White Delights ~ Spiderwort

Tradescantia ohiensis

A Texas native, spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.) honors both John Tradescant the Elder (1570-1638) and his son, also named John. Both served as Keeper of his Master’s Gardens, Vines, and Silkworms at Oatlands Palace, an estate occupied by Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England. One species,  Tradescantia virginiana, recalls John the Younger’s travels to Virginia in the 1630s, and the horticultural specimens he brought back to England.

Some say the plant’s common name comes from its angular leaves and stems, which vaguely resemble spider legs, but the Missouri Botanical Garden notes that when spiderwort stems are cut, “a viscous stem secretion is released which becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening, like a spider’s web.”

Because Tradescant the Elder had no sense of smell, he tended to favor visually interesting trees and flowers; I suspect he would have enjoyed the white spiderworts I discovered among a field of purple and blue in Dickinson, Texas, on March 14. I’ll occasionally find rose-colored spiderwort flowers, but these were the first white that I’d seen.

While this white flower is a natural variant, a cultivar known as T. ohiensis ‘Alba’ exists. It’s a pretty combination of white and lavender; gardeners who enjoy spiderworts, or white flowers, or unusual plants, might want to give it a try.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For a brief, interesting history of the Tradescants, their travels and collections, click here.

Not Warts, But Worts

 

Beautiful though the Maryland milkwort may be, that little “bouquet in a blossom” is far from the only milkwort in Texas. Several species bloom across different regions of the state, including this pretty Polygala alba, or white milkwort, found on a rocky slope near Willow City on July 1.

The genus name Polygala comes from the Greek for ‘much milk,’ as the plants were thought to increase milk yields in cattle. The ‘wort’ in ‘milkwort’ is simply an old word for ‘plant’ which appears in the names of many species; bladderwort, St. John’s wort, bellwort, and lungwort are some of the better-known.

Three hundred miles away and two weeks earlier, in the Big Thicket, the pinebarren milkwort (Polygala ramosa) was coming into its own. An uncommon plant that prefers wet pine savannas and bogs, it’s found primarily in far southeastern Texas.

Another half-dozen Polygala species can be found in southeastern or far eastern Texas, but most bloom in spring; finding them probably will have to wait until next year’s explorations.

 

Comments always are welcome.
There is a plant known as thewart-wort‘, but, etymologically, ‘wart’ and ‘wort’ are unrelated. If you’re interested, you might enjoy this article from the Columbia Journalism Review.

 

A Hint of Things to Come

 

A tall and dramatic Liatris species, this prairie blazing star, Liatris pycnostachya, will come into full flower later in the summer. It blooms from the top down; here, it shows the first hints of its future color, as well as the pleasing structure of its buds.

 

Comments always are welcome.