A Little Spot of Sunshine

During a visit to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on September 29, 2019, I noticed a ditch filled with pretty yellow flowers. The colony was perhaps twenty feet long, and the low-growing plants held one bloom per stem. Less than an inch across, the combination of tiny ray flowers and conical disk flowers was cute as could be; the disk flowers reminded me of the radar domes found on boats.

As sometimes happens, it took time to identify the plant. It wasn’t until this fall that I recognized it as Opposite-leaf Spotflower. First named Anthemis repens by Walter Thomas in Flora Caroliniana in 1788, today it’s listed as Acmella oppositifolia (Lam.) R.K. Jansen var. repens or more simply as Acmella repens.

In the southern United States, Opposite-Leaf Spotflower grows on river banks, along pond edges, and in wet ditches. Its ability to survive occasional saltwater inundation no doubt helps it to thrive in Brazoria County, where I’ve now discovered it in every refuge, as well as in occasional country ditches.

As for identification, it was technology to the rescue. The only one of my field guides that mentions the plant is Ajilvsgi’s Wildflowers of Texas — where it’s called Creeping Spotflower — but I missed finding it there, and various keyword searches online didn’t turn it up. I tucked its photo into the “Unidentified Plants” file on my computer, where it lingered for months.

Then, after downloading the app called Picture This to my first iPhone, I decided to try taking a photo of the flower: not from its natural location, but from my computer file. Within seconds I had a name, and in only a minute or two more I’d found its image and details on a multitude of sites. It was a delicious irony. My pretty yellow phone — which I’ve named ‘Sunshine’ — had allowed me to spot the pretty yellow Spotflower at last.

 

Comments always are welcome.

56 thoughts on “A Little Spot of Sunshine

    1. One of the things I’ve found is that if I ask someone, “What is this?” and they tell me, I may have the answer to my specific question, but I’ve missed out on all the learning that comes with a multitude of ‘dead ends.’ After all, knowing what something ‘isn’t’ can be as important as knowing what something ‘is’!

        1. Finding it was delightful. What’s interesting is that I’ve not seen the plants again in that initial location. A fellow in Missouri who found a colony behind his barn reported the same phenomenonl; one year they were there, and the next few they weren’t. Given its preference for wet ground, drier years could be the explanation.

          Apparently there are other apps that serve the same purpose, but this one came highly rated. I started out by using it to ID about thirty plants I already knew, and it missed on only a couple of them. I was surprised to find it could do fairly well with leaves, too.

  1. I loved this sunshine adventure, Linda — the beautiful flowers and your appreciation of them, the search for their name, and then the revelation from your Sunshine phone.

    1. For a variety of reasons, I’d resisted purchasing a smart phone; then, a friend showed me the Picture This app on her phone, and its obvious usefulness pushed me over the edge. I don’t use the phone for photos, and don’t often use the app in the field, but it certainly has helped to clear out my “unidentified” file. It’s not completely dependable; sometimes I know perfectly well that its ID is wrong, but it’s still a useful tool.

      What’s most amusing is how often I see the Spotflower now, even though I went for nearly a year without seeing it again. It’s said to be somewhat erratic in its appearance, but I suspect my newly trained eye is the reason I’m seeing it more often.

  2. Till I got to your description I assumed from the picture that the flower head was bigger, probably because of that heaped-up disk. Upon checking the USDA map and then Bill Carr’s Travis County Plant List, I found that this species grows in Austin, though it’s not common except in a few localities. I’ve never seen it.

    1. It really likes water. In fact, many sites list it as an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant that thrives as long as it has full or partial sun and plenty of water. That probably explains why I’ve seen it only in ditches or in very low and muddy areas around ponds or sloughs.

      I noticed it in Travis County, and Bexar County, too. I’ve wondered from time to time whether plants that seem to ‘skip’ a few counties in order to emerge there are helped along by Austin and San Antonio’s dedication to native plants. It makes sense to me that places like the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center could help spread natives that might otherwise not appear in the area.

  3. I was JUST about to take a photo of the flower with my Picture This app! Ha! I find it very useful (although occasionally wildly off-base, which I attribute to poor photography, not the app).

    Such a lovely cheerful flower! It would definitely make me smile if I saw a ditch full of them.

    1. Don’t blame the photographer too quickly. The app’s useful, but I consider it a starting point. One thing I’ve learned to do is take three or four photos of the same plant from several angles. If I get the same ID from them all, that’s great. If a couple of plants (or more) are suggested, I’ll take photos of the leaves, or other obvious features. And there are times when I know darned well that the app is wrong, even when it tells me that a Silphium is a sunflower six times in a row. Trust but verify, that’s my approach.

      But, cheerful? You bet. We don’t need an app to identify that!

    1. ‘Jaunty’ is a great word. I’m always surprised by how commanding the presence of some of these tiny flowers can be. It’s also interesting that so many of them are vividly colored: no doubt to increase their attractiveness to pollinators. These certainly shine.

  4. It is a pretty little thing — and yellow is such a cheery color. I’m always impressed by the amount of research you do to bring us these interesting beauties, Linda — thank you.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed mysteries and puzzles, and there are mysteries and puzzles galore in the plant world. One thing I’ve noticed is that the more I learn, the easier identification becomes. Plants live in families as well as belonging to a genus and species, and being able to spot a plant’s family is a huge help. This little spotflower, with its combination of ray and disk flowers, belongs to the same family as sunflowers — that family resemblance is obvious, and it offered a place to start.

  5. What a perky little blossom. Tiny things are so easy to overlook, unless they’re massed together.

    Isn’t it wonderful when you solve a mystery?

    1. This plant’s similar to coneflowers and such in another way. That central disk grows as the plant matures. Now that I’ve seen them just beginning to bloom, with the center disk still flat as a pancake, I see how I could have confused them with other flowers that are common around here.

      But, yes. Solving these mysteries is as much fun as finding the flowers.

  6. Your little Spotflower really is a ray of sunshine! I don’t have an Iphone, I wonder if there’s something similar for Android? I have mixed luck with i Naturalist. It’s a little like going into a book store or library, or even a nursery and getting sidetracked by all the other interesting things–I get lost. I was happy to correctly (I think!) identify Prairie Broomweed growing in Lost Maples. I knew it was an aster plant and simply scrolled through the LBJWC photos of asters (lots of ’em!) until I found it.

    1. There are several apps for Android, and Picture This is one of the them. There’s a seven day free trial, and then there’s a cost. It’s pricier than some, but since it’s a one-time cost, I went ahead and bit, and I’m glad I did. During the trial period, I took a lot of photos of plants I already knew, just to see how well it worked, and as I recall it only missed on two of thirty IDs. That was good enough for me. It’s nice to use for confirmation, as well as for identifying totally strange plants.

      You’re right about the broomweed. I don’t ever see it around here, but I have plenty of photos of it from the Kerrville/Medina/Bandera area, which is just down the road from Lost Maples. It grows around Goliad, too. It’s a pretty little thing and blooms well into the fall.

    1. The phone isn’t just yellow, it’s a delicate, appealing shade of lemon yellow: not at all in-your-face and cartoonish. The flower’s much more vibrant; its yellow carries some hints of orange, and it really shines.

  7. Sunshine is a very appropriate name – but yes, we are lucky to have modern technology to help with identification. Uploads to iNaturalist often get almost-instant results, and I am forever grateful for those who know more than I – when standard research fails me.

    Picture this sounds like a nice option!

    1. I can well imagine that iNaturalist serves you well in your somewhat unusual circumstances. I’ve not made much use of it in the past, for a variety of reasons, but I am going to post an unusual (for me) plant in the next little while, just to see if what Picture This told me about it is true. Having multiple sources always is a good idea, whether tracking down an internet rumor or trying to identify a plant!

  8. Beautiful little flower. And those apps really do work. I have an android and use the plant search provided by Google. I was very surprised that it seems to be just about fool proof but I could be mistaken.

    1. Even if the apps aren’t pefect, they’re a great help. Having a place to start with totally unfamiliar plants is especially nice in east Texas, where I’m wandering quite new territory and often don’t have even a first clue about what I’m seeing. I just noticed today that there’s a similar app for identifying mushrooms. If I lived in east Texas and was wandering the woods consistently, I might give that one a try, too. If there’s anything harder to figure out than a plant, it just might be a mushroom– or a lichen, or a moss.

  9. That is a cutie, for sure. Isn’t the internet amazing? Be warned, though, I’ve found the app is a bit flawed. It works great if the photo is a very good one and the plant is common, but if the pic is fuzzy or the plant is uncommon, not so good. I expect with time, as more folks put in more photos, the data bank will grow.

    1. Well, I’m not one who insists on perfection in all things, so a slightly flawed app is fine by me. Besides, as I mentioned elsewhere, ‘trust, but verify’ is a good practice even with plant identification. I will say that I was greatly impressed when the app properly identified the Triantha genus last weekend. I’d found T. racemosa rather than T. glutinosa, but you can bet I never would have known where to start otherwise!

  10. That flower picture would be lovely blown up to about 3′ x 5′ and displayed in a place where the yellow would brighten folks’ mood. So you have succumbed to the iNvasion as well. Resistance is, apparently, futile.

    1. I didn’t exactly succumb. Between friends’ and customers’ clear preference for text communication rather than email or phone, and the advantages of the plant identification app, it was time. I will say that moving from a Samsung flip phone to the iPhone was akin to moving from Vista/dialup/CRT to Win10/broadband/flat screen. “Oh!” she said. “Would you look at that.”

      You want cheerful? Knit a hat like that! I know, I know. Back burner, and all that. Still.

    1. Mindless acceptance of every bit of tech that comes down the road is silly — but so is mindless refusal of every bit of tech! I always said that I’d move to a smart phone when I could see a use for it, and I finally did.

  11. A 20-foot long bed of bright yellow!
    Happiness.
    That’s a superb photograph. I’d be tempted to name the bloom “Yellow-eyed Susan”, but I really like Spotflower much better.

    I was told I didn’t qualify for a “Smart” phone. They said there was not even an “app” to overcome my negative intelligence potential. Sigh. Thank goodness for printed field guides and the kindness of folks such as yourself.

    There may be a Texas turkey in our near future.

    1. I haven’t yet figured out how ‘spotflower’ got its name, unless that vibrant color makes it easy to spot. What really intrigued me was finding it recommended as a ground cover. It’s low growing enough that it probably would do well for anyone with wet spots (!) on their property.

      You can’t fool me. You’re a walking field guide yourself. Smart phones and smart people are all ok by me — it’s the smart-alecks I can’t abide.

      The only thing better than a Texas turkey might be Turkey, Texas — where Bob Wills is still the king. If you’re in the area, or visiting any of your favorite spots (Attwater? Bolivar?) I’ll be around and could be persuaded to drive a bit.

    1. There’s something so cheering about yellow, and I’m always fond of the tiny flowers. Now that I can recognize this one, I hope to find more patches of it next year.

    1. We have at least one more warm and pleasant week ahead of us. It’s so lovely it’s hard for me to grasp that it’s already snowing in places — but it is nearly mid-November. Our gray and drizzly will be here soon enough. There’s still a good bit of color, although these little beauties seem to be mostly gone.

  12. Such a lovely little flower and surprising that it hasn’t earned the fame of plant guides. I’ve done the same, photographing an unknown on my monitor and then giving it to an app, iNaturalist in my case, for an ID. I do it more with insects and it’s accuracy is not always reliable but gets one close to genus at least. Congrats on your new iPhone which seems the right color and aptly named for identifying this pretty yellow bit of sunshine.

    1. When I bought the phone, they tried their darndest to get me to buy one in either black or white; I presume those were the colors they had in stock. Of course you know I wasn’t going black or white — I had to have color, and the yellow was perfect. It had to be special ordered, but when it arrived it was exactly what I’d hoped for: how often does that happen?

      I’ve been surprised a few times by the non-inclusion of certain plants in the guides. Of course they can’t include everything, so decisions have to be made. One solution is having plenty of field guides. I’ve found that older ones sometimes include plants that aren’t in newer books, and local guides (akin to projects on iNaturalist) can be really helpful. As for the app, I was lucky enough to experience just how wrong it can be early one. It confused a salt marsh succulent with a red maple, and insisted on doing to despite repeated tries. Even I can tell the difference between a maple and a succulent; as I mentioned to someone else, ‘trust, but verify’ seems to be the better part of wisdom when it comes to any of the ID tools.

    1. Somehow I missed knowing that iNaturalist has an app as well as the website. I just read through a list of reviews, both positive and negative, and it seems that some (most?) of the complaints are from people who want to keep and categorize their photos on their phones: app runs slowly, won’t upload, gets buggy even after clearing cache, etc. I’ll take a look at it, although I’ll probably stay with what I have. So far, it seems to serve my purposes well.

    1. It has an annual fee of $29.95 — call it $30. So far, I’ve been very pleased with it, and consider it money well spent. The iNaturalist app is free, and I’m going to give it a try, too, but I really like the convenience and simplicity of Picture This. It doesn’t get everything right, but where it’s come up with a wrong ID, I’ve either known or suspected it right away. It’s been very good with leaves, seed heads, and buds, too, which sort of surprised me.

      An advantage of the iNaturalist app is that it also can be used to identify insects and such. You’re not confined just to plants.

    1. It sure is! It has that sunflower-like ability to make me smile every time I look at it. They’re so small that they’re easy to miss alongside the road, but when there’s a nice patch of them, they’re vibrant as can be.

  13. Identifying species can be so difficult sometimes. There are times I post without knowing what something is. I’ve have some luck doing what you did after someone told me about the app, Seek by iNaturalist. As you said in a comment above, it doesn’t always get it right, but it often points me in the right direction and with a little extra online research I can narrow it down further. Or course, even with all this technological help I’m often still unable to ID things. But it’s fun trying and learning. Beautiful photo, by the way! I love the other flowers in the background. :-)

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