Rockport, Redux ~ A Most Unusual Blue

When ‘blue’ curls aren’t

One of the prettiest and most interesting plants around, bluecurls (Phacelia congesta) is named partly for its tightly coiled clusters of buds, which uncurl as the flowers develop.

Its flowers usually range from lavender to a truer blue, but bluecurls aren’t always blue, as the example above proves. I’ve seen white blue-eyed grass, white bluebells, and white spiderwort, but this was my first sighting of white bluecurls: a single plant tucked into the middle of a more typical colony.

Bluecurls in the process of uncurling

The plants are especially attractive to bees and butterflies, although a variety of flies and other insects will visit. In his Wildflowers of Texas, Michael Eason notes that bluecurls grow in moist, shady areas during dry years; its presence throughout the open and unshaded cemetery suggests that Rockport shared in this year’s coastal rains.

Butterfly? Skipper? I don’t know, but it seems happy


Comments always are welcome.

71 thoughts on “Rockport, Redux ~ A Most Unusual Blue

    1. There were plenty of insects landing, but they didn’t stay longer than a few seconds at any particular flower, so there was a certain amount of luck involved — as well as a lot of chasing after them.

    1. I’m always pleased when I can include an insect. Sometimes it happens intentionally, and sometimes I don’t realize I’ve caught one going about its business until I look at the image on the computer. This time, I spotted them, and tried for some images. I’m glad you enjoyed them.

  1. Your blue curl photos are gorgeous! Ooh, it’s been such a great year for my blue curls. They’ve bloomed earlier than the past two years, but I have tons of them, so the season will last! They honeybees are all over them (as you so aptly demonstrated!), but also some smaller butterflies.

    Your white one is a stunner; never have I seen one in my garden, so it’s something to look forward to!

    1. When I was at this cemetery last year, the bluecurls were around, but they were sparse. This year? Thick and lovely. When I saw that white one, I was thrilled. Last year, I found white bluebonnets there, so you just never know.

      I looked and looked at that photo of the bee — is that a tongue I see sticking out? I’m not sure I’ve ever captured a bee’s tongue. I didn’t say anything about it, because I wasn’t sure, but it certainly looks like a tongue!

  2. There’s always one that’s the cheerleader – the first one looks as if she’s holding pom-poms ( and stands out)
    Lovely pictures ( and the butterflies/insects are busy right now – they are happy there are fewer people to dodge?)

    1. I wouldn’t have seen the pom-poms, but there they are. As for those busy butterflies and bees, I suspect it’s less the number of people out and about than the sudden surge in blooming flowers. I think the flowers’ version of the famous line is, “If we bloom, they will come.”

  3. Nature doesn’t always comply with the names we confer on it, as you show here, but the flower in any colour morph is very attractive indeed. The variability makes it all the more interesting.

    1. It’s the same with range, or season. What the books say and what nature does can be quite different things. Bluecurls are blue, except when they aren’t. Flamingos aren’t found in Texas, except when one’s photographed on the mid-coast. Indian paintbrush bloom in spring, except for the clutch that decide to pop up in November. You’re right that the unusual is as interesting as the usual, and sometimes moreso.

    1. Pink and blue flowers seem especially prone to providing white variants. Even though it’s far more common than I once realized, I’m always delighted when I come across one.

    1. They creep into a bit of Oklahoma and New Mexico, but this species is found mostly in Texas, and not in all parts of our state. I saw my first ones at a friend’s house in the hill country, then found exactly one plant growing wild. Last year I found more in central Texas, and of course in the cemetery. Some people call them ‘the caterpillar plant.’ You can see why!

    1. I think they’re one of our most attractive natives, Pete. They certainly are unusual, with those fun, curled buds that straighten as they develop.

    1. So do I. Finding white variants of pink and blue flowers is most common for me, but I’ve also found pure pink and luscious, lemon-yellow Gaillardia. I think the yellow might be a separate species, but as far as I’ve been able to determine, the pink were a natural variant.

  4. your photos just blow me away. and speaking of white flowers, we had a patch of white evening primrose over at the shop yard. and skippers are butterflies, right?

    1. I saw some white evening primrose last week; they’re so beautiful. Lucky you to have some! I used to think skippers were identical to butterflies, but it seems not. Here’s a short description of some of the differences. It seems they’re an intermediate group between butterflies and moths. I know this — skippers are harder to track than butterflies, at least for me.

  5. We don’t see this one up here, so I really appreciate your introducing it to me. Such a pretty shade of blue — how did you recognize the white one, considering that its name is “Bluecurls”? I’d have wondered if that wasn’t some sort of cousin instead. And I love the critter on your final photo — it looks plenty happy with its perch!

    1. Despite being differently colored, the white one had the same buds and curls, the same leaves, the same flower shape and size, and the same protruding stamens. I’ve been confused by white flowers before, thinking I’d found a different species, but this one’s so distinct there wasn’t any question. White bluebonnets are the same — there’s just no question what they are.

      I do get a kick out of the insects, and I’m always pleased to see a butterfly (or skipper, or hummingbird) slurping down the nectar — though I suspect they’re even more pleased.

  6. You’ve heard me say over the years that flowers in the violet to purple range seem especially prone to generate white variants. Like you, I’ve seen white bluebonnets, white spiderworts, and white bluebells. You’re ahead of me (I hope) in finding white bluecurls, and you did a nice job with your portrait of it, what with the amorphous patches of other colors in the background.

    1. I forgot to add white phlox to my little list; there were some of those in the cemetery, too. I was surprised by how thick the bluecurls were this year. There were as many as the bluebonnets or coreopsis, and that made it a little easier to find a nice background for them.

    1. Thank you, Lavinia. They’re so pretty, and the lavender-to-blue variations are gorgeous. It’s fun to watch them develop, too, since they start out pretty tightly wrapped, and they begin uncurling like they’re stretching to the sun.

    1. I’m just not sure, but I think that might be some sort of spread-wing skipper in the last photo. This was my best photo of the lot, and it’s hard to say from this perspective. But I’m sure of the bluecurls — one of our prettiest Texas natives! I’m glad you like both; the color of the flowers is fabulous.

  7. I always find it interesting when I come on an albino flower, Linda. A couple of days ago Peggy and I found a white shooting star among all of its purple companions. I’d never seen one before and we have tons of shooting stars here at this time of the year. Anyway, I took its photo. It may show up on one of my posts soon. –Curt

    1. I’m no plant geneticist, but this kind of variation differs from albinism. According to my (very recent and very skimpy!) research, “Plant albinism is characterised by partial or complete loss of chlorophyll pigments and incomplete differentiation of chloroplast membranes. Albinism in plants interferes with photosynthesis, which reduces survivability.” This little gem certainly has chlorophyll, and it seems to be surviving just fine. I did find an article on albino redwoods, with white needles. Have you seen those? I had no idea they existed.

      Somewhere in this blog there’s a discussion of the genetic triggers that produce white plants. What I remember for certain is that, in the case of only one white plant, like this one, the necessary cross-pollination with other white plants won’t happen, and the next generation will be blue. On the other hand, there’s a colony of white bluebells down at the Brazoria refuge that’s large enough that white-on-white pollination can take place, and the colony’s lasted for at least four years.

      1. Thanks for the lesson, Linda. Doesn’t pay to assume. Maybe the poor flower was frightened at a young age. Haven’t seen any albino redwoods. That would probably frighten me.

        It would appear that white is a recessive gene. –Curt

        1. I think so, re: the recessive gene. Of course, this was one of those instances when I thought, “That doesn’t seem right, but I don’t know why.” So, it was time for another dive into Ye Olde Google. Live and learn, as the saying goes!

  8. I remember you mentioning these in response to my post of our species with the same common name. A good example of the importance of the Latin. As far as the white variation goes, sometimes Mother Nature throws us a curve…even if it’s not a blue one. All four are excellent shots, but who could resist a probing proboscis?

    1. There’s something really fun (and funny) about a proboscis. I remember being amazed to learn that the real thing looks pretty much like the ones I used to play with. I’ve managed a couple of photos showing butterflies in flight with their proboscis extended but curled; they’re my favorites.

      I see many more variants these days than I did even a couple of years ago. I’ve decided that they aren’t necessarily more common, it’s that I’m more aware of them. After all, the more familiar with are with a plant’s usual form, the easier it is to spot the unusual.

      1. I never saw those as a kid. Cute. Your images of them flying sound nice.

        That’s like most things once you’ve seen them. All of a sudden they are everywhere. Or images…once someone says she sees a lady with a Carmen Miranda hat on in your ice abstract you cannot unsee it.

    1. I’d say that the ones in the cemetery ranged from 6″ – 18″. The shorter ones obviously were younger plants. The books say they’re commonly from one to three feet tall.

  9. Beautiful flower images, the background in the first one is lovely. I think that’s a moth in the last image. Are the antennae feather-like (branched) or straight?

    1. This image doesn’t show it so well, but the antennae were smooth, with what seemed to be a bit of a hook at the end rather than a simpler ‘club.’ That’s what suggested a skipper to me. The antennae definitely weren’t feathery, like a moth’s.

      I moved all around the white flower, shooting it from four sides. In three, the background was essentially plain green; it’s amazing what a difference the flowers behind it made.

      1. A hooked antenna does suggest a skipper. It’s fun exploring different backgrounds and patterns – right one makes a big difference, as you know.

        1. It sure does. I’ve certainly gained a new appreciate for people who can deal with “busy” backgrounds, too. Sometimes a tangle of surrounding growth appeals to me, but getting a decent photo of a tangle seems especially hard.

          1. Getting a simple background (one that isn’t busy) is largely a matter of equipment and technique. A patterned background that has visual interest and doesn’t compete with a subject requires artistry, taste, and a bit of luck. Not easy!
            Photographs of pure complexity (tangles) – that’s even harder.

    1. Bluecurls stick pretty close to their home — Texas, with a little Oklahoma and New Mexico thrown in — so it’s not surprising you’ve not encountered them. They’re one of my favorites, and insects of every sort love them. Oddly, I’ve yet to find a spider on them, but they surely are there.

  10. My first thought was skipper, but upon closer inspection I’m thinking day-flying moth. Your pictures are so pretty. I’d love to have this plant flowering where I could see it.

    1. Thinking about it, I can imagine you painting this one. It’s demure and dramatic, all at the same time, and it’s especially fun because you can see all the stages in the same patch — tightly curled, and completely uncurled.

      I was going to tip you off to an upcoming one-hour, online introduction to using iNaturalist. The information and link to register is here. I know Jaime, and his workshops/presentations always are great. Besides, it will be an introduction to Zoom meetings, which seem to be all the rage in these days of working and socializing at home. You may already be using iNaturalist on a regular basis, but I’m not, and I need to be.

      1. Thank you, Linda. Yes, I’ve been hearing a lot about iNaturalist (and Zoom, for that matter), so this is timely.

  11. A fair number of wildflowers seem to come in variations of blue or white – sometimes pink or purple too. We saw another member of this genus, White Fringed Phacelia, when we visited the Smoky Mountains last year.

    1. No – it’s not albinism. It’s simply a genetic variation. In an albino plant, no chlorophyll is produced, and the plant doesn’t survive. Also, a true albino, like the white redwood, is wholly dependent on a parent plant for its sustenance.

      There are some patches of white bluebells at the Brazoria refuge that I’ve been watching for a few years. When the white variants emerged, there were enough of them that they could cross-pollinate, white to white, and the group of white plants endured. On the other hand, there were a few white ones that popped up in the midst of blue ones on a road on west Galveston Island. They were quite isolated, so the likelihood of white to white pollination was highly unlikely. Sure enough, the next year the colony was healthy as could be — but all the flowers were blue or lavender.

      I first learned what little I know about all this when I was trying to figure out white bluebonnets. I found some good articles by the plant geneticists who developed white, pink, and red bluebonnets, using those cool little geneticist tricks that nature does all on her own!

  12. Love blue curls and I am content to see its beauty here on your blog. The last photo is a skipper but I just don’t know which one. The little boggers have puzzled me for the longest even after studying them at length. They have also been very difficult to photograph since those in my little garden move with the slightest movements of my camera.

    1. It is amazing how sensitive those skippers are, isn’t it? I’ve found the same thing — even the slightest change in position or movement of the camera will set them flying. In the beginning, I hadn’t could believe how small they are, and I just recently learned that some of the gray hairstreaks I see may not be ‘gray hairstreaks’ at all, even though they’re gray. Apparently there are different species of that color. Some of this is beyond me, since I’m not patient or lucky enough to get photos of the distinguishing details, but they’re all fun to see.

      As for the blue curls, I was delighted to find them this year. Last year, they were around, but it was the end of their season and most of them were pretty ragged. I think their buds are the most interesting part of them, although the color is lovely, too.

  13. I really like the bluecurls flower. I’ve never seen them around here. I’ve always like the multi-buds flowers.I also like how you framed the bee. They’re not that easy to frame, although much better than ants, for sure.

    1. I don’t see bluecurls in my area, either. The only time I’ve seen them is in the hill country, and at Rockport. I think they like a somewhat drier environment than we have. Our gumbo soil doesn’t suit a lot of plants. I noticed that the bees will linger longer on bluecurls than on other plants. I read that they’re a rich source of nectar, so it may be that it takes them just a little longer to slurp up all that sweet goodness.

  14. I have a couple of California friends who moved to Texas and are hoping I come visit them one day. I just realized that if I come when the wildflowers are blooming I’ll need to allot extra time for them! These are lovely, and it was nice of the appreciative insects to stay busy in the area long enough to be included in your photos.

    1. I hope they’re coming to an area near me; I’d love to give you a wildflower tour! One of the nice things about our seasons is that we have both spring and autumn wildflowers, which provides some flexibility for a nature-traveler!

  15. I’ve heard of the Texas blue bonnets but blue curls? Never. They’re lovely!

    Isn’t it amazing what you can find growing in old cemeteries? I love old cemeteries. They’re much more interesting than those bland, perpetual care expanses they have now. I can’t imagine it would be much fun to haunt a perpetual care cemetery after I’m gone. My shade will have to roam until it finds an older, overgrown spot to hang out at. Or at least one with flowers gone wild.

    The Texas Rose Rustlers hunt down roses at those old cemeteries and abandoned homesteads.

    1. Those perpetual care places are so weird. Boring, actually. I always laugh when I come across one called “Memorial Gardens.” They’re as far from a garden as anything could be. On the other hand, they can provide some humor. Long ago, I was in the lead car of a funeral procession in San Antonio. As we rounded a curve to enter the place, we were confronted by a huge sign that said, “NO PLANTING WITHOUT PERMISSION!” We laughed until tears rolled down our faces, and had a hard time controlling ourselves before getting out of the car.

      One of those Texas Rose Rustlers, Pam Puryear, is responsible for this lovely pink version of the traditionally red Turk’s cap.

  16. My “Farside” inclined mind would have jumped to the same conclusion, if I’d seen that ‘No planting’ sign! I’m glad you all got control of yourselves. It simply would not have done to have gotten out of the car laughing uncontrollably. If it was my funeral, I’d say ‘The more laughter, the better,’ but some folks are a bit straitlaced about what is considered seemly at those occasions.

    Those Turk’s caps are pretty. They’re hardy in my zone, too.

    1. I really like Turk’s cap. I wasn’t sure about the pink at first, but I’ve come to like it. Here’s what the pretty little buds look like. I took this one’s photo at the Piney Woods Nature Center in Nacogdoches, in the garden dedicated by Lady Bird Johnson. I’d like to visit there again, but I expect it will be in the fall.

  17. That little creature is happy.
    I love the way you make us focus on the little things right in front of us – the sculptures overlooked ( and they are just as happy about that)
    Remember those rumba sleeves on dancers/performers. I keep thinking of some I Love Lucy show with Ricky’s band (or was that Carmen’s famous outfit?). That first picture could have been the inspiration for those puffy things. That flower looks ready to rumba.

    1. It could have been Carmen, or the dancers with Ricky’s band — or even Ricky himself. Those shows and those poofy costumes were wonderful. As a matter of fact, look at the percussionist in this video. Memories, memories! I must say — I’m readier to rumba than to rumble. We need a break from all the posturing and threats. Maybe we could throw a Mambo party on your driveway. Think the neighbors would join in?

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