Meanwhile the world
heedless of human concerns
springs again to life
Indian Paintbrush blooming alongside a Brazoria County Road
Sunday, February 7
In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes of what he calls ‘plant-birthdays.’ He notes that:
During every week from April to September there are, on the average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom. In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them…
The buds are bursting in Texas, and I’m doing my best to heed their arrival. To share my enjoyment of the season, I’ve decided to offer a short series of posts highlighting some of our local plant-birthdays. I hope you enjoy them, too.
Nearly everyone in Texas is familiar with Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), the dramatic reddish-orange companion to the bluebonnets that blanket our state’s hills and pastures during the spring. Other species can be found in different areas, but say ‘Indian paintbrush’ to a Texan, and this is what will come to mind.
What’s less well known is the fact that Castilleja indivisa sometimes produces a yellow or white bloom. Such flowers aren’t particularly common. A few years ago, I found one yellow paintbrush in a field next to the Deutschburg Community Center in Jackson County, but that unusual flower was both the first and the last such variation I’d seen.
Until this year.
When searching for wildflower treasure, cemeteries often reward exploration as surely as refuges and back roads. Some are large, well-publicized, and filled with lush floral displays. But even smaller cemeteries like Round Lake can yield unexpected finds. The key is to stop, and look.
A few of the white paintbrush are included in this photo. Do you see them?
Together with the bluebonnet and pink evening primrose, Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is a traditional sign of spring across Texas. Sometimes the flowers appear as early as February. In other years, they may dally until April or May, depending on the weather.
Given the plants’ reputation as a spring wildflower, I was surprised to find a substantial patch in bloom at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on July 22. Wildflowers can be unpredictable, of course. There had been some rain, and I supposed the moisture might have led to some seasonal confusion for the plants. But when I returned a week later, even more paintbrush were blooming, and young plants were scattered along several roads.
Then came a second surprise. Consulting my new favorite field guide, Michael Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, I found Indian paintbrush described as both a spring and summer bloomer. Why Eason extended the flower’s bloom time into the summer months I can’t say, but these plants, at least, suggest he was right to do so.