The Incredible Lightness of Gaura

Lindheimer’s Beeblossom (Gaura lindheimeri) ~ Galveston State Park

One of the prettiest plants still blooming on the late October prairie was the Texas and Louisiana native known as Lindheimer’s Gaura, or Lindheimer’s Beeblossom. Often achieving a height of four or five feet, its loose sprays of flowers give the plant an especially airy appearance; the tendency of the flowers to sway and hover in the breeze have led to yet other names, like butterfly Gaura or whirling butterflies.

Its flowers, which open a few at a time from pinkish buds, are visited by long-tongued bees and bumblebees, as well as by butterflies.The genus name Gaura, derived from the Greek word gauros, or ‘superb,’ refers to the flowers. The specific epithet honors Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer (1801-1879), an extraordinary early Texan now known as the father of Texas botany.

The plant’s narrow, lance-shaped leaves can be tinged with red throughout the year, but autumn increases their color, making the leaves as appealing as the flowers.

In the early 2000s, taxonomic research led to Lindheimer’s Beeblossom and other Gaura species being moved into the genus Oenothera. Today, the plant is known formally as Oenothera lindheimeri, although that name has not been adopted in the horticultural industry. Both the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and the Missouri Botanic Gardens still list Gaura lindheimeri as a valid name. 

Frustrating as such changes can be, one indication that the change was warranted is visible even to those without access to an electron microscope or knowledge of DNA analysis.

When Lindheimer’s Gaura is compared to other Oenothera species such as the Pink Evening Primrose, the Beach Evening Primrose, and Sundrops, one obvious similarity is the flower’s stigma.

Beach evening primrose ~ Oenothera drummondii

Oenothera stigmas are divided into four branches which form the shape of an ‘X’ — easily seen in the shadow on the Beach Evening Primrose above. Whichever scientific name is used for Lindheimer’s Gaura, one thing is certain: ‘X’ marks the genus.

The X-shaped stigma of Lindheimer’s Gaura

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

55 thoughts on “The Incredible Lightness of Gaura

  1. One of my favorite plants here in Boston, also loved by my cousins in England. To watch bees landing and working away at the blossoms and setting the whole spray dipping and swaying is just delightful. Thanks for the info about it and Lindheimer.

    1. On the day I photographed this Gaura, the bees were doing exactly that. With so many plants no longer in bloom, those that still had flowers were attracting great numbers of insects — and the wind certainly was helping to enliven the flowers.

    1. I was so pleased to find these. The prairie where I’m accustomed to finding them seemed bereft of them this year, so this was a special pleasure. It’s a beautiful plant, with a nice, long bloom period.

        1. This year, some of the “usuals” have been scarce in my area, but I suspect drought is the primary reason. They’ll be back when conditions improve. Sometimes, simple poor timing means I miss the blooms of some plants, and there have been occasions when I’ve gone to particular spots looking for particular flowers, only to find that management techniques such as mowing or prescribed burns have changed the landscape. I’ve been a little short on water bird sightings this year because of that same lack of water. When the ponds completely dry, the birds go elsewhere.

    1. They are constructed differently from others of the primroses. They have the same four petals, but the petals’ size and asymmetry does make it seem as though there’s a gap where another petal ought to be. It looks like the leaves must be tasty; there was a whole lot of nibbling going on there.

    1. Where great numbers of them are blooming, it’s quite a sight. The individual flowers do seem to twirl and spin on their branches; when that’s combined with the movement of the lanky stems, it’s like nature’s produced the world’s best whirlygig.

  2. That gaura is a very popular landscape plant around here, but it took me a few minutes to remember why it looked so familiar, because I haven’t ever had it in my own garden. It always makes me happy when I do see its whirly presence in gardens along my walks!

    1. There are a good number of cultivars that have been developed. Some are more compact and more blossom-rich, making them especially suitable for gardens. Some of the garden sites did mention that G. lindheimeri makes for a nice filler plant, especially in larger, more natural gardens. I’m glad it’s one that you’re familiar with.

    1. It was an especially nice day, and the tall plants made it relatively easy to include all of the parts in the photo. It was rather windy, but patience paid off, and I was happy with the photo.

  3. Nicely photographed and described. I had a gaura in France which thrived even through hot summer months when I was absent and therefore not watering. Here we have had several failures, although much success with evening primroses..

    1. It does seem to do better in drier conditions. My first introduction to the plant took place on our prairies rather than in gardens, and there certainly wasn’t any supplemental watering taking place there. My impression is that your area might be too wet to allow it to thrive, but of course you’ve had so much rain of late my impressions might be skewed.

    1. The phrase ‘second spring’ does apply. Asters, goldenrod, mistflower — they all were unexpected pleasures when I first began paying attention. For this former midwesterner, October and November meant a quick turn into dead-and-brown.

  4. A morning delight, this Gaura post, Linda. Thank you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it, but will look for it. I’d think it would be a welcome addition to Exploration Green to provide the bees a treat in the fall. Your bloggers might enjoy seeing the story of this reclamation project at Explorationgreen.org. Tree planting on #4 pond takes place today and in the next weeks. Your ducks from the last post are here in #1 pond at ExGr in Clear Lake, Houston, too!

    1. Exploration Green’s a wonderful place. It was the first place I found Maximilian sunflowers a couple of years ago, and some interesting Gaillardia variants. A friend in Massachusetts has a golf course restoration taking place in his area, and we’ve exchanged notes about the projects.

      I’m not sure how well Lindheimer’s Gaura would suit Exploration Green. From what I’ve read on some gardening sites, it tends to be an ‘enthusiastic’ grower that can sprawl and take over areas. On the other hand, there are cultivars that remain smaller and more compact that might suit.

      It’s been some time since I’ve visited EG; the last few times, there were so many people I didn’t linger. Of course, that’s the purpose of the place: to provide a spot for R&R, not to mention appreciation of nature. Given today’s weather, it might be the perfect time to swing by again!

  5. You really captured the essence of this plant. I have both pink and white guara in my garden and love it. I’ve seen the tall native at Galveston Island State Park, and it does make a lovely show across the prairie.

    1. The first gaura I found at Brazoria was Oenothera curtiflora, the so-called lizard tail gaura. It took me forever to figure that one out. Now I want to find it again, and see if its flowers have that cross-shaped stigma. It still surprises me how different plants in the same genus can appear.

  6. I love gaura and have several in the garden. (Sadly they aren’t very long-lived here.) I see the similarity with other Oenothera flowers but it will be difficult to get used to the new name!

    1. I only became aware of the name change when I tried to search for G. lindheimeri on the BONAP site, and it wasn’t there. Instead, I got this. Eventually, I found the ‘new’ name on the USDA site, too. I suppose garden sites and plant sellers are sticking with the familiar names for the convenience of their customers.

      1. That must have been confusing! I think plant sellers stick with the old names because their customers may not be aware of the name change and will assume they don’t stock the plant if they use the new name.

  7. Your first splendid photograph really captured the “lightness” aspect of this plant! Not only light as in “airy” or “buoyant”, but the white blooms provide a wonderful pale “light” to the landscape.

    Florida lists G./O. lindheimeri in only one panhandle county where some visiting Texan likely secreted a few seeds at some point in time. (Hey, have you ever been to Alachua County …)

    We do have an abundance of its cousin, G./O. simulans, Southern Beeblossom.

    It is easy to miss this plant sometimes due to its lankiness and relatively small flowers. If one sees an abundance of bees or butterflies seemingly perched in mid-air, they could be visiting one of these delicate nectar producers.

    1. As a matter of fact, I have been in Alachua County. My mom and I went over to Lakeland to visit some family who lived there, and who worked in Bartow. That said, I can guarantee you that was long before I cared one whit about plants. Now I look at that trip and think, “Good gosh. I never went west, and I never went east. For that matter, I never went south. I saw plenty of highway, and not much of the land.” I need to remedy that some day.

      What a beauty your version is. I noticed in the article a mention of those viscous pollen threads that also are common to the genus, and that require specialized bees to gather the pollen.

  8. I had fun with your post today, Linda. For one, not to slight scientific names, but I love the creative names that people come up with for flowers such as whirling butterflies. Whirling Dervishes popped into my mind. Then I got busy picturing a long tongued bee in my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it was and how long my tongue would have to be to compare. Finally I learned that there was a stigma attached to the Guara’s scientific name. –Curt

    1. I was thinking about the flowers’ whirling today, and it occurred to me to wonder: could it be that the asymmetrical arrangement of the petals makes that whirling more likely? or even possible?

      After looking at some photos of long-tongued bees, I realized that I have photos of a few. They are long, too. Proportionally, they don’t rival the anteater, which has a tongue that can be as much as two feet long (!!!), but they’re substantial. What I don’t know is whether they can curl their tongues, like some of us can.

      Isn’t it funny how the same word can end up having such different meanings in different contexts? Don’t tell me language isn’t a living thing.

    1. Some species are more widespread than this one, and I suspect this one wouldn’t do at all in a more northerly (or more wet) garden. On the other hand, I had to laugh at this one, known as O. gaura. That just seems odd. Anyway, it’s shown as a native in your state, and even into Canada, but it’s not one of ours. So it goes!

  9. A lovely and irregular flower and lovely photographs. That cross-shaped stigma is remarkable, and familiar from my local primrose, Oenothera biennis. Those red leaves are striking and pretty.

    1. I just mentioned to another reader from your area that I thought O. biennis might thrive up there, and now you’ve confirmed that. I do enjoy the asymmetry, and the casual way all the flower’s parts seem to have been put together. I tried and tried to get a decent abstraction of two leaves — one pure red, one green — but the wind finally won that battle.

      1. O. biennis is all over the place up here, but it’s a symmetrical flower, unlike your primrose. The wind is the very devil for flower photography!

        1. I know a blogger whose wife’s name is Biene. Looking at the name of your flower, I wondered if there was any connection between her name and the specific epithet. It may be. The translation sites tell me that the German word ‘biene’ means ‘bee,’ or ‘bees.’ Do the bees particularly enjoy your O. biennis?

  10. Such a beauty! I’m glad you found them, and I’m gladder you shared them here. I’m learning so much about Texas botany than I ever did while living there!

    1. They’re really a pretty flower. I’m not sure how long each flower lasts; my sense is that it might be only a day or so. Still, their bloom period is quite long, so those ‘replacement flowers’ might keep blooming for another week or two, unless our sudden spate of cold weather and shorter days puts an end to them.

  11. A great profile of a superb SoCal plant — truly carefree here and tolerant of just about everything. My local nursery had a variegated leaf variety that I snapped up.

    1. I didn’t realize so many cultivars had been developed until I started reading about the plant online. While the different forms and colors are pleasant, I do love the white flowers of our native.

    1. This is the first name change I’ve come across that makes sense to me; I suppose because I can see the similarity between this flower and other members of the genus. Now, I’m going to search out other Oenotherae to see if they also have that cross-shaped stigma — although I may have to wait until next spring.

    1. On the day I photographed these, it was quite windy, and blossoms were flying. The plant itself seems to be flexible, though, and the buds seem able to take a good bit of wind. For every flower that flies off, there’s another waiting to open.

  12. I’ve tried to grow Gaura several times. They did not flourish and died. The last time the plant lived and grew all summer reaching that 3-4’ height But never bloomed. I pulled it up.

    1. That surprises me, since it’s supposed to be a resilient plant, and you sure do know how to manage plants. I suppose there would be any number of reasons, but non-gardener me is going to have to defer to you on this one! The good news is that you certainly aren’t without floral delights.

  13. It’s a lovely plant and appears to have come to a comfortable state of living with its stigma. And I also enjoyed the nod to Kundera’s title. Those red-tinged leaves are quite lovely as is the plant in its entirety.

    1. Look at you! I did have Kundera’s title in mind, and once again you’re the one who picked up on it. I was at the state park on the day before Thanksgiving, and nearly all of the gaura had disappeared. There were a few flowers left, but most of them were on plants closer to the ground; an against-the-sky shot wouldn’t have been possible. Even the leaves had mostly dried and crumbled — a sure sign of a turning season.

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