Miss Ima Would Be Pleased

Herbertia lahue filling the lawn at the Varner-Hogg plantation

While an assortment of wildflowers strews vibrant spring color across the Texas landscape, pastel lavenders and pinks do their own part to decorate the season.

One of my favorites, Herbertia lahue, or prairie nymph, is a small and delicate member of the iris family. The flowers appear for only two or three weeks, and each flower lasts for only one day; finding an entire colony at the Varner-Hogg plantation outside West Columbia was as lucky as it was delightful.

Originally owned by Martin Varner, a member of Stephen F. Austin‘s Old Three Hundred and a veteran of the Texas Revolution, the property’s last owner was James Stephen Hogg, the first native Texan to be elected governor. Donated to the state in 1958 by Governor Hogg’s daughter Ima, the historic site provides a view of plantation life in Texas between 1835 and 1850, the time of the plantation’s greatest productivity.

Contrary to jokes told even during her lifetime, Ima Hogg didn’t have a sister named Ura, but she was a remarkable woman and a great philanthropist. After helping to found the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1913, she became president of its board in 1917. Elected to the Houston Board of Education in 1943, she arranged symphony concerts in public schools and worked to increase the number of music and art classes available to students.

Eventually she donated Bayou Bend, her home in the River Oaks neighborhood of Houston, to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The antiques-filled house and formal gardens are balanced by woodlands filled with native trees and shrubs: a testament to her conviction that the same  plants that grew wild on the plantation at the edge of Varner Creek should have a place to thrive in the heart of Houston. I doubt there are prairie nymphs at Bayou Bend, but out at the old plantation they’re doing just fine.

Herbertia lahue near the site of the old sugar mill at the Varner-Hogg plantation

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Plant Birthdays: Pink Evening Primrose

Pink evening primrose bud

Despite the risks of repetition, I’m including this brief introduction from the first post in this series as a word of explanation for readers who might have missed it.

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes:

During every week from April to September there are, on the average, ten wild plants coming into first bloom. In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day. No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them…
Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his hay fever, and the general level of his ecological education.

The buds are bursting in Texas, and I’m doing my best to heed their arrival. To share my enjoyment of the season, I’ve decided to offer a short series of posts highlighting some of our local plant-birthdays. I hope you enjoy them, too.

When the first of this season’s pink evening primroses began to unfurl, a delighted friend took notice. “Look!” she said. “Buttercups!” I’d always thought of buttercups as yellow, but she learned ‘buttercup’ as the common name for Oenothera speciosa a pretty pink or white ground-hugging flower that carpets roadsides and fields beginning in February, and lasting well into summer.

Other common names include Mexican evening primrose, showy evening primrose, and pink ladies, but a pink evening primrose by any other name remains a widespread complement to our bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, willing even to colonize urban construction sites and traffic medians.

In some locations, these flowers open in the evening, although ours prefer the morning. When I found this dew-touched bud south of Gonzales early on the morning of March 21, it looked for all the world as though it was poking its stigma out into the world to see if the time to unfurl had come.

Impressive as fields of these flowers can be, this single Brazoria County blossom reminds me of Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings. Every time I look at the image, I expect to find a tiny tiger or monkey hidden within in its depths.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Spiderwort Buds and Bloom

 

 

Despite carrying the name of Ohio, this smooth spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis Raf.) is one of the most elegant harbingers of spring in Texas. Found in prairies and meadows, at woodland edges, and along roadsides, it’s flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees, especially bumblebees. Halictid bees and syrphid flies also will visit, but the syrphids simply feed on stray bits of pollen.

The genus name honors John Tradescant (1570-1638) and his son John Tradescant (1608-1662), botanists and gardeners to Charles I of England.

The author name for the plant classification, ‘Raf.’ is for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840),  who traveled and lived in the United States for many years. He collected specimens, and published over 6,700 binomial names for plants. He applied to be botanist on the Lewis & Clark expedition, but Jefferson chose Lewis to act as botanist, thus saving the expense of another person.

 

Comments always are welcome.