Autumn Snow

Snow-on-the-Prairie

As summer begins to ease its grip on Texas, a lovely floral ‘snow’ suggests the coming of autumn. In the western two-thirds of the state, Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) covers much of the land. In the Eastern third (and north into Oklahoma), Snow-on-the-Prairie (E. bicolor) holds sway.

Snow-on-the-Prairie can grow to a height of three or four feet, and often forms dense colonies. Its long green and white bracts, open and airy, offer a pleasing counterpoint to surrounding grasses and forbs.

The plant’s long, slender bracts sometimes are mistaken for petals, but they’re actually  modified leaves. The flowers of Snow-on-the-Prairie are quite small, and exceptionally interesting.

Plants in the genus Euphorbia possess a unique structure called a cyathium (plural, cyathia) which contains both male and female flowers, as well as small structures known as bractioles, and nectar glands. Surrounding the flowers, bractioles, and glands, small bracts called cyathophylls — which superficially resemble the petals of a flower — provide additional color.

Here, the white cyathophylls of E. bicolor add to the plant’s ‘snowy’ appearance. Since the snow is only metaphorical, the sight is entirely pleasurable; it’s possible to admire this plant on the prairie without getting frostbite.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Greening of a World

 Our colorful spring wildflowers are beginning to emerge: bluebonnets; pink evening primrose; purple vetch; yellow star grass.

Mixed with winter’s leftover browns, blacks, and grays, the colors shine. Still, green is a color of spring as well, and the season of greens clearly appealed to English poet Philip Larkin. His fondness for ‘ordinary people doing ordinary things’ sometimes echoes in his nature poetry. His poem entitled “The Trees” presents an ordinary spring doing ordinary things, and the effect is extraordinary.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say.
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

 

Comments always are welcome. For a recording of Philip Larkin reading his poem, click here.
The photos were taken at the Santa Fe, Texas Buddhist temple on March 16.

An Unexpected Gap

Crossing into spring

 

Reaching high into the air, this long, slender branch from what appears to be an elm tree caught my attention because of its bridge-like curve, and the lovely, green glow of its leaves against the sky.

As so often happens, enlarging the photo revealed an additional, amusing detail: a gap in the neat procession of growth where one bud had failed to open. Was it sleeping? Just a little lazy? Perhaps it was protesting Spring’s arrival, or had been prevented from opening by some external force.

Whatever the cause, the gap among the leaves recalls these words of Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim At Tinker Creek:

The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound.
The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells that the wind lances through: the icy, narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery.
Go up into the gaps if you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock — more than a maple — a universe.

 

Comments always are welcome.