Uncurling Blues

Anyone coming upon the tightly clustered buds of Phacelia congesta for the first time could be forgiven for assuming its flowers would be white. Instead, they emerge as a beautiful purple to lavender-blue, giving the plant its common name of ‘blue curls.’

As the buds mature, they begin to separate and uncurl, providing a second common name for the plant: caterpillars. A favorite Texas garden flower because of its abundant nectar — and deer resistance — blue curls grow easily from seed, and often form large colonies.

Most references indicate a March to May bloom time for blue curls; as summer heat arrives, they fade from the scene. In fact, the first three photos showing plants in various stages of opening were taken in Goliad on March 5.

That said, only one day prior, in the Rockport cemetery, the process of uncurling was nearly complete; many of the flowers already were beginning to fade. Goliad and Rockport are only sixty miles apart; it was a good reminder that local conditions, including temperature, hours of sunlight, and rainfall can make quite a difference in a plant’s life cycle.


Comments always are welcome.

47 thoughts on “Uncurling Blues

    1. Now all I have to do is expand my horizons a bit and find the forked blue curls. I wasn’t aware of that species until I went seaching online for ‘blue curls’ and Trichostema dichotomum kept popping up. I noticed on the USDA map that although it’s most common in the eastern part of Texas, it is listed for Bastrop County; another connection between that ecosystem and the sandy soils of east Texas.

    1. It doesn’t even have to be miles. On Galveston Island, the difference between the Gulf side of the Bluewater highway and the bay side is obvious. Begin comparing Galveston County and Montgomery County, and the differences become even more noticeable.

  1. Nature has developed many ways to pack huge amounts of things into extremely compact packages. Our DNA is an example. The word congesta in the name is very fitting.

    1. I noticed congesta too, and smiled. Sometimes the names seem exactly right, and this is one. I wouldn’t have thought about DNA as another example of nature’s neat packaging, but of course that’s right. What does come to mind is milkweed. I love seeing those seeds so beautifully aligned inside the pod.

    1. There’s more of that fuzziness for you! And I do enjoy watching them uncurl. A friend has them in her garden, so I’ve been familiar with them for a while. The pleasure here was finding the flowers early enough that I could photograph them at different stages — and all on the same morning.

    1. Believe me, Jean; I’m always learning something new because of this blog. More often than you might imagine, I come home with images of plants that are completely unknown to me. Then it’s time for stage two: figuring out what I’ve seen! That’s a great part of the fun for me; sharing the results is lagniappe.

  2. My blue curls are nuts this spring! They seeded out like crazy and I should have culled some, but didn’t. That said, the pollinators are all over them and it’s glorious! Your photos, as usual, are lovely.

    1. You’ve confirmed what I read over and over about these beauties: they create an irresistable draw for pollinators. At Rockport, I noticed lots of ants and other small crawling insects on them, too. They may be in bloom for only three months, but they certainly do a good job of setting the table for hungry insects.

      1. Oh, I’m tickled about that! My current crop are starting to go to seed. I’m going to pull most of them, but I’ll collect some seed for a few people and let some seed out in my garden. I *almost* have too many!

  3. What a glorious introduction to this wildflower! I’ve never seen it and wouldn’t’ve guessed those pale green nubs would produce vibrant blue blooms. That blue reminds me of tradescantia. Your third photo is a stunner.

    1. You’re right about the blue; its shading toward lavender or purple does recall our spiderworts. It’s quite the beauty, and it’s great fun to watch its development. Believe it or not, I can remember a time when I thought the last photo didn’t represent a stage of development; I thought it was a different species entirely. It didn’t seem possible that a flower could unroll so completely — but so it is!

    1. As I’ve often said, the benefits of my macro lens have more than outweighed the cost. I love the way it opens up the world that used to be hidden to me: particularly the details in flowers, and of course the insects. Granted, I spend a lot of time crawling around on the ground, and meet more chiggers and ants than I like, but I’m not inclined to stop!

      1. Good! Because the pictures are amazing! And I agree – the macro lens is an amazing tool. I’m very glad I have one and I certainly enjoy using it whenever I can

  4. Stunning photos as usual! I haven’t been able to get out during the week lately due to physical therapy and it is starting to get to me!

    1. I certainly understand that — the constraints life imposes can be frustrating, at best. On the other hand, if your physical therapy helps, the coming months may be even more enjoyable for you. The good news is that if you miss some blooms, others will be emerging. Not long ago, I saw rattlesnake master growing on a prairie and thought, “Zowie! This year I’m going to be able to finally see the flowers.” I usually show up in time to see the seed heads; they’re great, but those flowers are this year’s project.

    1. I was going to use that photo with the phlox in a series of ‘combinations,’ but I realized it would make a perfect addition to this post, since it shows the development of the bloom so well. Finding it with such a lovely background was a real plus!

    1. I found them a couple of years ago in a cemetery over by Nada/Garwood. That’s your neighborhood, so to speak, so they ought to do well for you. A friend in Kerrville started them with no trouble at all. They established quickly, and are still spreading, when she doesn’t pull them out.

  5. Looking at your first photo, I, too, would’ve thought this flower would be white. Nice to hear I’d have been wrong! Such a beautiful blue hue. Too bad they don’t linger longer, but I imagine their deer-resistant feature is quite appealing there.

    1. You’re right about that! Anything that’s deer resistant becomes a favorite. What squirrels, armadillos, and other digging creatures do to bulbs, the deer do to flowers. I was so pleased to find some in their early stages this year. Everything was a little early, and I could well have missed them. Still, even once they begin to uncurl, they’re cute as can be.

    1. I’d think so. I don’t know how long it takes for one to completely unfurl — obviously, some days — but people skilled in that sort of thing no doubt could work out the details.

  6. That’s a wonderful flower, and two wonderful shots, Are those below in the fourth image buds waiting to open or the spent blooms? We’ve chatted in the past about our two different Blue Curls. Both have loads of eye appeal.

    1. Those are buds. The flowers uncurl as the buds develop. I tried to find a photo of spent plants with seed heads, and guess where I found one? In Tina’s blog! There’s nothing like a gardener who also documents her garden in detail.

  7. What a lovely shade of blue!

    As has been discussed, our version of “Blue Curls” (Trichostema dichotomum) is different but I would be happy with any and all in front of me.

    That first image almost looks like a vegetable. I love the name “Caterpillars”!

    I agree with your comments about the value of a macro lens. It makes me slow down and look much more closely for details. As you said, a whole new world opens.

    1. I’d not seen that first image as a veggie, but you’re right. It looks rather like a cross between cauliflower and broccoli; I wonder how it would be with cheese sauce?

      As for the ‘caterpillar,’ remember in The Hunt For Red October the special submarine drive the Russians built? It was called a “caterpillar drive” and used hydro-magneto power instead of a traditional propeller; it was so quiet the theory was it could sneak up on any other sub (or country) and blow it to smithereens. Who knows? Maybe these flowers have a caterpillar drive of some sort that opens them!

  8. It wasn’t until I saw your last photo that I understood the reason for the “curls” name. As mentioned by one of your readers, I’d love to see a time-lapse. I confess, when I saw “congesta” I immediately thought of “congestion”… allergies are just one of the joys of looking closely at flowers.!

    1. I’m not afflicted by allergies any longer, although ‘cedar fever’ can get me occasionally. When I was a kid in Iowa, the doctor figured out that I didn’t have a cold all the time; I was allergic to corn pollen. I took shots for a few years, and that probably has served me well.

      It is worth remembering that not all flowers produce the sort of pollen that leads to allergic reactions. For example, goldenrod doesn’t affect us; it’s the ragweed that blooms at the same time that causes the problems. Goldenrod pollen grains are too big and heavy to get into our respiratory tract. There actually are lists of non-allergenic flowers for gardeners who want to avoid all that sneeziness — who knew?

    1. The good news is there’s a color for everyone — and everything. I’m a great fan of Paul Simon’s song “Kodachrome”. I can’t help it — I agree with Simon that “everything looks worse in black and white.”

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.