They can’t all be superstars.
But some plants that look good and grow well in Texas — such as grandma’s yellow roses and whopper begonias — have made it into an elite club.
About 80 plants have been designated as Texas Superstars after showing success in field trials that are conducted in multiple locations around the state.
“The idea was to be able to promote plants that will perform well in Texas,” says Brent Pemberton, chair of the executive board of the Texas Superstar program. It’s a program of Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, which are part of the Texas A&M System. It began as a regional program in the San Antonio area in the 1980s and grew, he says.
Not surprisingly, “the first statewide promotion of a Texas Superstar plant was the Texas bluebonnet” in 1989, says Marilyn Love, a Hays County master gardener who has advanced training in the Texas Superstar program.
Yellow butterfly vine, White Angel althea and basket of fire pepper are some of the more recent ones to earn the title of Texas Superstar (which is a registered trademark), Love says.
A listing of Texas Superstars — as well as pictures and information about each plant regarding height, soil type, planting time, sun exposure and more — is available in a free color brochure. It also indicates whether a plant is deer-resistant and whether it is attractive to pollinators. Water drop symbols indicate a plant’s expected water use.
Texas Superstars include annuals, perennials, woody shrubs, trees, specialty plants and per-annuals, which are "tropical perennials used as an annual,” according to the brochure.
Alongside a Texas map in the brochure, it states, “Texas Superstars perform best at the hardiness zones indicated. However, Texas Superstars are widely adapted across the state.” The brochure adds, “You will find landscape success with beautiful, proven, Texas-tough plants.”
“Any special requirements (for the plant) will be part of the promotion,” Pemberton says.
With this program, Texas gardeners “can buy the plant and know that it’s going to do well,” Love says. In addition, “most of these plants can be easily propagated,” she says.
The brochure can be found at texassuperstar.com. Copies are also available from the Texas Department of Agriculture (which publishes it) and at some nurseries, Pemberton says, adding that an updated version should be available in the spring.
The field trials occur primarily in Lubbock, San Antonio, College Station and Overton, which “are located in different eco-zones … in the state of Texas,” Pemberton says.
The trials for a plant might take roughly from two to seven years, Pemberton says. For the most part, each plant undergoes trials in all four areas, and with a few exceptions, the Superstars perform well statewide, he says.
For these trials, “plants receive minimal soil preparation, reasonable levels of water and no pesticides,” according to the brochure. “A reasonable amount of fertilizer” is used, Pemberton says.
For the selections, “we might trial a couple of dozen things, and we might choose two or three,” he says. The process is “fluid,” he says. “At any one time we might be testing things that we might be promoting next year or (in) three or four years.”
Of course, not all plants are destined for Superstardom. Each plant also has to look pretty enough that people will want to buy it and grow it.
“It also has to be something that looks good in a container for sale,” Pemberton says. “You can’t have a stick in a gallon pot.”
The final decision on what plants get the honor is made by the executive board of the Texas Superstar program. Six new plants are expected to be named Texas Superstars this year, Pemberton says.
Another aspect of the program, he says, is to work with the industry (such as through the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association). This helps spread the word so that growers and others “know in advance what plants we’re going to promote,” he says; that way, they would be able to produce the plants to be available in time for an increased demand. Otherwise, gardeners and others might get frustrated trying to find them.
Then, a promotion is started to let consumers know about the latest Texas Superstars, says Pemberton; besides the brochure, a Texas Superstar plant is touted in other ways, such as press releases to media and marketing and educational campaigns.
Word-of-mouth also helps get the message out, via master gardeners and others. Love says she has given a presentation on Texas Superstars at least 20 times.
In addition, the Texas Superstar logo might be on the plant’s tag at some nurseries, Pemberton says.
The program is generally successful, he says. “Probably what we suffer from is not enough people know about it. … It’s really a matter of getting the word out.” It’s received a “high approval rating once people are aware of the program.”
Of course, many Texas Superstars have their superfans.
Love says she adores the Henry Duelberg salvia. “It’s native to Texas. Deer don’t eat it. … You don’t have to do hardly anything to it after the first year,” she says. “I absolutely love this plant.”