Twelve native trees to plant now

Which lovable, albeit grumpy, Dr. Seuss character is known for saying “I speak for the trees”?  If you guessed The Lorax, you’re right! And I’m guessing you share his love for trees, for their beauty and their tremendous environmental value.  Our woody friends reduce cooling costs, increase property values, improve air quality, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality. 

And native trees offer even more. They’re more pest and disease resistant, can handle our weather extremes, and are essential to the survival of thousands of species of local wildlife and beneficial insects. 

Selecting a native tree  

Consider the following when selecting the right native tree for you: 

  • How large will the tree be when fully grown? 
  • How much sun does the planting site receive each day? 
  • How much water does the tree need? 
  • Do you want a tree that produces flowers, fruits, nuts or fall colors? 

We’ve made it easier to select the right tree for you by including key details for each of our twelve native trees highlighted below.  Let’s start with those that need the most growing space. 

We’ve compiled information on the following five large varieties. These canopy trees, which comprise the upper layer of the forest, typically reach heights of 40-90 feet at full maturity.  Scroll through the images to learn which tree is right for you. 

Need to go smaller? Consider one of these seven understory trees which range in height from 8 to 20 feet at maturity and are generally more shade tolerant. 

Each of these native seedlings benefit local wildlife. Flowering varieties provide nectar for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Berry producing trees offer small mammals and birds a source of food. All are critical hosts for beneficial insects. 

Interested in adding some of these trees to your yard or a nearby greenspace? Come celebrate the 46th annual Arbor Day Tree Giveaway on Saturday, January 29, 2022, from 9 a.m. to noon at Rob Fleming Park for free native seedlings. The twelve varieties listed above are available, while supplies last. 

You can also bring your tree planting and care questions to our Ask An Expert booth, have your photo taken with The Lorax and Puffy the Pinecone, and visit with experts to learn how to create habitat in your landscape for birds and pollinators. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

5 beautiful, pollinator-friendly grasses for spectacular fall interest

Texas grasses are a striking addition to the landscape, asking very little of us in return to look their best. Bunch grasses keep a tidy, columnar shape with texture and movement that provides year-round interest. Low on upkeep and water need, they really shine in fall and winter when other plants are past their prime. Unlike your lawn, these no-mow beauties offer a special bonus for native bees, birds and butterflies.  

How do Texas grasses help bees and butterflies? 

Even though grasses don’t provide nectar, they’re vital to the lifecycle of many pollinators and other beneficial insects. Native bunch grasses give ground-nesting bumble bee queens protected sites to overwinter. Over 70% of native bees nest in the ground; adding grasses is one way to ensure more pollinators survive to emerge in the spring. Discover even more elements to help pollinators and other beneficial insects make it through the winter from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. 

Many species of skipper caterpillars develop only on Big and Little Bluestem grasses. Just like monarchs are tied to milkweed, skippers rely on these specific grasses to complete their lifecycle.  And the seed heads last through the cool months, feeding birds and squirrels, too.

Side-oats grama: the state grass of Texas 

Staying short in the spring, this grass mixes well with early wildflowers. Purple oat-like flowers with orange accents fall from one side of graceful arching stems. Blue-green growth turns pale yellow in the fall, with the basal leaves often taking on hues of red and purple. Makes a nice compliment to Little Bluestem but doesn’t compete well with taller grasses.  

Host plant for: 14 species of butterflies and moths including green and dotted skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Big Bluestem: a butterfly magnet 

One of the “big four” native grasses of the Tall Grass prairies that dominated the center of the continent (along with Indiangrass, Little Bluestem and Switchgrass). Songbirds love the cover it provides, as well as cozy nesting material and tasty seeds. Blue-green blades turn russet in fall and winter. Plant this beauty where you want to make a statement or provide a backdrop for fall-blooming asters and goldenrod.  

Host plant for: 22 species including the dusted, Delaware, crossline and swarthy skippers 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Little bluestem: small and striking 

Bluish spring blades may give this grass its name, but the deep mahogany red fall color topped with white puffy seed heads are the most striking features of this 2-foot-tall grass. Planted in multiples of 5 or 7, it makes a dramatic focal point when the rest of the landscape looks drab in winter. Plants stay compact, reaching about a foot across.  

Host plant for: 8 species of skippers including the dusted, crossline and swarthy 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

Indiangrass: a glorious golden accent 

This grey-green grass provides a subtle backdrop most of the year until it erupts with golden flower plumes reaching up to 6 feet by October. Leaves turn shades of orange to purple. Plant two or three together to make a dramatic statement in place of a shrub or small tree.  

Host plant for: the pepper and salt skipper 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database.

Bushy bluestem: a grass for wet places 

Bold, feathery flower heads catch the light and add texture to autumn beds. Especially striking when backlit by the sun; plant this bunch grass where the sun will glow through the copper leaves. Bush bluestem likes to have its feet wet, so plant in a place that stays moist such as near a downspout or low area where water collects. Just be sure that it is in full sun – this grass doesn’t tolerate shade. 

Host plant for: many skippers and satyrs 

Get all the details from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Plant Finder Database. 

For more great Texas grasses and beautiful pictures of them in yards, check out this article from Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  


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Native Plant Spotlight: American Beautyberry

Fall is here and you know what that means… beautyberry bushes burgeoning with deep purple berries. You’ll find the gorgeous natives growing wild throughout The Woodlands but have you considered adding this perennial shrub to your garden? 

Read on to find out how wonderful this native plant really is. 

Food for Everyone 

Beautyberry is a veritable feast for native wildlife. Butterflies feed off its nectar from April to July. The magenta berries, which begin to show in early fall and can last through the winter, help sustain more than 40 species of songbirds. Armadillo, foxes, opossum, raccoon, squirrels and deer also enjoy the berries. You may even see deer nibbling on the leaves. Good thing this plant is so resilient and can handle being a year-round buffet. 

It’s not just wildlife that enjoys the non-toxic berries and leaves. Raw berries are edible, but don’t have much sweetness to them. In fact, it’s flavor can be described as mildly medicinal when eaten off the stalk. However, they make a fantastic jelly – its arguably the best way to enjoy them. If you’re feeling adventurous, recipes for wine, tea and sauces are available online. Just remember to leave some berries behind for hungry birds and mammals this winter. 

Warning: Limit your consumption of beautyberry when first trying as some people have reported upset stomach afterwards. 

Growing Success 

This fast-growing perennial does well in either part shade or full sun. They spread naturally along forest edges where the amount of sunlight varies. More sunlight will boost berry production but also increases the shrub’s need for water.  

While tolerant of somewhat dry conditions, beautyberry prefers a moist soil. If you’re growing at home in a sunny location, make sure it receives around 1” of water a week.  A layer of mulch around the base of the shrub will help retain soil moisture, especially through the summer months. Skip the fertilizer unless you have very nutrient-poor soil. If so, a shovelful or two of compost in the spring will do just fine. Be careful not to over-fertilize or you’re likely to decrease berry production. 

In the right conditions, American beautyberry can reach a height of 6 to 8 feet and be just as wide. It earns its beauty moniker multiple times a year, festooned with delicate lavender and pink flowers in early summer and show stopping berries throughout the fall and winter.  

2 compounds in the leaves: callicarpenal and intermedeol – have been shown to repel mosquitoes and biting bugs when the leaves are crushed. 

Remember to register your pollinator garden 

A registered garden provides the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical-free zone. Don’t worry if you think your garden might not qualify. The garden registration form helps you put the necessary components in place, whether you’re starting from scratch or making a few additions to an established garden. You’ll find easy-to-follow guidelines, such as offering nectar-producing (flowering) plants for each season, leaving some patches of bare ground for burrowing insects, supplying a water source (bird baths work great) and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. Native plant lists are included to help with any shopping.  

Registrations received from June 1, 2021 through December 1, 2021 count towards the 2021 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your village association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands GREEN and Project PolliNation, will donate funds to the three village associations with the most points for their scholarship program. 

How To Help Migrating Birds This Fall

Thousands of birds migrate through The Woodlands every fall. The reason – food. As days grow shorter, birds begin to head south in search of abundant food and warmer temperatures. Lucky for us, The Woodlands happens to lie right along the path that many species take on their journey south. Our warm climate and dense vegetation provides an ideal rest stop for swifts, swallows, hummingbirds, hawks, flycatchers, warblers and more. Our parks, yards and preserves are heavy with greenery, berries and flowers throughout the fall, but are they providing the food these migrating birds need?

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

…and the berries, insects, seeds and nuts. The most sought after avian delicacies varies with the season. Research shows that all birds, migrating and resident species, require different nutrition in winter than in warmer months. Summer is breeding season for most species and protein to produce healthy eggs and chicks is in high demand. Protein means insects and lots of them. Consider that a single pair of chickadees must find 6,000-9,000 caterpillars to raise their young!

More than 80% of all bird species rely on insects for part or all of their diet. The native Hackberry (Celtis laevigata) attracts insects for hungry birds, who also enjoy its fruit all summer long.

As breeding season ends, birds shift their diet from protein to fat to help them survive cold nighttime temperatures. Fat intake is extra critical for migrators in preparation for the grueling flight ahead. Produce from Woodlands natives such as American beautyberry, wax myrtle, coral honeysuckle, native dogwoods and viburnums, and yaupon holly are prized. Right now, most of these species are in the early stages of their fall and winter fruit and nut production.

Our native plants (and insects) have co-evolved with birds over the centuries, meaning birds depend on the specific nutrition these species provide. So, not just any seed, nut or berry will do. Consider the popular non-native plant, nandina (heavenly bamboo). It produces a bevy of bright red berries – quite attractive to our eye as well as the bird’s. Unfortunately, nandina berries, like most non-native berries, are sorely lacking in fat and other nutrients. Much like feeding french fries to a marathoner, these imitation foods leave birds depleted, unable to complete their migration route or make it through a cold night.

Just like you and me, birds need the right food. Here’s how to help.

Fall in Love with Natives

Migrating birds face several threats to their continued survival: the greatest being loss of habitat. We often think of habitat loss as a paved over forest. Yet, despite the green appearance, our lawns and landscapes have the same impact if they’re devoid of native plants. Much like a parking lot, they become a food desert for birds and other wildlife.

The simplest yet most impactful action you can take to support our migrating birds this fall is to add native plants to your landscape. Remove non-native or invasive plants to ensure you’re providing only nutrient rich food, not french fries.

Not sure where to begin? use the reference guide below and consider joining our free, online Invasives Species Workshop from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, August 14, 2021, to learn how to identify invasive plants in our community. Register online here to receive more information.

Backyard Feeders

For those who go one step further in helping our feathered friends with backyard feeders, consider that not all seed mixes are the same. Cheap mixes are full of milo, wheat, red millet, and various grains that birds can’t make use of. Most all of these “low cost” seed mixes contain little protein and almost no fat. The same holds for black oil sunflower seed. Cheaper seeds are often those which didn’t fully mature and lack protein and fat. Spend a little more on a quality seed and you’ll be rewarded with more frequent and healthier visitors.


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Native Plant Spotlight: Texas Creeping Oxeye

Wedelia texana

After many spring flowers and gardeners have languished from the heat, this easy-care shrub continues to bloom an airy bouquet of sweet daisy-like flowers through summer and into fall. A little water-sipper of a plant, Texas creeping oxeye Wedelia texana proves that even in the middle of summer, those with a sunny disposition can still thrive.   

Some like it hot 

True to its central and west Texas roots, the plant can handle reflected heat from a walkway, driveway or brick wall. Consider siting it at the edge of a patio or at that tricky spot just beyond the reach of the sprinkler. Also called zexmenia, this perennial shrub typically grows 18 to 24 inches and is semi-evergreen, going dormant during harsh winters. Unparticular about soil, zexmenia only requires excellent drainage to thrive. Rainfall typically provides all the water the plant needs once it is established.   

Feed the pollinators 

Ample nectar attracts butterflies and honeybees. A larval host like many members of the aster family, zexmenia is where the bordered patch butterfly lays her eggs. The buffet doesn’t stop there as songbirds also dine on the seeds.  

Growing success 

This low, long-blooming, shrub is well-mannered and adaptable. In partial shade it tends to sprawl into a pleasant groundcover. To maintain a compact rounded habit, plant zexmenia in full sun. Cut back in early spring and enjoy flowers by April or May. For denser growth or to rejuvenate plant, cut back by half in mid-summer. 

Remember to register your pollinator garden 

A registered garden provides the basic needs of pollinators, including food, shelter and water in a chemical-free zone. Don’t worry if you think your garden might not qualify. The garden registration form helps you put the necessary components in place, whether you’re starting from scratch or making a few additions to an established garden. You’ll find easy-to-follow guidelines, such as offering nectar-producing (flowering) plants for each season, leaving some patches of bare ground for burrowing insects, supplying a water source (bird baths work great) and providing host plants so insects can lay eggs. Native plant lists are included to help with any shopping. 

Registrations received from June 1, 2021 through December 1, 2021 count towards the 2021 Plant for Pollinators Village Challenge. Each registration earns a point for your village association. Program sponsors, The Woodlands GREEN and Project PolliNation, will donate funds to the three village associations with the most points for their scholarship program. 


Questions or comments?

Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov