The Butterfly that Didn’t Fly

When I spotted this lovely, pinkish spiderwort blooming along a roadside outside Palacios last Sunday, I had to stop for a closer look.

Most spiderworts I’d seen that day had been purple, like this impressive clump of prairie spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis). At more than two feet tall, it was larger than anything I’d seen outside a garden, and definitely eye-catching.

While admiring the pink spiderwort, I noticed that the stem held two blooms, not one. As I circled the plant, trying to focus on both flowers, I found myself seeing them them as one creature: a sweet, pink butterfly far more willing to pose than most of the fluttery ones that tease me with their flight.


Comments always are welcome.


53 thoughts on “The Butterfly that Didn’t Fly

    1. Isn’t that fun? I wondered if there are any pink butterflies in Texas, and I found not a butterfly but a moth, the Southern Pink. (Pyrausta inornitalis) In fact, on the top row of images on that page, third from the left, there’s a sighting by Textile Ranger, who lives not so very far from you. It’s listed for several Texas counties; maybe we’ll see one.

    1. I started with clouds early. It was great summertime entertainment. I do love what I call ‘nature’s analogies’ — water that looks like rock, rock that seems to flow like water. John Muir said that anything is hitched to everything else in the Universe, so why not look for (and enjoy) those connections?

        1. Sure enough, it did — at least, some of it. I think that’s part of the reason people are so fascinated by the videos of volcanoes today. Watching flowing lava’s one way that we can get a sense of what it was like when those great, geologic forces were at work (albeit more slowly in most cases).

  1. And that explains the how and why of your excellent photography skills. In the last photo, near the “head” of the butterfly, there’s something green, with little hair-like spikes. Do you know what it is?

    1. What I lack in skill and knowledge, I do try to make up for in patience and attentiveness, Tina. I’ll be happy to be an even better photographer, but when I go back and look at some of my earliest photos, I can see progress, and that pleases me.

      As for those little hair-like spikes, I’ve read that the various species tend to be more or less hairy. An article about Arkansas spiderworts says that “the slender pedicels [flower stalks] …may be glabrous [smooth, or hairless] or have short pilose pubescence (thin soft hairs).” And I read on other sites that both the bracts and the buds can have those same hairs, so I suspect that’s what we’re seeing. There weren’t other buds on the plant, so I’m pretty sure the hairs are at the tip of a bract. I didn’t see them until I got home and looked at the photos on the computer.

    1. I’ve never seen a spiderwort plant with so many fresh, lovely flowers as that deep purple one. And even the rose, which clearly was beginning to fade, had such lovely color. I was surprised by the Texas dandelions I saw, too. They were so tall, with such large flower heads. I think all the rain we’ve had may have encouraged the flowers this year.

    1. Wasn’t it, though? I was going to say that finding it left me feeling “in the pink,” and then I wondered: what in the world does that mean? I found that the expression itself may go back several centuries, when the meaning was ‘the very pinnacle of something’, and referred to another flower — the ‘Pinks’ so beloved in England:

      “Why pink has been chosen to epitomise the pinnacle of quality is more likely to do with the Dianthus flower, many varieties of which are called Pinks. It is known that society in the reign of Elizabeth I admired the flowers, hence the first uses of pink with the ‘excellent’ meaning in that period.”

      “What is interesting to speculate on is why the flowers were called Pinks. You may think that a silly question, as Dianthuses are almost always pink. There are two quite believable theories. One suggests that it is the flowers that gave their name to the colour, rather than vice-versa, and that the name derives from the Dutch ‘pinck-ooghen’ – ‘little eye’ (literally – to blink). The second theory is based on the earlier verb form of pink, which means to cut or to pierce – in a style that would now be done using pinking shears. Dianthuses are said to be called Pinks because their edges are pinked. Take your choice.”

      You can find more interesting historical details here.

        1. It seems not. The association of being ‘in the pink’ with a healthy glow came later. The first uses of the expression, by Shakespeare and others, had the meaning of “excellence.”

          It’s interesting how words and phrases change their meaning over time. One of the best examples of a change I’ve witnessed is the word ‘gay.’ When I was a kid, people still talked about having ‘a gay old time’ at parties or other social occasions. Tell someone today you attended a gay party, and their understanding probably would be a little different. ‘Gay’ still is used both ways, but being aware of the changed meaning is important.

  2. Your title reminded me of Ogden Nash:

    “A flea and a fly in a flue
    Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
    Said the fly, “let us flee!”
    “Let us fly!” said the flea.
    So they flew through a flaw in the flue.”

    1. That has to be one of the first Nash verses I memorized, and it’s just as much fun now as it was all those decades ago. I can’t help wondering if “Fee-fi-fo-fum” might have set his mind alight and led to the wonderful word play.

    1. Doesn’t it, though? It was great fun finding them. Spiderwort blooms only last one day, and the translucency of these petals indicate the flowers were fading. In another few hours, they wouldn’t have been there to see.

  3. Wow, cannot believe these are wildflowers, and not cultivated. Amazing colors.
    The only 3-petaled flower I can remember seeing at home, is trillium, which is white, or light purplish/pink. These spiderworts have fantastic color.

    1. I’ve never seen trillium, except in photos by Steve G. and others.There are a couple of species here in Texas, although one’s called ‘uncommon’ and the other is ‘rare’ — one is white and one is purple. Their common name in my books is ‘wakerobin’ — I wonder if that’s because they show up in spring, like the robins.

      When conditions are good, our wildflowers really shine. I suspect all the rain we’ve grumped about has been good for the flowers.

      1. Yes, you and Steve find a lot of great flowers.
        The trillium are nice – – if there’s a patch of woods the deer can’t get into, to graze, the trillium will fill in pretty solidly.

  4. I like spiderworts, pink or blue. I like the three-petalled flowers and their green, yellow and blue color scheme. Funny you mention Palacios. My former landlords had a retirement home there. I had them as landlords for over 21 years. Only reason I moved was because TXDOT condemned the apartment building to make room for a freeway.

    1. I read that the spiderworts hybridize so easily that the same species can turn up in blue, pink, lavender, or deep purple. There’s a separate species with white flowers, but I don’t think it grows down here. More research is necessary.

      Palacios is an interesting town, with a lot of historical threads woven together: some pleasant, some not so much. It’s a shame they lost their historic dance pavilion at the end of the pier during Hurricane Ike, but a replacement’s been built, and it’s quite nice.

      We’re watching building after building torn down to make way for an expansion of Highway 146, a primary N/S route from Texas City to Baytown, and it’s no fun for anyone. A lot of small businesses have had to relocate, and some have just given up. There are four lanes now; twelve are planned. The construction is going to be — interesting.

  5. The flowers seem intense this spring – wonder if it’s all the rain/not so much cold? (Bluebonnets alongside feeder roads in Galveston just past bridge)
    The first pix is beautiful – magazine pose, but the last one is obviously a flower imitating butterfly life.

    1. I agree about the intensity, and I think the rain has something to do with it. It may even be that all of the cloudy skies and fog has played a role, keeping them from fading as fast. Just down the road from these were the biggest, fattest Texas dandelions I’ve ever seen — some of them a foot tall. Never in all my born days, as the saying goes…

      I spotted the bluebonnets over on Hwy 3, too, in the front yard of the little house that always has a nice spread of them. It was so foggy at the time I nearly missed them.

  6. Tradescantia occidentalis is a hardy little flower. Your images are great and they show the plant’s impressive beauty. Two hundred miles or so south definitely makes a difference in bloom time.

    1. I’ve heard some gardeners grump about spiderwort: you say hardy, they say out to take over the world! But they are pretty plants, and the insects certainly do like them. I’ve not seen any bees around them yet this year, but there have been plenty of what I think are hoverflies visiting.

      Watching different flowers and trees begin to bloom has been interesting this year. We’re earlier than you, and Austin seems to be far ahead of the hill country in some respects. Still, there were those white prickly poppies up near Fredericksburg — the truth is, there’s no predicting what will show up, or where. That’s a good bit of the fun.

  7. What an extraordinary sight those 2 pink flowers were. The really do look like a butterfly. Not many people would notice that.

    I’ve never seen pink spiderwort only the purple kind. We used to have it growing in the community garden around my old block of apartments on the south-east side of the city (as well as the Botanic Gardens).

    Our Spiderwort is slightly different than your Prairie one. Not by much though. More foliage I think.

    1. One of the things I’ve learned about spiderwort is how easily they hybridize. We have over 25 species of Tradescantia in North America, and more than half can be found in Texas. In many descriptions of them, the writers say that determining a species sometimes can be difficult. I used to think they could be sorted out by color, but apparently color isn’t a good identifier, since a species can provide flowers in pink, blue, or lavender/purple, depending on everything from soil pH to the development of hybrids.

      It really is a little odd that all of the spiderworts I saw were more-or-less purple, except for this pinkish pair. If the color hadn’t attracted my attention, I never would have seen the ‘butterfly.’

  8. I’ve never heard of a pink butterfly, Linda, but this sure does look like one — great capture! I’m partial to the blue hues, of course, but this delicate pinky-purple is lovely, too. How fortunate you are to already be seeing signs of spring on its way!

    1. I had to check ye olde internet to see if pink butterflies exist. They do, and so do pink moths — we have a pink moth here in Texas, even though I’ve never seen one. Spring certainly is in full bloom now. Every day I’m seeing new species of flowers blooming. I’m just dying for some decent weather, and some sunshine, though. We’re cold again, and rain’s forecast for tomorrow. Maybe Sunday will be nice.

      I did see that some spring flooding has started up in the midwest. That’s not such a nice sign of the season, but at least it’s a sign.

    1. I’m always amazed by the photos of butterflies perched on people’s fingers. Apparently one good time to achieve that is just after they’ve emerged from their cocoon, and are drying their wings. I’ve discovered that early on a dewy morning is a good time to find them stationary, too, as they have to dry their wings before taking flight.

      1. They also like to lick the salt off your finger when you have been sweating, Linda. I had that happen several times this last summer. They also enjoyed my backpack and shoes. I took several photos with the shoes and backpack but never was able to catch one on my finger. Seems like my cameral was always put away. Butterfly gardens are also a great place to go and catch butterflies landing on you and the people around you. –Curt

    1. The spiderworts are everywhere now. I stopped to have my car washed today, and while I was waiting I noticed they were growing along the bottom of the chainlink fence around the parking lot. Granted, those urban flowers weren’t as impressive as the ones up above; they’d probably been mowed a couple of times already. But there’s plenty of color to be seen now, and it’s such a pleasure.

  9. I like that you keep an eye out for the oddities, and report on them regularly. Oh, the “normal” Spiderworts though, that photo is just singing the blues in the best possible way!

    1. I’ve never seen such a perfect collection of blooms on one of these plants. Because each flower blooms for only a day, there’s usually a mix of fresh and fading flowers. This plant may have just been coming into bloom for the first time, which could explain why so many blooms seemed to be on the same schedule. The color was fabulous, I’ll say that.

  10. One year a spiderwort came to stay and now we have many amongst the flowers along our driveway. Mary Beth isn’t all that fond of their tendency to spread, but I find them lovely, as I do your pictures, and am happy that no matter how she tries, they will not be eradicated.

    1. I suspect you’re right that they’ll not soon be eradicated. Since I started paying attention to the blogs of some Texas gardeners, I’ve read more than a few articles about how to get rid of them, and the answer is you won’t: not entirely, and not without something akin to carpet-bombing your yard. So you can rest easy, and keep enjoying what I think is one of the best of the spring plants. I saw one yesterday that was the purest pink imaginable, right next to some lavender and and some deep purple ones. I like our bluebonnets, but the spiderwort’s variety is a lot of fun.

    1. There’s nothing more fun than just looking around, and finding these little treats. It’s akin to discovering there really is one more cookie left, or discovering money in the laundry. We can get so accustomed to the way things usually are, we risk missing the oddities and wonders all around us.

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