Native Plant Feature for February: Mexican/Lindheimer’s Silktassel – Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri
Family: Garryaceae/Silktassel family
Written by: Guest Contributor Elenore Goode
Lindheimer’s Silktassel is a valuable evergreen plant to enliven the winter landscape and help wildlife through the leaner seasons. Silktassel is often found in robust, shrubby colonies, but can also grow into small, wiry trees. They tend to grow more slender and tall when in the forest understory, and may be more shrub-like when in the full sun. This subspecies of Garrya ovata is endemic to the Edwards Plateau and grows most frequently in association with the limestones there.
Even during droughts in the shallow rocky soils of rough, steep hill country landscapes, this species proves hardy and dependable for producing berries in the fall that benefit a variety of wildlife. It can tolerate both very dry and wet conditions when in its preferred limestone soils, and loves to grow in forests and their margins, but can be found growing anywhere from along creeks, to the hillsides and cliffs above creeks or moist canyons, to dry hilltop forests or savannahs, and seep areas with shallow calcareous soil.
The berries of Silktassel are a great resource for wildlife in some otherwise stark and eroded landscapes that are often lacking many species of native fruiting shrubs and flowering trees due to historic overbrowsing from livestock, modern vegetation removal, and a lack of decent soils. Silktassel’s slightly fuzzy leaves are a bit more deer-resistant than some native shrubs, leaving more evergreen cover to protect and hide smaller wildlife year-round. Their needs for soil, moisture, and light combine very well in plantings with other native evergreens, such as mountain laurel, yaupon, agarita, and evergreen sumac, which together make some especially beautiful winter cover.
Silktassel’s soothing light green leaf color also contrasts well with the darker greens of these other species, and they have some lovely and intriguing wind-pollinated blooms in the spring. Species of the Silktassel genus are also regarded as having medicinal value. Lindheimer’s Silktassel is becoming more and more common in nurseries, and is an overall wonderful, hardy, and easy-maintenance understory tree or shrub for the native landscape.