The Dirty Dozen

Over the last few months I’ve been polling local natural area managers from the San Antonio River Authority, City of San Antonio Natural Areas, and Texas Parks and Wildlife on which non-native plants seem to be the most problematic in their management areas. This is an informal survey, not a scientific study.

I asked them to keep their nominations to plants they have seen encroaching into their natural areas that can also be purchased and are often planted in area landscapes. (This is an important distinction, as there may be other problematic plants that don’t have a “backyard” connection.) Since everyone loves alliteration, we came up with the Dirty Dozen and stopped there for now.

Some of these plants can be found in our plant database, but they are listed with a notation of “not recommended for Central Texas.” While they may be fine for other parts of the state, or world, we do not recommend them for our corner of Texas.

Conversely, people who are visiting our website from around the state or the world should check with their own local experts on what is best to plant in their area. A perfect example is our own native esperanza, or yellow bells (Tecoma stans). It’s a perfect plant for Central Texas and was the artistic subject of our inaugural Fiesta medal, but in South Africa, for example, it’s a scourge.

There are so many plant choices, why not choose the best ones for your area? That doesn’t necessarily mean only native, but at a minimum they shouldn’t be actively aggressive in the natural areas that remain.

Other things to consider before you peruse the Dirty Dozen list:

  • Chinaberry tree actually doesn’t meet the criteria of what is often sold in nurseries (it’s rarely sold in nurseries these days), but it’s such a problem that the natural area managers begged me to include it so people wouldn’t feel bad about cutting it down.
  • One that may be the most invasive of all — Bermuda grass — is just too big to tackle. But as you decide to remove it, opting for a more diverse landscape, you can feel good about removing a little more common Bermuda.

So there you have it. Below is the list of the Dirty Dozen along with suggested substitute plants.

Not Recommended Local Favorites
Chinese Tallow (Traidica sebifera) Bigtooth Maple Crape Myrtle
Pyracantha (Pyracantha sp.) Possumhaw Holly Agarita
Golden Bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) Switchgrass Bamboo Muhly
Chínese Pistache (Pistacia chivensis) Flameleaf Sumac Rusty blackhaw
Golden Raintree (Koelreateria paniculata ) Huisache Goldenball Lead Tree
Indian/Caribbean Lantana ( Lantana camara) Lantana horrida New Gold’ lantana.
Chinaberry ( Melia azedarach) Soapberry Eve’s Necklace
Japanese Honeysuckle ( Lonicera japonica) Coral Honeysuckle
Ligustrum ( L. japonicum, L. lucidum, L. vulgare, L. sinense, L,quihoui) Evergreen Sumac Bay Laurel
Vitex/Lilac Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) Desert Willow
Nandina(Nandina domestica) Barbados Cherry
Yellow Trumpet Vine/Catclaw (Macfadyiena linuis-cati) Crossvine
Picture of Dana Nichols
Dana Nichols
As conservation manager at SAWS, Dana spent her days promoting beautiful San Antonio landscapes that need little to no water while benefiting Texas wildlife. While she’s no longer whipping up new landscape programs, she’s still cooking up delicious dinners made with fresh herbs from her low-water-use garden or planning the next trip with her husband, Rick -- preferably to some exotic place that requires a passport.
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