Sporting brilliant pink, fragrant (at nighttime) flowers, desert sand verbena (Abronia villosa) blooms between February and July following rains, sometimes spreading across great expanses of desert and arid areas. In addition to the more common pink, the flowers may sometimes range to violet or purple. The flower clusters are about the size of a golf ball. The silver-gray foliage adds to the dramatic effect of this wonderful plant.
Although it strongly resembles a true verbena, desert sand verbena is actually part of the Four-O’-Clock family (Nyctaginaceae).
Native to North America, desert sand verbena can be found as far north as Utah and as far south as northern Mexico, and is found in most arid desert areas.
It may grow up to six inches high and each plant may be expand up to 20 inches across.
Desert sand verbena likes dry, sandy, well-drained soils, making it ideal for xeric and waterwise gardens. It grows best in full sun. Many desert gardeners use it as a ground cover. The fact that it reseeds itself makes it even more attractive.
The plant grows well from sea level to 3000 feet and in USDA cold hardiness zones 7 through 10. In milder climates it can bloom all year. It also makes a great container plant and also works well as a border plant, or an accent plant in a rock garden.
Desert sand verbena can also be used for erosion control. Plant on hillsides in berms and swales.
However, it cannot grow in shade, so it doesn’t do well as an undergrowth plant, or shady patio plant.
Desert sand verbena has a wide tolerance of soil pH, tolerating mildly acidic soils of 6.1 to mildly alkaline soils of 7.8.
Gardeners may plant seeds outdoors in late summer, in fall before first frost or early spring after last frost. The seeds are encased in a papery “pod.” Pick the pods after the flowers fade and allow them to dry. Removing the pod makes it easier for the plant to germinate. Soaking the seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting will further enhance germination. If starting the seeds indoors, sow in sandy soil shallowly.
Seeds should germinate in one to two months.
Regular watering is okay, but do not overwater the plants. The flowers make great cuttings and add a distinctive flair to spring bouquets.
Desert sand verbena has trailing stems with thick, opposite leaves. The showy flowers grow on a relatively long stalk (three inches to six inches). Three other species of sand verbena, hairy sand verbena, a smaller, hairier and more delicate variety, is found in some North American desert areas. Although desert sand verbena does not do well near the sea, yellow sand verbena and red sand verbena are seashore plants.