From Bud to Bloom

Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) ~ Midfield, Texas

Despite similarities among the buds shown in my previous post, the flowers themselves may not immediately suggest their membership in the iris family. When I met blue-eyed grass, it certainly didn’t seem iris-like. Only later did I learn that the rhizomes from which it grows, its tall, blade-like foliage, and its six petals all point to its connection to our more familiar irises.

Despite its common name, it isn’t a grass; it’s often lavender, violet, or white rather than blue; and the ‘eye’ in the center of the flower is yellow. Its name isn’t always hyphenated, but when it is, ‘blue eyed-grass’ would be a better choice than ‘blue-eyed grass.’

Blue-eyed grass spreads along roadsides and across fields in huge numbers, but I seldom encounter dense colonies of prairie nymphs. Individual flowers spreading across a large area seem more common, but their delicate color and intricate design make even a single flower worthy of attention.

Prairie nymph (Herbertia lahue) ~ Cost, Texas

The flowers bloom in succession over a two to three week period in early to late spring. Each flower lasts only a day, opening above narrow, sword-shaped leaves in the morning and closing by late afternoon.

The flowers themselves are two to three inches across, and their height seems to depend on whether mowing has occurred. Along roadsides or in cemeteries, they may be only a few inches tall, but on prairies or untended land, they often grow to be six to twelve inches in height. Rich in pollen and nectar, they hold special appeal for hoverflies and native bees.

Purple pleatleaf, sometimes called propeller flower, is found in the eastern third of Texas. Unlike blue-eyed grass or the prairie nymph, this is a flower that prefers a bit of shade.  It’s often found along woodland edges; these were blooming in the Big Thicket, alongside a road leading to the Sundew Trail.

The ‘pleat’ in the name comes from the plant’s leaves, which are folded along their length as they rise from the ground. Taller than the prairie nymph, with a mostly leafless stem, purple pleat-leaf seems to me the most iris–like of the trio, and it certainly is eye-catching.

Purple Pleat-leaf (Alophia drummondii) ~ Warren, Texas

To my chagrin, I realized only this morning that I failed to mention another member of the iris family in these posts: a favorite from the hill country that I’ve seen only twice. As the saying goes, “So many flowers, so little time!” ~ so I’ll save the neglected one for another time.

Comments always are welcome.

 

That Family Resemblance

Blue Flag iris ~ (Iris virginica)

I suspect most people can recognize an iris; its popularity as a flower and its appearance on everything from dinnerware to stationery has helped to ensure that. But the iris family — the Iridaceae — is immense, and many of its members aren’t immediately recognizable as fringe relatives.

Three of my favorite native Texas wildflowers — blue-eyed grass, prairie nymph, and purple pleatleaf — belong to the Iridaceae. Their flowers aren’t particularly iris-like, but their buds provide a glimpse into the family relationship. In my next post, I’ll show the flowers that emerge from these entrancing little buds.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)  ~  Midfield, Texas
Prairie Nymph (Herbertia lahue) ~ Cost, Texas
Purple Pleatleaf  (Alophia drummondii) ~ Warren, Texas

Comments always are welcome.

Something New, Something Familiar

Only one bird was swimming in the ponds at Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve yesterday: a winter resident — new to me — known as the Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola). According to the Audubon website, the bird’s common name is meant as a tribute to the buffalo, whose head it somewhat resembles.

The colorful male remained almost out of camera range on the other side of the pond, but I was able to capture a bit of the beautiful iridescence in its head and neck feathers.

Meanwhile, along Settegast Road, three early spring favorites were blooming. The blue-eyed grass, a member of the iris family, surprised me, although it appeared by mid-January last year.

Like Indian paintbrush, seaside goldenrod and crow poison can be found every month of the year, even after significant cold fronts. While no bees were visible, a bevy of tiny flies hovered around the blooms in the pleasant afternoon warmth.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)
Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) with hoverfly
Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve )

 

Comments always are welcome.

White Delights ~ Blue-Eyed Grass

 

Members of the Iridaceae, or iris family, at least seven species of Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) can be found in Texas. Growing from hardy rhizomes, the plants produce a slender, blade-like foliage that resembles grass, giving the plants their common name. 

These early spring flowers generally bloom in various shades of blue, purple, or rose, but white variants occasionally appear. On the same day that I discovered a few unusual white spiderworts in a local vacant lot, I spotted this white version of blue-eyed grass tucked in among them.

The curved peduncle and upright flower brought to mind an Art Nouveau wall sconce; the fact that blue-eyed grass is related to a variety of garden and other irises reminded me of this, from poet Mary Oliver:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence into which
another voice may speak.
 

Comments always are welcome.





			

The First Iris of Spring

 

No, it isn’t the bearded iris, that sun-loving, hardy perennial beloved of gardeners, and it isn’t the familiar blue flag, a native, clump-forming iris that thrives in marshes, swamps, wet meadows, and ditches around the country.

This small and delicate beauty, known as blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.), isn’t a grass at all, but another member of the iris family named for its grass-like leaves. At least a dozen Texas species exist; most show a typical yellow ‘eye,’ although the color of the flowers can range from blue, to purple, to rose and white. I suspect this one, found in a Brazoria county ditch, may be Sisyrinchium augustifolium.

Several clumps of these flowers were in full bloom on February 1, and I wasn’t the only one enjoying them. This little syrphid fly found the flower to be just his size: a perfect source of nectar and pollen.

 

Comments always are welcome.