Boerne Chapter

Rose Pavonia – NICE! Bloomer for Hot, Dry Summer

Author: Bill Ward

Hill Country summers are hard on most flowering plants, even native plants. By July many blooming wildflowers and shrubs, whether in the wild or in the garden, are in a summer slump. However, one little native shrub that keeps blooming through the heat and on into the fall is rose pavonia, the Operation NICE! (Natives Instead of the Common Exotics!) plant for June. Other common names by which this plant is known are rose mallow, rockrose, and Wright’s pavonia.

Rose pavonia (Pavonia lasiopetala) is one of those worth-repeating Plants of the Month. It was the NICE! plant for July 2002. When I wrote about it seven years ago, I had only seen it in gardens. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to find it blooming in the wild near Montell and Concan in northern Uvalde County.

Now I know why rose pavonia is a hardy, drought-tolerant shrub good for our Hill Country landscapes. In its native habitat it can withstand the harsh conditions of dry, thin limestone soils. It grows both in sunny and partly shady spots.

Pink hibiscus shaped flower
Rose Pavonia.

Specimens of rose pavonia in the University of Texas and Sul Ross University herbariums were collected along the eastern and southern edges of the Edwards Plateau out to the near-Trans Pecos area of Terrell County. Reportedly, this plant also is native to parts of the Rio Grande Plain of South Texas. It is not reported in Kendall County, but apparently rose pavonia has been collected many times in Comal County. Has anyone seen it in the wild in Kendall County?

The rose-pink blooms resemble miniature hibiscus flowers. The blooms are small, only an inch or so wide, but usually are abundant. Flowers have a prominent yellow stamen column in the center of the five petals. The long bloom period is from late spring until a hard frost in the fall. Pavonia grows to about three feet high and can spread out a few feet wide.

Rose pavonia seems as tough as it is attractive. Several years ago our generous neighbors across the street gave us a couple of pavonia plants from their yard, but the transfer was not delicate. Tom came over with two blooming plants he had pulled up by the roots. I planted the bare-rooted pavonias without preparing any special soil, but made sure they stayed moist. In a few days the plants had survived the shock and began to put on new leaves and blooms. Once established, they did not require much watering.

Rose pavonia also is resistant to cold. Ours usually survive all but the hardest freezes. When we first started growing this little shrub, I was surprised that one plant did not come back from the late-winter freeze. However, a smaller plant that had come up near the dead plant had survived the frigid weather very well. Why was the smaller plant the tougher of the two?

I found the answer to my question in “Native Texas Plants – Landscaping Region by Region” by Sally and Andy Wasowski and “How to Grow Native Plants of Texas and the Southwest” by Jill Nokes. According to these authors, it is normal for pavonia bushes to decline after three or four years. That is not the problem it might seem. Rose pavonia easily self-seeds, and there will be younger plants coming up to replace the older ones.

Rose pavonia usually is available in local nurseries. The Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas provides free planting and care instructions for rose pavonia at nurseries participating in Operation NICE! (Hill Country African Violets and Nursery and Maldonado Landscape and Nursery) and at the Cibolo Nature Center.

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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