Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Tale of the Tough Tecoma
Tecoma stans, Yellow Bells, Esperanza

Trumpets of yellow in tortuous heat

Here is a question I receive every year. “What is the plant with all the yellow flowers on it?” I teach classes on garden design and maintenance through out the year. Therefore, this question can arise summer, fall, and even into winter if Central Texas is late to freeze. This is good for landscape choices, a long-lived bloomer. However, it can be a challenge for the plant person, as there are numerous hardy yellow bloomers in Central Texas. Additionally, the description of the plant in question can be as varied as the number of people asking the question. In defense of the queryier, the plant itself can vary greatly in size.

Searching for clues to help define the plant begins with first asking if there is one nearby we can see. If not, what condition was the plant growing in? What other plants was it near? How long has it been blooming? Usually, the description of the cluster of bright yellow, trumpet shaped flowers defines the suspect as yellow bells, Tecoma stans, AKA Esperanza.

How did this bright yellow gem become such a reliable landscape item? Its all in the genes, yellow bells is a Texas native. The Austin area is at the center of the range for Tecoma stans. It grows to the west as far as Arizona, the east as far as Florida, and to the south into Mexico. Our yellow trumpeted flowering small tree sometimes is a large shrub. Yellow bells, as with most plants, will respond to environmental conditions by growing larger, more water, or staying small, less water. The fabulous attribute of yellow bells is its flowers. It will flower profusely regardless of size and in a wide range of rainfall amounts.

As it was moved around and adored in landscapes at its fringe, Tecoma stans became accustomed to its new homes. Sometimes, when the winters are really cold, the little tree will freeze to the ground. Sometimes, just parts of the tree freeze. As we have populated the continent, and temperatures have risen, the Tecoma has found winters to be more and more comfortable. In years of mild winters, yellow bells rewards aficionados with mid to late spring flowers. It will go through a regeneration period, then bloom profusely summer through to frost. No matter how mild the winter, the little tree will lose its leaves.

In its wild habitat, Tecoma is found in ground drains well. These areas are usually semi- to desert-like, gravelly and sandy. And since areas of low rainfall tend to be alkaline, the soil composition of Central Texas suits the little tree just fine. Rarely does it need any soil amendment, but giving it a good helping of compost during planting will only benefit growth. Though it has lived for generations in the desert climes, moving into areas with more rainfall has not hurt it a bit. Having the genes of the hot, dry origins gives us the confidence to welcome it into our landscapes without the need of regimented watering.

Having grown up with neighbors such as mesquite and Texas persimmon, Tecoma was passed over as fodder for deer. These friends are not the shadiest of trees, so Tecoma was not overly protected from the sun. In fact, the more sun it can enjoy, the more it will bloom, and the fluffier it will grow. During the summers (and years) of 2008-2009, Yellow bells has been one of the hardiest bloomers around. Its brilliant yellow clusters of trumpets stand tall in the heat of the relentless 100 plus degree days of Central Texas. Low water consumer, profuse bloomer, tough sun bather, deer resistant–this plant is definitely on the Hardier than Heck for Texas list. Plant it, love yellow, enjoy hummingbirds, and relax!

© 2009 Virginia Lee Hudson

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