No Brook, but a Brookweed

The distribution of this tiny flower  — Limewater Brookweed, known scientifically as Samolus ebracteatus — is interesting. It can be found in every Texas coastal county save one, but after skipping a good bit of territory, it also appears in central Texas and the hill country before making its way west into a bit of New Mexico, where it’s sometimes known as Mojave Water Pimpernel.

The plant’s willingness to grow near springs and intermittent rivers in desert areas, as well as in the wetlands and salt marshes of coastal Texas, makes clear that Brookweed doesn’t require a brook in order to thrive.

Its flowers, measuring no more than a quarter-inch to a half-inch wide, appear on short stalks arrayed along a long wand. They mature from the base upward; as the season progresses, the plant continues to produce new blooms while fruits mature from the older flowers and release seeds.

The flowers of this in the Primulaceae (the Primrose family) attract the Southern Carpenter Bee, hoverflies, and butterflies. When I found this example at the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail in Brazoria County, other Brookweeds were being visited by an assortment of Sulphurs.

 

Comments always are welcome.

White Delights: Pinewoods Rose Gentian

 

While exceptions certainly exist, most flowers in the Gentian family range from light pinks to a deeper, rosier hue. The specific epithet of the Pinewoods Rose Gentian, Sabatia gentianoides, means ‘resembling a gentian,’ suggesting that range of pinkish colors.  (The genus name honors Liberato Sabbati (1714-1778), an Italian botanist and gardener.) 

When I noticed this striking white flower in a wet area of the Big Thicket’s Sundew Trail, I thought I might have found Sabatia brevifolia, a white Sabatia species found in Florida and adjacent states. Despite both plants’ preference for boggy areas or wet pine savannahs, a closer look revealed some differences: eight petals for S. gentianoides rather than S. brevifolia‘s five, and noticeably larger flowers.

Unlike Sabatia campestris, the meadow pink common in coastal and central Texas, S. gentianoides displays flowers two or more inches wide, with seven to twelve petals. When the blooms cluster together, as they often do, they can be particularly appealing.

White forms of the meadow pink aren’t particularly common, but I have encountered them. Despite an extensive online search for a white form of the pinewoods rose gentian, I’ve yet to find a photo of another. I’m glad I found this one, tucked away in its bog.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Cotton Country

Snake-cotton (Froelichia floridana)

 

Growing up in corn country, I’d always thought of Texas as cattle country. In truth, cotton has been nearly as important to the state, from battles waged over the product during the Civil War to the economic benefit provided by bales leaving Galveston’s wharves.

Even today, cotton fields abound — in the Panhandle, in west Texas, throughout the midcoast — and cotton has become part of the culture. To favor something is to ‘cotton’ to it. To be secure, financially or otherwise, is to be ‘in tall cotton.’ One of my customers once named his post-retirement sailboat High Cotton, and I’ve danced more times than I can count to the “Cotton-Eyed Joe”.

Recently, I met another bit of Texas cotton: snake-cotton, a member of the Amaranth family known scientifically as Froelichia floridana: a tribute to German botanist Josef Aloys Frölich. Given the plant’s preference for full sun, dry conditions, and sandy soil, its appearance at the edge of a service road at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary wasn’t surprising.

Its tiny, conical flowers emerge in a tight spiral, but they soon swell to become shaped like a short vase with a short narrow neck. There are no petals; the orange stamens and style are contained within the neck of the ‘vase.’

Blooms become densely woolly or cottony, giving the plant one-half of its common name. Why it’s called ‘snake cotton’ is more mysterious. While it might be that snakes commonly were found in the same area as the plant, it’s just as likely that the development of the plant itself led to the name. Young plants have short, erect spikes of blooms. As the plant ages, the spike elongates, adding weight to the stem and ‘snaking’ it down toward the ground.

Whatever the source of the common name, it’s a fascinating plant that rewards a second, closer look.

 

Comments always are welcome.