Rayless Among the Rocks

After my recent posting of Gaillardia aestivalis and the white variety known as Winkler’s Gaillardia (G. aestivalis var. Winkleri), several readers commented on the pleasing structure of the ball-like seed heads.

Another Gaillardia species, G. suavis, is ball-like from the beginning. Known for its sweet scent and generally missing the ray flowers that mark other members of the Asteraceae, the variously-named fragrant Gaillardia, pincushion daisy, or perfume balls, is common along roadsides in the Texas hill country.

The disk florets that form the pretty round flower tend toward a reddish brown, interspersed with numerous stiff bristles. All of these were found on open, dry hillsides in Medina and Kerr counties, thriving in the gravelly soils.

This especially vibrant example reminds me of the fruit of the buttonbush, another ball-shaped bloom.

I’ve yet to find any fully-developed, fluffy seedheads of these flowers, but perhaps this will be the year.

Comments always are welcome.

36 thoughts on “Rayless Among the Rocks

    1. Thanks, Derrick. I really enjoy these flowers, and it’s always a treat to find them. They don’t grow in my part of the state, but they’re common in spots that I visit regularly.

  1. Your last picture does a good job of bringing out the likeness to drying buttonbush seed heads, both in color and shape. This species is rare in Travis County; I’ve found it near Gonzales, where you’ve also traveled, even if these photographs come from Medina and Kerr Counties.

    1. In fact, I didn’t see that resemblance until I was putting the post together. Initially, I’d included only the first two photos; then, I took a second look at that deep red, and ‘saw’ the buttonbush.

      Your comment about the species’ relative rarity in Travis County is interesting. My own experience has been that the plants often are scattered. When I come across them, there may be quite a few flowers, but the locations themselves are widely separated, and usually involve roadsides.

    1. They are a pretty flower — and my goodness, they have a nice fragrance. They come by the name ‘perfume balls’ honestly. You’ve mentioned your roots in parts of Texas a little farther west, and I’ll bet they could be found out there, but I’ve never seen them anywhere around our area. The closest ones I’ve found were around Center Point and Comfort.

  2. I like your second picture best, but the others are lovely, too. The detail in the second one draws me in, and I find myself mesmerized by the tiny florets and bristles. Beautiful, Linda!

    1. I’m happy that I was able to find three different views of the flower. I really like the second photo, too — those bristles are quite a feature! It’s so interesting to see how the appearance of a flower varies from one stage to another — just as we do, now that I think of it.

  3. It’s a very interesting plant, quite beautiful too, and your photographs portray the inflorescence so well. You are an accomplished photographer, Linda, and I have botanical references I wish had the clarity of your images. Are you listening publishers?

    1. How kind of you to say so, David. My photography certainly has improved over the past five years; whenever I get discouraged, there’s nothing that perks me up more than going back to the photos I was taking in 2015. Any art takes practice, whether it’s training the ear to recognize birdsong, or training the eye to find good images — in another five years, who knows how good I’ll be?

    1. Those of us who have to live without the glorious autumn foliage of New England have to take our color where we find it. There’s one more Gaillardia species I’ve found — just wait until you see its color.

    1. I’ve been told that the best camera is the one we have, Gerard. Every now and then I get tempted toward something bigger and better in the camera department — perhaps one with racing stripes! — but then I remember how much I still have to learn with the one I have, and I trot off to find another flower or another bird. You certainly would have no dearth of subjects around you — from cityscapes to the flowers growing in your new garden. Art is art, after all — you could move from prints to photos.

    1. This is one of my favorite flowers, Becky, so I was glad to be able to get such nice images of a few. Of course, I have about two hundred ‘favorite’ flowers, but still…!

  4. I guess polinating insects don’t have tender feet. These blossoms look like they would be tricky to stand on. I like that you included a stem of rye grass for scale to show that these blooming balls are on the larger side.

    1. Part of what makes it all work is that a lot of those pollinators are light-footed. I’ve never seen anything as big as a bumble bee around them, but the little flies that come can be as small as one or two of those individual florets. It’s great fun to see which insects visit which flowers; if the matches aren’t made in heaven, they’ve certainly been made along the evolutionary pathways.

    1. I suppose some would say these aren’t as attractive as the Gaillardia that have ray flowers (aka petals) too, but I think they’re delightful. I get a kick out of the number of plants that have a ball-like form; there are far more than I ever realized. I remember those from Southern Exposure; you’re so lucky to have that wonderful place to create and celebrate!

    1. They’re a wonderful flower; I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. They certainly are in your neighborhood. These were photographed along 337 near the entrance to the Love Creek Preserve, on 187 a few miles north of the entrance to Lost Maples, and a few miles east of the junction of 187 and 39.

  5. I immediately thought of Roman candles when I saw that first photo, Linda, or maybe the Statue of Liberty with her torch. I think, given the day, I will go with the Statue of Liberty. –Curt

    1. I confess I had to do a search for Roman candles, Curt. We never got past sparklers and snakes when I was a kid, and the cherry bombs were more a boy-thing, so I wasn’t sure what a burning Roman candle looked like. Now, I can see the resemblance. The flower’s certainly as dramatic, in its way.

      1. What, no fire crackers? I’m not sure that ours were parent-approved but we managed to find plenty.
        Somewhere along the line, we also had Roman candles. As I recall, they were rather tame. –Curt

        1. I never experienced firecrackers until I moved to Berkeley and started spending time in Chinatown. I suspect you’ve been there — or in a similar place — on the Chinese New Year, so you know!

          1. Been to Chinatown a number of times but never on Chinese New Year, Linda. As I recall, our fire crackers were made in China.
            I remember a piece of art at Burning Man that was totally made from firecracker wrappers.

  6. Interesting comparison to buttonbush which I see here often. And interesting as well that the second image, G. suavis is rayless. There should be some folktale about it being the sad reminder of a lover’s petal pulling that ended with “she/he loves me not”.

    1. Actually, all of the images are of G. suavis, and they’re all rayless. What could appear to be tiny rays are the flowers’ bracts. I went through my files to see if I happened to have a photo of one with ray flowers, but I don’t. In his book about Texas wildflowers, Eason says that if there are ray flowers present, they’re only about a half-inch long, and usually maroon, but they’re uncommon.

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