The Rain Lilies’ Country Cousins

On impulse, I decided to forgo a return to Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries to check on developments in the small patch of rain lilies I’d found there on April 29. Instead, I traveled to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, where rain lilies also appear from time to time.

I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing our native rain lily species from one another, but these Brazoria blooms seemed to be the same Cooperia drummondii I’d found in Galveston. Their long floral tubes and the preference of the so-called Prairie Lily (Cooperia pedunculata) for more open spaces certainly suggests that, and the USDA map doesn’t show C. pedunculata in Brazoria County.

Regardless of the species, there was no questioning the source of the heady fragrance that hung above the flowers. In Galveston, strong winds had blown away the scent; here, a perfectly still morning allowed it to linger.

A special treat was finding this native thistle (Cirsium spp.) blooming next to the lilies. I tend to think of thistles as plants capable of thriving in dry conditions, so this one’s juxtaposition with floral evidence of rain made me smile.

Comments always are welcome.

Purple Haze

Deer-pea Vetch ~ Vicia ludoviciana

A far cry from the lead song featured on The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1967 debut album, this ‘purple haze’ sings a different tune: emerging in spring to cover Texas roadsides, vacant lots, pastures, and woodlands. One of our most common vetches, it seems to color the air as it spreads along mowed roadsides; spied in vacant lots or pastures, it presents pleasing piles of purple. Everywhere, it attracts a variety of hungry pollinators.

Where it mounds upon itself, as in the photo above, the form of the flowers becomes less noticeable than the pretty color. A closer look reveals their lovely details, and especially their variety.

Walden West
Vacant lot ~ Dickinson, Texas
San Bernard Wildlife Refuge
Roadside, Lake Jackson, Texas
Colorado County roadside

 

Comments always are welcome.

No Crocus? No Problem!

Spring’s spiderwort

Oddly, perhaps, I can’t remember ever seeing crocuses in bloom. Years ago in Iowa, tulips were the preferred spring flower. Today, Gulf coast garden gurus advise that growing crocuses is fraught with so many difficulties — especially our heat and humidity — that failure is almost guaranteed, and that probably explains why I’ve never seen one here.

No matter. Even as more northerly gardeners begin posting photos of their glorious crocuses, several species of our native spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.) have begun to shine. On March 6, I found these newly emerged plants at Brazos Bend State Park, blooming in the midst of a dewberry thicket. The mixture of pink, blue, and lavender flowers was lovely.

After deciding that I’d found T. ohiensis, the so-called Ohio spiderwort, I learned an interesting detail about that species: “When touched in the heat of the day, the flowers shrivel to a fluid jelly.” That helps to explain why the edges of the pink pair shown above seemed to be liquifying in the noontime sun.

With their open structure and obvious pollen, the flowers were drawing a substantial number of hoverflies and metallic bees. The insects were able to navigate easily through the dewberry vines encasing the still-short flowers. In time, taller plants will make it easier for a photographer.

Still, even at ground level it was possible to record one of the most appealing features of spiderworts: their feathery stamens. Color-coordinated with the petals, they’re one of the prettiest sights of spring.

Comments always are welcome.

Ordinary Elegance

Some say that the wildflower known as Crow Poison was used by the Cherokee to eliminate crows that ate their corn. Today, Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) is better known as a pretty native wildflower that spreads from Arizona to the Atlantic coast, and from Texas north through Illinois and Ohio.

Its genus, Nothoscordum, combines the Greek words for ‘illegitimate’ (Nothos)  and ‘garlic’ (scordum). In fact, Crow Poison often is called false garlic, and sometimes is confused with wild onion, but it neither smells nor tastes like either of those plants.

As its buds emerge, they’re initially encased in two translucent membranes like those shown in the photo above. In time, those membranes dry and become two bracts beneath the flowers: the  ‘bivalves’ of the specific epithet.

One of the first early spring flowers to appear, Crow Poison often reblooms in the fall. On the other hand, it sometimes persists through every month, as it did this year: opening on warm sunny days and closing in cloudy or cold conditions. An early spring food source, the flowers are especially attractive to small butterflies, green metallic bees, bee flies, and syrphid flies.

When I first met Crow Poison, it was a part of the Liliacea, or lily family. Eventually, I discovered sources were including it within the Amaryllidaceae, or amaryllis family. Imagine my surprise when I found it moved into the newly constituted Alliaceae, or onion family!

Taxonomy can be taxing, but there were good reasons for the recent changes. Writing for Pacific Horticulture, Dean Kelch’s article titled What Happened to the Liliacea is one of the best I’ve found. It’s an easy read: well organized and understandable for non-specialists. It includes a helpful list of forty families formerly included in the old Liliaceae, as well as a listing of some of the familiar genera within each family.

Taxonomy aside, there’s nothing more lovely than these small, oft-ignored but elegant signs of spring. Today, they’re still scattered, but in time they’ll be filling pastures and roadsides with their own drifts of white.

 

Comments always are welcome.

An Unexpected Gift

Indian Paintbrush ~ Castilleja indivisa

Last year, I discovered my first Indian paintbrush of the season on February 7. Much to my surprise, I found this lovely plant blooming on this year’s Christmas Day. Whether a leftover from the last season or a harbinger of the season to come I can’t say, but its pastel bracts and fully formed flowers were a lovely gift from Nature.

 

Comments always are welcome.