The Flower’s Basket


The American basket-flower (Plectocephalus americanus) is notable not only for its fragrant and delicate blooms, shown in this previous post, but also for the complex, closely-woven bracts which give the flower its common name. 

Like sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, and asters, the basket-flower belongs to a family of composite flowers known as the Asteraceae. Most have small disc flowers in their centers (the sunflower’s ‘eye’) and ray flowers (which look like petals) around the outside.

Some Asteraceae, however, have only ray flowers (dandelions) and some have only disc flowers.  American basket-flowers happen to have only disc flowers; each of their pretty pink, white, or lavender elongated corollas is attached to a developing seed. 

Seen here, in this intermediate stage between bloom and seed, drying disc flowers wrap around their basket. In time, they’ll fall away, leaving the seed to ripen, fall, or float away, ensuring next season’s beauty.


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A Tisket, A Tasket…

…a just emerging basket

A basket-flower, that is. I watch for the emergence of Centaurea americana every year, and they never disappoint.

In ditches and along railroad tracks, the flowers come and go. Last year’s largest stand was mowed at precisely the wrong time and failed to bloom, but a newly-discovered colony already is forming seed, and will be a destination next spring.

This year I experienced their scent, honey-sweet and heavy in the early summer air, and longed to extend their season.

“You should grow some in a pot,” said a friend. But these flowers aren’t meant for patio life. They’re meant to be wild and uncontained, like their mature blooms.

For years, I failed to see the basket-flowers crowding fencelines and ditches during spring and early summer. Obviously, they were there. Only my attention was lacking.


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Waiting for Atropos

A basket-flower seed’s silken suspension


 In Greek and Roman mythology, three goddesses known as the Fates, or Moirai, determined the span of individual lives.

From the time of the poet Hesiod in the 8th century, the Fates were personified as old women. Clotho (whose name means “Spinner”) spun out the thread of human life; Lachesis (“Allotter”) dispensed the thread; and Atropos (“Inflexible”) cut the thread in order to determine an individual’s moment of death.

This basket-flower seed captured by a strand of spider silk brought Atropos to mind, and it amused me to think of the frustration she might have experienced had she attempted to expand her powers to the natural world. Clipped by her shears and freed to drop to the ground, the seed might well have taken root, allowing life, not death, to be the result.

Even the Fates, it seems, can’t control everything.

Comments always are welcome.