No Crocus? No Problem!

Spring’s spiderwort

Oddly, perhaps, I can’t remember ever seeing crocuses in bloom. Years ago in Iowa, tulips were the preferred spring flower. Today, Gulf coast garden gurus advise that growing crocuses is fraught with so many difficulties — especially our heat and humidity — that failure is almost guaranteed, and that probably explains why I’ve never seen one here.

No matter. Even as more northerly gardeners begin posting photos of their glorious crocuses, several species of our native spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.) have begun to shine. On March 6, I found these newly emerged plants at Brazos Bend State Park, blooming in the midst of a dewberry thicket. The mixture of pink, blue, and lavender flowers was lovely.

After deciding that I’d found T. ohiensis, the so-called Ohio spiderwort, I learned an interesting detail about that species: “When touched in the heat of the day, the flowers shrivel to a fluid jelly.” That helps to explain why the edges of the pink pair shown above seemed to be liquifying in the noontime sun.

With their open structure and obvious pollen, the flowers were drawing a substantial number of hoverflies and metallic bees. The insects were able to navigate easily through the dewberry vines encasing the still-short flowers. In time, taller plants will make it easier for a photographer.

Still, even at ground level it was possible to record one of the most appealing features of spiderworts: their feathery stamens. Color-coordinated with the petals, they’re one of the prettiest sights of spring.

Comments always are welcome.

70 thoughts on “No Crocus? No Problem!

    1. Each lasts only a day, and they begin to close early. After I took these photos, I wandered off for an hour or so, and then looped back on the same trail. In only that hour, they had faded and shriveled, and looked like little globs of color. I need to remember to look for them earlier in the morning.

    1. That’s right. Someone mentioned that they’re edible, and when I checked out the Foraging Texas site, I found they’re not only edible, they’re useful. For one thing, the slime from a cut stem can ease insect bites.

      As for croaking, I nearly croaked when I saw how much the tickets to SXSW cost. A ‘music badge’ is $1595, and even an online pass is $519. I’ll head down to our local ice house, thank you very much. There’s good music there, too, and no cover charge.

  1. I really like spiderworts too, though I must confess that I do not think of them as an early spring flower. I love the way that you were able to capture the wonderful details of the spiderworts in your shots, particularly in the final photo.

    1. I had to smile at your comment. I don’t think of these are early spring flowers, either, but we’re almost past what could be called early spring. Strawberry picking has commenced, the dewberries are blooming, and there are acres of buttercups flowering. After this weekend’s cold front, I suspect we’ll be done with true cold for the year. I sure hope so.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. They were worth working for, despite the thorny vines!

      1. We are still in early spring, I’d say, and there is even the chance of snow in the forecast for tomorrow. Still, the temperatures are getting warmer and it won’t be long before the trees start to blossom.

          1. We are kind of in the middle of the mid-Atlantic region. We definitely have four seasons and the winters are sometimes a bit harsh–we’ve had a bit over a foot of snow this winter.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed them. They were a bit of a surprise when I found them, but they brightened my day, too. We have more ‘cold’ weather on the way, but no snow or ice. When do you usually begin to see ‘real’ spring?

    1. Every time I look at their stamens, I imagine a feather boa. If someone cast Gypsy with all flowers, don’t you think this one could play the starring role?

  2. We don’t have crocuses in our garden but most of the neighbours seem to have them so I expect to be seeing them soon. They are very hardy plants. The temperature has gone above freezing for several days in a row and the snow is disappearing quickly. The farmers are starting to tap the maples and the smoke is pouring from the chimneys of the sugar shacks, and we are keeping our eye on a certain part of the backyard where we have Snowdrops – soon to start poking through the soil I hope.

    1. The thought of maple syrup is almost as delicious as its taste! I know very little about the process of creating maple syrup, but I imagine there are similarities to the making of cane syrup in Louisiana. And as beautiful as your winter is, it must be a bit of a relief to see it giving way to snowdrops and crocuses instead of snowflakes. It certainly will make your birding excursions easier; people who are a bit less hardy than you and Miriam may begin joining you again — another sign of spring!

  3. Delightful info and photos of spiderwort, Linda. And you’re right, the stamens are lovely. I wondered if the stamens of spiderwort are used similarly to the stamens of crocus (i.e. saffron); looked it up and this one source said spiderwort was edible. Interesting flower, thank you for the introduction.

    1. A site I often use, Foraging Texas, says that all parts of the plant are edible, although he prefers the flowers and buds. Apparently you can use the stems like okra, to thicken dishes, and there are a variety of medicinal uses. The plants usually are much taller than these, so I hope to find some with flower clusters that are easier to photograph.

  4. You’re right, Linda. These are lovely! I’ve never tried to grow crocus, and I’m surprised they’re touted as being so difficult. One of my neighbors had them and, despite never messing with them at all, they popped up right on time — and deliciously purple!

    1. They’re almost impossible to grow in my area, but that has to do with our local conditions — especially the heat and humidity. The farther north you’d go — like up to Dallas — they do much better. Not every plant likes every location. My mother loved bright red geraniums, but down here, geraniums are winter flowers. When summer comes, they don’t do well at all. Mom tried to compensate by bringing hers into the air conditioning to keep them cool through the summer, but it wasn’t very successful!

      1. My mom loved geraniums, too. Those and Impatiens. She used to be quite successful at over-wintering them, and it was nice having color inside when everything was white outdoors!

  5. I’ve got spiderwort in my yard. Literally.

    I planted some years ago in one of my flower beds because I like it. It is easy to grow, has lovely blooms that the bumblebees just love but it does spread like wildfire. It just pops up all over. I don’t really care. Hubby just mows it down. It’s not like we’ll ever get “Yard of the Month,” anyway. LOL

    1. There’s nothing like a pretty flower that likes to run amok. Who knows? If you could get Himself to stop mowing, maybe you would get yard of the month; everyone would be so impressed by your floral display, they’d have no choice but to give it to you!

      One of the things I like best about it is the color variations that can pop up. There’s a vacant house in a nearby town that doesn’t often get its yard mowed, and I’ve found white ones there. I’m keeping an eye on it, hoping that some will reappear this year.

    1. That’s right. The individual flowers last only a day, but the plants keep producing blooms for months — and they’re willing to set up shop just about anywhere. I’ve seen them around bait camps and at the edge of gas station parking lots. They’re not fussy!

    1. I love their colors, and those stamens are just the best! Not only that, they’re tough as can be. Any flower willing to set up shop in the middle of a briar patch is to be admired.

    1. How far north were you? Huntsville? The Sam Houston statue? Have you heard of Helen Lee’s daffodil gardens? I tried to go a couple of times, but there had been so much rain they were closed. I suppose it’s a little late now, but I might give them a call anyway. If things were in full bloom, it would be quite a sight.

  6. I’m glad you have them. I’ve remembered my mother’s purple crocus poking up through the last snow of winter, so twice I tried growing them here, but no luck. I even tried to fool them with putting ice on them.

    1. You have the same problem with the crocus that we do: heat and humidity. Even though we get significant cold spells from time to time, apparently we don’t get the consistent cold that the flowers prefer. You tried ice; my mother tried bringing her geraniums into the air conditioning to keep them through the summer. It didn’t work.

  7. Spiderwort are great flowers and it’s interesting to see the lilac-pink shades. As Eliza says, the crocuses we have here are lovely, but fleeting and collapse like gauze soon after they’ve fully opened.

    1. These don’t last much longer. Each flower opens early in the day, and begins shriveling a few hours later. When I passed by these about an hour after taking their photos, they already had descended into little globs of color. Thank goodness they keep producing new blooms each day.

  8. Iowa! You’ve brought up my old stomping grounds. And yes – we do love our tulips there. My crocus should be coming up soon I’m keeping a weather eye on the yard.

    1. March always the month of the last great blizzard of winter when I was living there. It took me a while to adjust to things down here! My favorite tulip memory involves those flowers in full bloom on Easter — with only the ‘cups’ showing above a late snow that had piled up around them. I hope your crocus don’t suffer the same fate! (Although, if they do, they’ll survive as well as the tulips.)

      1. Oh yes we always got a March blizzard and often times an April one too! Luckily in Indiana we didn’t get any April snow last year. I’m in CA right now but I’m anxious to see how all my bulbs are looking when I get back this weekend!

    1. If your prairie spiderwort is Tradescantia occidentalis, it’s another that we share. I’ve seen it a few times; it caught my eye because of its height and a profusion of blooms. When I found one of my photos, I saw it was taken on March 3. Either I’m not getting out enough, or things are substantially later this year; there are a lot of flowers I photographed in early March in 2019 that seem to be delayed. We still could be experiencing the after-effects of last year’s freeze.

      1. It IS Tradescantia occidentalis! Their bloom time here is June and July, but often they bloom much longer and occasionally start sooner. I assume there are some normal fluctuations, but it’s easy to imagine that a severe freeze like last year’s would have extraordinary effects.
        Wishing us both many beautiful blossoms,

  9. Fascinating about the “jellyification” of the flowers. I’d heard of plants or flowers that have strange reactions to being touched, but this is the first I’d heard that do that. I love the colors here, and the little details of each flower.

    1. Another phenomenon I love is the tendency of certain white flower petals to become translucent when wet. The so-called skeleton flower may be the best example. It’s not native here, but I’ve seen the same phenomenon with one or two of our natives. There’s so much to see out there!

    1. Various articles I read mentioned their tendency to hybridize. I suppose that helps to account for the variety of pinks, purples, and blues that can be found — often right next to each other.

    1. They’re showoffs, that’s for sure. Still, any plant that can combine hardiness with beauty deserves accolades — and people willing to leave it alone so it can flourish. Those stamens just knock me out. I never get tired of looking at them!

  10. Lovely photos, but these lovelies beg to be photographed! Mine are up and blooming, but we’re expected in the high 20s tonight, so they’ll have to start over…again! Boo! I’m not ready for the hot, but I’m so tired of the freezes!

    1. I’m with you when it comes to being tired of the cold. We don’t have a freeze predicted, but with the strong wind, anything in the thirties is obnoxious enough. The birds and squirrels certainly are shivering — although I suppose they’re not as cold as I think they are. I was going through my archives, and in 2019 and 2022 there were flowers of every sort blooming by mid-March. I haven’t seen them yet, although I’ve not been roaming as widely. Still, I think last February’s freeze still is affecting us.

  11. I love these spiderworts! I had one in the garden in Scotland that did OK but haven’t been able to keep them alive here. I suspect it’s too hot and dry – shame!

    1. There’s a prairie spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) that’s more common west and north of me. It likes dry conditions, and drier soils. I wonder if it would work for you? I have seen it, and it bears a lot of flowers over a two or three month period. Those flowers are just as pretty as these, for sure!

    1. And isn’t it fun that the colors of these flowers also showed up in the frosting on your cake? It’s the Universe, doing its serentipitous thing again!

    1. I found a couple of notes that these have a tendency to hybridize. I suppose that helps to explain the subtle range of colors. I’ve seen everything from deep blue-purple to a kind of pinky-blue. They’re all beautiful.

    1. There weren’t many, but they sure were pretty. I’ve seen a very few others, but it seems that they’re generally much later than usual this year. The others couldn’t have numbered more than a dozen, and the vacant lots where they were thick in 2019 and 2020 still aren’t showing a single bloom.

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