Floral Filigree

Not rain but dew gave this fading neighborhood rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) its unusual appearance.

I’ve often shown the brilliant white petals and sepals of these flowers in full bloom. While both can be tinged with pink, and while it isn’t unusual for the flowers to become a darker pink as they fade, in this instance the color suffused the entire flower in a way that seemed unusual.

Even more remarkably, the transparency created by the dewdrops and the patterns that emerged because of them reminded me of the finely-drawn gold filigree work that typifies much West African jewelry.

They also reminded me of this favorite poem from W.S. Merwin, who understood that not all jewels can be found in a shop.

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age
                                 “Dew Light” ~ W.S. Merwin

 

Comments always are welcome.

Ornaments for the Roadside

American basket-flower with common sunflowers

In 1862, General Albert Sidney Johnston lost his life during the Civil War’s Battle of Shiloh, but before his death, he and his wife, Eliza Griffin Johnston, lived and traveled in Texas. The details of their life together are beyond the scope of this post, but Eliza was a keen observer of the world around her, an accomplished artist, and a great lover of wildflowers. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s, she created a watercolor record of Texas wildflowers; eventually, she bound her images into a book and presented them to her husband as a birthday gift.

In 1894, Rebecca Jane Fisher, a member of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, began seeking Republic of Texas artifacts for a museum. When she asked Eliza for something that had belonged to the General, Eliza donated her wildflower book. It remained in an Austin bank vault for years; today the book, containing more than a hundred watercolor images and wonderfully descriptive text, is available under the titleTexas Wild Flowers. It pleased me to find that Eliza had included my beloved basket-flower in her collection. She writes:

In passing through north western Texas, the traveler will frequently find his path bordered for miles by this flower mingled with sunflowers. The seed, falling from a single cluster of each will stock many acres; by being caught up by passing wheels, or clinging to horses’ feet, they are planted, and thus become ornaments for the roadside.
Emerging basket-flower ~ Dudney Nature Center, League City

Today, these ‘roadside ornaments’ are equally common. Named for the stiff, straw-colored phyllaries (modified leaves) which form a kind of woven basket at the bottom of the flower, they seem to be especially fond of disturbed ground or seemingly odd locations.

Abloom at the base of a billboard ~ Clear Lake Shores

Their considerable height — often as much as six to eight feet  — makes it easy to use the sky as a pleasing background for the only native Centaurea species in the U.S. (It should be noted that the name I learned and that still is most often used — Centaurea americana — has been changed to Plectocephalus americanus on many sites. Caution: taxonomists at work!)

Along a Brazoria County road

Even though their appearance seemed late this year, their locations were predictable. The small colony that’s decorated the bank of a Brazoria Wildlife Refuge canal for as many years as I’ve been visiting was in full bloom, and offered up a surprise.

Banking on predictability ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Pink and lavender, combined with cream, may be the usual basket-flower colors, but occasionally a white one appears. Along the same Brazoria Refuge canal where I found my dependable colony, one white basket-flower was blooming: a joy for my white flower loving heart, and as pretty a natural variation as could be found.

One white flower, two views ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge canal

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sit! Stay! Bloom!

Of course the so-called Obedient Plant never will be as obedient as a dog — it’s not going to roll over or fetch — but there’s a reason for its name. Bent, twisted, or arranged around the stalk, individual flowers tend to stay put; arranged in parallel rows, the effect can be charming.

These Spring Obedient Plants (Physostegia intermedia) found near the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge will bloom until late June or July; the so-called Fall Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) appears here from August to October. While the doubled stem shown above is unusual, the curves of the developing flowers always are attractive.

The flowers open from bottom to top along the stem, and visiting bees seem to move in the same direction. Tubular, two-lipped blooms offer a handy ‘landing pad’ for the bees; entering one flower after another to gather nectar, the bees then back out, carrying pollen with them as they go.

The plants are less obedient in the garden. A member of the mint family, Physotegia spreads easily; like mint, it can fill flower beds if not contained. Still, that same tendency to naturalize allows it to provide great sweeps of color across the landscape. Whether straight and tall as the snapdragons it resembles, or delicate and curved in development, it’s a welcome sign of spring’s continued unfolding.

 

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.

A Delight of Basket-flowers

American basket-flower ~ Plectocephalus americanus (formerly Centaurea americana)

As spring transitioned into summer, I began to fear I had missed seeing my beloved basket-flowers this year. Finally, around mid-June, they began to appear: along abandoned rail tracks and in ditches; tucked into unmowed corners of vacant lots; lurking at the edge of a shipyard. By July, seeds I’d given to friends began to produce as well, and their reports of successful germination pleased me immensely.

Generally speaking, basket-flowers bloom a soft, lovely pink, or various shades of lavender. As they age, the intricately woven ‘basket’ containing the slender disk flowers turns golden, becoming the center of attraction as the seeds form.

Occasionally, as with this flower from a colony in Kemah, Texas, the fading bloom darkens, taking on shades of bronzed purple and red.

Sometimes, white basket-flowers appear. Near Tres Palacios Bay on Texas’s mid-coast, this lovely example stirred in the wind: a reminder of the surprising variety nature offers to even the most casual observer.

 

Comments always are welcome.