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Growing Local: Alpine's Fall Native Plant Sale

chisos-red-oak
photograph by Cathryn Hoyt The Chisos red oak is a Trans-Pecos native that will available at the Big Bend Native Plant Society's fall plant sale, Sept. 12 at Brown Dog Gardens in Alpine.

Across the country, gardeners and landscapers are embracing the use of native local plants. It's a movement that's growing in West Texas as well.

The Big Bend's Native Plant Society holds a fall plant sale Saturday, Sept. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sale – at Brown Dog Gardens on Murphy Street in Alpine – is an opportunity to buy trees and shrubs native to the Trans-Pecos.

The Sept. 12 sale will include hundreds of plants, from more than 40 species.

Patty Manning, a sale organizer, managed the greenhouse at Sul Ross State University for 18 years, before retiring in 2014. She is familiar with local plant populations, from roadsides to remote canyons. Manning is one of a handful of dedicated botanists who have worked to expand access to native seeds and plants.

The Trans-Pecos is home to many native oaks. Manning likes the Chisos red oak – which is found only in mountain ranges in the Trans-Pecos and in Coahuila, Mexico.

“The oaks that we have on our list include the Chisos red oak,” Manning said, “which is really gorgeous local oak, that you can see many of in the Davis Mountains, for one. Those acorns came from one of the large trees on the Jeff Davis County courthouse lawn area. It's a beautiful tree.”

Another winner is the Tracy hawthorn. The tree is unique to the Davis Mountains area.

“Its glory is really in the fall,” Manning said. “It makes small, red fruits that look kind of like a rosehip or very, very tiny crab apple, and they turn red. The leaves, the foliage, turn various deep shades of red, almost to a reddish maroon. It's a very nice addition to the landscape if you want fall color.”

Early fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. The weather is agreeable in September and October, with the season's late monsoon rains and mild temperatures. And in the fall, there's less wind than in the spring.

These gentler conditions increase the likelihood of success in transplanting plants from containers to soil. Plants can take root in the fall and winter. They'll be big enough to withstand the stresses of spring, and flourish when summer returns.

“They will continue to have root growth through the winter, while their tops are dormant,” Manning said. “By the time spring comes, or early summer, and they start to put out new growth, they will have developed a decent root system, so they've got plenty of energy to put into that top growth”

Golden Ball lead tree, kidneywood, Texas madrone, Scarlet bouvardia, desert willow. Organizers hope the sale will introduce both veteran and novice gardeners to the diversity of native flora, and offer new ideas for gardens and landscaping.

Some of the native trees and shrubs are “generalists,” capable of thriving anywhere in the region. Others have narrower ecological niches. Volunteers at the sale can advise buyers on the right plants for the places they live.

In a country where regional character can be hard to find, native plants bring the distinctive textures and colors of the place we live. Gardening and landscaping with native plants can also help wild plant populations flourish. And, of course, native plants provide habitat and food for native animals.

As gardeners embrace native species, home landscapes become windows into the local ecosystem. It's an invitation to appreciate plants we otherwise zip by on the highway, or brush past on a hike or ride.

“I certainly have found that in my own garden, my own landscape, I've come to appreciate a lot of pretty common plants that grow out here, just on their own sake,” Manning said. “How they develop, how they grow, what their flowers look like, what their fruits look like, what kinds of pollinators come to visit them, do birds nest in them, do birds use the fruits or the flowers – it kind of becomes a whole ecological laboratory right in your own backyard.”

A plant list is available at Brown Dog Gardens, and on the native plant society's Facebook page. page. Purchases at the sale are cash or check only. The sale offers a unique opportunity to purchase plants, particularly native oaks and flowering trees, that are part of the Trans-Pecos ecosystem but not often seen in home landscapes.