Boerne Chapter

Esperanza, a NICE! hope for summer blooms

Author: Bill Ward

Operation NICE! (Natives Instead of the Common Exotics!) recommendation for May is the long-blooming esperanza (Tecoma stans). This native-Texas shrub is readily available in local nurseries and does well in Hill Country gardens. As the common name “esperanza” (Spanish for “hope”) seems to suggest, this plant is our great hope for showy flowers during the heat of late summer.

Esperanza is a multibranched shrub which can grow several feet high in this area. Its abundant green foliage makes it an attractive landscape plant, even between bloomings. Leaves are several inches long and lanced-shaped with serrated margins.

Bright, yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers
Fall blooms in Big Bend National Park. (Photo by Bill Ward)

Intermittently, from April to the first hard freeze, esperanza has profuse clusters of large bright-yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. The ones in our yard seem to have some of their branches in bloom almost continuously from mid summer to late fall. This plant is widely used for commercial landscaping in this area, because it so heat- and drought-tolerant.

Yellow is the usual color of Tecoma stans flowers. Other common names are “yellow bells” and “yellow trumpet.” However, an orange-colored variety also has been propagated for the nursery trade.

Esperanza is in the same family as desert willow, trumpet vine, and catalpa. Tecoma stans is not found in Marshall Enquist’s “Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country,” because its natural range does not include the Edwards Plateau. However, it was collected nearby in Bexar and Hays Counties (“Atlas of the Vascular Plants of Texas”). It also grows from Trans-Pecos Texas to Florida, in Mexico, and in the Caribbean.

According to some taxonomists there is a western variety (T. stans var. angustata) found in the Trans-Pecos and a more tropical variety (T. stans var. stans) found in southeastern Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. The western variety has narrow, deeply incised leaflets. Whichever variety is sold in the local nursery trade seems to survive just fine in this area.

Judging from the natural habitat of the West Texas esperanza, this plant would prefer garden sites with full sun and good drainage. It is drought-tolerant. We rarely water our esperanza bushes.

Bright yellow, trumpet shaped flowers
Esperanza flowers during mid summer in our yard. (Photo by Bill Ward)

Esperanza is not cold tolerant in this area. The bushes in our yard die back completely every winter, but they always send up new foliage in the spring. They seem to grow slowly at first, but begin to add foliage rapidly as the temperature gets hotter. Ours reach their flowering peak in late summer and early fall. We always look forward to their bright-yellow blooms.

In many local gardens, whitetail deer do not browse esperanza except during times of diminished food supply when overpopulation pressure becomes especially high.

The Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas provides free planting and care instructions for esperanza (yellow bells) at the nurseries participating in Operation NICE! (Hill Country African Violets and Nursery, Maldonado Landscape and Nursery, and Medina Garden Nursery) as well as at Cibolo Nature Center.

The first time I was aware of esperanza in the wild was on the wall of a dry limestone canyon in northern Mexico south of Big Bend National Park. Despite months of severe drought in that area, its woody branches bore clusters of yellow trumpets. Last fall we saw it blooming along a very hot, dry stream bed in Big Bend Park.

Esperanza is as tough as it is beautiful. It even bloomed during last summer’s extreme heat spell.

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About the Region

New Braunfels, the location of our Fall 2024 Symposium, straddles both the Edwards Plateau Ecoregion and the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. Interstate 35 divides the city of New Braunfels; its path through the city closely parallels the boundary of these two ecoregions, with the Edwards Plateau on the west side and the Blackland Prairies region to the east. The Edwards Plateau area is also called the Hill Country; however, this general term covers a much larger area extending farther north. Spring-fed creeks are found throughout the region; deep limestone canyons, rivers, and lakes (reservoirs) are common. Ashe juniper is perhaps the most common woody species found throughout the region. Additional woody species include various species of oak, with live oak (Quercus fusiformis) being the most common. Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) border waterways. This area is well known for its spring wildflower displays, though they may be viewed in spring, late summer, and fall, as well. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, average annual rainfall in the Edwards Plateau ranges from 15 to 34 inches.

The Blackland Prairie extends from the Red River south to San Antonio, bordered on the west by the Edwards Plateau and the Cross Timbers, and on the east by the Post Oak Savannah. Annual rainfall averages 30 to 40 inches, with higher averages to the east. This region is dominated by prairie species. The most common grass species include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in the uplands and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in the riparian areas and drainages. Common herbaceous flowering plants include salvias, penstemons, and silphiums. This area has suffered greatly from overgrazing and agricultural use. Few intact areas remain, though many of the plants can be found along county roadsides throughout the region.

Our four host chapters (New Braunfels, Lindheimer, Guadalupe, and the Hill Country chapters) are located in one or both of the ecoregions above. However, the eastern portion of Guadalupe County also falls within the Post Oak Savanna ecoregion. Annual rainfall averages 35 to 45 inches, with higher averages to the east. A wide variety of hardwood trees are found, including several species of oaks, elms, and in the Bastrop area, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Grasses and forbs dominate in the open savannas, with most common grass being little bluestem. Ranching, agriculture, and fire suppression have allowed woody species to encroach on the once-open savannas.

Source: Wildflowers of Texas by Michael Eason