Texans typically like to be thought of as resilient, durable and able to withstand adversity. It’s no surprise then that the state’s official native shrub – purple sage – exhibits those traits synonymous with toughness.
In all likelihood, most sons and daughters of the Lone Star State aren’t aware that Texas even has an official native shrub. They’re more likely to recall other state symbols like the state flower (bluebonnet), state tree (pecan) and state bird (mockingbird). But sure enough, Texas in 2005 added an official native shrub to its list of symbols that mirror the state’s heritage, culture and natural history.
Credit former State Representative Dennis Bonnen, who ultimately became Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and former State Senator Mike Jackson for securing passage of House Concurrent Resolution 71 and subsequently obtaining Governor Rick Perry’s signature.
“There was a teacher in Representative Bonnen’s legislative district who had his 4th grade students research and nominate various state designations and then hold a schoolwide election,” said Shera Eichler, who was the legislator’s chief of staff from 2002 through 2020. “They discovered that Texas did not have a state native shrub, so they offered several options on the school election ballot, and Texas purple sage was the winner. The 4th grade class then wrote to then-Representative Bonnen and asked him to author the resolution to designate it as the state native shrub, and he enthusiastically agreed.”
In the words of House Concurrent Resolution 71, “purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) is indigenous to the Lone Star State and a treasured part of the Texas landscape.” It’s also known as cenizo, Texas silverleaf, barometer bush and Texas ranger, and it grows naturally on the Edwards Plateau and the South Texas plains.
“This hardy evergreen was first described by Jean Louis Berland, a botanist who collected specimens of Texas flora in the late 1820s and early 1830s,” the resolution continues. “Bearing silvery gray to green foliage, the shrub bursts into color year-round soon after a rain, with blossoms varying from purple to lavender, pink, blue and white.
“Native Americans brewed a pleasant herbal tea from Texas purple sage and used it to treat chills and fever. The shrub also provides forage for cattle, protection for birds and a nesting place for songbirds, including the state bird of Texas. In addition, the plant serves a multitude of design functions, working well as an ornamental shrub or as a hedge, screen, windbreak or foundation planting.”
The versatile, drought-tolerant plant, which can grow to 10 feet tall, can be found in arid and semi-arid regions of Texas. It requires low maintenance when incorporated into a landscape, said Sharon Hixson of the Native Plant Society of Texas and Becky Etzler, executive director of Kerrville’s Riverside Nature Center. It’s also a popular planting around ranch gates where irrigation is scarce.
After extolling the virtues of Texas purple sage, House Concurrent Resolution 71 fittingly concludes that it “has been described as a plant that ‘can face droughts, freezes, high winds, salt spray, hungry deer and blazing heat and keep right on performing beautifully.’ Such fortitude is a quality highly admired in the Lone Star State.”
“In view of this plant’s important role in the ecology of Texas and its usefulness to the people of this land from ancient to modern times, it is altogether fitting that the Texas purple sage be appropriately recognized” as a symbol of Texas toughness.