A Dayflower in Every Pot

Our beloved bluebonnets may be gone for the year, but a new blue is gracing Texas roadsides. These masses of native wildflowers, known collectively as dayflowers, are ephemeral; each plant produces successive blooms, but individual flowers last only one day, opening in the morning and closing by afternoon.

The dayflowers (Commelina erecta) spreading through Brazoria County just now are one of three native species found here. Sometimes known as ‘erect dayflowers’ because of their growth habits, they also go by the common name ‘whitemouth dayflower.’ The name refers to the white third petal; because of its color, as well as its smaller size and placement, it suggests the appearance of a small white mouth.

Another common name, ‘widow’s tears,’ resulted from the discovery that the  purse-like spathe surrounding the buds is filled with liquid.  If squeezed, a ‘tear drop’ of liquid will emerge.

Initially, a fourth common name made no sense to me when I found it described as “herb of the (cooked) chicken.” In fact, the Spanish name for the plant is Hierba del pollo, and its flowers, leaves, and shoots are edible. In some areas of the world, the flowers are grown as a leafy vegetable crop: an interesting addition to any stewpot.

Colorful as the common names for the plant can be, its scientific name is especially interesting. In John and Gloria Tveten’s Wildflowers of Houston & Southeast Texas, they note:

Swedish botanist Linnaeus…named this genus for three Dutch botanists, the Commelin (or Commelijn) brothers. Two of the brothers, Jan and Kaspar, published widely in their field; the third died before becoming well known. Linnaeus thought the unequal petals of the dayflower nicely represented the talents of the three brothers.

Most sites describe Commelina erecta as having two large blue petals and a smaller white petal, with long, curved stamens and bright yellow pistils. Still, as many have noted, this is a highly variable species. As I browsed the dayflower-covered roadside, I found one with pretty blue stamens: something I’d never noticed.

And, as a special treat, I discovered one nearly pure white flower, with the barest hint of blue in its larger petals. As the saying goes, “Vive la différence.”

Comments always are welcome.

Texas Colors for a Nation’s Celebration

Texas Bluebonnet ~ Lupinus texensis

While individual reddish-pink or white bluebonnets can be found in nature, a red, white, and blue color scheme is typical for the state flower of Texas.

The top blue petal, known as the ‘banner,’ provides a way for the plant to communicate with bees seeking nectar. If the lower part of the banner is white, bees know that nectar still is available. Once a flower is fertilized, it stops producing nectar and the lower part of the banner changes to red. Since bees don’t see that color, they direct their attention to younger flowers still filled with sweetness.

Older flowers aren’t ignored, of course. Those with red markings still have plenty of pollen for  bees to gather, packing it on their hind legs in special pollen ‘baskets.’ Mixed with honey, the pollen will nourish developing larvae.

Bumblebee filling its pollen ‘baskets’

For the bees, red, white, and blue are practical rather than patriotic, but the combined colors of this Texas flower are a fitting reminder of our nation’s flag and what it stands for. This year’s bluebonnets may be gone, but our founding and our history remain, and are worthy of celebration.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Ornaments for the Roadside

American basket-flower with common sunflowers

In 1862, General Albert Sidney Johnston lost his life during the Civil War’s Battle of Shiloh, but before his death, he and his wife, Eliza Griffin Johnston, lived and traveled in Texas. The details of their life together are beyond the scope of this post, but Eliza was a keen observer of the world around her, an accomplished artist, and a great lover of wildflowers. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, she created a watercolor record of Texas wildflowers; eventually, she bound her images into a book and presented them to her husband as a birthday gift.

In 1894, Rebecca Jane Fisher, a member of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, began seeking Republic of Texas artifacts for a museum. When she asked Eliza for something that had belonged to the General, Eliza donated her wildflower book. It remained in an Austin bank vault for years; today the book, containing more than a hundred watercolor images and wonderfully descriptive text, is available under the titleTexas Wild Flowers. It pleased me to find that Eliza had included my beloved basket-flower in her collection. She writes:

In passing through north western Texas, the traveler will frequently find his path bordered for miles by this flower mingled with sunflowers. The seed, falling from a single cluster of each will stock many acres; by being caught up by passing wheels, or clinging to horses’ feet, they are planted, and thus become ornaments for the roadside.
Emerging basket-flower ~ Dudney Nature Center, League City

Today, these ‘roadside ornaments’ are equally common. Named for the stiff, straw-colored phyllaries (modified leaves) which form a kind of woven basket at the bottom of the flower, they seem to be especially fond of disturbed ground or seemingly odd locations.

Abloom at the base of a billboard ~ Clear Lake Shores

Their considerable height — often as much as six to eight feet  — makes it easy to use the sky as a pleasing background for the only native Centaurea species in the U.S. (It should be noted that the name I learned and that still is most often used — Centaurea americana — has been changed to Plectocephalus americanus on many sites. Caution: taxonomists at work!)

Along a Brazoria County road

Even though their appearance seemed late this year, their locations were predictable. The small colony that’s decorated the bank of a Brazoria Wildlife Refuge canal for as many years as I’ve been visiting was in full bloom, and offered up a surprise.

Banking on predictability ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Pink and lavender, combined with cream, may be the usual basket-flower colors, but occasionally a white one appears. Along the same Brazoria Refuge canal where I found my dependable colony, one white basket-flower was blooming: a joy for my white flower loving heart, and as pretty a natural variation as could be found.

One white flower, two views ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge canal

 

Comments always are welcome.