A Sure Sign of Summer

If I’m lucky, this Prairie Gentian will be only the first of many that I’ll find this year. Its scientific name, Eustoma exaltatum, points both to its ‘large-mouthed’ appearance (Eustoma) and to its height (exaltatum).  Other common names — Catchfly Prairie Gentian, Bluebell Gentian, and Seaside Gentian — all apply to this showy, purple-to-lavender flower that occasionally appears in white.

Before its flowers appear, the plant easily is identified by grayish-green, oppositely-arranged leaves that clasp the stems. Tolerant of salt and with a preference for moist conditions, the it can be found in salt marshes, wet prairies, and coastal flats from Florida through Texas, to California and northward.

A large colony of these flowers on the west end of Galveston Island fell first to the mowers and then to the developers, but this single bloom at the side of a west end road whispered a message: “Get thee to Brazoria County. I have friends there.”

Who could ignore a message from a flower?


Comments always are welcome.

56 thoughts on “A Sure Sign of Summer

    1. It is. It’s a good thing that the Artist Boat, Lafitte’s Cove, and Galveston State Park exist, or the entirety of Galveston’s West End would turn into high-end properties.

  1. I guess the developers who decimated Galveston Island are the ones who were perfectly capable of ignoring a message from a flower.

    1. There still are large portions of the Island that are protected. Galveston State Park is a gem, and private investment has set aside other areas, so development won’t overrun the entire area. Still, it was sad to see one of my favorite little tucked-away areas turned into a gated community.

  2. It’s lovely to see these and hear about all the wildflowers in places–some surviving development (saying–“hey, I belong here”) and others protected. Thanks goodness for state and federal parks and preserves. Otherwise, so much would be lost and so much more would be covered in concrete.

    1. One of my favorite spots on the west end is called the Laffite’s Cove Nature Preserve. It’s within a waterfront residential development; the nature preserve is jointly owned with Galveston. Anyone who buys property there automatically is a member of the Laffite’s Cove Nature Society, and is assessed an annual fee for its upkeep and development. One interesting tidbit: when lots first were made available for purchase, a clerical error turned ‘Lafitte’ into ‘Laffite,’ changing the name of the famous Galveston pirate somewhat.

      In any event, it’s a wonderful example of how far-sighted developers like George Mitchell, and public-private partnerships, can keep progress and preservation in creative tension.

  3. I’m glad you provided a link to the range map for this species. If I ever knew that people have found these flowers growing as far north as Montana, I’d long since forgotten that.

    Eight days ago I came across my first bluebells for 2021. The metadata from your photograph shows you beat me by five days. Let’s hope we both see many more. Unfortunately I recently read on Facebook that the great field of bluebells in Leander that you fantasized visiting last year has become a construction site. It’s sad, the same as you feel about one of your favorite little tucked-away areas getting turned into a gated community.

    1. That range to the north surprised me, too, even though once I’d read about it, I found a reference to it on several sites.

      That’s too bad about Leander. When I found this one, I thought about the field you found there and wondered if they were blooming yet. I guess the answer’s ‘no.’ On the other hand, this morning I remembered the post I wrote after an up close and personal encounter with a mowing machine. Since that day, I’ve found innumerable purple leather flower vines. That’s not a reason to say, “Oh, well. The flowers will make it,” but it is a reminder that with some encouragement and advocacy, they might stay around a little longer.

    1. One of the reasons I began taking photos of our native wildflowers was to learn more about them — starting with their names, but maybe going a little further than that. I’m no botanist, and don’t aspire to be one, but the more I learn about them and the mutual dependence they share with the insects, the more interesting they become. Besides: they’re pretty!

  4. Beautiful photograph – I hope you do find more of these lovely flowers. It’s sad that areas with wildflowers are mown and developed – it’s a resource that we don’t have much of here. I’m glad that some areas are protected.

    1. Mowing has its place, particularly on the roadsides and prairies. We’re lucky in the sense that our roadsides generally are allowed to lie untouched until seeds have formed and been dispersed; it’s one reason the wildflowers are so glorious in spring. But developers can be quite a different matter. Some are dedicated to creating communities with green spaces and natural areas. Others are less concerned. I do see some changes in attitude occuring, and for that I’m grateful.

      1. I imagine that mowing in the autumn is good – that’s what is suggested here for people letting areas go wild. This year our local council has allowed verges and other areas to remain unmowed until about a week ago. I hope they do that in future too.

    1. I’m not willing to curse them, but I’m more than willing to support efforts to educate. In the end, that may have a chance to make a difference.

  5. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? We have ancient right of ways but some of those are under attack at the moment and they only protect the actual path rather than the surrounding land.

    1. One of the most interesting projects here is the so-called ‘pollinator pathway.’ In some areas, established homeowners have committed to planting native gardens that are within the normal flight range of pollinators. A bee that happens upon one garden can easily fly to another. It’s certainly not a perfect or adequate solution, but it is helpful, just as encouraging a move away from turf grass is helpful.

  6. love the bluebells. they also fell to plant collectors I think. seems like I remember a time when they were more prevalent then they got popular and people were digging them up, picking the flowers instead of letting them go to seed so I’m glad to see they are thriving somewhere.

    1. In Missouri, there’s a white Penstemon that’s known commonly as ‘bride’s bouquet.’ It was so heavily picked for wedding bouquets its numbers declined significantly. I don’t know if it was recategorized, but I know there were articles in the media begging people to stop picking them. It would be a shame if the same thing happened to these. The message about not picking bluebonnets seems to have taken; we need to encourage the same hands-off approach for other flowers.

  7. Obviously, this is the flower for which the Gentian violet dye is named. (It’s a dye used in Gram staining, which is a method of identifying bacteria.) The dye is not made from the flower, but the color of the dye is the same shade of purple/violet as the flower.

    1. I’d forgotten that gentian violet also was used medicinally when I was a kid. I haven’t the slightest idea what it was used for, and I’m not certain my mother had it on hand, but like mercurochrome, that color made it memorable. I just read that mercurochrome’s used as a biological dye, too. Very interesting.

  8. Looks like this beauty was giving you some good advice, Linda! I’m sad so many of its kin fell victim to the mowers. I’ve got a small patch where I sowed wildflower seeds and have been watching our lawn-guys like a hawk to make sure they don’t flatten the tiny plants emerging.

    1. Our city’s garden club went toe-to-toe with the city itself after they planted and nurtured a wildflower project, only to see it mowed down by — the city. After more signs and a few stakes went up, things improved, and I’ve seen a variety of flowers blooming there, but I know they’re keeping a hawk-like eye on things, too. Good for you! I hope yours flourish, and that we get to see some photos.

      1. I hope something blooms! Right now, I have a bunch of green things coming up, but I haven’t a clue which are flowers and which are weeds. I’m just going to let them grow together and see what I get!

    1. I have complete confidence in the flower. Now, the question is, when will I make it to Brazoria? Maybe today, before the predicted thunderstorms roll in. I’d love to find the patch of white gentians is emerging again, but they’re even less predictable than the thunderstorms.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I love this flower, and was more than willing to spend time in the heat to get a nice photo. It’s often called a bluebell here, even though it’s in a different genus. I suppose the name might have come about because it looks so much like an upraised handbell.

  9. Mowers and developers, she definitely needs her friends and so do we! Lovely photos, Linda. I’ve never seen this flower, so thanks for the intro!

    1. I can’t believe you’ve not seen this one, Tina. It’s the flower that Belle, the Blue Bell creamery cow is named for, and it’s quite common in that Austin-to-Brenham corridor: or at least it was. While I was poking around, I found the web page of the LaGrange farm that raises Jersey cows, and that was Belle’s home. They allow tours of the farm; that might be a fun trip.

  10. Such a beautiful flower… it kills me to read of the loss of plant and animal diversity from development. I wish there was a law that required developers to set aside a portion of land to be left in its natural state. EO Wilson warned us decades ago that a world without biodiversity is a world without humans!

    1. While there isn’t a law on the books, it does seem there’s increasing public pressure to move beyond the “two trees and a bush” school of landscaping. Simply adding laws never does the trick; changing peoples’ understanding is a better — if slower! — approach.

    1. Yes, indeed. This is the ‘bluebell’ that gave the little creamery in Brenham its name, and gave us Belle the Cow as its symbol. I just mentioned to another reader that I suspect the flower’s resemblance to an upraised hand bell might have helped to give rise to its common name.

  11. Your messenger is very beautiful. We have some lovely urban reserves in newer housing developments. I do appreciate the reserves. The houses are not to my style but it is good to see some thought going into the developments.

    1. Thought is good, particularly when it includes such thoughts as, “Let’s stop seeing how many houses we can cram onto this parcel of land.” Here, we’ve had some interesting examples of ‘reverse development,’ too. A golf course not far from me is being turned into well-designed retention ponds, recreational pathways, and show places for native plants. Sometimes, public/private cooperation can do great things. Now that the development has progressed past the ‘piles of dirt and big machines’ stage, I should take the time to visit, and do a post about it.

  12. Wildflowers are charming and do have their places. The need to mow them, well… I’m sure there are reasons, but sad to see such beautiful flowers removed from the landscape.

    1. Mowing is a legitimate tool for land management, just like prescribed burning or grazing. What particularly irks me is the tendency of people who are trying to sell parcels of land to call in the mowers to ‘tidy things up.’ There’s no reason they couldn’t allow the flowers to continue to bloom until a sale takes place and the construction crews show up. Instead, they scalp the land, leaving it useless for the pollinators and other creatures who’ve called it home. It turns me grumpy.

  13. I love all Gentians, and this is a fine one. In gardens here we most frequently grow the Bottle Gentian (G. andrewsii). I would grow it but I don’t have the right sort of space available.

    1. I’ve never heard of — or seen – the bottle gentian. I looked it up on the Missouri Botanical Garden site, and it certainly is an interesting plant. I noticed that is “dislikes hot nights, and does not grow well in the deep South.” Never mind that — we have bottle trees to make up for our lack of bottle gentians. You’ll notice that the bottle tree is a Texan; it’s been made to look like a bluebonnet!

  14. That is a lovely flower and I sure do hope you find more when you get to Brazoria. It is quite different in appearance to its two cousins that I am familiar with, Fringed Gentian-Gentianopsis crinita and Closed or Bottle Gentian-Gentiana clausa. I decided to take matters into my own hands and bought a couple of each from Native Plant Trust (aka home of GoBotany). The places I usually go to find them in the wild are both undevelopable but having them in the backyard is a treat. I just watched a video in a Botany series and the instructor mentions flowers communicating. I guess this one had a little something to tell you. Good luck!

    1. I had no idea the Gentian genus was so varied and widespread. I just learned from an Illinois reader about bottle gentians, but his species is different from yours. I do remember your fringed gentians; they’re another pretty flower. Despite their differences, they’re all attractive. Are the ones you planted doing well? I hope so.

      Remember the old Smothers Brothers skit about talking to the trees? Maybe they were ahead of their time, as well as being funny.

      1. That was a blast from the past. Judy Garland was a bonus memory. Speaking of talking to the trees, did you read “The Secret Life of Plants“. Those authors did more than talk to them. Stevie Wonder did an entire album by that name also.

        They appear to be doing well. The bottle gentian is the one that flowers earliest and the plant is getting large No buds yet. The fringed are a little behind but both seem to be coming along. You can be sure the flowers will appear in a blog near you.

        1. I’ve not read that book, although I know many have, and have appreciated it. I’m glad your gentians are doing well. I’ll look forward to seeing them, in time.

    1. And here I am, dreaming of exotic Medina, Bandera, and Kerrville. Some day we may pass on the road. Otherwise, if you do get down this way, I know where you could find a tour guide who has more than a few friends in the prairies and marshes.

    1. If I can get out and about, I’m sure I will. Getting unstuck around here is like trying to get out of the LaBrea tar pits, but I’m working on it.

    1. They’re so graceful; even the buds are attractive, and clusters of mixed buds and flowers are a real delight. I’m hoping still to find some.

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