Plant Birthdays: Pink Evening Primrose

Pink evening primrose bud

Despite the risks of repetition, I’m including this brief introduction from the first post in this series as a word of explanation for readers who might have missed it.

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes:

During every week from April to September there are, on the average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom. In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them…
Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his hay fever, and the general level of his ecological education.

The buds are bursting in Texas, and I’m doing my best to heed their arrival. To share my enjoyment of the season, I’ve decided to offer a short series of posts highlighting some of our local plant-birthdays. I hope you enjoy them, too.

When the first of this season’s pink evening primroses began to unfurl, a delighted friend took notice. “Look!” she said. “Buttercups!” I’d always thought of buttercups as yellow, but she learned ‘buttercup’ as the common name for Oenothera speciosa a pretty pink or white ground-hugging flower that carpets roadsides and fields beginning in February, and lasting well into summer.

Other common names include Mexican evening primrose, showy evening primrose, and pink ladies, but a pink evening primrose by any other name remains a widespread complement to our bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, willing even to colonize urban construction sites and traffic medians.

In some locations, these flowers open in the evening, although ours prefer the morning. When I found this dew-touched bud south of Gonzales early on the morning of March 21, it looked for all the world as though it was poking its stigma out into the world to see if the time to unfurl had come.

Impressive as fields of these flowers can be, this single Brazoria County blossom reminds me of Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings. Every time I look at the image, I expect to find a tiny tiger or monkey hidden within in its depths.


Comments always are welcome.


54 thoughts on “Plant Birthdays: Pink Evening Primrose

  1. The picture really does remind one of a Henri Rousseau painting. I am not sure I would have zeroed in on that right away, but as soon as you drew my attention to it it was right there!

    1. I was a little surprised how quickly I made the association. I’ve not studied Rousseau, and I don’t remember ever seeing one of his paintings in a gallery or museum, but somehow he must have made enough of an impression on me that I was able to make the connection when I saw the photo.

  2. “Unfurl” is just the right word for these buds. Many’s the time I’ve photographed that stage, so appealing is it.

    Years ago I was puzzled when a native Texan friend referred to these flowers as buttercups. She said that when she was growing up kids used to rub open pink evening primrose flowers on each others’ noses to make them yellow. It’s the yellow pollen rather than the flowers’ color that was the important thing in the kingdom of childhood.

    The “showy” in showy evening primrose is reflected in the Latin epithet speciosa. It’s the same as our borrowed word specious, which has taken on the negative connotation ‘showy in a false way.’

    1. As they open, they do seem to resemble an unfurling sail. The biggest difference is that a flower, once open, can’t be furled again.

      I read in an article that this species sometimes opens so quickly it can be observed in real time. I’m not sure I would have believed that, had I not recently watched a blue-eyed grass flower struggle against a bit of spider silk to open. When it finally did, the last petal literally popped open. It made me think of Dylan Thomas’s “force that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

      That’s interesting about the pollen. We used to hold dandelions under each other’s chins; if our skin turned yellow, we were said to like butter. Since the pollen transferred pretty easily, almost everyone did.

      One of the side benefits of learning the scientific names of plants is the window it opens into our everyday language. I’ve always thought of ‘specious’ as a purely negative term, so it’s interesting to know that it started out as a positive. Oenothera speciosa is a scientific name I can remember, but I’d missed that connection.

    1. So many different common names are the reason I decided to try to learn the scientific names. It not only made conversing with ‘plant people’ easier, it actually began to help with identification. If I can recognize the family a flower belongs to, I can at least spend my time searching there, instead of just looking for a ‘pink flower,’ as I did in the beginning.

      I found the bud along FM 108S. I’ve discovered that one of the best things about stopping on farm-to-market roads is getting tips from passers-by. There’s nothing quite like having a guy in boots and jeans lean out of his big ‘ol ranch truck and tell you there’s some gaura blooming down the road.

      1. I had that happen years ago near Eagle Lake when looking for Bluebonnets. After we made it to town, they asked if we wanted to move there. They were looking for a younger population.

        1. I passed through there on my way to Gonzales. Sadly, it looks as though they might still be looking for a younger population, although appearances can be deceiving. I didn’t realize that there’s a nice boardwalk and wildlife viewing area at the lake now, or that Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg has 800 acres in production at Eagle Lake. That calls for more investigation.

    1. I noticed today that they’re really beginning to spread down here. Vacant lots that weren’t showing a single one a few days ago have nice, large colonies forming. They ought to be decorating the highways with enthusiasm before long.

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that your artistic eye spotted the Rousseau influence. It’s a good reminder that context makes a difference in how we perceive a flower, too. The same plant looks quite different when it’s isolated in a pot, and when it’s joined together with some friends in a garden — or an nice, natural setting.

  3. Yes! I grew up calling them buttercups too! I really like that photo; the primrose looks like its sticking its tongue out–maybe to test the air? :)

    1. Around here, we’ll take all the air testing we can get. Who knows? A primrose may be more trustworthy in that regard than that various corporations and governmental agencies who are telling us that our air is just fine, thank you. (That may be an unnecessarily cynical view of our recent unpleasantness with the ITC fire, but then again: perhaps not.) Now that you’ve suggested the flower might be sticking out its tongue, that’s all I can see!

      It’s been fun to learn how many people learned to call these buttercups. The name makes sense when I switched my thinking from “a cup made of butter” to “a cup containing butter” — i.e., pollen.

      1. Are/were you directly impacted by the fire? I guess I assumed you’re futher away from it than you are. I’ve read the many comments about calling these flowers buttercups. What Steven says reminded me why we called them buttercup: the pollen on the noses!! I remember doing that/having it done to me. What a nice reminder of childhood!

        1. I wasn’t affected as far as air quality’s concerned. I live and work south of the fire, so the winds kept the smoke to the north of me. There’s a lot of concern about water quality though, since fire-fighting foam and contaminants escaped. I’m waiting for the reports from the Galveston Bay Foundation; they’re usually the best source of information.

          We did the same pollen trick with dandelions. It was great fun — and no batteries required!

  4. You’re sending me once again down that memory road to yesterday, and I am again on my horse and stopping to decorate my horse’s mane/bridle, etc with the primroses and other flowers that grew at the ‘back side’ of the farm! I cherished my times there, where I delighted in all unexpected bursts of colors from flowers along the marshy area.

    1. Your childhood does sound idyllic. It clearly helped to lay the groundwork for your later appreciation for nature, and you willingness to immerse yourself in art that conveys its beauty to others. Did your horse’s gait become just a little more sprightly when you added the flowers? I always tell my customers that fresh varnish makes their boats go faster!

      1. “Fresh varnish makes their boats go faster.” How fun, and it makes sense – could that in fact be true? less drag?

        Your posts have veered me down memory lane (cotton-field turn rows) so many times that I should write a post instead of leaving a long-winded comment!

        1. Actually, on most boats here the fresh varnish is more akin to a fresh lipstick than a new dress. Since our boats are mostly fiberglass rather than wood, there’s no varnish to ease their way through the water. That’s the job of super-duper paints. But, yes — a good paint job, especially on the racing boats, does reduce drag, however minimal the effect.

          I love your comments, and never have thought of them as long-winded. Interesting that I’ve been thinking of doing a post about cotton fields myself. I drove through part of our cotton country last weekend, and saw the farmers finally have been able to get in with their equipment to do some plowing. I even saw some fields with new crops peeking out of the rows, but I’m not sure what I was seeing. Time will tell!

    1. It would. If we really wanted to go all out, we could decorate each tiny cake with a tiny pink evening primrose. It would be so pretty they’d be hard to eat, but I’d force myself.

  5. Well I’ve enjoyed this post, and the comments. And glad to learn about “specious,” I hadn’t ever run across it used as a positive. I’ve also never seen a flower pop open while I watched, that’s pretty neat. I did used to bug my grandmother’s “touch-me-not” plant, which would do the opposite, close up its leaves when you ran your finger up them.

    1. Isn’t that interesting about ‘specious’? I’ve certainly heard a few specious arguments in my life, and none of them was particularly positive. Up until the day I watched the blue-eyed grass open, the only opening flower I’d watch was a red and white striped lily in Liberia. It bloomed once a year, under the full moon, and opened two or three nights. People would have lily-watching parties, sitting outside drinking beer and watching the flowers open.

      We have a couple of wildflowers in the mimosa family that will do that leaf-closing trick. It’s great fun to watch.

  6. Around here I guess we have plenty of plant birthdays as naked branches are bursting with green. But, I’ve certainly been focusing on bird birthdays lately and bunches of species are warming their pretty blue eggs still.

    1. I was thinking about you today when a flock of black-bellied whistling ducks landed in a tree near me — actually, in the middle of a cemetery. At the time, I was trying to photograph a squirrel in a hollow limb. I suspect she might have had a nest in their — this is the time of year for birthdays all around!

    1. Thanks, Tom. They really are beginning to bloom here now, and they’re just so pretty. They seem to adore vacant lots — room to spread out, I suppose!

  7. As a child, I learned to call these butter cups too. I especially like to see vast colonies of them open in the morning. I have always been disappointed to find them closed as the afternoon arrives. A lovely photo here, Linda.

    1. You’ll appreciate my confusion over the Texas dandelion, Yvonne. There used to be a field filled with them that I’d pass every day on my way to work. When I’d come home at the end of the day, they were gone — or so I thought. It took me much longer than it should have to figure out that they open in the morning, but close by noon, or shortly thereafter. It really was something, to have a whole field of flowers seem to disappear into thin air. The good news is that a new morning brings new flowers!

  8. The colors are right for a Rousseau painting, Linda. What I remember about Rousseau paintings, however, I might add a possible lurking nude to your tiger and monkey possibilities. –Curt

    1. You’re right, Curt — and don’t forget the violence to go along with the nudity. I decided to go peaceable kingdom with my choice, but Rousseau certainly was more than that. He’s another one who might have fit right in out at Black Rock. (Well, with the weird landscapes and nudity. Not so much any violence, as far as I can tell — apart from the violence done to the sensibilities of some onlookers here and there!)

      1. Laughing. I am all for the peaceable kingdom myself, Linda. As for Burning Man, it seems to be a haven for artistic types. I am pretty sure that Rousseau and his cohorts and his art would have fir right in! I suspect my existence might do a bit of violence to some of those sensibilities as well, being a person who goes to Burning Man and disappears into the woods on occasions. :)

  9. Wow Linda, what a wonderful collection of wildflowers and the Primrose is so delicate in a flowing, summer-dress kind of way!: ) But do you happen to know what those tiny, rusty-red-brown flower clusters are?

    1. There’s nothing like a good summer dress — what a perfect analogy. As for those rusty-red bits, I’m not certain. I think there’s a species of plantain (or something similar) that’s in the process of going to seed. The color isn’t their bloom, but their seed.

    1. Now that I’ve seen this bud “sticking its tongue out,” as someone said, of course I came across the same phenomenon with a completely different plant a couple of days ago. I swear, the more we see, the more we see. As for the landscape, I’ve seen Matisse landscapes and O’Keeffe landscapes, but I never thought I’d see a Rousseau landscape. It was great fun to discover it.

    1. I found a yellow beach primrose last weekend, and it has a square bud, as well as that different color. I can’t even tell you how many primroses there are. It gets confusing for me, partly because flowers in completely different families are given the common name primrose.

      You are right that this looks like a morning glory bud. Our wine cups have the same sort of bud, but they’re in the Malvaceae, or the mallow family. Now that I think about it, hibiscus buds are similar, as well. Sometimes, I just say, “What a pretty flower!”

  10. The comparison of the second image to Rousseau’s painting is apt, I think, and I am sure there is more than one creature within the frame, hidden from view but there just the same. Maybe even a tiger beetle.

      1. So many beautiful beetles and other insects in the world. Too bad so many just concentrate on the less desirable like house flies and mosquitoes (I must admit to a renewed hatred of mosquitoes). Here’s my favorite beetle, although not a tiger, which you saw on my blog a few years back. Actually hard to pick just one.

        1. I certainly remember that beetle. It still looks to me like it out to be replicated as a piece of jewelry. Everyone seems willing to wear butterflies, but beetles? Not so much, except for lady beetles. I suppose part of that’s due to the fact that, at least down here, the black and brown and not so attractive beetles are more common.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.