Meanwhile the world
heedless of human concerns
springs again to life
Indian Paintbrush blooming alongside a Brazoria County Road
Sunday, February 7
Other Texas dandelions surely are blooming, but this is the first I’ve seen this season. Also known as Carolina desert-chicory or smallflower desert-chicory (Pyrrhopappus carolinianus), this European dandelion look-alike generally blooms from February through June, but at least this eager flower was willing to give January a try; I found it along the road leading into the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge only a few days ago, on January 24th.
Walt Whitman would have seen the European dandelion rather than our Texas version, but he seems to have enjoyed the sight. In 1888, the New York Herald ran this short poem written by him:
The First Dandelion
Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics,
had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass,
innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful
Unfortunately, Whitman’s paean to the coming spring ran on March 12, 1888, the worst day of the Blizzard of 1888, a day when several feet of snow and unceasing winds were making the American northeast a very unpleasant place. As the journal Illustrated American reported in 1892, somewhat primly, the poem “made its appearance at a most unfortunate time.” No one wanted to read about dandelions of any sort on that day.
Parody was inevitable. One of the first examples appeared in the Herald two days after Whitman’s poem was published, signed simply, “After Walt Whitman.”
The First Blizzard
Simple and fresh and fierce, from Winter’s close
As if no artifice of summer, business, politics
had ever been,
Forth from its snowy nook of shivering glaciers–
innocent, silver, pale as the dawn,
The Spring’s first blizzard shows its wryful
Eventually, “The First Dandelion” appeared in the ‘deathbed’ edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: a poem as delicate and sweet as the flower it celebrates.
The plant variously known as inland sea oats, inland wood oats, and Indian wood oats may have received those common names to help distinguish it from the ‘sea oats’ (Uniola paniculata) which grow in sandy coastal areas.
Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) aren’t found anywhere near the ocean. A clump-forming, upright grass, the plant grows along the rocky slopes of streams and rivers, in woodland areas, and in flood plains. A shade and drought tolerant ornamental grass that also can thrive in full sunlight, it’s often used for erosion control, and is prized by wildlife both for cover and for food.
Easily recognized because of its flat, drooping seed heads and arching stems, the plant is native to the eastern United States from Pennsylvania to Florida, and thrives as far west as Wisconsin and Texas. While it can become a little tatty at the very end of its growing cycle, it soon re-emerges, ready to delight the eye.