Green Eyes Smiling in the Sun

Soft greeneyes (Berlandiera pumila) ~ Hardin County

Somewhere, blue eyes may be crying in the rain, but Texas greeneyes (Berlandiera spp.) are beginning their seasonal smile.

Perennial wildflowers native to well-drained, sandy soils, Berlandiera is a small genus. Five species can be found in Texas; another, Berlandiera subacaulis, is endemic to Florida.

Sometimes called ‘chocolate flower’ because their blooms are said to smell like chocolate, all of the species also are known as ‘greeneyes.’  As the flowers mature, their disk flowers remain green and somewhat fuzzy; surrounded by yellow ray flowers, they do take on the appearance of an eye.

Yellow ray flowers beginning to emerge

When I discovered a species of soft greeneyes (B. pumila) in east Texas, I not only was charmed by their buds, I also noticed some small, dark features at the base of their yellow ray flowers that I couldn’t explain.

Yellow ray florets with mysterious dark ‘things’ at their base

Eventually, I learned that the flower heads of this genus differ from those of our more familiar sunflowers. For example, the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) also has ray flowers (petals) ringing the disk flowers in its center; the central disk flowers produce the familiar sunflower seeds, while the colorful ray flowers are sterile, and produce no seeds.

In greeneyes, the opposite is true.Their ray flowers are female, and produce the seeds; their male disk flowers are limited to producing pollen. In the photo of the soft greeneyes below, the seven ray flowers will produce seven seeds.

Whether the eighth ray flower caught up to the others and contributed to the effort is something we’ll never know.


Comments always are welcome.

57 thoughts on “Green Eyes Smiling in the Sun

    1. As soon as I read ‘crocheted,’ I saw it. I knew there was something the center of the flower reminded me of, and that’s it. My grandmother used to crochet afghans, and some of her sections were round. Done in yarn, they were thick and plush — just like this.

      1. This type of flower looks like a beautiful crochet, only something that an expert could do! To see a field of these would be wonderful.
        Crochet projects are so lovely and you hear often that crocheting is a relaxing hobby. Not for me! But for those who crochet, it’s a enviable skill.

        1. Crocheting and knitting aren’t for me, either. My mother could knit superbly well, and tried to teach me, but I wasn’t able to wrap my mind around the various techniques, or follow those complicated instructions. Perhaps I just wasn’t interested, since knitting involved a lot of sitting still in one place!

    1. Thanks, Derrick. I haven’t yet caught the chocolate scent, but there’s time enough to do that during this spring and summer. The next time I come across these, I’ll get closer and see if I can catch the same scent.

    1. I read that other genera — like Silphium — also produce seeds this way. I didn’t have time to confirm that before posting, but it’s true; they also have fertile ray flowers and sterile disk flowers. Accustomed to the seed-heavy heads of the sunflowers, I never would have guessed that.

      1. Hmmm…I’ll inspect my Silphium later this summer. I can say that I have S. perfoliatum in abundance – each flower produces a multitude of seeds that readily germinate to the point it’s becoming invasive in my garden!

  1. Good sleuthing to find out what those dark thingies are at the bases of the ray flowers. So much variation exists among the member of the large group we sometimes dismissively lump together as “darn yellow composites.”

    1. Now I’ve learned that the Silphium genus also reverses the sunflower way of producing seeds. There surely must be more, but I’ve not yet found them. What a marketing slogan this could be, even though it’s not entirely accurate botanically: “Petals — they’re not just for ‘pretty’ any more.”

    1. Well, you’re actually more right than you realize. Both greeneyes and dandelions are in the Asteraceae, or sunflower family. Oddly, some members of that family have disk and ray flowers, some have only ray flowers, and some only have disk flowers. It’s sometimes hard for me to remember which flowers have which arrangement — there’s a reason for that pile of books on my desk!

  2. Wonderful post – commentary AND photos. I learned a lot and feel a bit sheepish that I had been taking these lovely flowers for granted and hadn’t paid attention to the subtle details. Learned a lot from reading this. Thanks.

    1. I certainly learned a lot while tracking down the meaning of those little ‘thingies’ on the ray flowers. It may be true that the devil sometimes is in the details, but the details also can be the most fascinating aspect of a flower — or bird, or insect, or mountain. Now I’m wondering if someone has figured out how or why some plants made this ‘switch’ from producing seeds one way, to another.

    1. It’s one of those flowers that seems simple at first glance, but that’s filled with wonderful details at second and third looks. I’m glad I noticed those pretty little ‘additions’ to the ray flowers; they led to a bit more understanding about this family of flowers. Besides: they’re pretty!

  3. What a charming flower! Another I wish I could grow, but it seems to favor xeric conditions, not our usual weather. It smells like chocolate… yum!

    1. It is recommended for xeriscaping, and the places where I’ve found it have markedly sandy or well-drained soil. Two of those places — Hardin and Gonzales counties — are about 250 miles apart, but conditions were much the same. I wondered if the species endemic to Florida (B.subacaulis) might be more adaptable, but it’s said to occur there in sandhills, dry pine flatwoods, and mixed upland forests. It’s not salt tolerant, so it sure doesn’t grow on the Texas coast!

    1. I can imagine. Some plants just don’t enjoy our clays and gumbos. When you were giving them a try, did you notice the chocolate scent? I haven’t, but I didn’t know, when I was around them, that smelling like chocolate was a distinguishing feature. When I see them next, I’ll give them a sniff.

        1. A raised bed would be the way to go. I read that they aren’t salt tolerant, either. That explains why not a single species is in a coastal county.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever seen green eyes or maybe I have and just though they were sunflowers. how interesting about the ray flowers producing the seed.

    1. I’ve learned that other flowers I know are in your area — like roughstem rosinweed (Silphium radula) have the same ‘reversal’ when it comes to seed production. Plants in that genus also have fertile ray flowers instead of fertile disk flowers. There’s always something to learn!

    1. This is one whose texture appeals to me as much as the color or structure. The buds are so soft; they’re quite pleasant to touch. Now I’m eager to find some again, so I can catch that chocolate scent.

  5. Fascinating post! I can see that my notion of “what is a flower” was woefully naïve, thanks for the education (and the happy images!).

    1. Remember the movie Ace Ventura, Pet Detective? I never watched it, but the title’s stuck in my mind; there are days when I feel like a plant detective! There’s just no predicting what little detail will open up another path for exploration — and new insights.

  6. Our flower choices weren’t the same, but GMTA vis-a-vis Willie! This is a lovely flower; I knew about ‘chocolate daisy’ but I didn’t realize it was also called ‘green eyes’. I like the mystery dots, but I also like that little bit of the petal, just opposite of the dot, that’s removed. It creates a nice symmetry. Great post!

    1. Do your blue-eyed grasses cry in the rain? I suspect not; they probably celebrate the rain. Funny about common names. I didn’t know the name ‘chocolate daisy’ until I started researching this as ‘soft greeneyes.’ I know now that what we see on the surface of the petal — those little dots — are somehow connected to another part of the seed, but I haven’t figured that out entirely. I did find an explanation, but I need to spend some time re-reading it with my botanical dictionary at my side!

  7. Always interesting, Linda. I picture you eagerly searching the web to discover the flower’s secrets. The green eyes reminded me of an insects multi-faceted eyes.Possibly a dragonfly.

    1. Now, if someone were to crochet a dragonfly’s eye, that would be the perfect analogue. As for web-searching, yes: but I’ve found that Google is becoming less useful. There are times now when I get much better (i.e., more scientific or relevant) returns from the Duck, and I occasionally have found sources like JSTOR or peer-reviewed journals to be pretty darned helpful.

      1. Duck Duck sounds incredibly refreshing as a search engine, Linda. Imagine doing a search and not immediately being bombarded by ‘related’ ads. Or worse, being directed somewhere because Google/etc. is being paid by the company.

    1. It is an unusual-looking flower. Now I’m wondering: if the disk flowers don’t produce seeds, what do they look like in the fall, after the petals have fallen. I’d bet they look much the same as they do here: minus their fuzziness, perhaps. They certainly are on my to-be-looked for list for summer and fall.

    1. We certainly have our share of introduced/invasive/non-native species, but we also have about five thousand varieties of native wildflowers. It’s going to take me a while to find them all — or perhaps a tenth of them. Very occasionally I’ll post a non-native here, but if I do I make a note of it. Otherwise, you can assume that what you’re seeing is one of our native wildflowers — like this one.

  8. Interesting that the petals on the sunflower are extraneous to the real flower part, which is in the center. Confusing, but as long as the flowers and the polinators know which bits are which, I suppose our ignorance is forgiveable.

    1. Those who know say that in many cases, the color of various flower parts — like a sunflower’s rays — do have a purpose: to draw in pollinators by attracting their attention. In a similar way, lines and dots on some flowers’ interiors are a way of saying to insects “Hey! You! Here’s the way to the good stuff.” It’s as though the flowers took to heart William Morris’s dictum, somewhat paraphrased: “Have nothing in your bloom that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

  9. Wonderful photographs!

    Thank you for the detective work. A “reverse sunflower” system. Who says I’m too old to learn new stuff! (Mostly, just me.)

    We have encountered Florida Greeneyes in several areas but I was stunned that I could find no images in my records. Now we’ll have to organize a Greeneyes hunt!

    Another very educational, enjoyable and entertaining post!
    Willie would be proud.

    1. After pondering all this for a while, it occurred to me to wonder what the advantage could be for the greeneyes. A seed-heavy sunflower would seem better suited for ensuring the continuation of the species. On the other hand, given the number of critters that nosh on the sunflower’s seeds, the germination rate of sunflowers vs. greeneyes might be more similar than I first imagined.

      Good grief! The things we wonder as we wander!

      I’d wondered if you’d seen your greeneyes. As for your lack of photos: as we often say, “so many species, so little time!”

    1. I’ve never noticed the scent, but of course I didn’t know it existed. Now that I know, I fully intend to give the flowers a good sniff when I come across them again.

  10. The first thing that popped into my mind was the riddles between Bilbo and Gollum!
    An eye in a blue face
    Saw an eye in a green face.
    “That eye is like to this eye”
    Said the first eye,
    “But in low place,
    Not in high place.”

    Love the aeonium symmetry of that green eye photo with the petals still furled.

    1. “Aeonium” stopped me cold. It’s rare that I come across a word I’ve never heard, but there it was. Now, after a deep dive into the world of succulents, I have to agree: aeonium symmetry, for sure! Love the riddle, too. That’s another one that never would have occurred to me.

    1. Thanks primarily to a lovely, intricate flower! I have a hard time deciding which feature I like best. Now, I’m eager to find old greeneyes, to see what that ‘eye’ looks like in decline.

  11. So pretty! Love the colors and the information. Do you know if these grow in my neck of the woods? (I can look it up, but I figure you gathered that sort of tidbit when you were researching it!)

    1. Somewhat ironically, there’s one species that creeps close to you: Berlandiera texana, or Texas greeneyes. From what the Missouri Bontanical Garden says, it should do well for you. I noticed on their page that it thrives well in zones 6-8, and that’s you. I also noticed that it grows well from seed, and has very few disease or insect problems. It might be worth giving it a try.

    1. It’s a pretty and unusual green, too. The soft and fuzzy texture makes it even more appealing; some people think it looks like it’s been crocheted. I’m anxious to find some once they’ve finished blooming, to see what the center of the flower looks like then.

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