Swept Clean ~ Restoration


By early June of this year, it was hard to remember the hurricane-ravaged beaches of Galveston’s west end. At the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail, nature had done her work; the boardwalk once again was lined with a profusion of grasses and flowers, and Hurricane Laura was only a memory.

…and then

Behind the dunes, a combination of lazy daisies and firewheel proliferated.

Along the boardwalk itself, shifting and building sands had allowed dune flowers like beach evening primrose to reestablish themselves.

One of the sand-loving flowers, the so-called ‘lazy daisy,’ is a slugabed that prefers to put off opening until mid-morning or later. That tendency is reflected in an alternate name: the Arkansas doze-daisy. Both common names are easier to remember than the flower’s scientific name, Aphanostephus skirrhobasis.

Whether over the course of several hours or on multiple days, it’s great fun to watch this daisy’s opening. Its buds hint at a red flower, but as it opens the red fades or becomes hidden, and spreading white rays reveal its brilliant yellow disc flowers.

While the lazy daisy flourishes in sandy soils behind the dunes, the Amberique bean, a member of the pea family also known as the trailing wild bean, thrives even atop the dunes, in full sunlight. The flower, about 3/4″ long, consists of a large rounded banner, a pair of slender lateral petals, and a narrow, upwardly curved keel.

Amberique bean ~ Strophostyles helvola

Pollinated by a variety of bees, especially leaf-cutters and bumblebees, the plant’s foliage hosts caterpillars of the Southern Cloudywing, the Silver-Spotted Skipper, and the Long-Tailed Skipper; seeds are consumed by a variety of birds.

As the flowers age, they become an appealing soft yellow.

Developing fruits take on the bean-like appearance that gives the plant its common name.

Two flowers, and two beans

Currently, the pretty, salmon-colored coastal pea is putting on quite a show. Recent rains have revived it, and despite being low-growing, its color is obvious all along the barrier islands. While quite common in our area, I’ve found it as far inland as Goliad and Gonzales, where sandy soils occur.

Coastal pea ~ Indigofera miniata

I’ve already featured one of my favorite dune flowers in a separate post: the obviously adaptable wedgeleaf prairie clover.

Wedgeleaf prairie clover ~ Dalea emarginata

Another plant that enjoys life on the dunes, Gulf croton extends along the Atlantic coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia to Florida and the Gulf states.  Able to withstand intense sunlight, strong winds, and sand scouring, it helps both to capture sand for new dunes and to reduce erosion of established dunes.

Gulf croton, or beach tea  ~ Croton punctatus

Perhaps the most attractive and obvious of the dune flowers are the various morning glories and primroses.

Beach morning glory ~ Ipomoea imperati
Beach evening primrose ~ Oenothera drummondii
Beach evening primrose, fading

Not every primrose prefers pure sand. The largeflower primrose and cutleaf primrose are most often found on the backside of the dunes. At first glance, they appear identical, but the cutleaf primrose is smaller. Beyond that, the indented petals of the largeflower primrose resemble a heart, and the hairs on its stem and leaves are longer and more noticeable.

Like the beach evening primrose, both of these species tend toward orange as they fade.

Largeflower evening primrose ~ Oenothera grandis
Fading largeflower evening primrose

I’ve found the cut-leaf primrose, firewheel, and lazy daisy blooming together in Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries: a testament to the island’s generally sandy soil.

Cut-leaf primrose ~ Oenothera laciniata

Along the boardwalk edges a variety of different plants emerged, including limewater brookweed. Named for the alkaline soils it prefers, the plant can be found in Nevada and Arizona as well as in Florida and Texas; it thrives in either fresh or salt water, allowing it to appear around freshwater springs in desert areas as well as in coastal marshes. The delicate flowers, only a quarter-inch across, often are tinged with pink.

Limewater brookweed ~ Samolus ebracteatus

A familiar summer-to-fall flower, the salt-marsh mallow re-emerged as one of the area’s most widespread plants. I was particularly charmed by this opportunistic plant that had chosen to grow through the boardwalk rather than alongside.

Saltmarsh mallow ~ Kosteletzkya virginica

As the recovery process continued, I was intrigued to find plants growing behind the dunes that I’d never encountered before Hurricane Laura. How the germander, bluebell, and coral bean arrived in the area is hard to say. Birds are an easy answer, but it’s also true that all three of the plants are common on the other side of Christmas Bay, in the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. It’s entirely possible that Laura’s receding storm surge carried seeds from the refuge to the barrier island.

American germander ~ Teucrium canadense
Texas bluebell ~ Eustoma exaltatum
Coral bean ~ Erythrina herbacea

Recent rains and lowering temperatures no doubt will encourage even more flowering among the dunes. Texas’s ‘second spring’ is at hand: what it will bring awaits discovery.

(part three of three)


Comments always are welcome.

63 thoughts on “Swept Clean ~ Restoration

    1. The variety’s quite remarkable. It’s great fun to see ‘beach flowers’ mingling (or juxtaposed) with flowers like the firewheel, which also cover the prairies. I’m glad this selection appealed to you.

  1. You did it again: 25 pictures in one post.

    That’s a pretty portrait of the limewater brookweed, which I know only from seeps in my limestone-rich hilly northwestern part of Austin. You get to see it in saltier environments. Similarly, what you think of as coastal pea, I’m accustomed to calling scarlet pea over here in the center of the state, where it’s also common.

    1. Just think — if I’d included various grasses and such, it might have been fifty photos. At that point, eyes would be glazing over (if they weren’t with twenty-five) and I knew better than to give it a try. Still, it’s quite a challenge to give a sense of how things moved from ‘nothing’ to this delightful collection of ‘somethings.’

      I think limewater brookweed’s one of our prettiest wildflowers. I especially like the urn shape of its blooms, but I couldn’t get from the boardwalk to ground level for that sort of image. And we’ve talked before about memories of seeing a flower for the first time. I first came across the scarlet pea when I stayed at the Presidio in Goliad. The courtyard behind the walls was covered with them.

    1. What a splendid metaphor, Gerard. While nothing is certain, we made it through August without a single tropical system forming, and we’re nearing mid-September. By October, hurricane threats subside and the parade will continue, undisturbed.

    1. Many thanks, Derrick. I’ve never paid much attention to seasonal changes at the shore, but this fall I’m going to make it a point to visit occasionally, just to see what’s happening there.

    1. I’m looking forward to taking a little more time in the coming weeks and months. With moderating temperatures and increasing rain, spending weekend time outdoors sure is more appealing than it was in July and August. I’m eager to see what the plants have been up to while I was paying less attention!

  2. I especially liked the series of the opening of Lazy Daisy. Are the flowering plants perennials with deep root systems? Growing in sand seems a risky thing for a seed. I’m familiar with plants growing in Iowa dirt of many types. I’ve never had opportunity to study sand and its plants.

    1. The lazy daisy’s changes from bud to bloom are remarkable. There was a time when I assumed those buds would produce a red flower. Eventually, I figured it out.

      Beach plants adapted to grow in sand thrive in a zone called the coastal strand. They grow close to the ground, and spread rather than growing ‘up,’ thanks to deep taproots and roots at their nodes that allow them to anchor in the sand. Many are succulents; their small, leathery leaves hold moisture. Some, like the beach tea, have leaves that reflect sunlight. Young gulf croton leaves often are so reflective they seem to be metallic, giving rise to another name: silverleaf croton.

      1. Thanks for that info. They are well adapted for their site. We had our derecho storm two years ago. The woods directly behind the house lost a lot of limbs letting much more sunlight down to the ground. I was curious what impact that would have on what grew there. It seems to have stimulated strong growth of a few weeds that were subdued before. We are hoping to not let them take over. One is the White Snakeroot. The other is Jumpseed. And, the sticktights, Hackelia virginiana, are happy.

  3. Your photos are stunning as usual. It is an amazing variety of plants that can grow in the sand. I had to look up Hurricane Laura, as I have experienced too many of them, including Hurricane Irene as I happened to be on the east coast at the time. After Ike, I had new plants in my yard, but I think most were garden plants from the neighbors’ yards.

    1. Dune ecology is interesting, and far more complex than I’d realized. When we say, “Let’s go to the beach,” we generally mean that stretch of sand between the dunes and the water, but I’ve learned terms like ‘swash line’ and ‘wrack zone,’ not to mention foredune and tidal zone. So much to learn.

      After Ike, one of the most interesting things to watch was the clearing of the bay and the various channels. I’ll never forget them pulling a BMW from the swimming pool at Portofino marina, or the French provincial loveseat that ended up in a boatslip.

      1. I took a Leisure Learnig class on beaches many years ago and they only addressed erosion. There is so much to learn in life. Ike was crazy. After Harvey, people that were not that close to the lake had fish in their pools.

        1. No matter the subject, we have to start somewhere. That’s what makes learning so much fun. When that’lightbulb’ comes on, a little more of whatever we’re interested in is illuminated.

          One hurricane story always leads to another. After enough time has passed, they’re fun to sit around and tell.

  4. Nature really has made a fine comeback and thank goodness for that. Dune ecology is nothing short of wonderful!

    1. This little project certainly has taught me a lot about the complexity of dune systems. There are so many moving parts — quite literally, in the case of the sand. It’s also clear that people generally are beginning to ‘get it’ when it comes to dune preservation. Whether its the provision of boardwalks for beach access or ‘trash patrols,’ the beaches on our barrier islands are in no worse shape than twenty years ago, and in many cases they’re much healthier.

  5. Another article worthy of Texas Highways. The variety of forms and colors of these flowers is amazing. The limewater brookweed reminds me of a doodle I used to do in high school of a flower that featured a line from one of the songs on Jefferson Airplane’s “After Bathing at Baxter’s” album (a long-time personal favorite). (“Understanding is a virtue hard to come by.”)

    1. I had Surrealistic Pillow, but none of the albums that came after. I don’t think I ever came across After Bathing at Baxter’s, although the graphics on the cover seem familiar. In any case, I listened to a bit, and it does have a way of suggesting fanciful flowers like the brookweed.

      The variety at the dunes, and in the areas behind them, was the great surprise of this little project. For so many years I went to the beach focused only on the surf, shells, and shorebirds, never seeing the profusion of plant growth all around.

    1. We’re used to the renewal that comes with spring, but the recoveries that come after fire, flood, or storm are in some ways even more remarkable. We expect springtime. We don’t always have that easy expectation of post-storm recovery, which makes it even more impressive. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing the flowers — I enjoyed the process of photographing them.

  6. This is a gorgeous group of photos, Linda! I remember the seeing the morning glories in the dunes of Padre Island as a child. I’d swim, play in the dunes, swim some more to get the sand off, repeat. My parents grew some American Germander in their garden and they were mostly on sand in Flour Bluff.

    1. I laughed at your beach routine. There’s a reason most of the beach houses here have at least an outdoor hose, if not an actual shower. “Don’t bring that sand into the house!” is the cry of the summer-mother! Of course there’s the salt, too, but that’s a less obvious issue.

      I’d never seen the connection between the dunes and other inland locations until I started visiting east Texas. Walking through a certain preserve there, it takes about a minute to realize why it’s called the ‘sandylands’ preserve. Many of the same flowers I found behind these dunes can be found in the sandy soils of the piney woods.

    1. What we call harsh, some plants call perfect. I learned that lesson when I got my first cactus, and decided to help it along by providing it with some nice, rich soil. It didn’t take any time at all for it to rot from the inside, thanks to all the nice water it sucked up! Sand loving plants develop ways to cope, and thrive. To me, the most amazing are the grasses and shrubs that expel excess salt through their leaves.

    1. I didn’t realize that firewheel’s not native to California. That surprised me. I’m trying to remember a part of Texas I’ve visited where they aren’t part of the landscape, and I can’t — although they may be absent in the far west, where I’ve never been. Still, even in gardens they shine, and they do a wonderful job of filling up the ’empty spaces’ that occur after storms and such.

    1. The wedgeleaf prairie clover is an earlier bloomer: fading and setting seed by the time some of these others really get going. And there are other flowers that had stopped blooming when I took these photos, like the sea purslane I featured in the previous post. What I don’t know is whether there might be other flowers that will show up in autumn’s cooler temperatures; it will be fun to keep an eye on the area’s changes.

      You’re right about the elephantine appearance of the Amberique bean. I see that trunk, too.

  7. From surge to recovery. Resilience. Restoration.

    Nature responds as required. If only we humans could adapt as well when our emotional beach is swept clean by tragic events.

    Your trio of essays chronicling the recovery of a beach after a destructive storm has been so illuminating. The superb photographs illustrating each post reminds us, yet again, to try and really “observe” when we are privileged to be in nature’s yard.

    This post has so many beautiful plants it’s difficult to believe how often we overlook them.

    “We can’t see the beach flowers for the beach.”

    Beachgoers are there for the sun and water. Fishermen are there for the fish. Birders hope to identify all those gulls.

    We all traipse past the dunes focusing on the object of our particular affection.

    It is totally understandable that if I go to the coast for birding, that is where my concentration will be. More and more, I try very hard to see what else may be in the area. I’m even at the point where I intentionally leave the binoculars and big lenses at home in order to better focus on smaller subjects which are close at hand. This is a work in progress as I still have “birder withdrawal symptoms”.

    Thank you, Linda, for your enlightening project about nature’s adaptability!

    I now have a new favorite flower, although I’ll have to travel north a bit to see it in Florida. How could I not absolutely love a “Lazy Daisy”?

    1. Just today, I found another lazy flower: the opposite-leaf spotflower (Acmella repens). When I drove into the San Bernard refuge at about 8 a.m., I was surprised that not a single wildflower was blooming alongside the road. Four hours later, as I left along that same road, spotflowers were everywhere: thousands of them, creating a golden glow.

      What you say about the fishermen, birders, and beach lovers is so true — we all begin with a certain focus. The trick is to allow other things into our field of vision. I think the familiar internet distinction between searching and browsing is useful. If we’re searching for ‘A,’ anything that’s ‘Not-A’ tends to be dismissed. Browsing, on the other hand, allows for surprises and serendipity. Occasionally I’ll say I’m like the bear who went over the mountain; I just go out to see what I can see. That’s one of the charms of your posts; we get to see what you saw as you browsed nature’s offerings.

  8. The beach has recovered gloriously and is a good example of Nature’s restorative powers. Whether a storm ravaged beach or a cracked concrete sidewalk, nature has the power to overcome and flourish.
    Your beach has an amazing array of species and as someone who rarely frequents a beach I am surprised that so many thrive in that condition…hot sun and hot sand.

    1. In the same way, I take in photos and articles about things like the Snowy Owl and wonder: how can those creatures thrive in such conditions — cold snow and cold air? Of course, the same could be said about those sci-fi-ish deep sea creatures, or parasitic plants, or… A niche for everything, and everything in its niche: it’s wonderful!

    1. It looks like you’re starting to bloom, too! Good to see you — and, yes. We do have quite a variety: different flowers for different season, and for different parts of the state. I keep finding new ones; I don’t think there ever will be an end to it.

    1. Hurricane Laura was in August of 2020. My latest photos are from June of this year, so a little less than two years. A year and a half probably would be a good estimate, since after the storm there was a period of a month or two when heavy equipment was busy clearing debris. Now that we’ve had rain, some of these flowers are even more profuse.

  9. So much beauty … even in all that sandy soil! As you know, here in the Midwest, we’re a bit smug about our black dirt, perfect for farming and growing things. But it’s reassuring to hear that even a hurricane can’t prevent Mother Nature from spreading her loveliness around, and that other parts of our world have their own brand of beauty. Nicely done on the update, Linda.

    1. One of the stray facts I seem to remember from my midwestern days is that its black loam can reach as much as six feet deep. It certainly does help your corn to grow — not to mention everything from the flowers in gardens to grasses on the prairies. It’s a marvel to me that nature’s created such a variety of plants perfectly designed to thrive in the conditions around them. As you say, there’s a different brand of beauty for everyone to enjoy.

    1. One of my favorite books is an early 1900s edition called Nature’s Garden. It’s a study of which insects prefer particular plants, but I’ve always loved the title. Nature’s a fine gardener, no question about that.

    1. The flowers provide a nice balance to our less-than-tropical waters. In fact, given the realities of our shallow, sloping shoreline, the beach waters here are nearly as sandy as the beach. The other interesting thing is that sandy soil exists far inland. The Nature Conservancy site in east Texas is aptly named Sandylands. Walking some of those trails, I always laugh to see finer, whiter sand than we have on our Galveston beaches.

  10. Those daisies are fascinating, transitioning from red to yellow and white. It’s incredible to see how different the area looked then and now. Nature really does move quickly. I really like your beach morning glory photo with the sun backlighting and shining through and around the petals. And the saltmarsh mallow, though it might be common there, is a beautiful flower.

    1. Sometimes the ditches and fields are filled with those saltmarsh mallows. They’ll set up shop in low spots that hold moisture, even away from the shore. I’ve found them at a little nature refuge not even three miles from my home, out on the edges of a backwater there. They can provide a fine abstraction, too.

      I’m glad I was able to catch those daisies in every stage. It’s really something to see that vibrant red turn into yellow and white — just as it was amazing to see the beach come back. Of course, every time there’s a prescribed burn on the prairie, it doesn’t take long for new growth to begin. Sometimes, unexpected plants show up, as though they’ve just been waiting for a chance to shine.

    1. It’s the nature of nature to restore itself. We watch the same process when we slice ourselves with a kitchen knife, or hit the corner of a table, but we hardly notice the miracle represented by the closing of the cut or the fading of the bruise. The healing of the dunes may take a little longer, but it’s not unrelated!

    1. You’ve made my evening, Sam. That’s one of the nicest comments possible, since it suggests I managed to put in enough detail to convey this spot’s beauty — but not too much.

      Last Sunday, I heard a report about the Surfside beach that made me smile. Glenn Hammond, a fishing guide who lives there, mentioned that they had a beach cleanup on Saturday. When it was over, there was hardly any trash collected, because the beach was so clean to start with. Baby steps, but every one worth celebrating.

  11. I collected seeds from the salt marsh mallow decades ago and had a nice little stand of them at the Houston house. Every year fewer came back until finally none. Also had some lazy daisy and lots of firewheels when I converted the front yard of the studio house in the city to wildflowers.

    1. Do you want me to collect some salt marsh mallow seeds for you? I suppose the last thing you need is more plants, but if you’d like them, I’d give it a try. They’re such a pretty flower. There was a vacant lot in Dickinson that filled with them a couple of years ago. There must have been hundreds of plants.

    1. ‘Slugabed’ is a word from my childhood. My mom always was telling me not to be one: to get up, out, and about! She was a wise woman, even though she wasn’t any more of a morning person than I was in those days.

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