When I first heard the name “standing cypress,” I thought it was a tree. I have since learned that it is a beautiful, flowering biennial herb and wildflower.

Texas native; phlox family

Known by several other names – red Texas star, Texas plume and red gilia – it is a member of the phlox family and native to the southeastern United States. It is also a Texas native with a zone 6-10 hardiness rating.

  • Sturdy spikes with masses of tubular flowers

Standing cypress’ sturdy nonbranching spikes of thick masses of tubular red flowers is most eye-catching. Occasionally there is a yellow or orange spike, but it is predominantly a bright scarlet red.

  • Various showy garden options

Growing along fences, against walls, in meadows or in mass plantings that stand alone, it would be a beautiful background plant with shorter foliage or flowering plants in the foreground and with complementary colored blooms or variegated leaves.

Perennial with prolific seeds

Standing cypress is a prolific seed producer and is also considered a perennial for reseeding so well. In fact, it can become a little invasive reseeding, but that just means it does not have to be replanted every year.

  • Sow seeds in fall or prune spikes for new growth

Seed pods should be allowed to mature completely if you wish to collect and save the seeds. Sow seeds in the fall by gently raking them into the soil. You can expect germination in 14-30 days. Alternately, you may prune the flower-depleted spike and new replacement growth will appear and extend the flowering time.

  • New spikes flower second season

New plants start as rounded crowns or rosettes of ferny growth, and being biennial, you will not get flowers right away. Spikes will not usually appear until the second season, but the foliage is beautiful on its own.

Some sources report their plants have produced spikes in the first year. The foliage is a soft nest of dark green, very fine fern-like leaves which makes the plant easily identifiable even when it is not blooming.

  • Staking can help ensure upright form

Each plant reaches a height of 2-4 feet, and may reach as much as 6 feet in favorable conditions. Each spike stands alone with the 2-inch long trumpets opening from the top and continuing down the spike as it grows upward. The showy, red, tubular flowers flair widely at the rim with orange and yellowish spotted markings in the throat.

With the strong windy weather we often have, the spikes might benefit from staking if they are growing out in the open. There are nice, tall, green stakes available that would not be noticeable in the thick foliage, and it would be well worth the added support to maintain their upright slender gracefulness.

  • Can rot in soggy soil

Standing cypress is susceptible to rot if in soggy, moist or too rich soil. During a very long dry spell it will benefit from a deep watering, but let the ground dry completely before watering again. The plant has a long tap root, which helps anchor its tall plumes and helps to find moisture deep in the soil.

Growing locally

Standing cypress can be found growing in Victoria Educational Gardens in the xeriscape section where plants prefer little water once established and are very drought-tolerant. Standing cypress likes well-drained sand, loam, gravel or rocky fields and prefers full sun but will adapt to partial shade.

Most of the photos with this article were taken at the home of Master Gardener Pat Plowman. She has a beautiful mass planting of standing cypress in her front garden beds that has a wild, natural atmosphere about it.

Standing cypress vs. scarlet Gilia

There is another genus called scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata), which is also found in Texas but is native mostly in the western half of the United States. It is not nearly as lush in foliage nor as abundant in the number of flowers per stalk from the examples I have seen. It also does not seem to reach the height that the I. rubra does nor are the flowers as showy.

Prime time for blooming standing cyprus

My sources varied as to the blooming times, but most agreed that standing cyprus blooms from May to as late as August. Standing cypress is very attractive to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies with its tall plumes of bright red trumpet flowers. There was a brief note in my research that said this plant is not deer-resistant.

If you are looking for an eye-catching, tall accent or background plant with striking spikes of bright red flowers, it is prime time for the easy-to-grow standing cypress.

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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