Three Cheers for Individuality

Not purple, but a pleatleaf nonetheless ~ Alophia drummondii

Slight variations in color, size, or shape are common enough among the flowers we enjoy, but more dramatic differences occasionally appear. Flowers typically associated with specific colors — bluebonnets, red Indian paintbrush, blue eyed grass, meadow pinks — all produce white variants from time to time, and discovering one always is fun.

Still, I was surprised to find this unusual purple pleatleaf tucked among a loose cluster of more traditionally colored flowers in east Texas’s Big Thicket. In this case, another name commonly applied to the plant — ‘propeller flower’ — seems apt.

The absence of the bold color and intricate patterning that usually mark the flower, shown in my previous post, made its membership in the iris family more obvious, and I enjoyed finding different ways to portray its beauty.

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ditch

Wild irises along Brazoria County Road 306

After returning from my recent foray into the wilds of Bluebonnetland, I realized I was in danger of repeating a mistake I’ve made in the past. Despite knowing last year’s iris leaves had emerged in the ditches surrounding the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, I put off a return visit; by the time I saw the irises again, the flowers were gone.

Not wanting to miss them this year, I decided to make a quick trip to the refuge to see if a few irises might still be blooming. They were: another form of ditch diamond to enjoy.

A different sort of flag

Everyone seems to agree that at least three iris species are native to Texas. This Southern Blue Flag (Iris virginica) may be the best known. I first heard the phrase ‘flag pond’ after moving to Texas, and misinterpreted the phrase. I assumed it meant a pond with a flag pole next to it. A pond filled with irises never occurred to me.

Two to three feet tall, Blue Flags can vary in color from very light blue to purple, leading me to suspect that the next two photos also show Blue Flags.

The Zigzag iris (Iris brevicaulis) has different growth habits. Flowers are borne on sprawling stems which typically zig-zag to a height of no more than fives inches. The specific epithet brevicaulis means ‘short-stemmed,’ and the long, strap-like green leaves often hide the blooms.

A zigzag Iris blooming only inches above the ground

Color variations also exist among Zigzag Iris. While some sites describe the flower as lavender, others mention purple and yellow as possibilities. Given their short stature and the length of their sepals — substantially longer than their petals — I suspect this next pair might be Zigzag iris as well.

The colonies were pretty when seen from the road, but only a walk among them revealed their variety of color and form: except, of course, for the yellow iris, which demanded to be noticed.

Comments always are welcome.

A Light in Spring

Detail of an early spring blue flag ~ Iris virginica

 

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.
It waits upon the Lawn.
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.
Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —
A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.
                                       ~  Emily Dickinson

 

Comments always are welcome.
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.