Observing native plants around Marfa

By Jim Fissel, Mary Lou Saxon, Martha Hughes and Jim Martinez

MARFA – Physical distancing in this beautiful spring weather can provide an opportunity to enjoy and celebrate many of the incredible native plants in our surroundings. The Chihuahuan Desert has over 3,500 unique species of native plants, the largest diversity of any desert in the Western Hemisphere.  Sometimes we miss the beauty of what comes naturally in our own environment, but now is an opportunity to take notice.

So here a few plants to start looking for while walking outdoors. Some are just beginning to sprout in this warmer weather. You can also get more information and photos of these plants on Instagram @marfagarden, which is being updated every week as new plants are growing and blooming.

Woolly paperflower (Psilostrophe tagetina) – Found along the shoulders of many dirt roads in town and throughout the ranch land surrounding town, this member of the sunflower family dots the desert with bright yellow masses that stand out against the dried grasses. Right now you will see the plant as a small three to four-inch floret of fuzzy leaves, maybe with a bundle of dried stalks from last year’s blooms. The narrow fuzzy leaves reach upward from a little twist at the base. If you see this floret in your yard or garden now, consider leaving it because it will grow into a large (12 to 18-inch) yellow bouquet that will bloom continuously all summer and into the fall.

Davis Mountain mock vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida) – These purple clusters of blooms are appearing everywhere in Marfa right now. It looks like a groundcover of deep green foliage with multiple clusters of vivid purple flowers. Extremely drought tolerant, it is common throughout the landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert. Most likely you will see volunteers of this plant throughout your yard, alleys or dirt roads.  It survives with the natural rainfall of the area, but if you give it a little extra water it continues to grow much larger and flower all through spring and then again in the fall.

Stemmy four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa var. scaposa) – These clusters of tall slender stalks are topped with yellow flowers and are appearing everywhere in the area. They have been blooming throughout winter in warmer sunny locations, but now are sending up new blooms everywhere. The leaves of the plants grow close to the ground and the stalks can extend up to 12 inches above the leaves.  There are several yellow flowering plants appearing along the roadsides, but this one is unique because of its tall skinny stems. And if you look closely at the back of the yellow flower you will see the four nerves that appear between the three lobes of each petal.

These are just a few plants you can look for on your walks. You can also get more information about 65 plants and how they could be used in your garden in the book, Marfa Garden, The Wonders of Dry Desert Plants. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website is another great resource for more information on native plants at www.wildflower.org. And if you are considering creating a native plant garden, search online for “USDA NRCS Soils” and you can find volumes of information about the soils in your neighborhood. Start with understanding your yard’s soils and nutrients before preparing your garden.