Dew Points


Although less vividly purple than another species of eryngo found in Texas (Eryngium leavenworthii), the soft greens and lilacs of the Eryngium hookeri overspreading local pastures and fields is no less delightful. A member of the carrot family and thistle-like in its prickliness, it’s often called sea holly.

On this early morning prairie, far from the sea, the only water in evidence was the dew, collecting and shining in the rising light of dawn.


Comments always are welcome.


56 thoughts on “Dew Points

    1. It’s one of my favorite native plants. It took me a couple of years of looking to find it, but I finally did. The colonies I found this year were so thick it was a little difficult to isolate a single flower head, but I thought this worked well.

  1. Gorgeous Linda. I like the diagonal placing of the flower in the frame. So there are two Eryngos over there. Is this one a bit smaller than the other one?

    1. From the photos I’ve seen and the descriptions I’ve read, I think this one is a bit smaller. Its flower head tends to be more oval, too. After I found the plant, I kept comparing it to the eryngo photos that Steve posted, and couldn’t figure out why mine didn’t look quite the same. Now, it’s clear that the difference between species was in play. These occasionally take on a deeper purple, but I don’t think they’re generally as vibrant as E. leavenworthii.

      There’s a third species in the Big Bend area of the state. Eryngium heterophyllum goes by the common name of Mexican thistle: a nod to the prickliness, as well as to its geographic location. It’s flower heads are even smaller, and the bracts are white. I’d love to find that one some day.

        1. Since I’ve never seen one, I can’t judge, but Michael Eason’s new book that covers Texas natives across the state says: “Flowering heads terminal, white, and tinged blue…with rigid white bracts below.”

          Blue and purple are in the eye of the beholder, of course. In this photo, the E. heterophyllum does look blue to me. Of course, white bracts are a defining feature, and they’re easy to recognize.

    1. I have some images with a much sharper flower head, but they have busier backgrounds: hard to avoid in a colony of these beauties. I thought the nothing-of-a-background turned out to be a pretty nice something.

      Have you ever had the experience of seeing colonies of eryngo apparently disappear in the light? There have been several times I’ve found a colony, then been unable to locate them when I return, even a day later. They’re always there — it’s just that the angle of the light, or its brightness, or the plants’ reflectivity, renders them practically invisible. It’s probably the oddest phenomenon I’ve experienced while searching for native plants, and may explain why it took me so long to find patches of eryngo that surely have been there all along.

      1. As far as I recall, I haven’t encountered any disappearing eryngos—at least not unless I encountered them but didn’t know it because they were invisible. In any case, it’s good that you finally found some.

    1. I’m glad you like it. As I mentioned to Steve, I have some images that are sharper, but these plants have flower heads that are so tightly clustered, it’s often hard to isolate just one. Even when a single one rises above the mass of plants, it may be small, or not so brightly colored — just not as nice as the larger and more mature ones. They’re fascinating plants, and filled with every sort of insect, which makes them even more interesting.

  2. We went through our rainless stretch here, but somehow, I think more critical there, where it is so hot. I’m amazed even the dew could form. This photo looks like something you’d see in a well-produced wild flower or whatever journal showing the detail clearly and closely. Very nice indeed, as always!

    1. You might be surprised by how many dewy mornings we have here in the summer. Remember the old saying? “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” is truth, Sister! There are days I have to get out early just to dry off a boat so I can begin work an hour later — the relative humidity almost always is above 80% in the mornings, and occasionally even 90%. It’s not precisely pleasant — but the dew’s pretty.

      These flowers are striking when their purple takes over, but I really like seeing them in this intermediate stage, too. I’ll have to find a photo showing them in a bright purple stage, surrounded by their bright blue stamens — that’s something to see.

    1. Thanks, Pit. It’s one of my favorites — one that I look for every year, and have been lucky to find in abundance the past couple of months. They’re starting to go to seed now, and I may try growing some in a pot, just for grins. Pollinators seem to love them, and they do well in hot and dry, so my balcony might be just the place for them.

      1. So maybe they would do well in our “wildflower area”, that part of our property we usually don’t mow except for once or twice late in the year.

        1. The species E. leavenworthii is listed as native in your county, so it ought to do just fine. On the other hand, this species isn’t shown as native there, so I’d opt for the one that prefers your territory.

          A friend near Alvin found some in her horse pasture last year. When I got excited about them, she started mowing around them, and this year, the number of plants has about doubled, with patches of very young ones coming up. The horses don’t bother them, and neither does anything else: no doubt because of that prickliness.

    1. What a delightful update on the iris, Lavinia. I’m glad to know that it’s thriving. As you know, these flowers bloom when they will bloom, but we’ll cross our fingers.

      I do enjoy photos showing dew or rain clinging to flowers. No matter the weather surrounding them, they always seem just a bit fresher — sometimes, unlike the photographer.

    1. The very same. Andy Hooker, who maintains the wonderful Lensscaper blog, is a distant relative of J.D. Hooker, as well. He once sent along these notes, which may interest you:

      “We are both descendants of a certain John Hooker from the 16th century, who was a Member of Parliament. The even more tantalising possibility, so far not proven and probably never will be, is that Rev. Thomas Hooker, one of the founding fathers of America, may also have been part of the same family that at the time included a number of Reverends. I understand that the records of Thomas Hooker’s family were destroyed in a fire at his home in Connecticut and a lot of evidence was lost for good.”

      “It’s strange how families are inter-related. JD Hooker was closely associated with Charles Darwin, author of the famous ‘Origin of Species’. A short while back I posted an image under the title ‘Seat Vacant’ from a visit to Leith Place where Ralph Vaughan Williams lived for a time. Leith Place was for many years the home of Josiah Wedgwood and his family (renowned for their ceramics). A Wedgwood married a Darwin and that union produced Charles Darwin. Another Wedgwood married a Vaughan Williams and that union produced Ralph. A complex series of inter-relationships resulted.”

      Is this where we begin muttering about our small world?

        1. I found the link to the original Lunar Men, and it certainly is an impressive list of names. The very fact that I recognized a half-dozen speaks to their prominence. I was especially intrigued by William Small, who taught Thomas Jefferson at William and Mary College, and then showed up back in Britain with a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin. All of the biographies were interesting.

    1. It is prettier — and much, much smaller. The flower heads average about an inch tall, I’d say, not counting that little “thingie” sticking up from the top. I’m still not sure what that is. It’s probably akin to one of those sharp bracts around the bottom.

  3. Beautifully positioned shot, Linda. I love thistle; I’ve only seen them at distances, but in a group, they make a good show. Up close, I love the intracies of the flowers’ structure–which you captured well.

    1. But despite their prickliness, they aren’t a thistle. I think all of our native thistles are in the genus Cirsium. One of the most common ones is the pretty, purple Texas thistle, or C. texanum. That said, these make a pretty good show themselves, and probably are even more striking in your area, where the E. leavenworthii thrives. It took me some time to figure out that the ones around here don’t look quite the same as the ones I’ve seen from central Texas because they probably aren’t — they’re a different species.

      Oddly, these seems to support a great variety of insects. Even though I find them darned unapproachable, the pollinators find a way to get to the treats they offer!

      1. Yes–you’re right, they’re not thistles, I just always go to that more common term–and it’s easier to pronounce than ‘eryngo’, though ‘thistle’ is not a pretty a word. My apologies. Isn’t it remarkable how insect burrow in, move around, and otherwise work a bloom?

        1. Oh, heavens. No apologies needed. In fact, several of the websites and books I’ve read have made note of the fact that they’re often confused with thistles, so I thought it was good to highlight the difference. For my part, I used to assume basket-flowers were a sort of thistle, and was astonished to discover they aren’t at all the same thing. (On the other hand, another species of eryngo in the Big Bend area, E. heterophyllum, goes by the common name of Mexican thistle, so there you are. I’d love to see it; it has white bracts.)

          You’re right about the eryngo’s name, though. Someone talking about it at one of our native plant society meetings helped me greatly when she said, “Pretend its name is Erin, and you’re telling it ‘Erin, go to seed.'”

  4. Gee, Linda, your photography is downright professional!! This is a gorgeous shot — such clarity, and I do love the dew-drops! I’m sure one of those Texas magazines would be eager to snatch it up and publish it if you were so inclined.

    1. This isn’t close to a print-ready photo, Debbie — but I’m glad you think so, and I’m glad you like it. The good news is that I know why it wouldn’t do for a magazine, so I know how to keep working toward that kind of quality. It is a beautiful plant, and any time I can find dew or raindrops, I’m a very happy camper. I liked sparkly things, like my mother’s jewelry, when I was a child, and I think photos like this appeal to me for the same reason: sparkles!

      1. You know I’m the same way!! Perhaps that’s why I gravitate to beading jewelry — the combination of sparkly plus rocks (my late dad was a geologist) works for me!

    1. As we move into September, getting out with the dawn patrol will be easier. There’s a big difference between dawn at 6:15 a.m. and dawn at 7 a.m., especially when travel time has to be figured in.

      The other advantage I discovered this year is that butterflies and other insects are more likely to be perching in the early morning hours, waiting to dry off a bit themselves. It makes photographing them at least a little easier.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  5. Such a lovely portrait, Linda. Almost like a pastel and I like your composition filling the frame at an angle rather than rectangular. Sometimes the dew is all that keeps the plants going until a good rain…which I hope you receive soon.

    1. I very much like the lavender and almost-mint green combination. It makes the flower look like a decoration suited for a fancy cake. And like you, I like the diagonal orientation. Emily Dickinson’s famous line — “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant” — adapts well for photography: Show the flower, but show it slant. Not everything has to be perpendicular, as well as that sometimes works.

      The good news about eryngo is that it’s adapted for drought, with a long taproot. Like milkweed, it doesn’t take well to transplanting, but once established, it’s going to endure tough conditions pretty well.

      1. I love the lavender/ almost mint-green combination, too. I didn’t think of a fancy cake though. I thought it had potential as part of a stand-out hat for Queen Elizabeth.

        1. Perfect. The matching purse would be that same green, of course — with matching lavender trim. I’ve never seen her wear purple, so perhaps a deeper lavender would do for the dress.

    1. Those bracts are as stiff and sharp as anything I’ve encountered, including cactus spines. Plenty of insects like its pollen and nectar, but there isn’t anything out there that can do much damage to it — except mowers, of course.

      On the other hand, do you remember when I was grumping so much a while back about the mowing that had been done at the refuge? One area that was mowed was the one where I found this eryngo, and all of its thousands of friends. Obviously, the people who are managing that place know what they’re doing, and there’s a lot to be learned just by watching their procedures.

    1. Thank you, rethy. It’s one of my favorites, despite the fact that it needs a big “caution” sign hung above it. At least its bracts only poke and scratch, instead of embedding themselves like cacti spines.

    1. You think this ballerina was lovely, you should have seen the Corps de Ballet. They were poetry in motion — even though they were more limerick than sonnet. The audience was appreciative, though. I’d hoped to find them, and there they were. Best of all, the tickets only cost about three gallons of gas.

    1. A little blush of dawn’s not bad, and raindrops have their place, but I’ll agree: there’s nothing better than dewdrops.

      I have no idea what the book might have been, but I remember one from childhood that showed fairies drinking dew from the flowers. I looked for those fairies for years. I still haven’t found one, but the dew is a fine and satisfying consolation prize.

    1. Believe it or not, I remember hearing people talk about sea hollies for some time before I realized their relationship to eryngo. After I began following some gardeners, I began to realize that many of the flowers that were “the same, but different” from our natives actually were cultivars.

      I do have an odd fondness for prickly plants, and this one certainly fits right in. The name is fun, too.

  6. This is a gorgeous photograph, Linda! I know Eryngium as a garden flower, and they’re often more highly colored, but I really like this version, and it’s so pretty with the water drops and that soft green background. .

    1. It took me forever to figure out that some of the more brightly colored sea hollies are cultivars. There are differently-colored native species, though; one in central Texas is a much deeper purple, and more of a pineapple shape. Ours are more oval, and not quite so bright.

      I’ve found them almost impossible to photograph en masse. Ours have a strange habit of “disappearing” in bright light. I’ve driven by large colonies of them, then turned around, and been unable to see flowers I know darned well are “right there” when I come from a different direction. I think it has to do with the reflectivity of the stems and leaves. I’ve tried early morning, but I guess I wasn’t early enough. Apparently I need to get up with the dawn patrol to get just the right light.

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