NATIVE PLANTS OF THE CROSS TIMBERS

The Cross Timbers and Blackland Prairie ecosystems of north Texas have played an important role in this region’s natural heritage.  Prairies and grasslands have historical significance in north Texas.  The D/FW area straddles both ecosystems:  Blackland Prairie and the CrossTimbers (both considered a component of the Tallgrass Prairie).  Native Americans survived off the natural resources provided by these ecosystems.  As settlers traveled into the area from the east, they passed through the lush, green Blackland Prairies, which were covered with wildflowers, native tall grasses and dotted with trees along rivers.  The Cross Timbers area featured two distinct belts of densely-wooded Post Oak/Blackjack Oak forests.  The Cross Timbers was, and still is, the transition zone between deciduous forests of the east and the grasslands of the Great Plains.  Early accounts by settlers of this region spoke of beauty and harshness altogether.  The D/FW metroplex was established amidst these ecosystems.  It is important that we not lose touch with our natural heritage.  Today, less than 1% of the original Tallgrass Prairie remains intact.

With water conservation in our urban areas becoming increasingly more important, native plants in our landscapes can help us save our precious water.  Native plants grow naturally in our soils, climate & unpredictable weather.  They are drought-tolerant and need little attention.  Some of these native plants may not be available in most local nurseries, however, you might try calling nurseries that specialize in native plants.  You always have the option of propagating these plants from seed or vegetatively.  If nothing else, knowing some native plants will help you appreciate their role in our environment and urban settings.

We have collected pictures and information on some of the plants found in these vanishing ecosystems.  This is not an exhaustive display of plants, it is merely a dent in the diversity that exists in our region.  These plants can be found locally in lawns, parks, development sites, and natural areas.  If you keep your eyes to the ground, you’ll be surprised at what you might find!

Native Trees

Hercules’ Club

Hercules' club - Zanthoxylum clava-herculis This member of the Citrus family can be found in fields & other areas of sandy or rocky ground.  The bark is very interesting with its knotty protuberances in pyramidal form.  The odd-looking trunk earns the tree its...

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Mexican Plum

Mexican plum - Prunus mexicana This flowering tree is one of the first to bloom in the spring.  You can see it's white flowers in woods & thickets alongside the road as you speed by.  It grows in a variety of soils & does well as an understory or full sun...

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Texas Ash

Texas ash - Fraxinus texensis This medium-sized tree grows on limestone soils.  It is used in landscaping situations.  It is especially good for small residential lots that do not have room for a large tree.  Texas ash is drought-tolerant & provides good fall...

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Pecan

Pecan - Carya illinoinensis Pecan is Texas' state tree.  It is a grand tree that grows a large trunk, provides nutritious nuts & deep shade.  Pecans grow fairly rapidly & makes a nice landscape tree in a large yard or park.  Wildlife love the...

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Live Oak

Live oak - Quercus virginiana Live oaks illicit an image of the 'Deep South' & tree-lined streets with Spanish moss dangling from their limbs.  Live oaks are stately trees with spreading canopies that provide extensive shade.  They are popular landscaping trees in...

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Shumard Red Oak

Shumard red oak - Quercus shumardii This fast growing oak is a popular choice with homeowners.  It provides quick shade & excellent fall color.  Its shape is very attractive as well.  It's susceptible to Oak Wilt, so before selecting a Red oak, check the diversity...

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Post Oak

Post oak - Quercus stellata Post oak has a beautiful branching structure that speaks to rugged determination and strength.  The silhouette of this tree is almost iconic.  They grow mostly in sandy soils and are the dominant species of the Cross Timbers ecosystem.  If...

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Chinquapin Oak

Chinquapin oak - Quercus muehlenbergii This is not a Chinquapin tree, but rather an oak that has leaves similar to the Chinquapin, hence its name Chinquapin oak.  This oak grows in uplands & creek bottoms on calcareous/limestone soils.  It is a popular landscaping...

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Bur Oak

Bur oak - Quercus macrocarpa The Bur oak grows to towering heights.  You could think of it as representing Texas where "everything's bigger in Texas" because the tree is big, the leaves are big, & the acorns are big!  Large acorns give it the scientific species...

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Mesquite

Prosopis glandulosa Honey Mesquite is a common tree in our area.  It tends to invade pastures & grasslands that are unbalanced.  It is a very drought-tolerant tree that makes a nice addition to an urban landscape - especially xeriscapes - but watch out for the...

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Paloverde

Paloverde - Parkinsonia aculeata Paloverde is a native of the Lower Rio Grande Valley & Mexico but it has naturalized in north Texas in some areas where it has escaped from cultivation.  It has green bark & twigs, which help it photosynthesize after dropping...

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Native Shrubs

Mexican buckeye

Mexican buckeye - Ungnadia speciosa This shrub is not a true buckeye.  It can grow to 15 feet & either be trained as a tree or retain a shrub form.  It has delicate pink blooms in the spring.  The seeds are interesting 3-chambered pods that open to release the...

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Buttonbush

Buttonbush - Cephalanthus occidentalis This shrub attracts attention because of the perfect globe cluster of flowers, which attract many butterflies & hummingbirds, & many species of birds eat Buttonbush seeds in the fall.  The leaves attach to the stem in a...

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Chickasaw plum

Chickasaw plum - Prunus angustifolia This plum forms thickets, which give wildlife ranging from rabbits to sparrows a place to hide.  They put out sweet-smelling blooms in early spring, and if its a good year, you might be able to harvest plum fruit to make jelly or...

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Rough-leaf Dogwood

Rough-leaf dogwood with Monarch - Cornus drummondii The showy cluster of flowers attracts numerous butterfly species.  Birds devour the fruit.  It grows in shady, moist areas, but can also be seen at harsh sites, such as along railroad tracks.  The shrub reaches up to...

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Aromatic Sumac

Aromatic sumac - Rhus aromatica This small shrub is also known as Three-leaf Sumac.  Some people may confuse it with Poison Ivy, which is in the same Family.  However, Aromatic sumac has leaves that are a bit different & it does not cause acute dermatitis like...

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Wildflowers

Wine-cup

Wine-cup with Orange Sulphur Butterfly - Callirhoe involucrata This perennial is low & sprawling.  It makes a great groundcover or mass planting.  It continues flowering most of the summer.  It overwinters as a small rosette of leaves.  They are typically found on...

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Mealy sage

Mealy sage - Salvia farinacea This fast-growing perennial is widely sold in the native plant industry.  It provides a clump of color with its whorls of violet-blue flowers & its grayish green foliage.  It is seen in the natural landscape growing on calcareous,...

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Native Grasses

Indiangrass

Indiangrass - Sorghastrum nutans This grass is one of the "big four" native grasses of the original tall grass prairie.  It can be found in the Cross Timbers region at undisturbed sites. It provides good soil erosion control, makes a nice accent grass for landscaping,...

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Switchgrass

Switchgrass - Panicum virgatum Switchgrass is a dominant bunchgrass found in the original tall grass prairie and is one of the "big four" along with Indiangrass, Little bluestem & Big bluestem. It is a perennial that grows in large clumps, which makes it good for...

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Canada Wildrye

Canada wildrye - Elymus canadensis Canada wildrye grows in shady spots or openings in the woods.  It provides good early grazing for livestock & fair forage for wildlife such as deer. Many species of small mammal & birds eat the grain & use it for nesting...

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Inland Seaoats

Inland seaoats - Chasmanthium latifolium This perennial grass loves the shade. It grows along streams & moist woodlands. Seaoats provides excellent forage for wildlife. It makes an attractive ornamental grass for landscaping. This is a good grass to plant in a...

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Hairy Grama

Hairy grama - Bouteloua hirsuta Hairy grama is a warm season perennial bunchgrass. It provides good forage for cattle & wildlife.  Although this grass doesn't reach the proportions of other bunchgrasses, it makes for an attractive planting interspersed amongst the...

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Silver Bluestem

Silver bluestem - Bothriochloa laguroides Silver bluestem reaches up to 42" in height & is a warm season perennial bunchgrass. The silver seed heads glisten in the sun when the grass is swaying in the wind on a summer day. This grass would make an attractive...

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Native Vines

Virginia Creeper

Virginia creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia Virginia creeper grows up into trees & makes an interesting focal point along the trunk of a tree.  In the fall, they turn brilliant fall colors & put out bluish fruit.  This beautiful native vine is a good...

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Rattanvine

Rattanvine - Berchemia scandens This vine can climb high & it twines, giving it its name "rattan."  It can even become a twining vine-shrub.  It is found in thickets or woods, near stream bottoms & slopes.  The leaves are reminiscent of Carolina buckthorn...

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Pearl Milkvine

Pearl milkvine - Matelea reticulata This delicate vine is often overlooked on a hike through the woods; although it can climb up to 12' into a tree!  The unassuming star-shaped green flowers have reticulate veins & pearly stamen column.  The heart-shaped leaves...

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This listing of native plants of the Cross Timbers eco-region is not comprehensive.  This is merely a compilation of some plants that can be found locally in lawns, parks, development sites, and natural areas.  If you keep your eyes to the ground, you’ll be surprised at what you might find!

With water conservation in our urban areas becoming increasingly more important, native plants in our landscapes can help us save our precious water.  Native plants grow naturally in our soils, climate & unpredictable weather.  They are drought-tolerant and need little attention.  Some of these native plants may not be available in most local nurseries, however, you might try calling nurseries that specialize in native plants.  You always have the option of propagating these plants from seed or vegetatively.  If nothing else, knowing some native plants will help you appreciate their role in our environment and urban settings.

Some good resources for ID & to learn more about native plants of Texas are:

  • Shinners & Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas by George M. Diggs, Jr., Barney L. Lipscomb,
    & Robert J. O’Kennon
  • Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi
  • Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country by Marshall Enquist
  • Texas Wildflowers by Campbell & Lynn Loughmiller
  • Trees of North Texas by Robert A. Vines
  • Trees of Texas by Carmine Stahl & Ria McElvaney
  • Grasses of the Texas Hill Country by Brian & Shirley Loflin
  • Common Texas Grasses: An Illustrated Guide by Frank W. Gould
  • Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife by Noreen Damude and Kelly Conrad Bender
  • Landscaping with Native Plants of Texas by George Oxford Miller
  • How to Grow Native Plants of Texas & the Southwest by Jill Nokes

Find out how community volunteers can take an area that was formerly neglected and overgrown with invasive, exotic privet and return the site to the Eastern Cross Timbers ecosystem.  Visit the Molly Hollar Wildscape website to learn more.