An All-Season Favorite


Although less common during the winter, the plant commonly known as sea ox-eye (Borrichia frutescens) can be found throughout the year on coastal salt flats, beach dunes, salt marshes, and tidal flats along the upper Texas coast, where it grows with such other typical salt marsh plants as glasswort (Salicornia virginica), saltwort (Batis maritima),  saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), and seepweed (Suaeda linearis).

Ranging from south Texas to Virginia, it’s known by a variety of English names: sea ox-eye daisy, sea marigold,  seaside tansy, and bushy seaside ox-eye.  In Spanish-speaking countries, common names often compare the flower to other species, such as beach carnation (clavelón de playa) or sea purslane (verdolaga del mar) in Puerto Rico, and coastal rosemary (romero decosta)  or marine sage (salvia marina) in Cuba.

For many people, ‘ox-eye daisy’ brings to mind Leucanthemum vulgare, a pretty white flower with a yellow center brought here from Europe and now often considered a nuisance. In his book Florida Ethnobotany, Daniel F. Austin notes that the name ‘ox-eye’ had been added to Borrichia frutescens by 1866, perhaps because of its vague resemblance to the European daisy. The genus name honors the Danish botanist Ole Borch, while the specific epithet refers to the plant’s shrub-like character.

Tolerant of both drought and standing water, the plant can bloom prolifically, with flowers approximately one inch in diameter. The grayish-green, pubescent leaves give the foliage a silvery sheen which becomes more pronounced as the plant dries and begins to set seed.

Because the plant blooms in every season, it provides both food and cover for a variety of insects, birds, and other small wildlife. Texas butterflies which enjoy its nectar include the great southern white, the Gulf fritillary,  the large orange sulphur, and the southern broken-dash. I haven’t yet seen any of those butterflies this spring, but the sea ox-eye is putting on a fresh set of blooms, and I expect it to begin receiving visitors any day.


Comments always are welcome.

59 thoughts on “An All-Season Favorite

    1. It’s interesting that there are only three species in this genus. B. arborescens is found in Florida, and the third species, B. X cubana apparently is a cross between it and the more widespread B. frutescens. I thought of you when I found Daniel Austin’s book online. There are a few pages missing in the preview, but otherwise the online version seems to be complete, and you can search by species. There’s lots of interesting information.

    1. It is a pretty thing, and it certainly does a good job of feeding every sort of pollinator, especially in the cool months when other flowers have faded. I also read that it does nicely in pots, so I’m thinking that it might be a good choice for my patio, or for a bare spot in the general landscaping where the cypress knees have taken over and nothing else is growing.

    1. It seems that it doesn’t even have to be a few miles. I’ve read some interesting things about the Gulf side and the Bay side of the Blue Water Highway between Galveston’s West End and Surfside being distinctly different. As spring develops, a little exploration would be nice. (And wasn’t the sunshine nice today?)

    1. I saw the biggest, fattest dandelion ever in a parking lot of a local mall last week, growing under a tree in one of those tiny “planters” they plunk here and there. I think it looked as happy as you will when you get your very own dandelions — and all of the other good things that spring will bring. We have another pretty yellow one called camphor daisy that bloomed through the winter this year, and now it’s starting to put on fresh growth. The butterflies certainly are happy about that!

    1. Well, speaking of unusual, in the book about Florida that I quoted, I found this intriguing paragraph:

      “After the 1450s, many things were named for ox-eyes. Among them are sore eyes in humans, at least nine bird species, what we recognize now as seven genera of [composite flowers like daisies], two genera of fish, a drinking cup, a small glass model of an eye, and a small concave mirror.”

      Apparently there were a lot more oxen around then, and people compared a lot of things to their eyes! This flower thrives in Florida’s coastal areas, and apparently does well in pots. If you need a little yellow that would attract butterflies and such, this would do well for you.

  1. I love how “fuzzy” its leaves look in your last photo, probably because they’re in contrast with the drying plant. And how wonderful that I get to enjoy an early spring through your camera’s lens, Linda — when we’ve got snow and temps heading down to the single digits tonight, brr!

    1. You can see some of that very slight fuzziness in the first photo, too. The leaves are more succulent, like aloe vera, but they aren’t completely smooth — good of you to pick that up! Even though it’s mid-February and you’re “supposed” to still have winter, it has to be dragging just a little. On the other hand, my favorite weather guru’s been dropping hints about winter not being over for us. I’m looking forward to his forecast tomorrow, to see if your weather is going to be my weather next week.

      1. For your sake, I hope not! We’re in the Deep Freeze, and even Dallas (who loves cold weather) doesn’t want to stay out too long in this dangerous cold.

          1. Well, at least we have snow plows … and coats, hats, and mittens! Plus, you’ve gotta hand it to us — we stay tuned to weather reports and load up on groceries before the mess shows up!

  2. They look beautiful, almost edible. Fashionable restaurants often mix flowers or their petals in salads. I know that the pumpkin as a vegetable is very versatile, and can be eaten just as a vegetable, a cake or a soup. In Indonesia they only eat the leaves and give the pumpkin itself to their animals. The pumpkin flowers are often used in salads.
    I seem to have strayed from the subject now!

    1. Actually, you haven’t strayed that far. I read that the young leaves of this plant can be eaten either raw or cooked, although they have a bitter edge to them and are best included in salads. I suspect they might be similar in that regard to the flowers of our yuccas, which can be somewhat astringent, but still make a nice complement to certain salads.

      I couldn’t find anything about using the flowers, as we do marigolds, nasturtium, or dandelion. I don’t think they’d be poisonous. They probably just don’t taste very good.

  3. Excellent photos, Linda.
    I sometimes wish there weren’t so many names of common plants, differing not only from country to country but even small-town locations next door to open fields in the one area.

    1. I don’t mind all the common names; it’s the constant changing of scientific names that drives me crazy. DNA analysis is making things even more complicated. I can’t always get beyond a genera, but if I can do that, I’m happy. Linnaeus called these Buphthalmum frutescens in 1759, but they were moved to Borrichia somewhat later. The good news is they’re just as pretty now as they were then.

  4. I have birded four times in Texas and have certainly spent time on coastal salt flats, but I don’t recall ever having seen this plant. I suspect that it was because I was so focused on birds that I failed to take note of the vegetation in any detail. Mea culpa! The other area I do spend some time at, however, is poking through tide pools, often in the company of birds that frequent rocky shores (oystercatchers, turnstones, etc). The amount of life in even a small tide pool of a couple of square metres is astounding. The flower is stunning, good reason to pay more attention to the botanical side of life.

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you sometimes miss plants, just as I often miss birds or other wildlife. We can’t see everything. As you rightly point out, even the limits of a tide pool contain enough wonders to keep a person occupied for a good while, and a day devoted to birds makes equal attention for flowers difficult at best.

      There are surprises, of course. At work today, I glanced into the water and found it filled with comb jellies like this one.They’re so interesting; they use cilia to propel themselves around, and the refraction of light on the moving cilia create a rainbow-like effect. I believe I’ll take my camera tomorrow. I don’t know if I could photograph them in the water, but it would be worth trying, since I’ve never seen comb jellies here. There’s always something.

    1. Most articles I read describe the leaves as ‘fleshy,’ although I did find a couple that called them ‘succulent.’ If I understand it rightly, true succulents tend to be desert plants, or thrive in drier conditions, while this one prefers moist soil or even frankly wet conditions. This flower in bloom was standing in about a foot of water, and seemed perfectly happy. Still, those fleshy leaves are a good way of identifying the plant once the flower’s gone.

      1. Interesting on succulents, Linda. They seem to grow normally in the desert as a way of storing water. One succulent that grows along the Pacific Coast and thrives in fog and rainy conditions is the ice plant that grows in profusion. Not sure why. –Curt

  5. Thank you for the introduction – I’ve never seen it, never heard of it. But I do know Glasswort – we have it up here (and I think in a zillion other places). I looked up saltgrass and found that plants in a herbarium in Seattle were collected very near here. That’s one I should try to learn, but grasses! Not so easy. Chances are I’ve walked right past it. WHen you think about it, it seems that there are so many yellow composites. You’ve made this one’s characteristics crystal clear.

    1. There sure are so many yellow composites. I still have a terrible time sorting them out — particularly the ones that I see infrequently. At least I can tell a coneflower from a sunflower from a coreopsis now. I remember a time when I couldn’t. Grasses are hard, too. I recently found out that what I’d been calling silver bluestem actually is seacoast bluestem. But, yes: you do have saltgrass. I was surprised to see how widely spread it is across the country.

      I think that once we’ve seen a plant in all its phases, it’s much easier to identify. This is one I can spot without any effort now, along with its sort-of-look-alike, camphor daisy.

      1. It’s a process! But if we don’t see them over and over, it’s tough. And yes, it’s great to see plants in different seasonal garb. I’m trying to learn the little Spring flowers around here. They disappear later, for the most part, but lately I’ve seen leaves beginning to show. Now, can I remember which leaves went to which flowers? Because sometimes the leaves disappear once the plant is in flower.

        1. There are very few early leaves I can recognize: maybe a dozen. This year I did get out early enough to get some photos of basal leaves. Now all I have to do is wait to see what they produce!

  6. Even though there are plenty of differences, this species still reminds me of Tetragonotheca texana, known as nerve-ray. Your coastal species has the advantage of being around throughout the year. Nerve-ray has the advantage of sweet-smelling flowers.

    1. My first thought when I read the scientific name was of the four-nerve daisy, which you also mentioned in this fun post a few years ago. You mentioned the fragrance there, too. I’m going to have to put it on my ‘to-find’ list for this year, both for that wonderful square bud and for the fragrance. It’s odd: I can see why this one would remind you of Tetragonotheca texana, even though I can’t say exactly why.

    1. You’re welcome, Tanja. I enjoy getting to know plants through their entire life cycle. Sometimes it’s not possible, because I discover them too far from home, but at nearby refuges and other favorite spots, I try to track their development. There’s been quite a bit of overlapping this year; each of these photos was taken in the first half of November.

    1. It’s one of my favorites: not only because of its appearance, but also because it provides its color through the winter months. Of course the pollinators enjoy it, too. It has an interesting seed head, too — but it’s just as prickly as it looks!

  7. Its leaves are rather fleshy. In that first picture it almost looks like a succulent. “Fritillary” is almost a Lewis Carroll word. So wonderfully arcane and abstruse.

    1. Those leaves certainly help to identify it. Another plant with the same sort of leaves is the Carolina wolfberry, a food favored by the whooping cranes. Other plants in the salt flats are succulent; look for another post on that in the medium future.

      ‘Fritillary’ always makes me grin, especially since my next thought usually is of the way they’re always ‘frittering around,’ fluttering and flittering from flower to flower.

  8. Very interesting flower and the dried version is just about as pretty as the one in bloom. And I like the added bonus of its appeal to several species of butterflies as well as providing food for the birds.

    1. I think the structure of the seed head is marvelous. The variety in seed heads in the sunflower family’s as interesting as the differences among their flowers. I haven’t yet been able to get a decent photo looking down into the center of the seed head, but eventually I will; it’s quite a different view, and equally interesting.

      One nice thing about thistles in fall or these flowers in the winter is that you always can find insects gathered on them. When food sources grow slimmer, the concentration of butterflies and such grows, and that’s good for people who like to see the insects.

  9. It’s an attractive plant but, alas, not found on the Northeast coast. Thank goodness for standard botanical nomenclature. So many colloquial names confuse the issue with out the Latin.
    When you mentioned Oxeye, that reminded me of the daisies you go on to mention which quite on their own pop up in our backyard annually. Although pesty to most folks, we are always happy to see them.
    I wish we could see these that you have so beautifully presented.

    1. I’ve tried to figure out if I’ve seen your oxeye daisy, and I finally decided that if I have, it’s probably been when I was farther north, perhaps in Kansas or Arkansas. Even as an introduced plant, it’s shown in only six or seven Texas counties on the USDA map. On the other hand, we have some native white daisies that are just lovely, so I can imagine the oxeye daisies lending a happy note to your yard.

      Having a scientific name certainly does help, although I discovered when I was trying to sort out the taxonomy of the Texas toadflax last night that changes in those categories can lead to equal confusion. Even the history of the common names can be confusing — if a lot of fun!

    1. That’s a reasonable question, although I don’t know the answer to it. What I do know is that our salt cedars (a Tamarix species introduced from Asia) extract salt from the soil and deposit it in their leaves. When I first met salt cedars, I assumed their salty branches were the result of salt spray from the ocean. Not so! They were producing their own salty coating.

  10. Makes me think of Marigolds. A sweet flower, and new to me. These days I don’t see much in the way of plants adapted to salt water. I grew up on Long Island, NY, but when we went to the beach it was to places where much of the native flora had been removed to make space for smooth white sand.

    1. When the flower’s in bloom, it does have that marigold-like appearance. The flower’s about the size of a marigold, too, and that helps to reinforce the impression.

      The thought of smooth, white sand almost makes up for the absence of flora. Along the beaches of south Texas, that kind of sand’s plentiful — even in the mid-coast, you can find it. Up here, our sand tends to be less fine, and its color’s affected by all the rivers draining their mud into the Gulf. We still enjoy it, but it’s not Chamber of Commerce sand.

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