Catching a Wave

Velvetweed (Oenothera curtiflora)

When wave after wave of rain causes streets and freeways in Houston to resemble the shallow, near-shore waves of Galveston Island beachfronts, someone inevitably turns to humor to deal with the situation, calling out “Surf’s up!” to anyone within hearing distance.

After last night’s storms, the ‘surf’ certainly is up here today, but a drier sort of wave offers its own delights. Tall and gangly, velvetweed grows across Texas; I’ve found it at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, in the Rockport City Cemetery, along the banks of the Medina river, and on the shores of Tres Palacios bay. This past weekend, I found some west of Gonzales, on a road that cuts through the historic El Capote ranch.

Often as ‘weedy’ as its name, velvetweed can be easy to overlook, but this lovely wave caught my eye,  and invited my attention to surf along its curves.


Comments always are welcome.


38 thoughts on “Catching a Wave

  1. You know, I sort of like weedy stuff. It always seems that they have been fighting the battle for survival and have conquered all odds. Unlike the pampered plant of a manicured garden they have no one to help them along and often have to face hostile sprays, mechanical mowers and other hazards, yet survive they do – and I admire them.

    1. I’ve always wondered why some of the most attractive and useful flowers get tagged with ‘weed’ as part of their name. Milkweed’s probably the best example. I know there are farmers who despise the plant, but its importance to a multitude of insects, including the monarchs, is undeniable.

      I suppose the ne plus ultra of weeds is the dandelion. As you say, the onslaughts it faces are unending, but it does persevere, sneaking around barriers and lurking in corners — and remaining one of the most cheerful flowers of the spring.

  2. “Surf’s up,” indeed! I saw video of the flooding in and around Houston, and my golly, what a mess. We, too, have had way more rain than we need, prompting our farmers to lament lack of progress on getting their fields prepared and their crops planted. Which causes me to ponder how much we’re all going to be paying eventually for foodstuff. Lovely little weed here — it’s a delicate color, and the wave action made me giggle.

    1. There’s been too much water in a lot of places. Fields down here finally have been plowed and planted, but I’m sure there’s some anxiety about all the rain that’s come since. Because it’s so flat, Houston always has trouble, even with standard summer thunderstorms, but every now and then things get a little dicey. I didn’t hear many reports of high water rescues this time, though. Maybe people are getting smarter.

      Isn’t it fun to see a land-locked plant imitating the ocean? Another name for this one is lizard-tail gaura. I think you can see why.

    1. Instead of synchronized swimmers, they could be synchronized surfers. The ones on top do look like they’re balancing on surfboards; they even have their ‘arms’ extended.

    1. I’m hoping the rain diminishes, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more of the kind of light show we had last night. One of my friends posted this short lightning video, taken in his back yard in West U.

      The velvetweed, or velvet gaura, or lizard-tail gaura is one of my favorites. Down at Brazoria, I’ve seen it as much as five feet tall — wonderful.

    1. We were bound to post the same plant at the same time eventually — but how cool that you did vertical and I chose horizontal. Those stilt bugs were a great addition to your image, too. I don’t recall coming across those before, but they would have made great surfers atop my velvetweed wave.

      As much as I love my friend in Kerrville, she has a tendency to label as a weed any small, enthusiastic grower that she didn’t plant. I gave her a copy of Eason’s book, and she’s been more than a little surprised to find some of her ‘weeds’ actually listed in its pages as Texas natives.

      1. Given that we’re both posting frequently about native plants in Texas, and that there are so many overlapping species between where you are and where I am, mathematicians would likely say that the strange thing would be for us not to hit upon the same one at the same time eventually.

        Stilt bugs are common riders on this species in Austin. I don’t recall ever seeing them on any other gaura species.

        Maybe you’ll slowly succeed in de-weeding your friend vis-à-vis native plants.

  3. I really like that kind of green surfing. I doubt sharks would ever appear within the Houston meadows. Surfing around the Australian beaches has taken a hit with reports of shark attacks becoming very common. This makes me wonder if surfing is practiced along the Texan coast and do sharks bite people around that area?
    Just looked it up, and surfing is done around Galveston Island and Surfside Beach. Could not find any sharks biting surfers though.

    1. You’re right that there aren’t any sharks in our meadows. There are plenty in the waters of Galveston Bay and offshore Galveston, though, and many different species. Fishermen often catch them, and wade fishermen tell stories of having stringers of fish snatched away by sharks.

      I think the last attack on a swimmer was in 2018, off the Bolivar peninsula east of Galveston. At the time, a local tv station published this little note:

      “Texas has had 43 recorded shark attacks since 1911, according to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. More than 40% have been in the Galveston area, including Bolivar Peninsula.”

      I suspect the number of encounters is much, much higher, but most of our shark species are relatively harmless. There was a Great White tracked in the Gulf earlier this year, but they’re uncommon, and we’ve never had a scenario like Jaws.

  4. Great shot, Linda. Wave after wave is right, but the wave you caught is a lovely one. I’m not sure I know this plant, so I’m off to read more about it!

    1. I was sure you had a photo of this plant in your blog’s header. It’s still called Gaura parviflora, or downy gaura, despite a taxonomic change around 2000 or so that moved this and other Gaura species into the genus Oenothera. It took me a while to figure all that out, but at least we can still call it velvetweed, or downy gaura, or whatever!

      1. No, the one in my header (similar arch and pink color) is a Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora.

        Those botanists, always changing names of stuff.

    1. I can see that now too, Curt. I was so taken with the wave I missed some of the smaller details. That’s why second and third looks are such fun!

    1. I still laugh when I think how it took me over two years to finally identify this plant. I kept finding it in the fall, when there wasn’t much left except the stalks. Finally, I started watching in the spring, and as the plants grew taller and taller, and then put on recognizable flowers, I knew where to start looking for its name. By then, I knew more about plant families, too, and that helps a lot.

      We’ve had plenty of rain, wonderful lightning, and some not so nice hail and flooding, but for once there weren’t so many people getting caught in flooded vehicles. It’s possible that we’re getting smarter about how to deal with what’s just a part of life here — who could have predicted that?

      1. Seeing the news of the torrential rains, I recall the rainy seasons in Costa Rica during hurricane season. I’m glad to be a veteran from that type of rain, when I’d go outside in the night and empty the 7″ out of the rain gauge – to see just how much rain we’d have over night.. That usually happened when a system stalled over the Yucatan or Guatemala….
        When other areas receive 7″ in a day – or less — it gets my attention.. I don’t ever remember it raining that much in Mississipp, but they have had a lot of rain this year — and I suppose that Ole Man River is still at flood stage…

        here it i s not raining much – but the temps are around 80 and the humidity is 80 unless the sun is shining – then ithe humidity drops to 70 – so you can imagine problems with musty clothes and mold on paintings….

        1. If I let my senses wander, I can almost recall that damp, musty, mud-laced smell of the tropics. Here, the humidity is different, somehow. An enclosed boat will grow mildew, especially over the winter, but a light bulb in a locker generally is enough to keep books, leather shoes, and such in good condition.

          The charter captains in Venice, Louisiana have been having quite a time with the river. It’s up, and flowing hard, so the fishing’s been affected: salinity levels are down in the marshes, the movement of fish has been affected, and so on. Speaking of — oystering’s been closed in Galveston Bay and fishing prohibited in a large area. A ship t-boned a barge and there was a significant spill (25K gallons of reformate) into the bay. The surface slick should have evaporated by now, but there are a lot of dead fish showing up on local shorelines.

  5. I think a combination of climate change and insurance rates are going to put an end to the idiocy of building stuff without taking into account things like whether it’s a good idea to build there because of the natural features. — like these whole towns along the flood plains of the Mississippi river that get completely flooded out every five or ten years, or the houses that get damaged every couple of years due to hurricanes. .

    1. If we’re going to assign blame (especially in Houston) as much of it should go to developers and governmental agencies that cut cozy deals and allow people to build in presumably safe areas. It’s not always the homeowner at fault.

  6. I must have deleted the notice of this and I would have missed it had Steve not mentioned the two of you posting the same plant. Glad I caught that because I really enjoy the bit of bloom in the midst of all those tight buds and the sinuosity of your composition.

    1. Events from the past week got me off schedule, and I posted this at an odd time, just to try and get back into my routine. That certainly could explain your missing it. I’m glad you like it. I thought the mid-stalk bloom was unusual, to say the least, and it really appealed to me, too.

    1. The rain’s all gone, A few roads still are closed because of river and creek flooding, but that should recede in a few days. We had glorious sunshine yesterday and today, and everyone’s smiling — even the flowers.

    1. The rain’s stopped, but the rivers are up. The close-to-home prairies and refuges I most enjoy are inaccessible just now because of flooded roadways. It will take a while for that to end, since there was so much rain in the watersheds. But there’s always a place to go, and always another fun bit of nature to see.

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.