From Bud to Bloom

Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) ~ Midfield, Texas

Despite similarities among the buds shown in my previous post, the flowers themselves may not immediately suggest their membership in the iris family. When I met blue-eyed grass, it certainly didn’t seem iris-like. Only later did I learn that the rhizomes from which it grows, its tall, blade-like foliage, and its six petals all point to its connection to our more familiar irises.

Despite its common name, it isn’t a grass; it’s often lavender, violet, or white rather than blue; and the ‘eye’ in the center of the flower is yellow. Its name isn’t always hyphenated, but when it is, ‘blue eyed-grass’ would be a better choice than ‘blue-eyed grass.’

Blue-eyed grass spreads along roadsides and across fields in huge numbers, but I seldom encounter dense colonies of prairie nymphs. Individual flowers spreading across a large area seem more common, but their delicate color and intricate design make even a single flower worthy of attention.

Prairie nymph (Herbertia lahue) ~ Cost, Texas

The flowers bloom in succession over a two to three week period in early to late spring. Each flower lasts only a day, opening above narrow, sword-shaped leaves in the morning and closing by late afternoon.

The flowers themselves are two to three inches across, and their height seems to depend on whether mowing has occurred. Along roadsides or in cemeteries, they may be only a few inches tall, but on prairies or untended land, they often grow to be six to twelve inches in height. Rich in pollen and nectar, they hold special appeal for hoverflies and native bees.

Purple pleatleaf, sometimes called propeller flower, is found in the eastern third of Texas. Unlike blue-eyed grass or the prairie nymph, this is a flower that prefers a bit of shade.  It’s often found along woodland edges; these were blooming in the Big Thicket, alongside a road leading to the Sundew Trail.

The ‘pleat’ in the name comes from the plant’s leaves, which are folded along their length as they rise from the ground. Taller than the prairie nymph, with a mostly leafless stem, purple pleat-leaf seems to me the most iris–like of the trio, and it certainly is eye-catching.

Purple Pleat-leaf (Alophia drummondii) ~ Warren, Texas

To my chagrin, I realized only this morning that I failed to mention another member of the iris family in these posts: a favorite from the hill country that I’ve seen only twice. As the saying goes, “So many flowers, so little time!” ~ so I’ll save the neglected one for another time.

Comments always are welcome.


71 thoughts on “From Bud to Bloom

  1. I’ve always enjoyed blue-eyed grass when I stumbled upon it but have been just as confused by the choice of name as you. It’s a beautiful plant, no matter the name, and that last photo is a treat.

    1. Just for fun, I pulled out my copy of an old book called Nature’s Garden, by Neltje Blanchan. (Her full name was Neltje Blanchan De Graff Doubleday: yes, that Doubleday.) I thought she might have a note about the name of the blue-eyed grass. She didn’t, but I was charmed by her description of the flower, written in the language of an early 1900s naturalist:

      “Only for a day, and that must be a bright one, will this little sister of the stately blue flag open its eyes, to close them in indignation on being picked; nor will any coaxing but the sunshines’s induce it to open them again in water, immediately after. The dainty flower, growing in dense tufts, makes up in numbers what it lacks in size and lasting power, flecking our meadows with purplish ultramarine blue in a sunny June morning. Later in the day, apparently there are no blossoms there, for all are tightly closed, never to bloom again. New buds will unfold to tinge the field on the morrow.”

  2. Your first photo of blue eyed grass is beautiful, Linda! And I can readily see the resemblance to Iris, especially in that final picture. What gorgeous colors Mother Nature has given us!

    1. The colors are quite beautiful: as beautiful as the colors of the iris found in our gardens. In fact, in Greek mythology, Iris was the minister and messenger of the Olympian gods, and she was represented by the rainbow. It makes sense that such a colorful family should carry her name.

  3. I’ve never seen such a thick cluster of BEG. We only get them here and there. Conditions must be ideal there. I love the others as well. TX has such gorgeous wildflowers… I wish they were more protected from development. Wilderness is so unappreciated by the majority of humans it seems.

    1. That ‘thick cluster’ of blue eyed grass was only a small portion of a colony that stretched along a farm to market road for at least a mile. There are areas about an hour or two west of me where I can count on seeing entire fields covered with with their faint blue haze. The height of their bloom seems to last only for two or three weeks, but they’re a delight while they’re with us.

    1. Aren’t they pretty, GP? The blue eyed grass is common in your state, but the others haven’t made it there yet — apart from the prairie nymph, which put a toe over the line and is shown in Escambia County. I wish you had the purple pleatleaf; it’s even more beautiful than its photos.

        1. There’s no need to be an expert. Observing and appreciating are underrated, and we can do both even if we don’t have the names exactly right!

    1. We have plenty of pink, lavender, and light blue in our spring flowers, but we have some bold colors, too. The blue eyed grasses are among them, although they have quite a color range themselves: from the lightest blue imaginable to these brighter ones. I’m still on the lookout for one of my favorites, which goes by common names like pink-eyed-grass and pink blue-eyed-grass. I guess that’s what happens when taxonomy and visible color collide.

    1. It’s a gorgeous flower. It likes a bit of dryness and a bit of shade; I’ve found it at the Sandylands Refuge (sandy soil, obviously), at the edges of the Watkins Rare Plant Preserve, and along dirt roads in the Big Thicket. A common companion seems to be Echinaca sanguinea, which also enjoys sandy soil.

    1. There are seven or eight species of blue eyed grass in your state. Next spring, you’ll have to look for them. Here’s a site that has some photos and information on them all. Once you’ve moved and have begun painting again, one of these — or an entire group of them — would make a wonderful subject.

  4. I approve your shifting of the hyphen. When I became familiar with these flowers a couple of decades ago, the fact that the “eye” was yellow rather than blue puzzled me, given where the hyphen was.

    1. I’m still laughing at the common names I found for one of my favorite Sisyrinchium species. Apparently S. minus is called ‘pink-eyed-grass’ or ‘pink blue eyed grass.’ It’s the botanical equivalent to sky-blue-pink.

    1. I just looked at the fairy iris (Dietes graniflora) and you’re right. Despite being native to South Africa, the similarities to other members of the Iris family are obvious. There’s nothing unexpected about that, but they certainly are pretty flowers. Are the fairy iris used in your area? You have fairy wrens; the fairy iris would be a nice complement.

      1. I can’t remember seeing a fairy iris in this immediate area around my apartment complex, but certainly saw many when I lived and walked around the south-east of Melbourne. Both residential gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens.

        Most of my surrounds are filled with Australian native species (plants and trees) and a big effort was made a couple of years ago to remove introduced non-indigenous species from the nature reserve and parkland up and down my local river.

        I saw a fairy-wren for the first time in weeks over the weekend, but was too slow in getting the long telephoto lens/camera out of it’s soft pouch. I hear them often though and more recently can see the wren outlines in my Japanese Maple, but my movement & sound, opening and closing the lounge sliding door, sends them off into flight before I can get a shot.

        Bit too cold to leave the door open these days.

        1. I think the wisdom of ‘going native’ is gaining acceptance. A couple of nearby towns recently did some substantial road construction, and when they did the final landscaping, they put in native plants. It’s a good way to educate homeowners. When they see what their town is doing, and understand the reasons, they may make a few changes themselves. There are so many pretty groundcovers there’s no need for the traditional lawns, especially in drier areas.

          I came across a tri-colored heron in full breeding plumage today. I hope I have a decent photo of it — the blue of its bill was absolutely stunning.

  5. Oh, fields of flowers. What a sight that is. I see the resemblance to irises in the close up and what a variety of flowers. Were they in one ecosystem or were you traveling around?

    1. There’s a link to my previous post in the first sentence; I added the location of each flower there. They are from different parts of the state. The true wild irises are coastal; the blue eyed grass spreads throughout much of the state; the prairie nymph prefers the drier prairies (what a surprise!) and the purple pleatleaf is an east Texas flower. In such a large state, with twelve ecoregions, there are plenty of opportunities to compare different genera and species — it’s great fun.

    2. Sometimes I’m really slow. It took until this morning for me to realize I should have added the locations to this post, too. Just because I know where they were doesn’t mean everyone does. Off to edit ~ thanks!

    1. I love the prairie nymph for its color, and the blue eyed grass for its abundance, but that pleatleaf is a treat. The center of it reminds me of the work of Gustav Klimt; wouldn’t it be something done in gold and Cloisonné?

    1. What use is punctuation if you can’t play with it? See: e.e. cummings. Thanks for your kind words about the photos. They were fun to gather.

    1. They’re wild as can be, Arti. They’re all native to Texas, and grow wherever they please. That’s part of what makes finding them so much fun. It’s impossible to predict where they’ll pop up. In that sense, ‘wild-flowering’ is akin to your birding; there are surprises down every path.

    1. And I’m glad you’re enjoying them! It’s double fun taking photos of flowers (and insects and such) that are part of your world, too, and it’s really cool to introduce you to some you haven’t met yet!

  6. These are all delightful but the pleat-leaf is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it and your close-up of it is beautifully done.

    1. That’s exactly how I felt about that pleat-leaf. When I found my first one, I just stared at it; I knew it was real, but I couldn’t quite believe it. Backlit by the sun, it looked like stained glass, or a piece of fine jewelry. I had a hard time deciding which photos to post. I have a few that I took in a different, sandy environment that have a different feel. It really is true that the background makes a difference — as with your studio photos.

    1. I certainly was surprised when I learned how large the iris family is, and how many familiar plants belong to it. I haven’t found an unattractive one yet!

  7. Blue-eyed me is rather fond of blue-eyed grass. I love that shade of blue. The Purple Pleat Leaf looks to have orchid like characteristics, and that busy, busy center portion . . .

    1. I thought you’d like the blue, although I thought the purple might do for you, too. Put them together, and you’d have a real winner. That pleat-leaf center reminds me of the work of Gustav Klimt — wouldn’t it be great done in 24K and enamel?

    1. Chuckling — what a difference a little punctuation change can make. And I’m glad you enjoyed the prairie nymph. As beautiful as the pleat-leaf is, the prairie nymph’s my favorite among these three: at least for now!

  8. Oh, I enjoyed all of these. I love how often you get to see fields of flowers! I could see the iris resemblance, looking forward to the forgotten

    1. Nature certainly keeps a lovely garden for us, here. It’s great fun to share it — I just wish I could magically transport you over here to see some of it in person!

  9. A beautiful collection of irises. The flower center of the Purple pleatleaf is remarkable, but it’s hard to beat blue-eyed grass. The coloration of your blue-eyed grass is different, the anther is yellow in those I’ve seen up here. I’m watching a patch of them, they should be blooming soon.

    1. There are so many species of blue eyed grass; I think I read that we have seven in Texas. It’s not uncommon to find white ones, and I’ve recently learned that one of my favorite species is known as ‘pink blue-eyed grass.’ Of course, color’s not the best indicator of species; says that “the various species are all much alike and separation is based on such characteristics as branching pattern and leaf length.” I’ll not be measuring leaf length, that’s for sure! It’s enough for me to recognize the genus, and maybe a species or two.

      I hope we’ll see yours.

  10. Another nice batch. Do you go far afield to find these? Keep an ear to the flower vine to hear when certain areas are blooming? Magically find fields of flowers the way robins find worms?

    1. Most of my favored spots for exploration are within two hours from home, with a few a little farther away. Since I stay mostly on back roads, the travel can be as profitable as time at the destination. If I bump into something interesting, I just revise the day’s plans.

      Early spring is the time when everyone’s attuned to blooms, and reports about the emergence of things like the bluebonnets are pretty widely shared. Otherwise, the robin/worm analogy works. There are times when I’ll suddenly get “a feeling,” make a turn, and find something wonderful. It’s great fun.

  11. Wow, the Purple Pleatleaf (got it right this time) is gorgeous. I’ve always recognized Blue-eyed Grass (occasionally it pops up in our lawn) but have not researched it so your discovery that it is an iris relative was a surprise. Fine natural history post, Linda.

    1. It tickles me that the people responsible for naming both blue eyed grass and the pleatleaf focused on the leaves rather than those glorious patterns and colors. I suppose the variability in both might explain it. No matter what the flower looks like, the shape and size of the leaves is consistent. Digging around among the irises finally helped me sort out rhizomes, corms, and bulbs, too — although I’m not inclined to dig up plants that I find to check their root systems.

      1. Yeah. No digging. It’s enough to know about them, I think, than to harm a plant to satisfy our curiosity.

        I’ve asked a few questions about insect IDs on BugGuide that garnered a response that genital dissection was the only way to be sure. I really don’t want to know that badly. It’s understandable for a researcher/scientist doing that for ecological studies but not us amateurs. At least not for someone like me who just wants to know what I photographed.

    1. I wish you could see them, too; each of them has its own special characteristics, but they’re all beautiful. I will say that the prairie nymphs don’t usually carpet the land like bluebonnets or even the blue eyed grass, but their unpredictability is great fun, and their details are just delightful. Isn’t it wonderful to be out of winter and celebrating spring again?

    1. It’s summertime, for sure. It’s a good thing we have flowers to make up for the mosquitoes, the sweat, and the hot cars! (Of course, swimming holes, picnics, and road trips help make the season bearable!)

  12. Blue eyed grass is new to me and quite lovely. A whole expanse of these flowers must be a real treat to see. I am glad that you raise the issue of hyphens. It irks me when birders are careless with them, and their misuse changes the name of course. A Great-crested Flycatcher is not the same thing at all as a Great Crested Flycatcher, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak would be quite different from a Rose Breasted Grosbeak. And so on. C’mon people, take a little more care and get it right!

    1. I have to confess it: I didn’t make much of a leap to anywhere when I realized that hyphen was oddly placed in the name of the blue eyed grasses. But now that you mention it, I realize there have been times when I either added, didn’t add, or wondered about the placement of a hyphen in a bird’s name, too. I’m certainly going to pay closer attention in the future, and consider my sources.

      Hyphenated or non-hyphenated, the flowers are lovely. Because they’re so short, they sometimes are visible first as a kind of blue glow over the landscape.Once seen, it’s never forgotten.

  13. What a wonderful follow-up to your previous post!
    A blanket of blue on a foggy morning is a very special memory for me of my first known encounter with Blue-eyed Grass. Of course, I had no camera. But the love has endured.

    We have only seen the Prairie Nymph once, at Attwater NWR. The Purple Pleatleaf is a new plant for me.

    Once again, your photography of these beautiful blooms is fabulous!

    1. A camera isn’t always necessary for the best memories. I rarely took photos while sailing, but those memories still live, and probably will until my mind goes! (We’ll set aside any discussion of whether that’s already happened.)

      It’s great that I could show you a new flower. The pleatleaf is gorgeous. It’s primarily a Texas/Louisiana plant, although it’s slipped into Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

      Speaking of blue, I came across a tri-colored heron last weekend in full breeding colors. I’d never seen that electric blue on a bird, but its lores and bill were just stunning. I hope my 70-300mmm managed at least an acceptable photo; it was quite a sight.

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.