Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex) has gained popularity over the years as an ornamental plant, and anyone who has it understands why it is now listed as a category 1 invasive species in Florida.
My chickens and tortoise eat the leaves and flowers and it produces a lot of biomass but if it wasn’t in my yard already (thanks, clearance rack), I would never plant it again.
substitute plants for Mexican petunia
Because it is difficult to control, it is more beneficial to choose something else. Here are some native species that you could plant instead of Mexican petunia.
- wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis)
- blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum)
- butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis).
- starry rosinweed
- Silphium asteriscus
- Blue-eyed grass
- Sisyrinchium angustifolium
- Stokes aster
There are also Mayan Purple or Purple Showers, which are sterile varieties of Mexican petunia created by UF. These will not spread by seed, but they still send off runners and spread through rhizomes…and by the way they spread through my garden beds, I don’t want these either.
about Mexican petunia
This hardy plant survives in various soil and sun conditions, although it tends to prefer wet soil. It quickly spreads underground through rhizomes and seeds. Once established, this plant is hard to eradicate…I’m still trying.
It is evergreen (meaning it will stay green over the winter). After the flower blooms, it will fall off and a hard seed pod will form in its place. Once completely dry, that seed pod will pop open and shoot seeds everywhere. When cut back to the ground, they just return even stronger. The best way to remove them is by digging up the root mass with a shovel.
growing Mexican petunia
Prior to knowing it was on the invasive species list, I bought Mexican petunia and spread it all over the yard. Its long, straight stems make it an awesome chop and drop plant for walkways and as filler for raised beds.
Benefits for Tortoises and Chickens:
I was happy to see that both the Sulcata tortoise and the chickens eat the leaves and flowers, so it is a sustainable food source for them, helping to add a little more variety to their diet. So although it’s a hassle cutting them back all the time to prevent spreading in my planters, I am able to feed the clippings to the critters and mulch the walkways.
In conclusion, while Mexican petunia has its uses, it’s crucial to prioritize responsible gardening practices and use native alternatives when you can.