At the end of the road, past the observation platform, around the steel gate meant to discourage cars and up again on the berm, lies an isolated hiking path at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. On the east side of the berm, a ditch deep enough to provide protection from the wind allows plants to bask in low winter sunlight; it’s one of the first places I look for early-blooming flowers: coastal germander, verbena, scarlet pimpernel.
Sometimes, there are surprises. On January 27, I found the ditch filled with short and somewhat scraggly Gaillardia pulchella, commonly known as firewheel or Indian blanket. The genus name honors M. Gaillard de Charentonneau, a French magistrate and patron of botany, while the specific epithet means ‘pretty.’ Twelve species of native blanketflower inhabit the United States; at least one species can be found in every state, with Gaillardia pulchella the most widespread.
Known for their months-long bloom, these tough, cold-hardy Gaillardia clearly weren’t faded holdovers from the fall. In their snug little corner of the world, spring has arrived.
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