brochure


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Master Naturalists benefit Texas

Arranged by Anita Westervelt


The Texas Master Naturalist organization celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

There are 48 chapters throughout the state with 12,800 certified Texas Master Naturalists serving 213 counties.


Local Texas Master Naturalist volunteers are dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources of the Rio Grande Valley. Two Texas Master Naturalist chapters serve Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties: the South Texas Border Chapter, based in Pharr and the Rio Grande Valley Chapter, based in San Benito.


Since the state program’s inception in 1997, Texas Master Naturalists have recorded 6,787,000 volunteer hours in natural resource conservation, education and stewardship. These volunteer efforts are worth more than $98 million to the State of Texas.


Funding for the Texas Master Naturalist program is provided by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Chapter advisors for the Rio Grande Valley chapters are Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Estero Llano Grande State Park, Park Superintendent Javier de Leon, and Tony Reisinger, Cameron County Extension Agent for Coastal and Marine Resources with Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&M University and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.


Annual training begins mid-January. For more information visit: and Texas Master Naturalists receive in-depth training about local ecosystems and wildlife and natural resource management. Classes are taught by local university professors and professional field experts.


Volunteer opportunities include special chapter projects, coastal naturalist programs, native plants and habitat conservation, citizen science projects, bird migration, shore birds and Gulf and beach inhabitants and trends. Texas Master Naturalists also serve as guides and docents at local wildlife parks and in various capacities with more than 70 local, state and federal partners.


The South Texas Border Chapter meets the third Monday of the month at 6 p.m. at the St. George Orthodox Church at 704 W. Sam Houston, in Pharr. They have a monthly guest speaker. Meetings are free and open to the public.  Follow the chapter’s Facebook page at

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