Monday, August 13, 2007

From Rain to Flowers--Barometer Plant Right Again

The Leucophyllum frutescens is often called the Barometer plant because it blooms just about 10 days after a rain, or a day of high humidity, regardless of the time of year. Some think that flowering is triggered by the high soil moisture after a rain, but irrigation does not trigger flowering, so the whole flower blooming thing is a mystery.

The plant, also called Texas Sage, is native to New Mexico, Texas and Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert. It does equally well in our Sonoran desert. It can survive just about any weather condition, and the only thing it can't take is soaked roots as it is prone to is root rot. Arid deserts are its best home for this reason.

The L. frutescens is used extensively in Arizona low desert road medians and in freeway plantings. This bush can get huge—up to eight feet high and wide, which makes regular pruning necessary to maintain size and shape in confined areas. Road crews and landscape maintenance employees regularly shear it rather than prune it for the sake of speed. The result of endless shearings is an ugly, bald plant with no flowers. Shape should be maintained by selective pruning of stems and branches down into the plant, rather than the shearing of the ends of the stems. It’s more labor intensive if done properly, so the shearing will continue. My Texas Sage is an example of good pruning techniques if I do say so myself. It has a rounded shape, no bald patches and is in full flower after our recent rains.

Many folks plant several L. frutescens in their yards and then shear them into unnatural shapes. I’ve seen Texas Sage sheared and shaped like mushrooms, Christmas trees, and even Mickey Mouse! Such pruning would look unnatural in any area, but it looks especially peculiar in the Arizona desert.

The flower on the L. frutescens has numerous hairs that make it appear out of focus in photos. The flowers are quite fragrant, with a spicy smell similar to carnation. My five L. frutescens are the cultivar, ‘Green Cloud’™, which has green foliage and pink-lavendar flowers, as shown. The other popular cultivars in this area are ‘Silver Cloud'™ with gray foliage and lavender-blue flowers, and ‘Thunder Cloud’™, with gray-green leaves and purple flowers. There are about nine cultivars to choose from, depending on the look you are going for in your garden.

Regardless of the cultivar choice, please stay away from mushrooms and Mickey Mouse. Not cool!


captain lifecruiser said...

Interesting plant and totally new to me of course. I'm pretty sure we don't have it here in Sweden :-)

Thanks so much for helping me out with the name of my Loch Ness monster tree - the Mexican Fan Palm! Awesome to get the name of it :-)

gremlin said...

What a cool plant!! Great pictures.

Matthew said...

I'll have to print out this photo to show my plants what they can become. I haven't seen Mickey Mouse yet, but there are lots of boxes and pompoms around here.

Leonie said...

What a fascinating plant, and so pretty too, the flowers almost remind me of our foxgloves as they're a similar colour pink with the spotty bits on the flowers. A lovely post, thanks for sharing that info.

chigiy at Gardeners Anonymous said...

Your blog never ceaces to amaze me. Your posts are packed with so much information. When my blog grows up it wants to be just like yours:)

At first glance I thought your Texas sage was Mexican heather ( cuphea).

It is a beautiful plant. Would it grow in the Santa Cruz mountains?

No Rain said...

Hi Chigiy,
L. frutescens can grow in USDA zones 8-10. I think the Santa Cruz mountain region is in zone 8-9 (put in ZIP code in USDA link on the right side bar of my home page to check) so there's a good possibility it could do ok there. It must have good drainage if you get a lot of rain. It just won't live if the ground is constantly moist.
Thanks for the compliment. I really appreciate that you enjoy reading about my plants.