Lovely Leucophyllum – the Snapdragon Shrubs

Gardening in the Southwest is unique in many ways, and tops on the list are plants you don’t find anywhere else on earth. Leucophyllum , a shrubby member of the Snapdragon Family is one of these unique species.

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Lovely Leucophyllum

There are more common names for Leucophyllum than you can shake a stick at. Some of the more common common names are: rain sage, Texas sage, Texas rain sage, Texas ranger, Chihuahuan rain sage, blue ranger, cenizo, Texas silverleaf, barometer bush, ash-bush, wild lilac, purple sage, senisa, cenicilla, palo cenizo, and hierba del cenizo.  Although “sage,” often appears in the common name, it is not even in the same plant family as true sage (Salvia), in the Mint Family.

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Leucophyllum laevigatum, also called Chihuahuan Sage. Photo courtesy of Mountain States Wholesale Nursery.

 

Used to the Southwest Climate

Leucophyllum are native to dry, rocky, and calcareous (calcium, limestone and caliche-ridden) areas of the Chihuahuan Desert in the states of Texas USA and Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas in Mexico. Since they come from dry areas, these shrubs are well adapted to low-water landscapes.

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Leucophyllum zygophyllum, also called the Cimmaron Sage looks lovely in the landscape.

 

Good in the Landscape

Leucophyllum grow quickly, tolerate the abuse of shearing, and survive in reflected light conditions. Best of all – if not overly sheared, they will bloom in the warm months of summer and provide food for a number of pollinators.

Originally there were seven species, but then the plant breeders got busy! They selected for brighter colored flowers, more compact forms, and more intense leaf colors.

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Some Leucophyllum grow very large. Pay attention to mature size when you plant them because they can take over the space!


All Leucophyllum are evergreen, but that doesn’t mean they are green! Foliage ranges in shade from silvery, almost white, to silvery-blue, to blue-green. Heights and degree of bushyness also vary.  Plants vary from 8-10 foot monster shrubs to compact 1 foot minishrubs that fit well under windows.

Flowers of this lovely shrub generally are in the purple end of the spectrum, from deep violet, to purple, mauve, heliotrope, plum,lilac, amethyst, and ranging into shades of pinkish-purple.

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The flowers fall after a few days – but still look lovely and can be pressed for crafts.


Wildlife & Leucophyllum

Leucophyllum frutescens, the most commonly planted species, is a host plant for the caterpillars of the Theona Checkerspot (Chlosyne theona) and Calleta Silkmoth (Eupackardia calleta). A wide array of other adult butterflies use the flowers as a nectar source.

Flowers of Leucophyllum often appear after a rain, and in great profusion. Along with butterflies, other pollinators use them as a nectar source.  The list includes include bees, bee mimics, skippers, and an occasional hungry hummingbird.

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As with any rich food source, predators will show up to consume the pollinators.  You may see various crab spiders lurking in flowers, or insectivorous birds swoop in for a meal. A hedge of Leucophyllum in flower can swarm with life, even here in the Southwest.


Learn More about Butterfly Gardening

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More about butterfly plants for your landscape in this book Butterfly Gardening in Southern Arizona (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.


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