A Pair of Palafoxes

Rosy palafox (Palafoxia rosea) ~ Brazoria County, Texas

History connects Pensacola, Florida with a small group of lovely flowers scattered across the southern United States, including Texas. Both the genus — Palafoxia — and Palafox Street, the boulevard that lies at the heart of Pensacola’s colonial town, are named after General José de Palafox y Melzi, a Spanish nobleman and military hero.

The connection is understandable, since Pensacola is the site of the nation’s oldest European settlement.

Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna sailed into what we know as Pensacola Bay in August of 1559, charged by Spain’s viceroy of Mexico, Luis de Velasco, with establishing a settlement there.  

Luna arrived in Pensacola six years before Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés reached Florida’s Atlantic Coast and founded St. Augustine, generally regarded as the oldest city in the United States. Had it not been for a hurricane, Pensacola might have held on to that honor, but as the Smithsonian points out, only the Menéndez colony endured:

On September 19, 1559, only weeks after he dropped anchor, a powerful hurricane blew in from across the bay, sinking all but three of Luna’s ships.
Luna dispatched a remaining ship to Veracruz, Mexico, in hopes of enlisting rescuers. For more than a year, the settlers hung on, their numbers and stores dwindling. At last, some vessels arrived to transport survivors to safe haven in Havana. By spring of 1561, only a military outpost remained; in August, its handful of soldiers abandoned the site and returned to Mexico.
It would be 1698 before Spain established another garrison in Pensacola.
Reverchon’s palafox (Palafoxia reverchonii) ~ Hardin County, Texas

Whether those earliest Spanish explorers noticed Florida’s coastal plain palafox (P. integrifolia)  or its endemic relative (P. feayi) is hard to say. But eventually the flowers did get noticed and named.

By the 1800s, botanical exploration was common, and Julien Reverchon, a French botanist who collected in Texas during the late 1800s, was honored by having his name attached to one of our state’s several species.

 

Comments always are welcome.
To see yet another Texas Palafox species, visit Steve Schwartzman’s Portraits of Wildflowers, here.

Catching a Wave

Velvetweed (Oenothera curtiflora)

When wave after wave of rain causes streets and freeways in Houston to resemble the shallow, near-shore waves of Galveston Island beachfronts, someone inevitably turns to humor to deal with the situation, calling out “Surf’s up!” to anyone within hearing distance.

After last night’s storms, the ‘surf’ certainly is up here today, but a drier sort of wave offers its own delights. Tall and gangly, velvetweed grows across Texas; I’ve found it at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, in the Rockport City Cemetery, along the banks of the Medina river, and on the shores of Tres Palacios bay. This past weekend, I found some west of Gonzales, on a road that cuts through the historic El Capote ranch.

Often as ‘weedy’ as its name, velvetweed can be easy to overlook, but this lovely wave caught my eye,  and invited my attention to surf along its curves.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

A Sweetly Tangled Season

Indian paintbrush and mixed grasses

Three primary components of Texas’s famous spring floral displays — red Indian paintbrush, yellow ragwort, and bluebonnets — often cover the landscape with grand, monochromatic sweeps of color.

The fields are dramatic and beautiful; they draw visitors from across the state and beyond to exclaim over them. But on our back country roads, I find myself equally attracted to the fencelines, where the flowers — tangled, half-hidden by rising grasses, often ragged or beginning to fade — present a different sort of picture.

Part of their charm is their small scale, and their easy willingness to mix with other species, including humans. You almost can hear them saying, with just a bit of a twang, “How’s about ya’ll sit a spell, and we get to know one another?”

Texas ragwort mixed with an unidentified grass or cane
Bluebonnets, Texas ragwort, and a touch of pink phlox

 

Comments always are welcome.