Common-Yet-Overlooked Yard Plants of San Antonio

Cleveland Powell

Is it a pesky weed or an advantageous addition to your yard? Think twice before ridding your landscape of these broadleaf plants.

While many dismiss the broadleaf plants that take up residence in lawns out of hand as “weeds,” these plants can actually be desirable additions to your “lawnscape.” This spring, consider getting to know these common plants and you might find your disgruntlement replaced by appreciation! All can survive moderate mowing, produce attractive flowers and some are even host plants for butterflies.

Dayflower (Commelina spp.)

This perennial forms a sparse mound of soft stems adorned with bright-blue flowers. Each bloom only lasts a day, but as one flower fades it is replaced by another for as long as conditions allow throughout the spring and summer. Although small in stature, dayflower is valuable to wildlife; pollinators love the flowers and birds eat the seeds. I often see these plants blooming in fences or near AC condensers where they are protected from weed-eater string. If you notice a patch forming why not let it mature and flower? Their soft stems won’t damage anything and can be cut back to the ground without killing the plant.

False dayflower (Tinantia anomala)

Unlike others, this cool season annual loves the shade of deciduous trees. It sprouts in fall and grows into what looks like a clump of grass while the leaves are off the trees. Look for the blooms of lavender that will appear on 1- to 2-foot stems in the early spring. False dayflower produces seeds and withers away before tree leaves start shading it out. The early blooms help pollinators and the seeds are eaten by birds.

Wild Petunia (Ruellia nudiflora)

Wild petunia is a perennial I see growing intermixed in Bermuda grass lawns. Often all I see are the leaves, since frequent mowing won’t kill it completely but will prevent it from flowering. If allowed to bloom, wild petunia bears large purple or white tubular flowers that look like the petunias in your flower bed. If you notice a patch growing in a secluded part of your lawn, consider allowing the petunias to bloom before you go back to mowing as normal. Wild petunia is also the larval host plant for the Common Buckeye, Cuban Crescentspot, Fatima, Malachite, White Peacock butterflies.

Frog fruit (Phyla incisa)

This perennial is truly lawn hardy. Frog fruit can leaf out, flower, and produce seeds at a height below most lawn mower blades. Its little white flowers attract a surprising diversity of pollinators – I’ve seen everything from tiny sweat bees to even the largest butterflies feeding on frog fruit.

Swanflower (Aristolochia erecta)

While it is technically a vine, Swanflower has evolved to mimic grass in a vain attempt to fool mother pipevine swallowtail butterflies looking for a place to lay their eggs. Surprisingly hard to find when mixed with grass, the best way to locate this drought hardy perennial is to look for either the large black butterflies or their equally impressive black and orange larvae. If you see either, you know that there is a patch of swanflower somewhere nearby.

Rain lily (Zephyranthes sp.) Rio Grande Copper lily (Habranthus tubispathus)

I think Rain Lilies are a great addition to any yard. Most of the time they remain dormant in the ground as a blub, just waiting. Shortly after a summer rain, they send up stems each topped with one flower. The flower does not last long and is soon replaced by a developing seed pod. If you have some in your yard and want them to spread, allow the seeds to mature before mowing. Rain lilies tolerate mowing well, since for much of the year they are dormant. They come in a couple of white species and one that is yellow-orange.

Horseherb or Straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis)

The hallmarks of Straggler daisy are a mat of small hairy leaves and tiny yellow flowers. This is by far the most common lawn invader that I am asked about on my consults around town. It tends to look better in dappled shade. In extreme heat without water, the leaves brown and curl; but never fear: straggler daisy will revive itself with fall rains.

In general a completely grass lawn looks nice but has little to no wildlife benefits. Allowing these plants to coexist with your turf grass will make your yard more hospitable to winged wildlife.

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