MASTER GARDENER — Know the plant distinctions of native vs. perennial

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, August 9, 2023

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In past articles, I have discussed selecting plants based upon the “characteristics” of the location within your landscape, garden and flowerbed.

Today we’re going to discuss native and perennial plants. People often confuse them thinking they are the same but often this is not the case. There are many plants that are native but not perennials, and conversely many native plants are perennials.

Two organizations have provided us detailed explanations of both groups of plants to remove the confusion associated between the two.

The American Horticultural Society defines a perennial plant as “any plant that lives for more than two years and usually flowers every year.”

While this explanation sounds simple, it encompasses an immense number of plants, trees, shrubs, bulbs, succulents and numerous others, all of which are not classified as perennials.

Many gardeners understand that most “woody” stemmed plants are excluded but as always, there are exceptions, since climate exerts enormous influence on a plants “habit” determining if they will become an annual or perennial.

Some plants, for example, are labeled as perennial but when planted in climates with extreme temperatures (blistering summers or frigid winters), could become annual plants, surviving one year.

The Native Plant Society of Texas defines native plants as “drought-tolerant, naturally conserving our precious water resources and that they provide habitat and food for birds, butterflies, bees and other wildlife,” and further state, “native plants do not require special accommodations, pampering or fertilizing as they are natural to their eco-system, and they help us maintain biological diversity.”

The NPSTX utilizes the U.S. Department of Agricultures (USDA) definition of “native plant.” The USDA states it “is a plant that lives or grows naturally in a particular region without direct or indirect human intervention.”

The definition goes further in describing “naturalized” plants, as “plants, which were introduced long ago, but are now thriving and spreading without human intervention.” There are over 100 invasive plant species recorded in Texas.

Invasive plant species are plants not native to our area. Although many invasive plants wreak havoc in their environments, some are not harmful. It must be noted that invasive species can easily cause disruptions to our local environment, since many invasive species are competitive.

Invasive plant species compete against a native species and unfortunately, often overtakes native plant species that provides food to native animals, this causes problems in that it disrupts the “food chain” meaning their food source is diminished or worse, eradicated!

There are many native and perennial plants, which thrive in our local environment.

Listed are a few which can add color and dimension to your garden areas!

Native Plants

Black-eyed Susan, Milkweed, Cardinal Flower, Coneflower, Coreopsis, Guara, Gulf Coast Penstemon, Rudbeckia, Texas Mountain Laurel, Wax Myrtle, American Beauty Berry, Carolina Jessamine, Coral Honeysuckle, and Crossvine, to name a few.

Perennial Plants

Alternanthera, Purple Aster, Bronze Leaf Begonia, Brazilian Bachelor Button, Cat Whiskers, Columbine, Epidendrum, Asparagus Fern, Foxtail Fern, Boston Fern, Southern Wood Fern, Firecracker Plant, Firespike, Gaillardia, Gayfeather, Gazania, Lantana, Ligularia, Mexican Heather, Mexican Mint Marigold, Nana Coreopsis, Porterweed, Sages, Salvias, Shasta Daisy, Verbena, yarrow, and there are many others.

Before I finish, let me mention another category of plants found in Texas, known as Texas Superstar® plants.

Texas Superstar® plants are rigorously tested before they can be named a Texas Superstar® plant. They are tested at multiple locations throughout Texas in replicated plots for a 5-year period and during this time the plants are graded on their performance by horticulturists who understand the importance of landscape and marketability.

At the end of the trial period, plants are graded one last time and if the plant produces enough during the trial period, they are granted Texas Superstar® status, which means they can handle Texas weather conditions, wherever they are planted throughout the state.

Most Texans are familiar with the infamous Texas Bluebonnet! There are numerous other Texas Superstar® plants, such as Angelonia (Serena series), Duranta, Firebush, Flare Hibiscus, New Gold Lantana, Laura Bush Petunia, Moy Grande Hibiscus, Turks Cap, Plumbago, Pride of Barbados, Vitex, and numerous other plants. For a more detailed list of Texas Superstar® plants visit

So long for now fellow gardeners, let’s go out and grow ourselves a greener, more sustainable world, one plant at a time!

John Green is a Texas Certified Master Gardener. For comments and questions, continue sending them to