A Last (Prim)rose of Summer

Mexican Primrose-willow buds

Our native Mexican Primrose-willow (Ludwigia octovalvis) is widely distributed: so much so that it’s as likely to be found in Samoa or Singapore as in the southern U.S.  Its flowers certainly recall other primrose species, while its slender leaves suggest the water-loving willows found along the banks of ponds and streams.

Primrose-willow begins flowering in June or early July and continues well into November: bearing buds, blooms, and seed capsules simultaneously. On October 31, new flowers were developing on a multitude of plants I found in wet areas of the Big Thicket, including the Watson Rare Plant Preserve.

A bud that suggests an especially prim rose

Once the flower is pollinated, its petals, style, and stamens fall away, leaving the four triangular sepals shown in the upper right of the photo below. As the plant ages and seeds develop, both sepals and stems develop a pleasing reddish color that contrasts nicely with the pretty yellow flowers.

Several Luwigia species serve as larval hosts for the Banded Sphinx Moth  (Eumorpha fasciatus) and the Primrose Flea Beetle(Altica litigata).   A variety of butterflies visit the plant, including this Gulf Fritillary that paused for a photo session alongside Village Creek near Kountze, Texas.


Comments always are welcome.

60 thoughts on “A Last (Prim)rose of Summer

    1. After reading your comment, it occurred to me that ‘from bud to butterfly’ would have been a perfect title. It’s also the botanical equivalent of ‘from soup to nuts.’

        1. It’s a phrase I remember from childhood, so it’s been around for a while. As you probably read, American usage dates to the late 1800s or so, but I found this interesting: “The term ‘from soup to nuts’ also has its roots in the Latin term ab ovo usque ad mala which means from egg to apple, the first and last foods served in a Roman multi-course meal.

    1. I thought of your love of butterflies while I was deciding which images to post. I checked the USDA map and found that the plant is listed for your county, even though none of the surrounding counties show it. I vaguely remembered us talking about water lilies, so I checked for water lilies, too, and sure enough — they’re listed for McLennan county, too.

      I really was intrigued at that point, so I looked at a map of Waco, and found that you have Lake Waco as well as the Brazos River. On the north end of Lake Waco, on the Bosque River, there are the Lake Waco wetlands. If I wanted to see water lilies and Mexican primrose-willow, that’s the first place I’d go.

      1. Yes you are correct about the wetlands of Lake Waco. I have not gone to visit the wetlands since a few years after I retired I developed the heart issue and no longer have the stamina to do things that I had hoped for with retirement. I just take pleasure in reading and viewing material posted by others people such as you, Linda.

        1. We all have limitations of one sort or another. One of mine is that I can’t yet retire, so the kind of traveling I’d like to do is impossible. That said, there are plenty of things to enjoy closer to home; I’m glad you enjoy them, too.

    1. Thanks so much, Derrick. Of course you know my trick for posting reliably beautiful images; I rarely post the ugly ones. Even a rotting fungi or hairy spider has to please my eye before it gets to go on stage!

    1. Thank you, Sherry. I’m off today to spend some time with some companion plants to this one that I didn’t expect to see when I found the Primrose-willow. I was especially pleased with the backgrounds of the first three photos. They reminded me of some of your art, although I managed them in-camera.

    1. Many thanks, David. There are some autumn colors here, too, although not in a form we usually think of. Down here, we take our reds where we find them. The red and yellow combination pleases me.

  1. That’s an enticing view from the tip of an unspiraling bud, one I’ve not seen in this species.

    Fortunately for you as a photographer, the fritillary wasn’t a flitillary—at least not till after you’d gotten your picture.

    Your “prim rose” may be etymologically equivalent to “primrose” and “prime rose.” The American Heritage Dictionary posits that prim is “possibly from obsolete prim, formal or demure person, perhaps from Old French prin, first, delicate.”

    1. I was lucky to find that bud at the edge of a boardwalk, which gave me a chance to sit down at flower-level and mess around. It reminded me of a rosebud, and that was enough to entice me to spend some extra time with it.

      ‘Prim and proper’ was an expression I grew up with; ‘prim’ still evokes white wrist-length gloves and crossed ankles for me. On the other hand, ‘prim’ and ‘schoolmarm’ go together in my mind as easily as pursed lips and round, frameless glasses. The thought of a prim rose amused me no end, since there’s nothing at all prim about this plant’s flowers or growth habits.

  2. I’ve missed a few of your posts as I still can’t access this on my desktop, only my phone but I’ve caught up now. I used to have the water primrose growing in my ditch when I lived in the Heights. And I’ve been seeing fritillaries in the yard. Even saw a buckeye yesterday though it’s wings were a little tattered.

    1. I just hate that you’ve still not been able to see these photos on your desktop. I can’t imagine what the problem could be. If you wanted to send me you email, I could email a blog photo or two to you. If you could see them full-sized that way, I could email you the images each time I post. It wouldn’t take any time at all, and it might satisfy your artist’s eye.

      I was surprised to find such a perfect fritillary. Most of the butterflies I’m seeing now have clearly been flitting around for a while. Sometimes it surprises me that they’re still flying, their wings are so tattered.

      1. Yours isn’t the only site I’m getting the unsafe message on. It seems to be happening more frequently, even on the website for Paragon kilns. But most times it lets me go anyway just not to yours or an occasional other. I figure it has to do with my 12+ year old desktop and old operating system it won’t let me upgrade anymore. Anyway, thanks for the offer. Let me see if I can email a picture to myself first.

  3. Wow, what a beautiful flower it opens into. I really like how you’ve shown some of the different stages of bloom, that’s always interesting to see. And of course a butterfly is always a welcome addition.

    1. It hadn’t occurred to me until a year or so ago that our late-blooming flowers and the various migrations occur together; all those butterflies and birds need something to sustain them, after all.
      And it is a beautiful flower. I really enjoy seeing the different stages on the same plant. As our temperatures cool, it will continue to bloom, but the red will become more vibrant, and to my eye more attractive.

    1. You may have surmised this, but I decided not to add the detail to the post. This flower has an inferior ovary; the long, reddish tube beneath the sepals is where the seeds develop. I know I saw a photo of the seeds; they’re quite tiny and round. As a matter of fact, one of the common names of the plant is ‘seedbox,’ and more than a few garden sites caution that the plant ‘reseeds readily’!

  4. Linda, that’s a pretty flower, and it’s nice to hear that it’s still blooming. Gives me hope that the snows will hold off a bit longer, ha! And I find that a very interesting butterfly. Google tells me its habitat doesn’t extend this far north, so it’s no wonder I guess that I’ve never seen one.

    1. It’s another of our plants that helps to feed bees and migrating butterflies. It’s fun for us to have color so late into the year, but it’s critical for the insects to have food, and these flowers help to provide it.

      There are other species of fritillary that live in your area, including the Great Spangled Fritillary. I still remember finding that one at my aunt’s place in Kansas. It was similar enough to our Gulf Fritillary for me to be able to recognize it, but different enough that I knew it wasn’t ours. The detail in the article I linked that amazed me was that the caterpillars of your fritillary only eat violets. Apparently their relationship to the plant is akin to the Monarch/milkweed association.

  5. I like that photo of the just-opened bud. It looks like a box of something yellow and silky that you’ve just taken the lid off. I’m not much of a fan of yellow, but I could like that delicate, rich hue.

    1. It is a pretty yellow. Generally, I’m most fond of lemon-chiffon pie yellow, but this one is equally attractive. Catching any bud in the process of opening is a real treat; I like your image of this one as a newly-opened gift. (Which is was, now that I think about it.)

    1. I love a nice bud, and this one was wonderful in its complexity. The contrast in textures even in the bud stage was especially nice. Everything seems to fit, which is just how it should be for a ‘prim’ little flower.

    1. They’re quite small, too. The flowers are only about an inch across or so: maybe a little larger. They have such a nice way of opening — like morning glories, or hibiscus. Iris, too. They tend to be a lighter yellow when they’re fully open, but that saturated yellow of the bud is glorious.

  6. That’s a pretty flowers, love the pure gold! Very nice set of photos, Linda. I was trying to pick a favorite and can’t!. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this lovely before. It’s been a good autumn for frittilaries; they’re hanging around what’s left of my passion flower vine.

    1. This shows up on the maps not only in Travis County, but in all the surrounding counties, too. I’ll bet if you do a search on Steve’s blog, you’ll find multiple entries with locations that might be close to you. I know he’s posted photos of this one — maybe even multiple times.

      I’ve still been seeing Monarchs — especially in the trees at the San Bernard refuge. That surprised me, but I guess they have to rest somewhere.

    1. The Bard always has an appropriate word, doesn’t he? Unfortunately, I can’t remember this primrose having any scent at all, sweet or otherwise, so no matter what name we gave it, it would have to depend on its appearance for our admiration.

    1. There were butterflies galore that day, although most were skippers or other very small species, and they all were quite flitty. I do think that this flower must be nectar rich, because all of the butterflies stayed for some time at each bloom. With some flowers, they barely pause — it makes for colorful blurs, but not much sense of the butterfly’s true appearance.

      1. It’s a lovely, graceful-looking flower made all the more special by its value to butterflies….and obviously a pleasure to be around!

        1. It’s one of those plants that’s willing to set up shop anywhere. The first time I saw it, it was growing in a ditch at the intersection of two country roads. I had no idea what it was, but that combination of bright yellow and red was irresistable. Of course I slammed on the brakes and went back — that’s one of the advantages of sticking to the country roads. There’s no one who’s going to rear-end you when you make a sudden stop.

    1. This is the first year I’ve noticed cotton flowers blooming. I had read that they change colors, and I’ve been hoping to catch that, but it just didn’t happen this year. There were a multitude of fields planted in cotton, though, and it seems from the number of covered bales that the harvest must have been good. Next year!

      Speaking of insects, my next post is going to show what I first thought was the world’s largest aerial spider web — except it wasn’t! I think tree-loving you will enjoy it.

    1. More luck than patience with this butterfly, Jeanie — unless just hanging around to see who shows up counts for patience. It’s rare this time of year to see one that’s unblemished. The ones I notice usually have missing scales or tattered wings, but this one was fresh as could be. Maybe that’s why it paused so long — it was showing off.

  7. What a lovely set of photographs!

    It is all too easy to overlook capturing the budding phase of a flower. Thank you for your patience and attention to detail! The petals always appear to me as if the artist took a pencil and added just the right amount of shading to provide a three-dimensional look.

    Florida has over 30 species of Ludwigia and I suspect Texas has at least that many. That’s good news for potential pollinators, potential picture-takers and a few of us who just love seeing great splashes of yellow in our great outdoors!

    1. There aren’t so many species here. A quick look at the BONAP maps showed fourteen or so. Still, where conditions are favorable, they certainly do flourish and, as you say, add a nice yellow obbligato to nature’s melody. It’s an especially nice yellow, too, with just enough texture to the petals to suggest that three-dimensional look.

      I really enjoy the buds of most flowers. I suppose it’s partly the symmetry and partly the peek-a-boo effect. The tiny bit of color showing through is just so charming. Of course, the fully-blooming flower has its own charms — especially for the butterflies and other insects who stop by for a visit.

    1. It was later in the afternoon when I found them, and that helped the color to really shine. I’ve tried photographing these in the late morning or early afternoon, and if the day is sunny, the color tends to wash out. I do enjoy yellow roses, and these make a fine substitute for them!

    1. I found these at the edge of the pond at the Watson Refuge, where the pitcher plants appeared to be regenerating. New ones were everywhere. I was so surprised to find them I went over to the pitcher plant trail in the Big Thicket yesterday. There weren’t so many there, but there were other delights including a couple of plants I’d never before encountered: red chokeberry and what I’m almost certain was sticky tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa). That one’s listed as present but rare, and it’s only shown in the Big Thicket. Some photos on iNaturalist show it growing in tandem with pitcher plants, so… Do you know it? or have you found it?

      1. Now I’m sure I found it, but it’s a different species: Coastal false aspodel, T. racemosa. There’s one sighting listed on iNaturalist in almost exactly the same spot — CR 4850 near the pitcher plant trail. I’m going to put it up on the site and see if I can get a confirmation.

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