When I heard the name ‘sea holly’ applied to the plant I’d come to know as Eryngo, it surprised me; I’d only seen it inland, and relatively far from the sea. Eventually, I learned that several native Eryngo species exist in the United States, and while Eryngium aquaticum, a coarse, aquatic perennial found in coastal marshes and bogs from New Jersey to Florida received its scientific name because of its preference for a wet environment, the prickly nature of that seaside plant made ‘sea holly’ perfectly understandable.
Our most common local species is Eryngium hookeri, or Hooker’s Eryngo. Named for William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865), Director of Kew Gardens from 1841-1865 and founder and editor of the Journal of Botany, it’s an interesting and attractive plant that’s common to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, as well as to the coastal prairies of Texas. For several years, large colonies could be found along Brazoria County roads, as well as in the refuges there.
This year, I’d been searching for the plant without success. Then, a friend called. “Guess what’s in the pasture?” she said. “The Eryngo is up.” Thanks to its prickly nature, it doesn’t appeal to her horses, and by May 30 it had achieved some height. The color change has come slowly, but by July 9 the pretty purple highlights were obvious, and innumerable spiders had begun using its prickly structure as the basis for their webs.
While its flowers aren’t as large or as dramatically colored as those of the Leavenworth’s Eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii) found in central Texas, fully colored Hooker’s Eryngo are quite lovely. The plant’s primary flowering comes in July-September, so in a few weeks, its lavender glow should be even more pronounced.
Even as its blooms begin to decline, the structure of the plant catches the eye as surely as those prickly bracts and leaves can catch the finger of a gardener — or a photographer.