Nature’s Alchemy

Even in a post-freeze year marked by continuing drought, Texas wildflowers can put on quite a show. It’s tradition here to set aside at least one spring weekend for “going to see the flowers,” and last weekend was mine.

Many consider our fields of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush to be iconic, but they’re often rivaled by other wildflowers. The Christian City Fellowship, a large congregation between Sealy and Bellville, has allowed acres of flowers to bloom on their property; the huge patch of yellow flowers there certainly caught my eye.

After a quick U-turn, I pulled into a parking lot at the back of the church and found myself gazing at the largest colony of Nueces Coreopsis (Coreopsis neucensoides) I’ve ever seen. With its pretty red detailing and frilly ray florets, it’s an especially attractive flower, but the history of the field was equally compelling.

The church was open, so I ventured inside to ask permission to roam the property. A young man offered permission with a smile, then mentioned that the flowers had changed dramatically. In past years, the fields had been covered with bluebonnets. This year, only an occasional bluebonnet bloomed amid the coreopsis; Nature as alchemist had transformed blue into gold.

Was the change due to last year’s freeze? Had drought played a role? Whatever the reason for the change, the result was beautiful, and I lingered a good while luxuriating in the sight — until I remembered that bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush were waiting down the road.

Nueces Coreopsis


Comments always are welcome.

66 thoughts on “Nature’s Alchemy

  1. Wish you could see the pasture in Katy! Even the barbed wire on the posts are transformed by the sea of gold. Thanks for taking me to a place I cannot visit now.

    1. This field of flowers was quite a surprise. One of the delightful characteristics of our spring wildflowers is their willingness to set up shop anywhere that people allow them to do so: no ‘formal’ prairie or preserve is necessary. The most extensive and most dense collection of our native Texas dandelion I’ve seen this year is in a wide utility easement I pass every day on my day to work — such fun.

    1. I was amazed, Gerard. It was my first highway U-turn of the year, and it was well worth it. There were a few scattered bluebonnets, toadflax, and phlox scattered among the coreopsis, but the impression of solid gold was overwhelming.

  2. That field’s a great find, and the result of a remarkable transformation away from bluebonnets. As you already know, I found colonies of Nueces coreopsis northwest of Bellville but didn’t venture south of US 290 this past week. The species seems to be having an excellent year.

    1. By the way, I’ve never heard of Coreopsis nuecensoides, whose -oides ending makes the name mean ‘looking like Coreopsis nuecensis’. I wonder how to tell the two apart. It’s especially important because the USDA maps show the two in some of the same counties.

      1. When I checked the scientific name’s spelling, I used Eason’s book, and noticed the name he used was different from the one used in your posts — and the one I used to use. I assumed it was a taxonomic change, rather than a listing of a different species. I snooped a little and found this interesting tidbit:

        “Kartesz (1994, 1999) recognized Coreopsis nuecensis and C. nuecensoides as distinct species. Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2006) recognizes C. nuecensis with C. nuecensoides as a synonym and explains “plants with glabrous phyllaries and chromosome numbers of 2n = 18 and 20 and included here in C. nuecensis have been called C. nuecensoides.”

        Sealy is in Austin County, where both species are listed, so location’s not a help. On the other hand, I had wondered about the seeming color difference in that last photo, which seems much more yellow than the bulk of the flowers. Perhaps there was a mix of species.

    2. This was just down the road from the huisache tree I photographed. It certainly was striking, and the flower-filled area was huge, stretching around the church on three sides and stretching to the horizon behind the church. I’ve been finding other coreopsis species down at the coast, but not this one. Increasingly, it seems to me that 90A is a sort of boundary that separates coastal plants from those more commonly found inland.

    1. I have a friend in Canada who’s posted photos of the canola fields there. I’d forgotten about them, but your comparison is apt. Sunflowers aren’t the only ‘bulk yellow’ that pairs so well with the sky.

  3. Wonderful field of Coreopsis! I really like the simple beauty of your second composition with just the flowers and blue sky. Yellow and blue make a great combination and, of course, currently makes a statement of support although I don’t think that was your intent.
    Although the flowers are not as spectacular as your find at the Christian City Fellowship, the South Congregational Church here in Amherst does something similar with their “backyard” complete with benches to contemplate and enjoy what flowers do grow there as well as the beauty of sunrises to the east.

    1. Gary mentioned canola’s ability to provide a similar sight, while I thought of sunflowers. Having never seen such a spread of coreopsis, I wouldn’t have imagined them capable of providing the same contrast, but there they were, spread across the horizon in a lovely combination of yellow and blue. Seeing those fields filled with bluebonnets would have been just as memorable, but the unusual nature of this year’s offering was unusual and special.

    1. Obviously, there’s some explanation for the way a field can change colors as easily as we change clothes, but I don’t have a clue what it might be. No matter; simply appreciating today’s field was pleasure enough.

  4. Sun, sun, sunny! I often find that those wide shots of wildflowers are lacking, but that yellow and its green base are so…real. It’s like I’m there with you as you took the shots. I love coreopsis! I used to grow them, then had shade. But now with my newly sunny garden, maybe I need to add some! Lovely photos, Linda!

    1. I’ve never been happy with my wide shots of fields like this, or even long stretches of roadside flowers, but in this case it worked out well enough — even though I was there about noontime in full, bright sunlight. This is my favorite coreopsis, so it was a special pleasure to find them. What fun you must be having making decisions about your ‘new’ garden. Coreopsis and Gaillardia are the primary flowers at the Broadway cemeteries in Galveston; they combine beautifully.

    1. Isn’t it interesting how particular colors and forms can evoke places in our minds? I’d never thought about these fields evoking California, but now that you mention it, the color of the coreopsis certainly resembles that of your poppies.

  5. I might have already said this (ah, that memory), I just love seeing these photos of fields of flowers. It’s a sight I don’t get the opportunity to see much around here. There’s just something about fields of color. Fantastic!

    1. Thanks, Todd. The flowerful fields hold a great deal of appeal for me, too. If we get some rain, there will be a progression of flowers to enjoy for a few months. It was interesting this last weekend to compare areas that had been especially rich in flowers the past few years with this year’s crop — drought can make quite a difference. We’re lucky to be in an area that’s received relatively more rainfall.

    1. I’ve lived in places where the spring bloom has been equally lovely — Utah and California come to mind — but there’s no question that our spring and summer flowers are gorgeous. This year, I was lucky enough to find some individual examples of flowers I’ve rarely or never seen, too. That’s just as much fun.

  6. Sweet! I will have to mark it to go visit in coming years. Maybe even next weekend. Do you think they will be around after Easter?

    1. I’ve learned that predicting wildflower blooms is an inexact science at best! But, there’s been some rain in that area, so I suspect they’ll hold on for a while. Coreopsis are pretty tough, and as I recall they often hang on in the Galveston cemeteries for two to three weeks, so your chances probably are good.

    1. And this was only the beginning; there was color galore throughout the weekend. Everyone loves the bluebonnets, but there were other, equally colorful treats!

  7. My gosh, that’s a field full of yellow! What a lift for the spirit, with the world the way it is now.

    This is a good reminder to stop, breathe and think lovely thoughts.

    1. It seems that more and more country churches and cemeteries are making an effort to establish and maintain native plant communities. That’s not always easy. There’s often an annual battle with people who want to mow before the flowers have set seeds, just to ‘tidy things up.’ It seems like it should be obvious — no seeds, no flowers next year — but even the most basic truths in life can be hard to communicate. I’m certainly grateful for the ones who are pro-seed!

    1. And not only having the property, but having the inclination. Not everyone is so inclined! When I think about it, I’ve seen a good bit of change over the decades. There still are people who prefer Bermuda grass to flowers, but every field like these is making a gentle argument for a different way.

    1. I thought about alchemy as soon as the fellow at the church told me about the field changing its nature. Of course I also thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to turn something into real gold?” Then, I remembered the law of unintended consequences, and decided to leave well enough alone.

    1. Honestly, I don’t have a clue. I don’t think drought alone would do it, especially over such a relatively short time. I’d rather imagine something more fanciful, like the coreopsis getting jealous of all the atttention bluebonnets get, and moving in to take over!

      There’s one other time I’ve seen such a change. After a section of the Brazoria refuge was burned, spider lilies suddenly moved into the wet, empty land: thousands of them appeared in a very short time. Now, there’s not a lily to be seen there. Because it was a wet year, that makes more sense to me, but there’s always something new to see.

    1. I’d think coreopsis would do well for you up at the lake. There are some other species that closely resemble this one, and they’re hardy.The color is beautiful; less yellow than a sunflower, but terrifically bright and cheerful.

    1. It’s such a cheerful flower. All of our species appeal to me, but this is my favorite. One reason I posted the last photo was to show those delicate markings; each flower looks as though its design has been hand-painted. I’ve yet to find any two flowers that are exactly the same.

  8. Had I been driving behind you, I would have pulled right into the parking lot with you. Breathtaking display.

    1. I’m one of those who really should have an “I Brake for Wildflowers” bumper sticker: if cars still had metal bumpers, that is. We could have had great fun walking the fields together. The flowers were gorgeous, but the mockingbird building its nest in a tree at the edge of the field was an added pleasure.

  9. These are beautiful … and so cheery! Love the red detailing inside the blooms. It does puzzle me about the change from blue to gold though. Are you going to reveal the answer to that mystery for us??

    1. If I knew the answer, I’d share it in a minute, Debbie. But honestly? I don’t have a clue. I could sit and hypothesize all night, but sometimes it’s all right to just appreciate the beauty, while acknowledging the mystery. In a way, that’s a little like Easter, no?

  10. As bluebonnet seeds have such a tough outer covering, it may be that the seeds that would have been this year’s crop were not “weathered” enough to germinate, or else it had not been wet enough to soften the outer covering. Or maybe nature got bored with having bluebonnets there and decided to change things up . . .

    1. I could be tempted to go with the ‘boredom’ explanation. In truth, this area has had more rain than much of the state, but lack of rain after the freeze could have reset everything in odd ways. In any event, I’ve never seen such fields of coreopsis, so I’m content to accept what showed up as a special spring gift.

    1. These were quite a surprise. I’d gone in seach of the Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets whose photos I just posted, so finding this great patch of yellow was, shall we say — lagniappe! I hope your coreopsis do well for you. They’re one of the most cheerful flowers in the world.

  11. Nature’s alchemy at work is really something to behold. We go to a spot which in the past was a reliable spot for a certain species only to find something completely different! How boring it would be if Nature was predictable.

    Florida has so many species of Coreopsis, the legislature (that august body of botanical geniuses – you know, blooming idiots) – couldn’t come to a consensus (surprise!) on naming a state wildflower so, in their infinite wisdom, they named the entire Coreopsis genus! To compound their deep-thinking doofusness, they emblazoned vehicle license plates with an image of the Goldenmane coreopsis (Coreopsis basalis) – which is – wait for it – NOT a native of Florida! Sigh.

    So, let me get this straight. There you were, cruising along Highway 36, windows down, enjoying the fresh morning air and – BAM! – gold on the port side! Brakes squeal, rubber burns, car careens on two wheels, U-turn to investigate and report. All of this happens while on your way to search for the wild blue yonder.

    Seems to me this is the very essence of “Lagniappe”. We thank you for sharing your golden fortune.

    1. The Texas legislature did the same thing, eventually making every species of bluebonnet the state flower. In our case, it made some sense, since there are many fewer species in the genus (seven, as I recall) and some are endemic to Texas. Still, the non-native coreopsis on the license plate is a little wacky.

      Of course, the same Texas legislature named the Crepe Myrtle our state shrub, and it’s not native, either. There was quite a bit of pushback to that, and eventually a compromise was reached: the Texas Purple Sage, or Cenizo, was declared the native Texas shrub. The Crepe Myrtle was originally chosen for purely political purposes; it had lobbyists!

    1. That golden glow across the land was wonderful, and so unexpected. There are certain yellow flowers that will colonize here, like various Packera species, but they usually take over pastures or fallow agricultural land. I’ve never seen this species of coreopsis spread like this, although down on Galveston Island there are other species that will become, shall we say — impressive!

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