If you are looking for a tough, yet gorgeous, shrub or small tree that attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds then at Texas Vitex will suit your landscape. This versatile plant can be trained as a large shrub or small multi-trunked tree about 10 to 15 feet tall and wide. Shoal Creek vitex is more vigorous and produces larger flowers and deeper color than common vitex.
Horticulturists from Texas A&M’s Superstar™ program developed the Texas Lilac Vitex to mimic the lilacs that grow up north but thrive in our southern climates. Texas Lilac Vitex goes be several other names: Mexican lavender, lilac chaste tree, hemp tree, sage tree, monk’s pepper, Indian spice or Vitex. It is a native of China and India, although long ago it became naturalized throughout certain areas of the United States. Records indicate that Vitex has been cultivated in the Americas since 1670.
The older selections of Vitex had small spikes of flowers which were pale lilac, mauve, off-white or light pink. The blooms were small and, for the most part, unattractive. Horticulturists now have identified and tested improved selections such as “Montrose Purple,” “LeCompte,” and “Shoal Creek” which have spikes as long as 8 to 12 inches. All of these selections will be marketed under the name of Texas Lilac Vitex.
The bloom spikes on these improved selections are not only large and beautiful; they also are fragrant and provide long-lasting cut flowers. However, after the bloom spikes have provided several weeks of spectacular beauty, many aromatic black or dark-brown seeds are produced. Not only do these seeds prevent a profusion of additional bloom spikes, they may, in some regions of the state, produce a seedling population that will not have the same characteristics as the original plant and become a nuisance.
Because of the growing conditions in much of Texas, many perennials are best used as annuals, and many shrubs or small trees are best used as perennials. This has been the case with the three very successful Texas Superstars™: firebush, esperanza and perennial hibiscus. In most areas of Texas, firebush and perennial hibiscus die to the ground every winter. Esperanza-and now Texas Lilac Vitex- should be cut to the ground every winter to keep the plant manageable from season-to-season.
Vitex grows best when planted in full sun and in a location that drains well. It will grow well in all areas of Texas, in both acid and alkaline soils. It prospers in hot and dry environments. The Texas Department of Transportation recognizes its toughness, and plants Vitex in highway medians. It is a spectacular butterfly-attracting plant and is deer resistant in that deer will not eat it, although they can damage it with their antlers if it is allowed to grow very large.
By David Rodriguez, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent foe Bexar County