In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2003
Regional Report

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This Leucophyllum resembles lilac blossoms in color and texture.

Leucophyllums for Summer Color

When humidity and summer thundershowers arrive, Leucophyllums burst into bloom seemingly overnight. My regular stroll to a nearby park takes on a completely different appearance, with a swath of purple-flowering shrubs along the sidewalk.

A decade or so ago, Leucophyllum frutescens was the only species routinely available. Commonly called Texas ranger or Texas sage, it was a tough plant with gray foliage and reddish-purple flowers, reaching 4 to 8 feet tall and wide. It was a low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plant unfazed by alkaline soil, and it thrived in full sun, intense heat, even reflected heat and sun.

Growers have since introduced other Leucophyllum species in a wider range of foliage and flower colors, as well as sizes. However, they still maintain the rugged, desert-adapted characteristics that make them such useful landscape plants. The only problem is that they may be susceptible to Texas root rot, also called cotton root rot. If this fungal disease has been present in your landscape, don't plant Leucophyllum.

Favorite Selections
L. candidum's common name, violet silverleaf, effectively describes this shrub. I like the strong contrast between the silvery foliage and deep purple flowers, which seems to provide a cooling effect, if that's possible in the summer desert garden. This is a more compact size than some of the species, usually reaching 3 feet tall and wide.

L. laevigatum (Chihuahuan rain sage) has grayish green foliage and lavender flowers. I like the structure of this species as the branches are open and somewhat upturned, providing an airy look.

L. langmaniae features lush-looking green foliage with a lavender flower. The shrub itself has a fuller appearance than the more open, rangy style of the original Texas sages. It grows to 5 feet tall and wide.

L. prunosum 'Sierra Bouquet' has deep violet blue flowers, grayish foliage, and it adds fragrance to the mix. Although, my nose has to be awfully close to notice.

There also are a number of cultivars of the original L. frutescens, including a white flower, aptly named 'White Cloud'. If you're looking for an easy-care plant to provide interest to the summer landscape, consider Leucophyllum. Summer is a good time to check them out at demonstration gardens or nurseries, as you can compare the bloom colors. Choose species that will fit your space. If they are constantly trimmed back, flowering will suffer.


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