A New Answer to an Old Question

Texas Dandelion ~ Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus

Each year, as shrubs begin to bud and a flush of nearly-green begins to overtake lawns and roadsides, I remember the teasing question from my childhood:

Spring has come, the grass is riz!
I wonder where the flowers iz?

Yesterday, the beginning of this year’s answer came when I discovered some of the first of my beloved spring flowers.

Texas dandelions, visually similar to the European dandelions but in a different genus, suddenly have appeared on small town residential streets and county roads; despite being few in number and a bit bedraggled, they are a welcome sight.

Because of a late, after-errands start, I easily could have missed them. Their showy flowers, composed entirely of ray florets, open early, but close in only a few hours. Somewhat later in the day, when I passed down the same road where I’d found the one shown above, no flowers were visible.

Ten-petal Anemone ~ Anemone berlandieri

Knowing that Ten-petal Anemones have appeared a bit to the north, I stopped by the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge to check a small, meadow-like area where I’ve found them in the past. Numerous flowers had emerged despite a relatively recent mowing; in time, they will overspread the area and host a variety of pollinators.

Texas Vervain ~ Verbena halei

The unexpected prize of the day was a scattering of Texas Vervain at the end of the Brazoria refuge’s auto tour route. Flowering beneath a sign near the Rogers Pond viewing platform, they obviously hadn’t consulted a calendar. March seems to be considered the beginning of their season, but at this spot a variety of flowers appear early or linger late into the fall. Prickly pear, verbena, Indian paintbrush, and firewheels mix with a variety of salt marsh plants, and even ladies’ tresses orchids have popped up in the past.

It’s time to begin looking.


Comments always are welcome.

73 thoughts on “A New Answer to an Old Question

    1. When I looked through my archives, I found myself thinking that things were a little late this year. Usually, I’ve seen Indian paintbrush by this time. Granted, they emerge only here and there, and the great spreads of them come later, but by mid-February there’s a lot in bloom – and we’re getting close.

        1. There’s still a good bit of brown — the grasses, particularly — but the warmth and the rain are encouraging growth. If we can get past mid-February without another hard freeze, I suspect spring is going to be flowerful, indeed.

    2. It does seem a little early for flowers to bloom, but we were surprised, too: we had white, pink, and red camellias planted in our front yard and both the red and the pink ones were in bloom. It’s in the 30s here at night, what are the camellias thinking?

      1. Maybe they weren’t thinking; maybe they’re just tired of winter, too. I did spend a few more minutes in my archives this morning, and I was surprised by the number of January flowers I found there. It’s just one of the reasons I love this state.

    1. This morning I heard some people fussing about the ‘cold’ that’s coming our way later this week, but I couldn’t find a forecast low less than 42 degrees. Everyone here is hoping that we escape another state-wide hard freeze; when I looked at forecasts for your area, I started to shiver. Snow is one thing, but sleet always sounds colder for some reason.

        1. And there we have the proof of what a friend calls a ‘thinko’ rather than a typo. I typed ‘sleet,’ but I meant freezing rain, and especially the black ice that comes along with those downed power lines. We’ll get sleet here at least once every year, or even twice. You’re right that it’s a nuisance more than anything.

  1. As I looked out the window this morning, I saw light snow had fallen. A raccoon walked along the front sidewalk leaving perfect tracks. There was not a flower in sight. Thanks for sharing your photos. They reminded me of good things to come.

    1. Game cams are great for revealing who’s visiting the neighborhood, but tracks are a different kind of fun. I have to depend on mud for tracks around here, but I well remember finding snow tracks. In those days, I probably couldn’t have distinguished a raccoon from anything but the mailman; it would be fun to give it a try now.

    1. The vervain I found truly were ‘babies.’ The tallest was only about 8″, and this one was about 4″. Nonetheless, they were blooming away. Thank you, macro lens! I love to see them massed along the roadside once their season fully arrives, but even a few stems are welcome this time of year.

      1. I love vervain, and have tried to grow some species of them in my garden, with no luck so far; they die out fast, or don’t grow at all. Blue and purple flowers are the best!

        1. Have you tried Verbena lasiostachys? It’s native in California, and not confined to one region. There are a couple of others shown as native in your area on the BONAP map. I didn’t check their colors, but the V. lasiostachys is a nice, deep lavender.

          1. I think this is a plant I have seeds for, and tried in the past. In February when I delve into my seeds maybe I will find them again, and let you know. And maybe I will try planting them again!

    1. Happy, indeed. I noticed what I think might be buttercups in some pastures, and I would swear I came across one plant that might have been groundsel, but I couldn’t get to it for a closer look. No matter. In time, those plants will come to us. The crow poison is thick now, so the Indian paintbrush won’t be far behind.

  2. It is time to begin looking! I typically have a couple of the Texas dandelions, but none so far. I have quite a few Carolina geranium and Ten-petal anemone–neither are blooming yet. Let’s hope for a chilly, but not frozen rest of February…and March!

    1. I’ve seen the leaves of Carolina geranium, but no flowers. I had hoped to find a colored anemone, but I’ve rarely seen them around here. I’m more likely to run into them around Palacios or in the hill country. I checked out the spiderwort-rich vacant lot in a nearby town, and was delighted to see that it hasn’t been mowed since before Christmas. With luck, they’ll let it be, and ‘my’ white spiderworts will bloom again this year.

        1. I’m surprised your spiderworts are blooming already. If it’s going to rain all week and keep me from working, I may run over to Brazos Bend and see what’s happening there. There’s a place on their wildflower trail where the spiderworts were thick last year. If they’re going to appear anywhere, I’d think it would be there.

          1. There was a large cluster blooming before we left in December! Of course, they were blasted by that hard freeze. Still, the green is coming back. Not much phases those–except for mowers.

          1. I think our lows are going to be about 34. Cold and wet, but not freezing. The Hill Country will get it though. If long term forecasts are to be believed (they’re not!) we’re going to have lots of chilly weather, but no freezes. That suits me just fine. I’m behind in my pruning. I wait as long as I can, but I’ve had cataract surgery (second eye this past Thursday). It’s great, but I have to be careful an not over-do. I’m not good at that.

            1. Ugh–I was looking at the Nat’l Weather Service Site from earlier yesterday and they’ve updated: we’ll be at 32 for a couple of days, which isn’t horrible, but not great either. I clipped some blooming spiderwort because they won’t be available after this little bout of freeze, so I might as well enjoy them on my kitchen table. They actually make great cut flowers, though I’m not usually into cut flower much. Except when a freeze is about to happen. Sigh.

  3. Spring is on the way! My forsythia has been popping out some yellow blossoms for a week now.

    I know we’ve not yet shown Old Man Winter the door yet but these early spots of color do lift the spirits.

    1. We used to bring branches of forsythia and pussy willow into the house, and force them in vases. Mom didn’t plant things like crocus, so those were our earliest spring flowers, and you’re exactly right: those spots of color make a huge difference even when late winter gloom is lingering.

  4. Lovely spring flowers! (I think your dandelion is prettier than ours.) My childhood version of that question ended ‘I wonder where the boidies iz?’ (Boidies = birdies.)

    1. I’ve never heard the ‘bird version’ of the couplet, but it certainly suits just as well. I laughed at ‘boidies.’ That reminded me of the accent my New Jersey born and raised uncle carried with him.

      This dandelion also is known as small-flower desert chicory or false dandelion. I suppose the ‘chicory’ name’s also a result of the flower’s similarity to true chicory in terms of appearance (although not in color), just as it got tagged as a dandelion because of its similarity to your flower.

  5. Not quite Spring here in South Florida. But, sometimes the plants do get confused here. We have intermittent winter in the way of passing fronts. So it’s cold then warm, so that might trigger spring flowers. I know with bird nesting that Florida starts early with mating and egg sitting in January whereas it is later coming as you go up the Eastern seaboard.

    I have always appreciated dandelions despite their reputation for being a nuisance weed. A lot of beauty and wonderful design in flowers not used in professional landscaping certainly.
    Your Spring is sprung lines are exactly what my mother said on the occasion. As a kid you don’t realize that such an expression is not unique to your parent.
    I am not ready to relinquish what little winter Florida gets and look forward to less humid and cooler conditions when it comes. Long term cold…no on that!!

    Thanks for the Texas view of what’s blooming!!

    1. Ah, yes. That bouncing back and forth between winter and spring (or on the other end, between summer and fall) is known by several names here, including ‘wardrobe weather.’
      As the fronts slide to and fro, I sometimes have to shed or put on clothes three or four times a day. The plants don’t have that advantage. Once they put on their spring clothes, that’s it for them — unless winter undresses them!

      And of course you’re right about our ambivalence toward spring. It’s lovely, but it’s a precursor to that 90/90 weather many of us dread: 90 degrees, with 90 percent humidity.

      The European dandelion — cursed weed of lawns — actually can be put to some good uses, like making dandelion wine and feeding pet squirrels. I saw a small clutch of the European yesterday, right across the street from some of these Texas dandelions. I do think these natives are prettier. For one thing, they’re taller, and they can have some lovely variations in their color.

  6. I look forward to the slightly warming weather of spring and all the flowers that will bring. And I’ll have you to help keep me encouraged of what may be just around the corner as you experience spring earlier than I. Those vervain are gorgeous.

    1. Here’s what you may find an amusing aside. When I first began roaming the Texas countryside in search of flowers, it took several years for me to stop being late to the party. I had so internalized my midwestern calendar, it seemed impossible for me to begin looking for flowers in January and February. I ‘knew’ that spring begins in April, thank you very much! The past three years or so, I’ve finally bestirred myself months earlier, and profited for it.

      I honestly believe we imprint on our childhood landscapes as surely as we do on our parents. I’m sure that’s why some people say, “It’s way too early for wildflowers.” They don’t think so; they feel it, and often those feelings are primal. It’s why the sight of fully tasseled corn in May, or harvesting taking place in July, makes me feel off-balance. I grew up knowing that corn should be “knee high by the 4th of July,” and knowing that harvest came in October or November.

  7. That does not look like a dandelion to me — I’d have called it a flower! But then again, many a child (mine included) insisted dandelions were flowers, and who’s to say they’re not (if only in their minds?!?) Linda, it’s awfully nice hearing that you’re spotting these beginnings-of-spring, especially when we in the Midwest have several more months of winter to trudge through!

    1. I’m with Domer on this one. Of course dandelions produce flowers — even though generations of lawn owners and lawn maintenance crews have declared the common (or European) dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) to be a weed, and battle it vigorously. My dad hated them, and dug them out at the first sign of a new plant, but my grandparents made wine from them, and of course my squirrel loved those fresh, tasty leaves in the spring.

      Pollinators love them, too. In fact, since they’re one of our earliest spring wildflowers, they really benefit hungry bees and other insects who are looking for pollen and nectar. The truth is that even our “weeds” flower and make seed; that’s why they spread so widely. I always grin when I see this Texas dandelion and the common dandelion from Europe blooming in the same yard. At least they’ve learned to co-exist!

    1. There are a couple of ‘rules’ I learned when I moved to Texas: never prune your roses before Valentine’s Day, and take the pecan trees as the final word on whether spring truly has arrived. If the pecan trees are leafing out, the chances of a serious freeze are almost nil. Or so we hope!

    1. Yes, well… winter storm warnings have just come out for a good portion of the state, with icing a serious concern. It’s not going to be a week to look for wildflowers, that’s for sure. Even though it looks as though we’ll stay in the 40s and 50s at the coast, it’s a gloomy week ahead, with rain forecast every day. Anyone who works outdoors is not amused.

  8. During our current cold spell with temperatures dropping into the single digits at night and not climbing out of the teens during the day, it’s hard for me to imagine that you are looking at spring flowers.
    Are Texas Dandelions also considered “weeds,” like its European namesake, or actually appreciated as wildflowers?

    1. The irony is that winter weather advisories for cold and ice have just been issued for a good portion of our state. It seems the conditions won’t drop as far as the coast, but the models have changed quite a bit today. This kind of see-sawing back and forth is fairly typical for our transitional seasons, so we’ll just have to wait and see how things unfold.

      I really don’t know how to answer your ‘weeds or wildflowers’ question. My sense of things is that most people consider them wildflowers, particularly since they often mix with flowers like pink evening primrose or prairie verbena, which are recognized and appreciated as signs of spring. They seem to prefer disturbed or less well tended ground, so they probably show up less often in places like lawns that have been regularly mowed, fertilized, and ‘de-weeded.’ But alongside highways, beneath powerline easements, and on vacant land they can form large, beautiful colonies. Because they’re taller than the common dandelion, they can command attention, and most people I know really enjoy seeing them.

      1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Texas Dandelions, Linda. I believe that we should reconsider the artificial dichotomy we have created between plants we consider desirable and undesirable. In a healthy ecosystem, plants can find an equilibrium, but I fear there are few to no undisturbed ecosystems on this earth where humans haven’t intervened and, for the most part, created havoc. Our willingness to pour poisons on our lawns makes me shudder.

        1. I mostly agree, but the fact remains that some plants are entirely undesirable outside of their ‘home territory.’ Teaching people to draw distinctions based on the positives and negatives of actual plants, rather than on simple human preference (hello, you dandelion murderers!) is a good first step.

          Offering alternatives instead of simply criticizing is important, too. For example, a native lawn grass that’s a combination of blue grama and buffalograss will work in the Houston area — if the HOA allows it. And more often than in the past native ground covers are being recommended around here as alternatives to grass. That’s all to the good.

  9. Oh, I like the delicate shade of the vervain. One of my pet peaves is people who pronounce Anemone as Ah-nen o me. Like knives squeaking on porcelain.

    1. I can’t remember hearing someone pronounce the word that way; when I tried it myself, it was hard to do. I did have trouble with some words as a child; ‘wolf’ always was ‘woof,’ and ‘towel’ came out something like ‘tao.’ It’s pretty clear which sound was giving me trouble. Maybe something similar is happening with the flower’s name.

      Whatever it’s called, it’s a beauty. That shade of lavender always has appealed to me.

  10. I love your spring flowers, Linda! The thermometer on our porch reads 26 degrees, and the forecast is for 20 degrees by morning. I’ll think of these Texas beauties when I wake up to the frost up here.

    1. I’ll be thinking of these beauties this week, too. A good portion of the state is under a winter storm warning, with ice on the menu as well as cold. We’re going to be cold and rainy at the coast until Friday, so I suspect spring will be hitting the pause button for a few days. That said, these early appearing flowers make clear that once conditions improve, we’ll have even more beauty to enjoy.

  11. That vervain is especially beautiful to me. And your dandelions are much prettier than ours! Lucky you, with spring flowers. With a fresh layer of snow on the ground and temps in the teens, it will be some time before we get the privilege!

    1. Isn’t that a pretty lavender? I always smile when I see these very small, very young plants determined to bloom. Spring won’t be denied — although we’re in for a bit of a pause, given the fact that yet another cold front has made it to the coast. We’re going to be cold and rainy all week, and poor central Texas (and the Dallas area!) are under a winter storm warning. Unfortunately, it’s going to be ice rather than snow. Isn’t Rick’s mom in the Dallas area?

  12. My aunt, who lives in the same county as I do, posted photos of her daffodils which were going to town! Mine still look like they did when I posted them a few weeks ago. She lives on a ridge and we live in a hollar, and I guess that makes all the difference.

    1. I’m sure it does. I’d think that up on the ridge the extra sunlight and warmth would encourage your aunt’s flowers. When I was spending time at my little cabin in the woods, it was in a holler directly below a friend’s ridge top property. The temperature difference between our places often was as much as five or six degrees.

  13. Too early yet to look for spring here – our latest snow just melted, but we’ll probably get more before spring shows its face. Sometimes February brings a huge snowfall, so we’ll see what’s in store for us. Oh, and I remember that little childhood rhyme too!

    1. One of the great rituals in 1960s Iowa was the Boys’ basketball tournament blizzard. It came like clockwork every year in March. It was the funniest thing; people got used to looking forward to it. Even with the odd events each year brings, the larger patterns hold. Learning to accept the ups and downs is part of the fun!

    1. I suppose the answer’s both yes and no. Our ‘Texas dandelions’ (aka ‘false dandelion’ or ‘small-flower desert chicory’) are taller than the common (European) dandelion, but the flower heads are about the same size. Texas dandelions tend toward a lemony-yellow, while the common dandelion’s more a buttery yellow. The desert chicory name probably came because the flower grows in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico, and tolerates more arid environments.

  14. Like Ann above, the version of the poem that I learned, Linda, was ‘Spring has come, the grass is riz, let’s go where the birdies iz.” I had a college professor who liked to quote it in reference to the young couples disappearing into the woods next to the campus in spring. I don’t think they were looking for birdies, however, or flowers. I’m guessing another month before the flowers start showing up here. I plan on heading into DC when the cherry trees bloom.
    On another note, did you post your piece on the ‘Alexandria Quartet?’ I don’t want to miss it.

    1. No, I’m working on it right now, and intend to have it posted tonight or tomorrow.

      I love that third variation on the ‘spring has sprung’ theme. I suspect your prof might have created the adaptation to suit the circumstances! Of course it does bring to mind another old saying about what a young man’s thoughts turn to when the weather warms and the flowers appear!

    1. They seem to have pushed the pause button for now, but once we have another warmup and they get a bit of sunshine, there will be many more appearing. I read another gardener in central Missouri and he says the same thing; spring clearly is on the horizon, but only faintly right now.

    1. And it just takes a spot of color to make a person more cheerful: or so it seems to me. When our pink evening primroses begin to appear, then it will be ‘real spring,’ and there will be color galore.

  15. What excitement, Linda! We are still far off from spring flowers so it was lovely to see a few of yours. That said, last year I had a couple of wildflowers I had purchased from The New England Wildflower Society’s western Mass farm, Nasami, that did not get into the ground so brought them inside. One stayed leafed out, a wild strawberry, and another may or may not make it. But the sere brown American Spikenard-Aralia racemosa stem has burgeoned into a handsome multi-leaved plant and is so far ahead of where it would be outdoors that we may have ourselves at least one very early wild bloom.

    1. Instead of ‘bloom where you are planted,’ you have a plant that’s willing to bloom (or at least grow) where it’s been set aside to wait for spring. There’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s a sure sign of approaching spring, whatever the weather.

      When I got my first plumeria cuttings from a customer, it was November. She told me not to plant them, but to put them under my bed and forget about them until spring. One day in March, I happened to look, and lo! they had begun leafing out. I pulled them from under the bed, put them in dirt, and they took off like a shot. From that point on, every time a serious freeze was predicted, I’d trim some plants and stick the stems under the bed. A plant determined to grow won’t be denied.

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