According to a weather report for Montgomery County, August is our hottest month with average highs of 95.7°F (base period 2010-2018) and low average precipitation.
However, we don’t need to read a weather report to know that. Just walking out the door a blast of hot, humid air assails us, and we want to turn around and go back inside. However, our plants need to be watered, especially those in containers with a potting mix that dries out fast.
That’s when you start thinking about drought resistant plants and water-wise gardening. One plant that thrives in our heat with minimal water is the Blanket Flower, Firewheel or Indian Blanket, with the botanical name, Gaillardia pulchella. Pronunciation: gah-LAR-dee-yah pul-KELL-ah.
It is an annual wildflower native to Texas and at least 36 other states and blooms right after the Bluebonnets have finished their show until late August or September. It grows in part shade to full sun, with minimal water needs and with a height of 1-2 ft. Rich soils and too much water will produce plants that tend to flop over.
The most popular Blanket Flower is seen on our roadsides with flowers that are predominantly red or orange, with a yellow scalloped edge. One such plant popped up in the pavers under a Vitex tree and received no water except the occasional rain shower.
There are many species and cultivars available as Indian Blanket sometimes comes in color variations of cream with yellow scallops, or coral with peach scallops. The one most often seen is the showy pinwheel flower with red and yellow colors. It attracts butterflies and native bees, and finches eat the seeds of the dry seed heads.
There is a red Blanket Flower, also an annual, that is endemic to Texas and the Southwest and can be found growing in the deep, sandy soils of oil fields, as well as prairies and open woodlands.
All other Gaillardias in Texas are perennials. The Winkler gaillardia (G. aestivalis) grows in the Big Ticket and has white flowers with prominent yellow centers, although other color variations can be found with the same name. The Red Dome Blanket Flower (G. pinnatifida) grows in the Trans-Pecos area and in the plains of northern Texas and has yellow flowers with a purple-red dome in the middle.
In addition to its many benefits, there are several legends that tell the story how the Blanket Flower came by its name. One of those legends is the story of a little Native American girl who got lost in the woods and was wishing she had the blanket her mother was weaving for her father, which had bright red and orange colors in a pattern that resembled the symbol of a prayer to the Great Spirit. The little girl fell asleep in the woods and was found the following morning covered with flowers with the same bright colors of her father’s blanket.
There are many other plants that thrive in the August heat. Blooming now are Hummingbird Bush or Firebush (Hamelia patens) and Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii). Both of these shrubs are attractive to hummingbirds, and when planted close to a hummingbird feeder those delightful little birds are seen flitting from the feeder to the flowers looking for nectar. The Morning Glory Tree (Ipomoea carnea), and the Crepe Myrtle, our Lilac of the South, (Lagertroemeia indica), are perhaps not as attractive to wildlife; nevertheless, they provide much color in the landscape and are not affected by the heat.