Gaura lindheimeri, also known as "whirling butterflies," is a perennial with long arching stems lined with pale pink blooms.

Submitted Photo

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series on landscape designers' favorite underused plants.

Gardeners who want their landscapes to break out of the ordinary often face a chicken-or-egg dilemma.

How can you find plants that aren't popular when commercial nurseries grow only popular plants? And how can nurseries justify growing plants that aren't in high demand?

"Which comes first, the demand for the plant or its presence in the nursery trade?" asks landscape designer Diana Turner of Turner Design.

We asked plant lovers what species they'd like to see more of in Tucson landscapes. Many of their suggestions of shrubs and perennials are not often used because they are difficult to find in Tucson.

The contributors suggest that you look for them in out-of-town nurseries, online or at specialty nurseries such as Desert Survivors for desert-adapted species.

All of the ones they mention are available, just not so easily in this part of the world.

These ideas come from Turner and landscape designers Elizabeth Przygoda-Montgomery, Kathryn Prideaux and Greg Corman; nursery owner Greg Starr; garden writer Jacqueline Soule; and Darlene Buhrow, spokeswoman for the Tucson Botanical Gardens

• Parthenium incanum (mariola) is a native shrub with gray leaves and clusters of small white flowers that attracts butterflies.

• Viguiera stenoloba (resinbush) also attracts butterflies with yellow daisylike flowers. "It's a tough Chihuahuan Desert shrub," Starr says.

• Violet Cloud Scutellaria is a hybrid perennial that adds blue-lavender flowers to the landscape palette.

• Cassia didymobotrya (popcorn cassia) has yellow flowers that actually smell like buttered popcorn or roasted peanuts.

• Gaura lindheimeri (whirling butterflies) is a perennial with long arching stems lined with pale pink blooms. Prideaux says it's "a great combination with blue-grays of some of the desert plants."

• Red Headed Beauty Penstemon is a fairly new Tucson hybrid of the popular spring plant. It shoots tall stems from which bloom red tubular flowers favored by hummingbirds. "This one should be in everyone's garden," Turner says.

Advocates of the following plants have reasons other than limited availability for why they're not popular.

• Jatropha cardiophylla (limberbush) is a native shrubby succulent. Its often bare, reddish stems add a sculptural look until it leafs out during summer rain. "It doesn't produce pretty flowers," Corman says, "so its appeal is limited."

• Flowering vines such as Queen's Wreath (Antigonon leptopus), Passiflora and yellow orchid aren't as popular as they once were. "These will all die back in the winter," says Buhrow, "but once the weather warms up (they) start growing quickly." Their flowers provide spectacular color and attract pollinators.

• Aloysia is a butterfly-attracting shrub with fragrant flowers. Some species are native to the Sonoran Desert. They're "rarely used because of winter dormancy," Soule says.

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at