A Solo Trio

A developing flower of Xyris ambigua


Having shown more abstract images of a yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ambigua), it seemed only right to offer a more detailed look at this lovely plant.

Yellow-eyed-grasses not only belong in their own genus — Xyris  — they also belong in their own family: the Xyridaceae. More closely aligned with grasses than with other flowering plants, they thrive in wet places, specializing in acid or sandy soils, moist pine or oak savannas, pine flatwoods, pond shores, ditches, and bogs. These photos, taken in the wetland pine savannah of the Big Thicket Solo Tract, might just as easily have come from surrounding bogs.

A relatively tall plant that often grows to a height of three feet, its conspicuous cone-like inflorescence can be more than an inch long; tightly wound green and brown bracts subtend the pretty yellow flower.

Double or even triple flowers occasionally appear simultaneously
From bud to flower to seed

I especially enjoy the opportunity to see various stages of plant life on a single day. The experience brings to mind this passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on self-reliance:

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones… There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

Comments always are welcome.

55 thoughts on “A Solo Trio

    1. Apparently it’s quite easy to grow from seed. There are several species that look similar, but grow in different areas of the country: from Montana to New York to Florida. I hope to find another one with the flower just beginning to peek out of the bud. I found the tiniest hint of bloom on one this year, but the photos were horrid. Next time!

  1. Others have xeriscapes; you’ve provided xyriscapes.

    While Emerson is elegant in that passage, people wouldn’t be people if we couldn’t review the past and contemplate a better future.

    1. What a great word: xyriscapes. One thing that makes a xyriscape especially nice for a photographer is the early-morning opening of the flowers.

      Of course you’re right about the importance of past and future. The perils of presentism are obvious, and some of your recent quotations about the importance of remembering history are especially on point. Still, excessive worry over the past or excessive fear of the future both can paralyze, just as a rejection of history or a refusal of possibilities can lead to unhappy consequences. That seemed to me to be Emerson’s point: whether we find the rose in bud, in bloom, or in decline, its past and present are implicit in every stage, and to reject any of those stages is short-sighted.

        1. I just read it, and it is very well done. Thank you! My copy of a recommended book arrived today: Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson, Jr. It’s a hefty thing, but comes highly recommended. I like the structure. There are many, many sections that all are rather short, making it a nice read for tired evenings.

          1. I became curious and made a Google search on the author of the article I linked earlier. He’s a scholar of Emerson and he works at the Universtiy of West of England at Bristol. He has a page full of articles which are free and downloadable: https://bit.ly/2Pvo2D5

  2. Above time! Now that’s a concept that sounds as though it comes straight from my Great Library Series, where Time is the dominant force in our universe. Oh, and the yellow flower is very pretty.

    1. I think we’re all experiencing time in different ways these days. Staying grounded in the present is one of the best ways to deal with past and future, and besides — so many of the flowers we love are blooming today.

  3. Another true beauty, Linda! I love the bright yellow color, as well as how it reminds me of a bearded iris, probably because of its petals.

    1. I hadn’t seen a resemblance to iris, but looking at the photos again, I certainly can see that. And isn’t that yellow cheerful? I hope your yellow flowers still are blooming — it’s way too soon for summer to be over.

    1. I so agree, Ellen. Apart from anything else, watching the changes is pleasing. I suppose that’s one reason I enjoy spring and autumn more than summer and winter — they’re seasons of change.

    1. That’s good — we’d hate for you to become petal-less and prickly! On the other hand, there’s a saying that a cactus is the desert’s rose, and Emerson’s words would work just as well for cacti. Maybe better. It can be a little harder to imagine a cactus perfect in every moment of its existence, but it’s not impossible.

  4. A wonderful presentation of a beautiful life cycle.

    Striking a balance that prevents us from missing the present because we are fixated on the past or future is a problem only humans seem to have, but I doubt I can ever become as Zen as a rose bush. For me, acceptance and hope open the door to joy in the present.

    1. It occurs to me that acceptance and hope often have to unfold, just like a flower. They can lay dormant for a time, but eventually they emerge — if we know how to nurture them. Sometimes, all it takes is pulling up a few weeds.

  5. Thanks for the Emerson reference, Linda. It is oh so true. And thanks for the exquisite images too.

    1. It’s a fine quotation, and I’m glad I found it. The essay as a whole was a bit of a tough go, but there’s something bracing about all those complex sentences. There’s a lot of blathering going on these days, and a little classic literature, both fiction and non, is good therapy — just as a little time in nature always is.

  6. If a daffodil and an iris got married, they would have a child that looks like this! It’s a gorgeous bloom — so tall! Really lovely, as (of course) are your beautiful photos.

    1. What a funny thought. What’s even more amusing is that I don’t disagree — no ugly duckling, this one. The smooth lines of the bud with those frilly little petals peeking out reminds me of the crinolines we used to wear — at least, I did. You might be too young! But it is a pleasing plant — I’m glad you like it.

  7. A nice array of photos; it is a special treat to notice the various stages of a plant–you caught each superbly. It’s hard to pick my favorite, but I’m so partial to flowers, you can probably guess. I don’t know this plant. thanks for a great introduction.

    1. I’d not come across this one until my first trip to the piney woods, although I see it’s listed for Chambers County, across the bay, and Montgomery County, too, where Automatic Gardener lives. It seems to be a feisty little thing. I’ve found it in full sun, in shade, in sandy soil, and in clay. We humans should adapt so easily!

  8. A lovely balance between the colour photos and poem. It does a lot of good to stay at the present. That’s all we have for now. It is so easy to slip away to past or into the future both of which are not now.

    1. As my father used to remind me, with one of the first bits of word-play I remember, “The present is a gift. Accept it.” I know people who lay awake at night reliving past decisions and beating themselves up for them, and I’ve known people who were so fearful of the future I called one of the a “What-iffer.”
      The unhappiness level was there for all to see, and I learned a lot from being around them.

  9. I agree with Emerson. Being present, doesn’t preclude reflection or planning. Also, this is a guy who dreamed of eating the world and sometimes, I’d like to do that too. (it’s described in Emerson: the Mind on Fire, which is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read)

    1. I wasn’t aware of that biography, and I intend to order it. This line in a review caught my attention: “Emerson’s timeliness is persistent and striking: his insistence that literature and science are not separate cultures, his emphasis on the worth of every individual, his respect for nature.” Now I’m even more glad I used that quotation, since it brought me a book that seems well worth reading.

      1. It is written in short chapters, each of them jam packed with ideas. The author had written on Thoreau: A Life of the Mind previously. And the prose is beautiful.

  10. Ah. I didn’t pick up on the idea that this grass lives in boggy areas. Hard to have a huge field of nothing but, then, as that would be a really big bog. The flowers are lovely when they’re open. The Emerson quote points up a major cause of Human unhappiness. Instead of watching the evening news, sit together with those you are sheltering in place with and tell what was special about that day. It’s amazing how quickly you start going through each day being attentive to what touched you in a positive way so that you will have something to share with your loved ones in the evening. We all need to relearn what we knew in early childhood: How to dance as if no one is watching.


    1. What’s especially fun about that Bombeck selection is how quickly it can take those of us who are “of a certain age” straight back into the 1950s and 1960s. I laughed aloud at the candle that melted from being stored, rather than burned, but that wasn’t the only familiar situation.

      Since much of today’s ‘news’ isn’t news at all, but opinion, or reports of the internecine struggles between editorial boards and reporters, I’ve turned most of it off: not metaphorically, but literally. Do you remember the long-ago book by Eric Berne called Games People Play? It’s still a worthwhile read, especially since so many of the games he describes are being played all around us. The one called “Ain’t it awful?” is especially prevalent, and I’ll have none of it.

      As for dancing, surely you’ve seen this.

    1. I’m as intrigued by the bracts as the bloom. I like the seeming eruption of the flower from the top. Perhaps ‘extrusion’ would be a better word; the flower emerges like a cake decoration from a frosting tube.

  11. Glad you included the 3rd photo of the seed head. I find flowers beautiful in every stage of their life, but photographers usually only share the perfect flower head.

    These are lovely images. Thanks for sharing.

    1. If it weren’t for the seed, we’d end up with far fewer flowers. Even imperfect flowers have their charms. I’m always tickled when I find evidence of insects nibbling — or, better yet, find a katydid or beetle munching away. It’s easier to appreciate the interrelatedness of plants and insects when we actually see them.

  12. It’s always nice to be able to appreciate a flower in its various stages and you’ve shown all three as lovely. The second would be my favorite with all those fine stamens. I Googled Yellow-eyed grass to see if there is any relation to the Blue-eyed Grass I find here (there doesn’t seem to be) and found that there is more than one flowering plant by that name. I like all your soft backgrounds.

    1. Our blue-eyed grasses belong in the Iridaceae; as far as I know, they’re all in the genus Sisyrinchium. I laughed when I read this in my go-to book: “About a dozen species of blue-eyed grass [can be found] in Texas, many with overlapping ranges. May hybridize, which can make identification a chore.” It’s always nice to hear an expert say such things.

      I was surprised to see that you have a yellow-eyed grass yourself: Xyris difformis. It certainly looks similar. Have you ever seen it? (I saw on the GoBotany page that your species has either yellow or white petals. That surprised me, too.)

      1. I may have. While walking Bentley one day we passed some blue-eyed grass and a similar white flower nearby. By the time I got back…mowed. Hopefully it will return next year. What I see mostly is Narrow-leaved Blue-eyed Grass-Sisyrinchium angustifolium which is also occasionally white so that might be what I saw.

        Hybridizing is indeed a wrench in the works.

    1. It’s especially nice that the various species are so widespread. It’s not just a southern plant; the genus shows up in such far-flung places as New York and Montana, too.

    1. That’s right. They belong to the Xyridaceae. There are only five genera in the family, Xyris being one. There are several Xyris species that look pretty much the same, but they’re widely distributed geographically. They’re certainly a delightful plant.

      On another topic entirely: would you mind if I used your nice photo of Indian pinks in an upcoming post? It’s a relative of another ‘pink’ that I recently found — one that’s endemic to Texas.

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