Dallying With A Dalea

A view from above

An especially pretty plant, Wedgeleaf Prairie Clover (Dalea emarginata) thrives primarily along Texas beaches and coastal dune grasslands, although it can be found inland as far north as Llano and Travis counties. Along the coast, it creeps into Louisiana, although its presence there is limited to an area between Holly Beach and Johnson’s Bayou in Cameron Parish.

The genus name — Dalea — pays tribute to Samuel Dale (1659-1739), an English botanist and physician who maintained a medical practice in Essex. The species name — emarginata — fooled me at first. I assumed it referred to wavy margins on the leaf, but in fact ’emarginate’ refers to a notch at the tip of a leaf.

 As the low-growing, long-stemmed clusters of flowers fan out across the dunes, some remain upright, displaying concentric rings of color as they develop. Others begin to nod, creating graceful arcs against the sand.

I first encountered Dalea emarginata two years ago, in the same spot where I found these flowers: the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail on Follet’s Island, a thirteen mile long, Gulf-facing barrier island in Brazoria County. On that occasion, I found one plant hosting a visitor. The tiny grasshopper amused me greatly: so much so that I decided to let him share the spotlight one more time.


Comments always are welcome.

63 thoughts on “Dallying With A Dalea

  1. I really enjoyed seeing close-ups of this plant and its cone-like shape. And of course the grasshopper deserves another time in the spotlight. I especially like his little dinosaur face.

    1. It is a pretty little plant, and its way of blooming in concentric rings makes it interesting to watch. The ring of flowers in the first photo reminded me of the floral crowns worn on May Day — just add ribbons.
      As for the grasshopper, he charmed me completely: as well as being good enough to pose for photos.

    1. I do enjoy finding little visitors on the plants. I’m still amazed that I spotted this one; the grasshopper couldn’t have been more than a third of an inch long. The sand did provide a nice background for both the flower and the critter.

    1. Isn’t he, though? I never imagined myself becoming enchanted by a grasshopper, but any tiny insect has a certain charm — and he seemed as curious as I was.

    1. You’re welcome! I’m going to follow up with a different Dalea species from you area: one that might do very well in your meadow, since I found it on the Willow City Loop and on the road between Vanderpool and Lost Maples.

    1. What a great image, Jeanie! Clearly he was a youngster; maybe he was enjoying his explorations in the big, wide world as much as I enjoyed seeing him.

  2. Compared to talk about marginalized groups, give me emarginate plants any time (and teach WordPress to recognize the word). Your note about coastal distribution makes clear why I don’t know this kind of Dalea, even as the resemblance to species here is obvious.

    1. More and more often I’m turning to my copy of this book for help with words like ’emarginate.’ The line drawings accompanying the definitions are terrific. There’s an alphabetically arranged glossary, but you also can search by category: leaves, stems, inflorescence, and so on. You probably don’t need it, but it never leaves my desk now.

      I just mentioned to Pit that I’ll be showing another Dalea species that I’m almost certain you’ve included in your blog as well: Dalea aurea. That one doesn’t grow anywhere near me, of course; I had to go to the hill country to find it.

    1. Isn’t he the cutest thing? We had quite a conversation; after I assured him I meant him no harm, he was willing to hang around for a bit. In fact, he was so obliging I was the one who wandered off first.

  3. That is one handsome grasshopper… glad you shared it again on its perch of a sweet prairie clover. Didn’t know there was a coastal species, there seems to be several species. I’m most familiar with the ones sold in wildflower mixtures, mostly D. purpurea.

    1. I’m going to follow up this post with yet another of our native Dalea species; one that grows inland in dry and rocky conditions and doesn’t come close to showing up here. I’ll say this: our hot and dry conditions at least are giving me a chance to show a few things from my archives; when things begin to bloom, even some of the prettiest get lost in the shuffle!

  4. The clover is pretty, Linda, especially given your close up perspective, but the grasshopper is almost charming. I never though I would say that about a grasshopper… –Curt

    1. I think his size is part of what makes him so memorable. My feelings about the huge, whirring grasshoppers that show up on the prairie are less sanguine. I don’t fear them, and they certainly are interesting, but they’re just not as appealing as this little guy.

      The clover is pretty. It was one of those unexpected discoveries that’s just so pleasing.

    1. I don’t remember ever seeing the Coneheads on SNL — or anywhere, for that matter. Still, I’m familiar enough to have seen the resemblance without having to resort to the Wiki. I did skim through that entire entry, though, and I must say there were a lot of familiar names in that cast list!

    1. When I first came across this flower, and hadn’t heard the name spoken, I read it as ‘DAL-ya.’ That confused me, because it reminded me of the flowers called Dahlias; their name is pronounced just that way, but it’s quite a different flower. Eventually, I figured out that the correct pronunciation of this clover is ‘DAY-lee-uh.’ You can hear it pronounced here.

      That might explain why the picture and the name didn’t seem to fit together for you!

  5. Thanks for introducing me, Linda. I wasn’t familiar with this one, having spent precious little time in the coastal regions. And you’re right: Grasshopper deserved another shot at fame!

    1. On the other hand, look at this beauty that’s native to your state! Loving white flowers as I do, it’s easy for me to envy that one! It seems there are lots of Dalea species: I just had the funny thought of Oprah shouting, “You can have a Dalea! and YOU can have a Dalea!” There certainly is a clover for everyone – even for the grasshopper.

    1. I haven’t thought of that kind of grasshopper in ages. My mother adored them. I recall the late 1950s and 1960s as being the height of the craze for that kind of drink. Today, I’ll happily take the real Grasshopper, and stick with a Salty Dog for a drink. After all, who doesn’t like a drink that comes with its own song?.

      1. Mississippi John Hurt was a favorite during my college days. I never got to see him perform live but had several records in my dorm room. The drink I never tried but who doesn’t like salt?

        1. I like citrus, so the Salty Dog always appealed, but down here? The close relative, the Margarita rules. I recently heard that a new fad is ordering a ‘half and half’ — a drink made of a combination of a regular Margarita and the frozen kind. Clever, really — there’s no ice to dilute the drink as it melts. Who says creativity is dead?

  6. Lovely shot with the grasshopper! I’d never heard of Dalea until two days ago when I saw a photo of some looking outstanding against a swathe of rudbeckias. The flowers were all upright though, so maybe a different species. Love the shot of the drooping head, although I suspect I’d be worried all the time thinking that it was about to expire!

    1. There are some species that are more common in gardens, precisely because of their upright form. D. purpurea apparently is one. This species actually spreads out on the dunes, like this. It tends to be a more ‘horizontal’ than vertical plant. I suppose the form is better adapted to life at the shore.

  7. Beautiful photos of this attractive wildflower–and one of its visitors! our version of prairie clover is Dalea purpurea. I don’t think I can tell how they are different, but then I have never examined them as closely as you did in your images. Now I will.

    1. My impression is that D. purpurea is taller and straighter, with similar but larger blooms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, but I know that gardeners include it in butterfly gardens quite frequently. You have some other species that aren’t quite as widespread. My next post is going to show a differently-colored Dalea that does make its way into your state.

    1. That little grasshopper photo was pure luck. If I hadn’t been at ground level trying to get a decent photo of a flower, I never would have seen it; it was that small. I’ll be glad when the heat breaks a bit and I can spend a little more time prowling around outdoors. I did just see that we have a decent chance of rain on Thursday and Friday; I sure do hope it arrives. It keeps skipping over us and forming farther north — like Houston.

  8. That top photo looks like a green strawberry with blooms stuck on. I think I like the one where the flower is bent over. It has a sense of movement to it. The grasshopper kinda looks like a T.rex with horns on — that “grin!”

    1. What a fun interpretation. I saw the kind of floral crown worn by girls dancing around a Maypole. You’re right about the movement of the hanging flower — it was a windy day at the beach.

      I think that grasshopper is smiling, too. It sure does look like it, anyway.

  9. Being a terible speler, I initially thought you were writing about an exotic form of dahlia. Nope, something completely different, and cool in its own way.

    1. Until I learned how to pronounce Dalea, I was mispronouncing it as dahlia, and causing myself every sort of confusion. Somehow, I don’t think dahlias would do so well on the dunes, but this little gem is tough — and a welcome perch for insects.

  10. Once again, you beautifully demonstrate the value in really “looking” at a plant! Most would be content to think: “Oh, pretty” and then walk on by. Inspecting the details allows you to show us a perspective of a lovely flower we might never have seen.

    Icing on the cake is the ‘hopper on the bud.

    I had a thought similar to WOL. My initial impression of your images was of an immature strawberry adorned with a lei.

    Even Florida has prairie clovers! Some low and spreading and others upright and stiff.

    Thank you for my daily dalea dose. Delightful.

    1. There’s two votes for strawberry, and the first mention of a lei. It’s a visual two-fer!

      I took a look at the BONAP maps and it seems you have four widespread Dalea species in your area, and perhaps a few others that have sneaked in, one way or another. I have photos of one other species to show; it’s a dryland lover, but it does come with its own insect visitor and it’s one of my favorite colors: yellow. So many species, so little time!

  11. Fascinating plant! I’ve never seen anything like this. Linda, thanks for sharing your photos as well as the details. You just might have to give the grasshopper credit as a co-star.

    1. This one (and similar species in the genus) certainly don’t look a bit like the pretty lawn clover I grew up with, but for all the differences, I think they’re even more attractive. Clearly, the grasshopper was attracted. Only later did it occur to me that he might have been attracted to even tinier insects that roamed the flower head — or he might just have been looking for a high spot with which to survey the funny, huge creature roaming his territory!

    1. There’s another species, Dalea purpurea that I didn’t know about until some gardeners mentioned it. Apparently it has a longer bloom time than this one, and is more suitable for typical garden soils. It’s listed on the RHS website, which surprised me. I’m not sure it comes with grasshoppers, though!

    1. It is a pretty color, isn’t it? It reminds me of our bougainvillea, especially; that pure, clear magenta seems to be a favored color around here. It’s quite different from the yellows and white of many beach flowers, too — a nice accent.

    1. I’m not sure about that, but I had a pretty clear sense of how things looked to the terrified lizard that clung to my windshield wiper all the way from Seabrook to Kemah today, at 40 mph. I kept my speed as low as I could for the poor thing, and then pulled into the first driveway I found and scooted it off into a nice grass lawn. I didn’t see him until I was on the Seabrook/Kemah bridge, and at that point there wasn’t anything to do but keep going and hope he could hold on. He did!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.