The Awakening Prairie ~ Early March

Nash Prairie ~ early March

Vibrant bluebonnets and glowing fields of Indian paintbrush have come to define spring in Texas: so much so that anyone passing Nash Prairie while searching for early wildflowers might think it little more than an abandoned field, or an overgrown collection of weeds.

In truth, the first time I set off to visit Nash I wasn’t able to find the place, even though I’d been given directions and a map. It took a friendly neighbor — and a goat — to help me find the great swath of unbroken land I’d passed several times without recognizing it as ‘prairie.’

The story of that initial search still amuses me, and since it also provides an introduction to the history of Nash Prairie, I’ve republished it on The Task at Hand as a companion piece for this pair of posts showing a different aspect of a delightful season.

In early spring, prairie flowers often are small or low growing; even easily-spotted blooms can require a hands-and-knees approach to photography. Blue-eyed grass, a member of the Iris family, appears as early as January. Recently, its numbers have been increasing dramatically, creating a blue haze over the land that’s as pleasing as fields of bluebonnets.

Blue-eyed grass ~ Sisyrinchium spp.

By early March, beaked corn salad appears. Multiple explanations have been offered for the plant’s odd name. Some say it’s rooted in the plant’s tendency to invade wheat fields; others suggest it arose from use as a salad green. Julian Steyermark, the distinguised botanist and author of Flora of Missouri, once noted that basal rosettes of the plant “make an excellent salad, especially when prepared with olive oil and vinegar.”

Beaked Corn Salad ~ Valerianella radiata

Bluets are among our tiniest flowers. Two to six inches tall, with flowers only a quarter to a third of an inch across, they were scattered across more open portions of the prairie by early March. Initially, I assumed the white bluets were variants of H. pusilla, but their greater height and significant numbers suggested a different species; H. micrantha seems a reasonable possibility.

Tiny bluet ~ Houstonia pusilla
Southern bluet ~  Houstonia micrantha

A flower that stymied me turned out to be introduced rather than native; I found a few Caley (or singletary) peas at the edge of a service road leading into the prairie. Introduced into the United States from Mediterranean areas of Europe to serve as forage, it naturalized; now it appears in areas along roadsides and railroads, and at edges of fields — precisely where I found it.

Caley pea ~ Lathyrus hirsutus
Caley pea ~ Lathyrus hirsutus

Venus’s Looking-glasses belongs to the Campanulaceae, or bellflower family. According to a North Carolina Extension site, their common name reflects early botanical descriptions of a similar European plant (Legousia speculum) whose seeds were said to be as shiny as looking glasses. In addition to the species shown here, Triodanis lamprosperma, the Prairie Venus’s Looking-glass, also has been documented at Nash Prairie

Clasping Venus’s looking glass ~ Triodanis perfoliataSmall Venus’s looking glass ~ Triodanis perfoliata subsp. biflora

That same North Carolina site happened to have a photo of a small Venus’s Looking-glass bud. In 2019, I took a photo of a bud at the Broadway cemeteries in Galveston, but wasn’t able to identify it. The photo lingered in my files, and now it can be shown for what it is — a Venus’s Looking-glass hosting a tiny fruit fly, Dioxyna picciola.

Triodanus spp. with a very attractive fruit fly

I first found yellow star grass at the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge, and was pleased to encounter it again at Nash. Although widespread in the eastern half of the U.S., it doesn’t form large colonies, and usually is somewhat scattered where it appears. A member of the lily family, the plant arises from a small corm before producing flowers approximately an inch across. Rarely more than six inches tall, its vibrant color shines even in the midst of new grasses and detritus from a past season.

Online sources differ considerably when it comes to the genus name. Some say that Hypoxis refers to the plant’s sour leaves. Others suggest beaked seed capsules, or the pointed base of an inferior ovary. Since another genus name, Oxalis, refers to those plants’ bitter, sour, or acid taste, I suspect Hypoxis does the same.

On the other hand, there’s little mystery about this flower’s specific epithet. Even the most casual glance at its leaves, stems, or buds reveals a wealth of little hairs;  hirsuta is the Latin word for “rough, shaggy, hairy, bristly, or prickly.”

Yellow star grass ~ Hypoxis hirsuta
Yellow star grass turned golden in the light

When I returned to the prairie at the end of March, it occurred to me that, as the days grow longer, many plants grow taller. The yellow star grass had new yellow and gold companions, and they weren’t at all shy about being seen. But that’s the next chapter in this story of spring-into-summer.


Comments always are welcome.
To read about my first visit to the Nash Prairie, please click here.

59 thoughts on “The Awakening Prairie ~ Early March

  1. My first response to Beaked corn salad was ‘What the heck?’ Thanks for clarifying, Linda. As much as was possible. My favorite photo was your last. The orange and yellow contrast made me smile. –Curt

      1. The combination of a just slightly over the top bloom and the late afternoon light made for a pleasing contrast. I have another image that seems even more burnished, but the anthers weren’t as well separated as these.

    1. And I’ve just remembered that in some places, what we call ‘wheat’ is called ‘corn.’ It’s confusing, but it makes sense of a wheat-field weed being called ‘corn salad’ — greens mixed in with grain. As for that yellow star flower, they usually appear a more standard issue yellow, but at the end of the day, the more golden light really added to this one.

    1. The first time I saw entire fields filled with red clover, it was in Mississippi. They were beautiful; I can well understand being eager for them to appear again.

  2. My hands and knees are sore.

    Having complained about it, I have added Nash Prairie to my list of “must visit” spots as soon as we visit Houston again!

    Outstanding photographs of flowers which are easily overlooked. All six species you highlighted can be found in Florida, although some are in very small areas only. Four are listed in our immediate area and I’ve seen three.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful collection from the prairie!

    1. Given the variety of environments you prowl through, I’m not surprised that you’ve come across most of these. I noticed when reading about them how many also appear in your state. Nash could keep you busy, that’s for sure. Its proximity to Brazos Bend State Park is a plus, and even the county roads between the two are filled with things to discover. As sharp-eyed as you and Gini are, boredom would be an impossibility.

    1. Tiny, they are. Small flowers are one thing; small flowers in the midst of a prairie are something else. I often see the bluets at our local parks, but in those places mowing is a plus; it allows the flowers to pop up in full view of everyone – including photographers.

    1. While I was prowling around, I came across one of your photos of the very same creature, although in your case it was fruit flies — plural. The scientific name raised no thoughts of piccolo players poisoned by dioxin this time; I had to laugh when I saw I’d included that in my comment on your post.

  3. Such gorgeous colors! I’m impressed at your ability to find IDs for these plants, Linda. Too often, I see interesting flowers (or perhaps they’re weeds?), but I have no clue what they are. Kudos to you for providing “the rest of the story”!

    1. Finding the right ID can be a challenge, that’s for sure. I have built a little library of useful books, and of course there are websites and such that help.

      Have you ever seen how the app called PictureThis works? You can snap a photo with your phone, and it provides an identification. Sometimes it’s wrong, and occasionally it’s dead wrong, but those errors are pretty easy to catch if you cross-reference with an image search on the web. When I first got it, I gave it a try by snapping photos of plants whose identity I already knew, and it was on target 100% of the time. It’s amazing, really — and fun, too. You also can use it to ID trees, insects, birds — it would be a great tool to take along when you’re walking Monkey.

    1. It was hard to tear myself away from the bluebonnets and etc., but there’s more to spring than those Chamber of Commerce beauties! Things may perk up even more after this week; I see that you have good rain chances, too. We’re not doing too badly, but we could use rain, and I know that you need it even more. Let’s hope it comes without wreaking havoc!

        1. You do have less rain in your forecast than we do, but I hope you get some. They say we’ll have showers and thunderstorms Wednesday-Sunday, with one to three inches possible each day. We’ll see!

    1. Isn’t that cute, and cool? At the time, I had absolutely no idea what the flower was, but I really wanted to be able to get a nice macro shot of the insect. It took me a good while to identify that, too — the world’s full of puzzles, but occasionally some solve themselves!

    1. I think the Venus’s looking glasses are the prettiest, although that yellow star is pretty darned nice, too. There will be one more splash of lavender in the next post, and plenty of yellow!

    1. And that little fly was the only one I didn’t have to crawl around for. The flower was in a section of graves that were somewhat higher than the sidewalk, so I could stand up while taking the photo. I don’t think the fly would have allowed it, otherwise.

    1. It is a funny name. Until I did a little digging, I didn’t realize that ‘corn’ in British English denotes all cereal grains, including wheat, oats and barley. There’s a species of corn salad native to Europe (Valerianella locusta), so maybe the name arose there, when people saw the plant mixed in with their grains.

  4. I’m agreeing with Curt and Steve, these are all nice shots and boy it’s nice to see all these pretty wildflowers and liked the last picture the best, that’s a pretty neat design.

    1. I was pleased to get that last photo; I had to really look for a flower that wasn’t half-hidden by grasses and such. In nature, there’s not much contrast between the yellow star grass flower and its yellow anthers, so the contrast provided by the light was really useful.

    1. Although their shapes differ, their size and colors remind me of the violets and lily of the valley that were our midwestern spring flowers. Both of those grew among my mother’s ferns, and it was just as much fun searching them out when they arrived. We finally have some rain in the forecast, and I’m hoping that will perk things up even more.

    1. Speaking of the least of these, we’re suddenly awash in baby mallards. I have a hard time concentrating at work; when I hear that peeping, I want to run off and watch the ducks — especially the mama who has fourteen of them trailing behind her. It’s a season full of wonders, both small and large.

    1. Slowing down and bending down when necessary’s the only way to go. It’s easy to miss things: certainly from a car, but even on a brisk hike. Meandering’s more my style, and it’s so enjoyable. Occasionally, even a nice sit-down allows birds and creatures to reveal themselves — patience is key.

  5. The story of you passing the place without recognizing that its a prairie was funny. I seem to recognize some of these flowers, maybe not the same species, but the floral succession- as you pointed out, small flowers first then things becoming taller- is kind of universal. Very nice photographs and full with detail. I am particularly fond of the fruit fly photograph. Spring here in CA is slow coming, lots of water on the ground yet and low temps. Waiting in excitement for what’s to come.

    1. I remembered you commenting, but your comment seems to have disappeared. I’m just replying here to see if I can get it to surface for a proper response.

    2. There you are! Who knows what that ‘disappearance’ was about. I sometimes find new terms and phrases in comments, and ‘floral succession’ is one. I’ve heard ‘succession’ used in terms of the natural development of dunes and prairies generally, but it fits here, too.

      Isn’t that little fruit fly attractive? That’s one reason I love my macro lens; it’s perfect for revealing unsuspected beauty.

  6. We don’t have a lot of prairies here in Michigan (that I’m aware of) — and certainly not like you! I love that you couldn’t find it and thank goodness for the neighbor! Your blooms are beautiful — I love the blue ones. We don’t see a lot of those here.

    1. Your sense of things is on target. Here’s a map from MSU showing the extent of Michigan prairies; you’re on the eastern edge of things. The little flowers always appeal to me. Our bluebonnets can be spectacular, but there’s room in the world — even a necesssity — for small beauties, too.

  7. The prairies are such amazing landscapes, vestiges of what used to be, and all the more precious for it. Let’s fervently hope that what remains can be preserved and perhaps even expanded. If only we would allocate the same funding to taking care of the Earth as we set outside for space exploration……

    1. Indeed. Preservation and restoration need to go hand in hand; every acre added or saved is a little victory. As for space, it seems we’re well on the way to littering there, too. There are valid reasons for all those satellites and such, but our night skies may end up as dimmed as our land is degraded.

    1. I love the details, and the ways in which such small flowers differ from one another. Just now, we’re getting a lovely rain — more flowers to come!

    1. Until a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have had a clue what a tussie-mussie was, but now I know, and you’re exactly right. Those always reminded me of the paper cones we’d make and fill with flowers or sweets for May Day, too. There’s something about ‘small’ that has large appeal!

  8. Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is missing a thing or two.

    Latin isn’t near as fun as the “common” names. It’s almost as if someone quaffed a few mint juleps and munched a certain mushroom, then went out to assign new names to old things.

    1. I think that’s right. Scientific names can convey a lot of information, but those common names pique interest. Sneezewort and Mother-in-law’s Tongue come to mind, although I must say: ‘beaked corn salad’ might be at the top of the weird name list.

  9. Apparently “what lies beneath” is an appropriate term for many things, such as undeveloped prairie acreage. May the prairie stay undeveloped. IN a short time I will only have to stumble out my back door to find and photograph Bluets. And Yellow Star Grass is an annual subject as well. Blue-eyed grass also. It’s nice to have a few species in common. When I was in junior high school poor fruit flies were always an experiment subject, most of whom did not live to forage on any fruit in the wild.

    1. Now that the Nash is part of The Nature Conservancy, its survival is as assured as any prairie’s could be. While it’s been great fun finding these early flowers, I’m especially looking forward to some I’ve missed in the past. Rattlesnake master’s one. I have photos of it in bud, and photos of the seed heads, but I’ve always missed the flowers. This year, I’m going to make an effort to make it over there at the right time.

  10. It’s a great time of year. Spring wildflowers around here are also usually small and close to the ground. In fact, many are the same as, or very similar to, some you showed here. I really like your chosen view of many of these, especially Small Venus’s looking glass. Something about that angle that draws my eye, and having the flower right where it is works perfectly.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed that Venus’s looking glass, Todd. I had a couple of dozen views of it, and decided that was ‘the one’ to show. They’re far more common than I ever realized. In fact, last year I found some growing among some cypress tree roots at the edge of my parking lot; bloom where you are planted, indeed!

      One of the problems at this time of year is deciding which photos to post, and how many. Watching spring arrive in one area provides a wealth of images; wandering into two or three areas of our state increases the number of discoveries considerably. It sure is a great time of year.

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