Black Dalea

Dalea frutescens

Black dalea is a small, evergreen shrub native to Texas, New Mexico, and northeast Mexico. Though it blooms only in the fall, it is a great addition to a landscape. It stays small (to 3 feet by 3-4 feet after several years), needs extra water only during the hot summer months, and produces only small amounts of liter. Combine it with plants with yellow (such as desert marigold or bahia) or red flowers (such as California fuscia or autumn sage) for a classic look.

Black dalea needs little maintenance. The forms stays naturally tight and small, so pruning is needed only occasionally and only if the plant gets leggy (prune in spring, can be cut back by half). The seed pods are small, with only one seed. They do not need to be cut off, or even raked up, to maintain an attractive appearance.

If the plant is irrigated, seeds of other plants may germinate under the foliage and grow up into it. These plants should be removed. It is natural for this plant to lose some leaves each year. Significant leaf loss in summer suggests irrigation is needed. Black dalea does best in full sun and well-drained soil.

Notes: at garden centers, you may see this plant as Sierra Negra™.

Wildlife value: An exceptional bee plant. Butterflies may also visit the flowers. Some daleas are larval plants for the Southern Dogface Butterfly.

More Information

Weekly Plant on daleas

Horticultural information from Texas A&M

Horticultural information from ASU

Horticultural information from Pima County Master Gardeners

Map of distribution in US (yellow indicates plant is rare)

In books:

Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes by Judy Mielke, page 118.

Perennials for the Southwest by Mary Irish, page 124.


ID Characteristics

This plant is in the Fabaceae - the pea family.
black dalea blooming at Academy Village
Black dalea is a small shrub with thin, woody stems. It grows just a bit each year, eventually reaching a height of about 3 feet, with a slightly greater width. It has a naturally rounded, even form that stays attractive for many years. The plant in the photo above is in its 4th season and has not been pruned.
black dalea blooming at Academy Village
Black dalea has odd-pinnately compound, alternate leaves with 9-19 leaflets. The leaves may be up to an inch long, with each leaflet up to 1/4 inch long (may be smaller if plant is not on irrigation), each a fairly deep green. The stems are thin. Those at the base of a 4-year old plant (4 years after planting) were 3/16 inch wide; the stems supporting the flower clusters were only 1/16 inch wide. 
black dalea blooming at Academy VillageThe leaves are covered with small oil glands (click on photo to enlarge). Rubbing a leaf releases a pleasant, citrusy scent.
black dalea blooming at Academy Village
Black dalea blooms in late summer/early fall (starting in our area usually in late September). The plant is in "full bloom", covered with showy flowers, for several weeks, with lighter bloom both before and after. The flowers are terminal and held on short, 1 inch spikes, with flowering beginning at the base of the cluster. Four of the petals are red-purple; the upper petal (banner) is white. Each flower is about 3/8 inch long and 1/4 inch high. Only 5 or 6 flowers in each cluster are open at the same time.
The seed pod is small and contains only one seed.