An Explosion of Eryngo

Early growth in the pasture ~ May 30

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.

Beginning to color ~ July 9

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.


Comments always are welcome.

46 thoughts on “An Explosion of Eryngo

  1. Ever surprising to most people is the fact that plants in this genus aren’t thistles but actually members of the botanical family that includes celery, carrots, parsley, and dill.

    1. That’s right: the Apiaceae. I thought of mentioning it here, but saved that detail for another post about the eryngos I’ve found. After a quick scroll through a short list of other plants in the family, I was surprised by the number of herbs that are included, like anise and caraway, and one of your ‘favorites’ — cilantro.

      I still laugh when I remember my frustration at not being able to find the deep purple, pineapple-y flowers you often showed. Finally, I realized my eryngo flowers weren’t performing poorly; they were an entirely different species.

    1. I think so, too. I like the structure. The flowers are quite different from peonies, roses, and others that I think of as ‘fluffy,’ but they have an almost architectural air about them.

  2. Yikes! Spikes! I don’t blame the horses. I wouldn’t want to eat that either. It would probably be artichoke-y — with emphasis on the “-choke”!

    1. Everything about these plants is spiky to one degree or another; even the flowers. That helps to explain why such large colonies of them can form; even the deer leave them alone. On the other hand, pollinators of every sort adore them.

    1. It is a pretty pastel. I’m quite fond of the deep purple of E. leavenworthii,, but the greens and lavenders make for a nice combination.

      I thought of you a couple of days ago when I noticed some blooming gingers. Before I started reading your blog, I don’t think I would have known what they were.

    1. It looks thistle-like, but the flowers are far more prickly than our thistle blooms. The same friend whose horses avoid the eryngo will nip every thistle flower in sight; the thistle blooms are soft, and apparently quite tasty.

      When these develop more color, they’re especially pretty. This patch is about two feet tall and several feet across. Before Hurricane Harvey, there was a huge field at the Brazoria refuge filled with them, and it was quite a sight. For a variety of reasons — poor light, and poorer skills, primarily! — I never got a photo of that field. I hope it comes back.

    1. What a great comparison. It is in the same family as kale and parsley, so it could serve the same function. But to continue the analogy, I never eat that piece of stale kale that shows up on my plate, either. In that respect, at least, I’m with the horses.

    1. This eryngo doesn’t make it to your part of the country, but in my next post, I’ll be showing one that does. I love sharing these interesting and pretty plants that I find, partly because it gives others pleasure, and partly because it nudges me to learn about their ‘family members’ in other states. I’m really glad you enjoy the posts!

  3. It’s really quite lovely, and well equipped with a formidable defence. The other day while walking through our regenerating prairie the sheer diversity of plants struck me. My sense of wonder is as alive now as it was when I was young and pressing flowers between the pages of my books.

    1. There’s nothing like a deer-proof garden flower! There are some cultivars of the east coast species that are beautiful beyond words, but I’m just as fond of these wild ones that are part of life here.

      Your mention of pressing flowers reminds me of one of my most delightful discoveries. Some years ago, I found a book that had belonged to my maternal great-grandmother. It was a large book, illustrated with color plates of various places of interest around the world. Imagine my surprise when I found a small pressed bouquet in its pages, still slightly colored after all those years.

    1. The color certainly evokes thistles, although even the flowers on these are prickly. I’m going to feature two other species in my next post. One is a beautiful blue rather than purple, and the other flowers are white. My timing’s never been right to get a good photo of those, but I did capture a few at the end of their bloom — and with a bee! Pollinators love all of them.

  4. When I first looked at your photos I thought it was thistle. I wasn’t aware of Eryngo. I can understand why the horses don’t like it.

    1. You have at least four species in your area, including the sea holly (Eryngium aquaticum) I mentioned. I’d be surprised if some of that isn’t lurking around in areas you visit. We also share the species known as rattlesnake master. I’ll have some photos of it in my next post. It tends to be much taller, and somewhat easier to spot than this one, which grasses sometimes hide.

  5. A prickly subject that you handled well, Linda. I have a soft spot for thorns although they can be a hassle as an invasive weed. I can’t resist them when I am carrying around my camera— in all of their stages. I think they are even more beautiful when dead, although it’s a toss-up when they are blooming. Great photos.

    1. Thanks, Curt. Many of our native thistles are quite beautiful, even if they’re not always wanted in a garden or other spots. Even our prickliest have pretty, soft blooms, although the non-native can be quite attractive. On the other hand, even the flowers of these demand a careful touch.

  6. Your native sea holly is different to our sea holly (E. maritimum) but they certainly have the same spikiness and sculpturally-shaped leaves and flowers. I’d love to have some of the big silvery eryngiums (E. giganteum ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’) in my garden.

    1. I’d never heard the term ‘sea holly’ until I read found it in blogs from your area, and our eastern states, where E. maritimum is common. Here, it’s just called eryngo, except for a version that’s known as rattlesnake master — a subject for my next post. The colors are pretty, but I love the form — although yet another species that I found in east Texas is less prickly, with smaller flowers and a more prostrate form.

      I wondered at the name ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost,’ and found this fascinating article about the woman behind the name. It even has a photo of Miss Wilmott.

    1. There’s a central Texas species that has a larger flower. It’s a brilliant purple, and looks for all the world like a tiny pineapple — cute as can be. Who knows? There might be one out there aspiring to artichoke-hood, but I can’t imagine trying to eat one of the things.

  7. It’s always enjoyable to watch a plant, or view several at different stages, reveal their inner selves in the color their petals will expose. These are beautiful if just a tad imposing with those sharps.

    1. I happened to visit the pasture yesterday, and the color’s deepening a bit. In another week or two, they may be more vibrant. I was browsing through some of my earlier photos today and found a looper on one of those flowers. I knew I had a photo, but didn’t remember where it was. Now, I believe it’s going to have to make an appearance.

    1. Thanks, Ann. I’m always saying one flower or another is my ‘favorite,’ but I do truly love these, and I was tickled to discover my friend had a huge patch in her pasture. Even better, she was willing to let them be, rather than mowing them down.

    1. They’re one of my favorite photographic subjects. It’s due in part to their interesting structure and pretty color, but since they change color slowly and nothing seems to eat them, there’s a long stretch of time when additional photos can be taken. No overnight petal dropping for these!

    1. Every sort of pollinator seems to love it. I do have some photos of a bee that tried to fly in its vicinity and got impaled — each wing on a different thorn. The bee’s sacrifice was noted by the ants that showed up to dine on it, though!

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