The Pleasure of Unexpected Treasure

Yellow rain lily (Zephyranthes pulchella)

After a friend and I discovered great swaths of bluebells and eryngo at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I decided to return for a day of solo exploration, and July 4 was my opportunity. 

Stopping for a quick survey of the planted gardens, I noticed what I assumed to be a late Texas dandelion blooming in the mowed grass edging the parking lot. A second look revealed something entirely different. A yellow rain lily was glowing in the sunlight, and at the very moment I recognized it, my day was complete.

I first encountered one of these lilies at a local nature center, and spent a good bit of time trying to identify it. Later, I found patches of them at Armand Bayou, and in the process of writing about them, satisfied myself that I’d found Zephyranthes smallii.

Still, my original identification had been provisional, so I emailed a pair of photos to Thomas Adams, botanist at the Mid-Coast National Wildlife Complex, which includes the Brazoria refuge. After noting that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between Zephyranthes citrina and Zephyranthes pulchella, he added that, given the equal size of the stamens and the short perianth tube, it seemed likely that I had stumbled across Zephyranthes pulchella: a Texas native that historically has been found close to Brazoria County.

Other surprises would come that day, but nothing could equal this bit of explosive color — an example of floral fireworks that seemed made for a day of celebration.

 

Comments always are welcome.

What Lindheimer Saw – Gaura

Flannery O’Connor’s conviction that “the writer should never be ashamed of staring; there is nothing that does not require his attention,” applies equally well to botanists.

Ferdinand Lindheimer — a German immigrant who arrived in Texas in 1836, equipped with amazing energy and obsessive curiosity — clearly had mastered the art of staring. Laura Deming, a great-great-great-granddaughter, recounts a family legend about the father of Texas botany:

Once, when He came upon a chief and a war party, he had a staring competition with the chief. Because he won, they allowed him to live.”

Whatever the truth of the story, when it came to the flora of Texas, Lindheimer’s propensity to stare served him well. In 1839-1840, he visited George Engelmann, a friend from Frankfurt who’d settled in St. Louis. After seeing the samples of Texas plants Lindheimer brought with him, Engelmann mentioned his work to Asa Gray, founder of the Gray Herbarium at Harvard University and author of Gray’s Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States. Gray was impressed, and interested.

Over the next years, Lindheimer provided Engleman and Gray with thousands of specimens, and left us a correspondence rich in references to discoveries made as he roamed Texas. Today, nothing delights me quite so much as finding one of the plants that bears his name, like this pretty Gaura (Oenothera lindheimeri), and then finding it mentioned in Lindheimer’s own letters to Englemann.

Lindheimer’s gaura buds ~ Nash Prairie

“What I may find in the Guadalupe Bottom, where we shall be in the course of a week, I wonder… If the Gaura Lindheim grows in the west, you shall have seeds. I did not find it last year between the Brazos and the Colorado. It grew commonly four miles east of Houston.” (written from a camp on the Agua Dulce, 22 January 1845)

 

Lindheimer’s gaura bloom ~ Nash Prairie

Gaura Lindheimeri seems to appear no farther west than the Brazos, and scarcely west of the San Jacinto-Buffalo Bayou region; otherwise, [Thomas] Drummond surely would have found it.” (from New Braunfels, 5 February 1846)

 

Comments always are welcome.