A Tisket, A Tasket…

…a just emerging basket

A basket-flower, that is. I watch for the emergence of Centaurea americana every year, and they never disappoint.

In ditches and along railroad tracks, the flowers come and go. Last year’s largest stand was mowed at precisely the wrong time and failed to bloom, but a newly-discovered colony already is forming seed, and will be a destination next spring.

This year I experienced their scent, honey-sweet and heavy in the early summer air, and longed to extend their season.

“You should grow some in a pot,” said a friend. But these flowers aren’t meant for patio life. They’re meant to be wild and uncontained, like their mature blooms.

For years, I failed to see the basket-flowers crowding fencelines and ditches during spring and early summer. Obviously, they were there. Only my attention was lacking.


Comments always are welcome.


50 thoughts on “A Tisket, A Tasket…

    1. Oddly (or perhaps not) you’ve reminded me of a song from the ’80s that was a favorite on offshore sails. It still recalls a fresh wind, a certain angle of heel, and that urge to meet the horizon. If you click the “More” link beneath the video, the lyrics are there.

      1. A new song to me with a feeling of exhilaration and freedom I haven’t felt in a long time. LOL, probably the last time was travelling as a teenager on the back of my boyfriend’s motorbike!

        1. The song was part of the soundtrack of a movie named “Cocktail” — that’s where I ran into it. The entire soundtrack’s wonderful. It’s good for sailing, motoring, or housecleaning!

    1. When the people are county employees, and their assignment’s to mow public ditches and such, there’s not much to be done. But in out of the way or awkward places — unused rail lines, abandoned houses, private roads and boatyards — they can flourish.

      The first and last photos came from the edge of a golf course only three blocks from my home, where they’ve allowed trees and brush to remain — perhaps to keep errant balls from zooming out into the street.

  1. It’s good that your attention to this plant is lacking no more and that you created a floral chronology.
    Like you, I look forward to basket-flowers next spring, especially because this year I left to travel just as they were getting to be their best.

    1. I laugh now to think how hard it was for me to find these when I first started looking. Now, I can spot even very early buds at 40 mph. I suppose if I were faced with a choice between basket-flowers and travel, I’d choose travel, too, but it’s good to know the flowers will be back next year.

    2. You may know this, but I just discovered that the taxonomists have been at it again. I couldn’t find the basket-flower on the BONAP site. Eventually, I discovered its name has been changed to Plectocephalus americanus. I couldn’t find any rationale for the change, but Michael Eason, in his new wildflower guide (which you surely know about) has it listed under the new name.

      1. What you just said surprised me, as I had no inkling of the change. My understanding is that most of the recent changes are due to continuing DNA analysis. I looked online to try to understand the change but what I found was too technical for me to follow.

        I attended last month’s meeting of Austin’s NPSoT chapter (my first since December) because the speaker was Michael Eason. He talked for the entire two hours, and as everyone had to be out of the venue by 9:00, I didn’t have to sit through any chapter business (which can sometimes drag on and on). I bought a copy of Eason’s book, which he signed.

  2. The first picture might be interpreted by some as evidence that space aliens are among us.
    These are lovely and such survivors despite human clumsiness. The weird weather pattern shuffled the blooming season for several flower colonies – they adjust as needs require, the county mowing schedule never does.
    Great pictures…collection could be book worthy (with a few of your lyrical comments…oh, I know, that concept has to get in line behind the others already simmering HAHA) (Gads it’s hot today…and now the mosquitoes…)

    1. The first photo tickles me. At different times I’ve seen a space alien, a traditional religious icon (a saint with a pink halo?), and a Tele-tubby. The bud had been bent but not broken, and a little scootching around let me get it centered in front of another flower.

      The one place I’ve seen some creative mowing is over near Clear Lake Shores. Someone on the crew likes flowers; they’ll go around bunches of evening primrose or vetch instead of just running them over.

      It really was fun to put together a sequence. Now, I’m going to try to do the same with the seed heads, once they’ve stopped blooming. I want to get some photos of a couple of my other favorites down at Brazoria, but you’re right about the mosquitoes. Some fishing guides that work the refuge bays were grumping last weekend — they say it’s as bad as they’ve ever seen it. It’s time to get out the permethrin again.

  3. It’s a pretty and interesting flower, and nice to see the progression in your photos. I like thistle blossoms, which look very similar to this, and we have no shortage of them around here, but I haven’t ever seen anything with the symmetrical basketry like this.

    1. Honestly? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I didn’t pass these by for some time, assuming they were thistles. The color can be remarkably similar, and they’re about the same size. With a casual glance, it would be an easy confusion. As a matter of fact, another common name for the basket-flower is “star thistle.”

      That basketry gave the flower its name, of course, and I must say I like those bits of woven as much as I enjoy the blooms themselves. I’ll some some closeups of the baskets once I get some decent images. They really are remarkable.

  4. I had to Google this one, Linda. I don’t recall seeing them, but perhaps, like you early on, I just overlooked them, since they apparently grow in Illinois, too. And gee, aren’t they a bit late in emerging? My research indicates they bloom in May and June. Just one more example of our strange weather this year, I suppose. Thanks for bringing us these lovely photos!

    1. Your research skills are right on target, Debbie. They do indeed bloom in May and June, give or take. These photos actually were taken at different times in June, and I only now got around to putting the post together.

      In fact, when I went to the hill country in May, expecting to find them in bloom, they’d gotten ahead of me and were busy making seed. So, I had to wait until I got back from my Memorial Day trip to Kansas City to start looking for them here. At first, I thought I’d missed them here, too — and then, one day, they were everywhere. It was like having an old friend stop by!

    1. It is beautiful, Pete. They can range from lilac to pink, and I’ve seen a few white ones. The white aren’t common, but they’re lovely.

      I read this year that they make nice dried flowers, too, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was astonished to see them turn deep purple once they dried. I will confess that the experiment was enough for me. I’d rather see them living in the field than dried in a vase.

    1. That sounds good to me, GP. In fact, there are quite a lot of people doing just that — at least, in a manner of speaking. I know some people who busy themselves collecting native seed and growing grasses and flowers — sometimes for their gardens, and sometimes for public gardens or prairie restorations.

      Last year, I collected basket- flower seeds and sent some to a friend in the hill country. This year, she didn’t have to roam the countryside, looking for basket-flowers to enjoy. She could look out her kitchen window, and there they were — growing in her yard. With luck, she’ll have even more next year.

    1. Not only is their structure complex and interesting, their life cycle is, too. They can be sleek and elegant in bud, and just plain frowsy as they finally begin to fade. Not only that, the bees and the bugs and the butterflies adore them. I’ve not done too well getting photos of the insects on and around them, but I’m working on it.

    1. I just saw your post pop up — I can’t wait! There have to be stories galore, and I’m glad you’re still around to tell them. (I suspect it’s a good thing we don’t have to write with our feet!)

        1. All’s well, but it’s hotter than — well, you can finish the rhyme! Sending you wishes for cooler weather, more good water, and no (NO!) fires to deal with!

  5. Very prickly baskets. I do love the delicate lilac shade of the petals. I must confess, the mature flower looks like I look after I’ve just woken up — major case of bed head.

  6. Centaurea americana is probably related to the common cornflower and Australian Thistle. The bane of many a farmer. While living on the farm its proliferation together with Patterson’s curse was supposed to be suppressed and eradicated by nasty chemical, compliments of Monsanto.
    We had a paddock that used to be blue with both of them. They are pretty indeed but were not loved by our neighbours who hated the seed heads getting into the fleeces of their mob of prize winning sheep.
    I hated using herbicides and slashed them before they seeded. It took a few years and made the neighbours happy.

    1. They are related; all three are members of the Asteraceae family. The basket-flower and cornflower are in the same genus (Centaurea ), but the thistle (Silybum marianum) belongs to a different genus, and is officially classified as a noxious weed — which often happens with plants native to one area that are introduced to another, as the thistle was in Australia. There’s a great article here that includes a discussion of all its bad qualities, including those seeds contaminating the sheep’s wool.

      There are some thistles here that are just as nasty. In fact, the tumbleweed that’s such an icon of the American west actually is a Russian thistle that got out of control the same way yours did.

    1. Thanks, Tina. I recently learned that it has a new name. The taxonomists have changed it to Plectocephalus americanus. Since Centaurea americanus still is listed as an acceptable synonym, I’m sticking with that. After all — it’s one of the few scientific names I can remember!

      You’re right about its value. I’m collecting photos of the variety of insects that are attracted to the flowers — far more than I would have anticipated, and I surely have seen only a few.

    1. And once its done flowering, the basket and seeds that remain are just as attractive. One of these days I’ll post some photos of those, too. The baskets are so interesting; they’re one of those things that make me wonder, “Now, why in the world did nature go to all that trouble?”

  7. Although I like all of them, the first one really holds my attention. I like it that it’s so sharp, and the colors have been enhanced by the background bokeh. It’s almost looks like a surreal eyeball looking at me, but then I realize it’s the bud of that beautiful flower.

    1. Under normal circumstances, the basket-flower buds point upward, as the other photos show. But this one had been bent somehow, which allowed for such a view. The patch of flowers was so thick, the bud might have been prevented from forming in the usual way by other plants. In any event, it provided a view that makes me smile every time I look at it. And, yes: I was pleased to be able to give it such a nice, color-coordinated background.

  8. Such a lovely little flower. Isn’t it amazing the things we walk past and never notice, only to be amazed at their beauty once aware? I’ve worn out the knees in many a pair of jeans trying to make up for the oversights.
    I just had the same disappointing discovery when planning to photograph a patch of False Foxgloves in the Quabbin only to discover they had been mowed a few days previous. I’m glad you knew of another location.

    1. What I don’t yet have is a decent photo of a field of basket-flowers, or a ditch filled with them. They’re actually quite tall — three feet is common, and I’ve found some that have been even taller than me. Even so, they don’t get the attention they deserve. Since they’re so common along fences, abandoned rail tracks, and vacant lots, many people probably look at them and think, “Weed.”

      Getting seed from basket-flowers is a bit of a project, but not hard, and mowing may not be the worst thing in the world if the seed has formed. Some people glean what seed they can, and then toss the heads out into the fields, where any seeds still in the heads will germinate, and add to next year’s fun. If they’re mowed before the seed-gatherers show up, the effect is the same.

    1. It’s beautiful, and fragrant, and so very, very interesting. I’d read that it dries well, and can be used in arrangements, so I gave it a try. I was surprised to find that, once dried, the pinkish-lavender florets turned a deep purple. Now, I have a pile of new seed, and a friend’s going to let me have a corner of her place to plant some. At least then I won’t have to worry about them being mowed down!

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