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Texas by Nature

Texas Trailing Phlox

By Buddy Gough

The Texas spirit is best exemplified not in the Lone Star State’s history of hardy hombres, but in the existence of tough native flora and fauna, from prickly pear to pumas.

Something as seemingly fragile as a wildflower doesn’t readily come to mind, but the Texas trailing phlox deserves recognition for being hardy, tough and totally Texan.

It’s a member of a widespread family of perennial wildflowers that includes 67 species of phloxes found in such varied habitats as tundra, mountains and prairies. Named after the Greek word for “flame,” phloxes are among the earliest harbingers of spring—their bright blossoms begin to appear in a splash of colors each March.

The five-petal blooms of common phlox species typically blossom in bright pink or magenta and when moisture conditions are favorable, the plant will remain green all year.

The Texas trailing phlox (Phlox nivalis texensis) is unique for being found nowhere but the Pineywoods of East Texas. It was historically associated with the longleaf pine ecosystem consisting of deep sandy soils, where the towering pines grew in surroundings of relatively open grasslands maintained by periodic wild fires.

As the longleaf pine forests disappeared, so did the trailing phlox. The plant was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1972 and listed as a federally endangered species in 1991.

Today, the trailing phlox is found only in Hardin, Polk and Tyler Counties, with the largest populations protected on The Nature Conservancy’s 5,564-acre Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary near Silsbee.

A key to the survival of the fire-adapted plants on the sanctuary rests with program of prescribed burns that sustains its habitat and that of the wider longleaf ecosystem.

As a result, endangered phlox is rarest of the more than 340 many species of wildflowers to be found along the trails of a sanctuary that is open daily to the public.

Besides protecting the phlox on the sanctuary, the Conservancy has also assisted in reintroducing it to the Big Thicket National Preserve in Hardin County.

To learn more about The Nature Conservancy's work in Texas, including other species we help protect, visit nature.org/texas.

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