A Dayflower in Every Pot

Our beloved bluebonnets may be gone for the year, but a new blue is gracing Texas roadsides. These masses of native wildflowers, known collectively as dayflowers, are ephemeral; each plant produces successive blooms, but individual flowers last only one day, opening in the morning and closing by afternoon.

The dayflowers (Commelina erecta) spreading through Brazoria County just now are one of three native species found here. Sometimes known as ‘erect dayflowers’ because of their growth habits, they also go by the common name ‘whitemouth dayflower.’ The name refers to the white third petal; because of its color, as well as its smaller size and placement, it suggests the appearance of a small white mouth.

Another common name, ‘widow’s tears,’ resulted from the discovery that the  purse-like spathe surrounding the buds is filled with liquid.  If squeezed, a ‘tear drop’ of liquid will emerge.

Initially, a fourth common name made no sense to me when I found it described as “herb of the (cooked) chicken.” In fact, the Spanish name for the plant is Hierba del pollo, and its flowers, leaves, and shoots are edible. In some areas of the world, the flowers are grown as a leafy vegetable crop: an interesting addition to any stewpot.

Colorful as the common names for the plant can be, its scientific name is especially interesting. In John and Gloria Tveten’s Wildflowers of Houston & Southeast Texas, they note:

Swedish botanist Linnaeus…named this genus for three Dutch botanists, the Commelin (or Commelijn) brothers. Two of the brothers, Jan and Kaspar, published widely in their field; the third died before becoming well known. Linnaeus thought the unequal petals of the dayflower nicely represented the talents of the three brothers.

Most sites describe Commelina erecta as having two large blue petals and a smaller white petal, with long, curved stamens and bright yellow pistils. Still, as many have noted, this is a highly variable species. As I browsed the dayflower-covered roadside, I found one with pretty blue stamens: something I’d never noticed.

And, as a special treat, I discovered one nearly pure white flower, with the barest hint of blue in its larger petals. As the saying goes, “Vive la différence.”

Comments always are welcome.

62 thoughts on “A Dayflower in Every Pot

    1. Finding variations is easier when you have hundreds — probably thousands — of the flowers gathered together in one place. The color in the first is especially pretty. Perhaps because it’s full summer here, the pair of curved stamens in that same photo brought to mind ice tongs.

  1. Joyful discovery, Linda. Thanks for the origins of the scientific name. It’s always fun to know the logic behind it. I promise you that as soon as I find a flower totally unknown to science (which will give me naming rights) I will name it after you!

    1. Now, that would be an honor, indeed. I hope you’d find one more like this flower, and less like the plant I’m going to feature in my next post. Originally, I was going to title that one “When Plants Attack,” but I found a better title.

      It is fun to learn the origin of scientific names. There can be a lot of information to be gleaned from them: geographical and historical as well as biographical.

  2. The fading shades of blue on your photos of the dayflowers remind me of a paint chip strip. Of course those usually go from light to dark, but you get the idea. I’m not familiar with dayflowers but I like them and their history.

    1. I’d not thought of a paint chip strip, but that’s a great analogy. At one time, I would have assumed these three were in different stages of decline, with the color fading away. Now, I know that’s not so, and it’s great fun to seek out the variations that are apparent even in their buds.

    1. Dayflowers are more than willing to set up shop anywhere. They’re constantly appearing even in our professionally manicured landscapes, and I’d be willing to bet they might show up in the ‘green strips’ in your new place. If you see a spot of blue, take a second look. They like disturbed ground, too, so they don’t have to wait for perfect conditions to move in.

  3. dayflower grows along the roadsides here and after the flood I’ve been trying to get it out of my gardens. it is a sweet little blue flower. and I do like the paler variations.

    1. It hadn’t occurred to me, but it makes sense that seeds and plant fragments would have been swept along in those waters, along with other less desirable things. This past week, I’ve been watching a turtle that I think might be a red-eared slider cruising around a couple of slips in the marina where I’m working. It seemed a little odd; I’ve never seen a turtle there. Then, I started seeing duckweed floating around, and it came to me: we’ve had enough rain that Cypress Creek is up, and the flow may have pushed the turtle and duckweed our way.

  4. I’ve long felt that botanists as a group have vivid imaginations, based on the names they’ve chosen to give things in many cases. The story about the three brothers that you mentioned is a good example. In fact Swedish playwright August Strindberg said that Linnaeus “was in reality a poet who happened to become a naturalist.”

    Don’t think I’ve ever noticed blue stamens on one of these, either. Good find.

    1. Speaking of poets, have you come across the ditty penned by Alfred Noyes with Linnaeus as its subject?

      Beware of old Linnaeus,
      The Man of the Linden-tree.
      So beautiful, bright and early
      He brushed away the dews
      He found the wicked wild-flowers
      All courting there in twos.

      I was fascinated by those blue stamens. I found a few similar photos online, so they’re around, if not common.

        1. Despite enjoying Ochs’s music, I’ve never heard his musical setting of the poem. It’s a fine one.

          Today, I also learned the reason for calling Linneaus “the man of the Linden tree.” This tidbit of information was included in a thread on Taxacom, a biological systematics listserve:

          “Carl Linnaeus’ paternal grandfather, like most Swedish peasants and farmers of his time, had no surname and was known, in accordance with the old Scandinavian name system, as Ingemar Bengtsson, being the son of Bengt Ingemarsson. When his son, Carl’s father, Nils Ingemarsson (1674-1733), went to the University of Lund, he had to provide himself with a surname for registration purposes. He invented the name Linnaeus in allusion to a large and ancient tree of the small-leaved linden (Tilia cordata Miller, T. europaea L. in part), known in the Småland dialect as ‘linn,’ which grew on the family property known in the 17th century as Linnegard.”

          “Other branches of the family took the names Lindelius and Tiliander from the same famous tree…”

          Farther down the linked page, there’s an interesting discussion of Linneaus’s ‘ennoblement’ and his adoption of the name Carl von Linné. I didn’t know about any of that.

            1. We’ll soon find out, since I just ordered a used copy. Good books still are among life’s little affordable luxuries, and the reviews of this one — including yours — are consistently good.

            2. Excellent. Happy reading. After my father died near the end of 2001, I spent a few weeks on Long Island dealing with his papers and thousands of books. He wasn’t really interested in nature, yet he’d bought Green Laurels, which was one of the books I brought back to Texas.

    1. I can be guilty of ignoring these simply because they’re so common. But, in this instance, seeing such massed blooms alongside the road demanded a stop, and I’m glad I did. Blue flowers aren’t my favorites, but I agree that this blue (or perhaps I should say ‘these’ blues) really do shine.

      1. What lovely blue shades – it must have been amazing to see them en masse! And it’s a proper blue too – no slight tinge of pink/lavender as so many ‘blue’ flowers have.

        1. It’s always surprising to see a flower I see as a pure lavender, or even purple, described as ‘blue.’ It’s common to see pink mixed in, too, particularly with flowers that fade from one color to another as they age. This is a purer blue, and its color seems to simply fade rather than change. I suspect that’s partly because each flower is so short-lived. This is a ‘true blue’!

          1. The ‘blue’ descriptions and names get to me too. I have the rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and it really isn’t blue at all, but a lovely purple. I think ‘true blue’ is fairly rare.

  5. I have never seen these. Reading your blog, I’m beginning to think that like California, Texas could have me running around pointing to things and asking what they were. I did this to a gardener on Catalina Island back in the 1980s and after about a dozen identifications, he looked at me quizzically and said “Where are you FROM?” “East of the Mississippi,” I said…

    1. That’s a funny story. When I first became interested in our native plants, it took a while for me to begin to move from calling everything a ‘pretty flower’ to something more specific. On the other hand, “East of the Mississippi” is no barrier to finding these, or their genus mate, Commelina virginica. Both this species and C. virginica are common in your area. I’m almost surprised you haven’t found them in your garden plot.

      1. Oy! Yes, C. virginica is indeed common and I knew it was native. Yours looks as though it’s a taller, more upright plant, though that may be a trick of the photography. I was picturing a meadow of plants…Thanks for the info. I HAVE seen the genus mate, but may not have looked in the right place for your flower.

        1. The height of this plant depends in large part where it’s growing. These roadside flowers were about 8″-10″ tall, and they sprawled a bit. If the plants are able to support themselves on other plants as they grow, they can attain more height: even three or four feet.

  6. I like your different colors of dayflowers and your close-ups demonstrate their beauty. I take them for granted because they are so common. All of mine are the blue and they do like to grow.

    1. They’re one of the few native wildflowers that is common around my apartment complex. They’re constantly poking their heads through the hedges and in any little unmowed spot. Since the ‘landscapers’ come only every two weeks, they don’t have a chance against these beautiful bits of floral persistence.

  7. That one you found with the curved blue stamens is absolutely gorgeous. I both love and feel tremendously sad that these gorgeous blooms only last about a day. The photos — as always — are shockingly detailed and gorgeous.

    1. There’s no need to be sad; the blooms on this plant are the floral equivalent of Mayflies. Both come and go pretty quickly; it’s just their nature. Of course, it’s also true that each plant puts out multiple blooms. If some didn’t give way, there’d be no room for the next ones! Those stamens are cool, aren’t they? Little details like that are a good reminder to slow down, and take that second look. You never know what you’ll find.

  8. It would be interesting to know what flavor the day flower gives to chicken. I suppose it’s not surprising a wildflower might be a seasoning, given that many of our common herbs are flowering plants. We just tend to have our categories already formed and think of that one as a flower another one as a flavoring.

    We were at a potluck dinner at an RV park years ago and a couple brought a salad they had filled out with freshly gathered wildflowers. It was beautiful and they seemed to know what they were doing. It was very tasty and we all lived.

    1. I looked, but the only description of the flavor I could find is that they taste like peas. To my mind, that translates as ‘mild and bland.’ Our local foraging specialist says they’re slightly mucilaginous, but not so much so that they could be used as a thickening agent in stews and such.

      My introduction to tasty wildflowers came right here in my neighborhood. The woman who owns the picking farm I visit had me try borage. It was amazing. The leaves taste like cucumber, and the flowers are sweet. It’s a tea party in a plant.

      1. LOL, loving the idea of Borage being “a tea party in a plant” as that’s exactly how the pollinators view it as well! The garden plant one need only ‘plant’ once.

          1. Any possibility you might be up for giving us an ‘in person’ description of their flavour when your paths next cross Linda? Or any one of us here who might have the chance? (Somehow I just can’t imagine that flowers so lovely could be bland; )

    1. It’s always a pleasure to find the same species at different points in the life cycle, but finding color variation is even more of a treat. I’m glad you enjoy their pairing; like you, I was completely taken with those blue stamens.

  9. We have a species of these, Asiatic Dayflowers-Commelina communis, here in the yard that volunteered their participation in our gardens. We like them well enough but in WMass they are not native and some consider them invasive. They do crowd out a few others so I guess invasive here also. Love those curved stamens.

    1. When I bumped into C. communis in my reading, I smiled at the oft-offered advice to bag any clippings from the plant, or full plants pulled from the ground. They’re apparently one of those that will root anywhere, just because they can. It seems to be true across species, too, which explains why they spread so readily where they’re left undisturbed.

      In the second photo, I think the stamens look like ice tongs.

    1. It’s a ‘true blue,’ isn’t it? There’s no indication at all that it might swerve into lavender or pink if you turn your back on it. As for the blue stamens, they’re a perfect example of something I find, and then am not sure my eyes aren’t deceiving me. I browsed around and found other blue stamen photos, so they’re most assuredly real, although your suggestion of surreality is on target.

  10. I have always liked dayflowers. I very much like the beautiful blue of the flower. I used to see lots of these in bloom years ago when driving the countryside. Since I no longer go exploring I haven’t seen these little beauties in a long time.

    1. From what I’ve read, these are among the ‘least endangered’ wildflowers we have. They enjoy a variety of conditions, and reproduce so readily that plucking a basketful for dinner isn’t going to harm a thing. I’m not much of a forager, apart from dewberries and an occasional nibble on borage or clover, but it’s nice that these are so available for people who enjoy that sort of thing.

      I often see these even in our landscaped areas, so you might look among the hedges and such when you’re out doing even the most basic chores. I once found some blooming in a little patch of dirt at an HEB cart return spot.

  11. What a gorgeous shade of blue — and I especially like the one with the blue stamens! The white is attractive, too, but it doesn’t stand out nearly as much as its blue kin (well, I take that back — it probably does when surrounded by all that blue). Good capture, Linda!

    1. You’re right that context sometimes makes all the difference. Seeing a white dayflower in a sea of blue isn’t hard at all. It occurs to me that a photo of the white flower surrounded by the blue might have been nice, but the flowers are so small that I’m not sure it would have worked. Next time, I’ll try it.

      I’m generally not over-excited by blue, but this is a nice one. Others have mentioned how purely blue it is, without the hints of lavender or pink that sometimes appear in other flowers. Speaking of flowers, how are yours doing? Well, I hope.

      1. I continue to be amazed at my wildflower patch. I’ve got orange, pink, white, lilac, and even a blue, though I have no idea what each variety is, ha! I’ll have to do some research on that and see what I can learn.

  12. Interesting info on Linnaeus’s naming regarding the brothers. Guess not every name is physically descriptive but also just left to the perogative or sensibility of the namer. They are like morning glories in their longevity.

    1. I thought about beach morning glories and certain mallows as one-day bloomers, too. There must be many more. Another feature of these is their tendency to close early, like our Texas dandelions. See them in the morning, and a field is filled with blooms. By two or three in the afternoon, there’s not a flower to be seen. They’ve closed up shop — bankers hours for flowers!

      When I read about the source of the genus name, I wondered how many other people have been honored in that way. Many of the botanists make the list in species names, of course — Lindheimer, Drummond, and so on. But this genus name really is interesting. It amazes me to think of how well-connected all of those naturalists were in a time long before even telephones, let alone the internet and such. Of course, their postal system probably worked much better than ours!

      1. For a time the color variant of Ardea herodias, the Great Blue Heron said to be a mix of a Great Blue and a Great White, was called Ardea wurdemanni after Gustavus Wurdemann who first identified this variant in around 1837. Audubon first called the Great White Heron Ardea occidentalis but that fell to subspecies status when the general acceptance of color morph came about. Don’t know if wurdemanni is retained as a subspecies for the Wurdemann’s or not. Even if not at least Wurdemann is remembered in the common name for the white headed bird.

  13. Such fabulous and wonderfully diverse photos Linda; so glad you found these three in particular, as each one of them is distinct in not only colour, but also reproductive structure and now (after seeing the last, and definitely not the least photo) I wonder a little less about the ‘lesser’ petal’s form and function. So, Stamens like ice tongs to grip or to guide like the paddles on a pinball machine, or landing lights on a runway?

    1. The ice tong analogy had occurred to me, but not the pinball machine. That’s a good one. They could be landing lights, too, but now that I think of it, they seem more like the lighted wands that the runway personnel wield to guide the aircraft. In any event, the structure and the color(s) are equally pleasing, and finding such large colonies was a great deal of fun.

    1. While the plant breeders go about their business, Nature’s providing a bit of variety, too. I always enjoy exploring a large colony of any wildflower, just because there are bound to be some surprises.

    1. They do resemble spiderworts, which also are in the Commelinaceae. The species known as the Virginia dayflower has three blue petals more equal in size, which makes the comparison even more apt. I don’t think you’d want them in your garden, since they’re what sometimes is called “an enthusiastic grower,” but I have seen them used as a ground cover, and they’re beautiful.

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