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.

Surprised by Sotol

After I encountered the yucca-like plant known as Texas Sotol alongside a road leading into Bandera, it never occurred to me that I might find it growing in my own area. Several species are native to Mexico, but only three make their way into Texas. Texas Sotol (Dasylirion texanum) is most common, extending into the Edwards Plateau, while Common Sotol (D. wheeleri) and Green Sotol (D. leiophyllum) are limited to arid, rocky habitats in far west Texas.

None of the plants is native to our coastal counties, and yet there it was: an impressive example of Texas Sotal blooming away at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on a wet and cloudy day. The sheer size of the bloom stalk compelled attention. The flowers began well above my head, making the bare portion of the stalk at least six feet long. The normal length of a bloom stalk on Texas Sotol is between nine and fifteen feet, so this one was well within the normal range.

The stalk itself was about nine inches in circumference: sturdy enough to support the dramatic collection of flowers. The top of the trunk sometimes is visible, but it’s often buried underground, leading to an easy confusion of sotol with yucca.

The flowers themselves are dioecious, with male and female appearing on separate plants. Their color is variously described as yellow, creamy green, or ivory, but whatever their color, they typically bloom from May to August, attracting hummingbirds in the process. I suspect, but don’t know, that the rosy tinge on these flowers is due to the natural aging process.

Though I wished at the time for blue skies, better light, and a step ladder, even less than perfect images of the flowers above my head were a treat. (Do click any of the images for more detail.) Since the plant doesn’t bloom on a predictable schedule, and may not bloom at all in a given year, it’s impossible to know when I might see this again.



Comments always are welcome.

Anemones, Again


Ten-petal anemone bud

One of our earliest spring flowers, the ten-petal anemones (Anemone berlandieri) had begun to appear in late January, until the February freeze put an end to their eager opening. Undiscouraged, they began blooming again once temperatures moderated.

The plant’s scientific name honors French naturalist Jean Louis Berlandier, who was active in both Texas and Mexico during the 1800s, but the common name ‘ten-petal anemone’ is somewhat misleading. The plant has sepals rather than petals,, and the number of sepals can range from seven to twenty-five. This pretty white example has eleven.

In Brazoria and Galveston counties, white flowers seem to predominate, so I was pleased to find a lavender example in Palacios, and a strikingly pink flower near Cost.

No matter the color, the flower’s sepals eventually fall away, leaving the cone-like structure that gave rise to the common name ‘thimbleweed’. Eventually, the individual pistils begin to dry. The developing fruits, designed for wind dispersal, provide yet another common name for the plant: windflower.

As summer approaches, the plant becomes dormant in response to the rising heat. Their appearance may be a sign of spring, but their disappearance is a sign of summer, and the fresh set of floral delights it will bring.


Comments always are welcome.