Eat Your Veggies, but Admire Them, Too

Summer squash blossom (Cucurbita spp.)

Our native wildflowers are beautiful, but there’s no need for the flowers of our squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant to feel inferior to the Coreopsis and Gaillardia.

During a peach-picking trip to a local farm, I took time to walk the rows of ripening produce and found myself especially charmed by the squash blossoms. They resemble slices of cut cantaloupe: another member of the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family, that will be appearing in farmers’ markets soon, and the flowers themselves are edible.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Flower With Flaxen Flair

Winged flax (Linum alatum) ~ Brazoria County, Texas

In his poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus,”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes the young daughter of the prideful captain: 

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

It’s unlikely Longfellow was comparing the child’s eyes to any of our native blue flaxes (such as Linum lewisii ), since none are found in the northeast. He may have been familiar with the introduced, blue-flowered species cultivated for food and fiber, L. usitatissimum, or even with L. perenne, another introduced species sometimes included in gardens for the blue accents it provides.

Whatever the source of his analogy, the comparison is apt — at least, for eyes. In extolling the flaxen-haired beauties of myth and history, poets obviously are referencing a different sort of flax. When I discovered the yellow-orange flaxes native to Texas, I thought they might have given rise to the expression.

Berlandier’s yellow flax (Linum berlandieri) ~ Gillespie County, Texas

As it happens, neither flower is the source of the expression ‘flaxen-haired.’ During processing, fiber from the plant’s stalks becomes soft, lustrous, and flexible, and takes on the appearance of blonde hair. The use of ‘flaxen’ to mean “the pale yellow colour of dressed flax” appeared in the mid-15th century, and literary references to flaxen hair appear as early as the 1520s.

Published in 1852, Leconte de Lisle’s Chansons écossaises, or Scottish Songs, included the poem La fille aux cheveux de lin, or “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair.”

Sur la luzerne en fleur assise,
Qui chante dès le frais matin?
C’est la fille aux cheveux de lin,
La belle aux lèvres de cerise.
L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,
Avec l’alouette a chanté.
Sitting amidst the alfalfa in flower,
Who sings in the cool morning hour?
It is the girl with the flaxen hair,
The beauty with cherry lips so fair.
Love, in the summer sun so bright,
Sang with the lark for sheer delight
Berlandier’s yellow flax (Linum berlandieri) ~ Bandera County, Texas

Between late 1909 and early 1910, French composer Claude Debussy included his composition “La fille aux cheveux de lin”  in a first book of Préludes. A simple, glowing composition inspired by the poem, it suits our flaxen-petaled flax perfectly. You may recognize Debussy’s piece; you’ll surely enjoy it.

La fille aux cheveux de lin

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

The Peregrinator

Spicy Jatropha, or Peregrina (Jatropha integerrima)

When I visited the Rockport City Cemetery, I was impressed by a pair of tree-like shrubs covered in the most brilliant red flowers imaginable. I’d never seen them before, and a little post-trip research convinced me they weren’t native to Texas.

Today, a trip to a well-regarded local nursery with a well-informed staff brought the answer to the question of their identity. The plants were Jatropha integerrima, a member of the  Euphorbiaceae, or spurge family. Variously known as peregrina, spicy jatropha, or fire-cracker, the plant is native to Cuba and the West Indies. After traveling first to South Florida, it began spreading: finally reaching at least as far west as Rockport, Texas.

The species first was described in 1760 by Austrian Nikolaus Joseph Jacquin (1727-1817) who botanized numerous Caribbean islands during a four-year expedition beginning in 1755. The star-shaped flowers, generally red but sometimes pink, are produced throughout the year and attract monarch, swallowtail, and zebra longwing butterflies.

In south Texas, peregrina is a perennial or dieback shrub. In other areas of the state, it’s a good summer annual or container plant, since it overwinters well indoors. Reports from as far north as San Antonio confirm that it can come back after spending winter outdoors, although with reduced blooms or stunted growth.

For the coastal areas of Texas, it has a lot of advantages. It’s able to withstand reflected heat, so it works well on patios, and it isn’t much bothered by drought, which makes it a good choice for xeriscaping. Salt tolerant, it’s rarely bothered by insects or disease. Flowering is reduced but not eliminated in shade, and the dark green foliage complements the colors of other flowering plants.

When it finally arrives at our nursery, I could be tempted to bring one home to fill up a large, empty pot that’s been sitting on my balcony. If you don’t have an expansive garden center in your area, don’t despair. This ‘exotic’ beauty also is being sold by Home Depot and Lowe’s.

 

Comments always are welcome.