By early June of this year, it was hard to remember the hurricane-ravaged beaches of Galveston’s west end. At the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail, nature had done her work; the boardwalk once again was lined with a profusion of grasses and flowers, and Hurricane Laura was only a memory.
Behind the dunes, a combination of lazy daisies and firewheel proliferated.
Along the boardwalk itself, shifting and building sands had allowed dune flowers like beach evening primrose to reestablish themselves.
One of the sand-loving flowers, the so-called ‘lazy daisy,’ is a slugabed that prefers to put off opening until mid-morning or later. That tendency is reflected in an alternate name: the Arkansas doze-daisy. Both common names are easier to remember than the flower’s scientific name, Aphanostephus skirrhobasis.
Whether over the course of several hours or on multiple days, it’s great fun to watch this daisy’s opening. Its buds hint at a red flower, but as it opens the red fades or becomes hidden, and spreading white rays reveal its brilliant yellow disc flowers.
While the lazy daisy flourishes in sandy soils behind the dunes, the Amberique bean, a member of the pea family also known as the trailing wild bean, thrives even atop the dunes, in full sunlight. The flower, about 3/4″ long, consists of a large rounded banner, a pair of slender lateral petals, and a narrow, upwardly curved keel.
Pollinated by a variety of bees, especially leaf-cutters and bumblebees, the plant’s foliage hosts caterpillars of the Southern Cloudywing, the Silver-Spotted Skipper, and the Long-Tailed Skipper; seeds are consumed by a variety of birds.
As the flowers age, they become an appealing soft yellow.
Developing fruits take on the bean-like appearance that gives the plant its common name.
Currently, the pretty, salmon-colored coastal pea is putting on quite a show. Recent rains have revived it, and despite being low-growing, its color is obvious all along the barrier islands. While quite common in our area, I’ve found it as far inland as Goliad and Gonzales, where sandy soils occur.
I’ve already featured one of my favorite dune flowers in a separate post: the obviously adaptable wedgeleaf prairie clover.
Another plant that enjoys life on the dunes, Gulf croton extends along the Atlantic coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia to Florida and the Gulf states. Able to withstand intense sunlight, strong winds, and sand scouring, it helps both to capture sand for new dunes and to reduce erosion of established dunes.
Perhaps the most attractive and obvious of the dune flowers are the various morning glories and primroses.
Not every primrose prefers pure sand. The largeflower primrose and cutleaf primrose are most often found on the backside of the dunes. At first glance, they appear identical, but the cutleaf primrose is smaller. Beyond that, the indented petals of the largeflower primrose resemble a heart, and the hairs on its stem and leaves are longer and more noticeable.
Like the beach evening primrose, both of these species tend toward orange as they fade.
I’ve found the cut-leaf primrose, firewheel, and lazy daisy blooming together in Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries: a testament to the island’s generally sandy soil.
Along the boardwalk edges a variety of different plants emerged, including limewater brookweed. Named for the alkaline soils it prefers, the plant can be found in Nevada and Arizona as well as in Florida and Texas; it thrives in either fresh or salt water, allowing it to appear around freshwater springs in desert areas as well as in coastal marshes. The delicate flowers, only a quarter-inch across, often are tinged with pink.
A familiar summer-to-fall flower, the salt-marsh mallow re-emerged as one of the area’s most widespread plants. I was particularly charmed by this opportunistic plant that had chosen to grow through the boardwalk rather than alongside.
As the recovery process continued, I was intrigued to find plants growing behind the dunes that I’d never encountered before Hurricane Laura. How the germander, bluebell, and coral bean arrived in the area is hard to say. Birds are an easy answer, but it’s also true that all three of the plants are common on the other side of Christmas Bay, in the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. It’s entirely possible that Laura’s receding storm surge carried seeds from the refuge to the barrier island.
Recent rains and lowering temperatures no doubt will encourage even more flowering among the dunes. Texas’s ‘second spring’ is at hand: what it will bring awaits discovery.
(part three of three)