Early Spring is a great time for planting habitat! It’s not too hot and the seasonal rains help to establish the plants. On March 5th, with the help of community volunteers and Texas Master Naturalists, we took out some lawn and expanded some of our standing woody habitat along the southern side of the park, and also planted some butterfly nectar plants and host plants in our garden beds around the parking lot. We rolled up our sleeves and put on our gardening gloves and planted a nice diversity of coastal native trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. Some of which were not found on our grounds previously. So not only did we expand habitat, but we also diversified it! The diversity of animals that you see in a habitat usually parallels the diversity of plants in the habitat, so the greater variety of plant species the better!
The inspiration for the plant diversity we chose came in part from the nearby Tamaulipan Lomas, an important habitat type along our coast line. These “Lomas” are small, round, clay dunes formed over time by the deposition of fine sediments by wind-driven tides. The habitat is a very dense shrubland mainly made up of thorny trees and shrubs that provide plenty of food and shelter for our native coastal wildlife. A large part of the tree canopy that dominates the Lomas is made up of legumes like; Texas Ebony, Huisache, Tenaza, and Honey Mesquite. One or two of each were recently planted on our grounds. These trees are extremely beneficial, providing food for birds in the way of insects, and also nesting structure. Furthermore, pollinators like bees and butterflies cannot resist the aromatic, white, puffy flowers of the Tenaza Tree and Texas Ebony. We also had migrating hummingbirds in mind when we planted a Coral Bean, also a legume, but unlike the others previously mentioned, Coral Bean flowers are long, tubular, and pink-red, just the type for hummers! Migratory and resident Orioles are also attracted to the nectar in Coral Bean flowers. Although most parts of the plant are poisonous, Coral Beans can commonly be found in most Nature sites and refuges in the RGV and even in residential neighborhoods, were they are planted for their beauty and their benefits to wildlife.
A dense and stratified habitat will cater to a greater diversity of birds and wildlife. We aimed to fill more specific species niches by adding a shrub layer to the planting. The diversity of shrubs we planted was also influenced by the lomas. The plant species included; Berlandier’s Fiddlewood, Cenizo, Colima, Coma, and Elbow Bush, with the last three mentioned being new additions to our habitat! All are very aesthetically beautiful, extremely beneficial to wildlife, and provide great windbreak. Their flowers attract many pollinators and all except the Cenizo provide berries for birds and other wildlife after pollination.
The Colima and Cenizo are also host plants to some beautiful butterflies! Theona Checkerspot caterpillars feed on Cenizo, while Giant Swallowtail and Sickle-winged Skipper caterpillars feed on Colima bushes.