Not Every Bonnet is Blue

Horticultural specialists like Jerry Patterson have spent years developing new bluebonnet colors — especially white, lavender, and maroon — but their work is based on the  natural color variations that show up from time to time in Texas fields.

Over the past decade, I’ve found at least one white and one yellow bluebonnet each year during the plant’s season, but until last weekend I never had found the nearly-mythical pink bluebonnet, and never expected to see one. Yet there it was: blooming at the edge of Farm to Market Road 532 between Moravia and Moulton.

Over time, legends developed around this rare flower, including the claim that its color reflected the blood that flowed from the Battle of the Alamo. In fact, Jerry Patterson himself once said that the only native pink bluebonnets he’d ever found grew south of San Antonio, near the river. Perhaps that’s still true for Patterson, but this gem was blooming well east of San Antonio, and nowhere near a river.

Legends aside, the flower’s presence on that mid-April morning brought to mind a favorite poem. Written by Amherst resident Robert Francis, “Bouquet” is perfectly suited to celebrate the whisper of a single pink bluebonnet nearly lost in a babble of blue.

 

One flower at a time, please,
however small the face.
Two flowers are one flower
too many, a distraction.
Three flowers in a vase begin
to be a little noisy.
Like cocktail conversation,
everybody talking.
A crowd of flowers is a crowd
of flatterers (forgive me).
One flower at a time.  I want
to hear what it is saying.
                                        “Bouquet” ~ Robert Francis

 

Comments always are welcome.

From Roadsides to Woodlands

Fleabane in a clearing near Walden West

While the Deer-pea Vetch I featured in my previous post spreads its purple glow closer to the ground, a common spring companion plant rises above it, catching the eyes of motorists passing on the road.

Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus), our most common Fleabane species, received its common name because of a presumed — though unproven — ability to repel fleas. Its thread-like ray flowers, numbering in the hundreds, are the most slender among the Erigeron species.

Common as the flower is in open areas, particularly along roadsides, it also appears in woodland clearings. Each of these photos was taken in locations where I wouldn’t have expected to find these sun-loving flowers, but it’s obvious that full sun isn’t necessary for them to bloom.

Along the Red Buckeye Trail, Brazos Bend State Park

I’ve been puzzled for some time about field guides and websites that describe Philadelphia Fleabane’s ray florets as being either pink or white. I’d never seen a hint of pink on fleabane until I found several blushing buds at Brazos Bend State Park, and remembered; when it comes to nature, ‘expect the unexpected’ is good advice.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Pre-Freeze Pastels

Despite our current freezing temperatures, a new season is ready to spring forth across the Texas coast. On the last weekend of January, these delicate but familiar beauties already had appeared: a welcomed sign of things to come.

Along a Brazoria County road, one of several species of Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) was flowering in small patches. A member of the Iris family, its blooms eventually will fill ditches and cover roadsides.

Several Oxalis species are found in Texas. Some are native; others, like this Oxalis debilis blooming at a local nature center, have arrived from the tropics and made themselves at home. Often found at woodland edges, its flowers regularly host a variety of bees and flies.

Less toxic than the Celery-leaved Buttercup, Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) can appear seemingly overnight, filling pastures and vacant city lots with its pleasant glow. Favored by bees, a variety of flies, and butterflies, they bloom in numbers capable of attracting human attention as well.

While each of these may have been set back by ice and cold, a bit of sunshine and warming temperatures will be all that’s needed to encourage them back into bloom.

Comments always are welcome.

Our Glorious Grasses ~ Gulf Muhly on a Less Airy Day

In my previous post, I mentioned that two common names for Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) are ‘hair grass’ and ‘hair-awn muhly.’ Both refer to the light and delicate appearance of the plant: especially its tendency to blow about in the breeze.

Everyone can have a bad hair day, of course, and this ‘hair grass’ is no exception. When it’s been awash in fog long enough for droplets of water to weigh down its apparent weightlessness, the plant becomes attractive in a different way.

Both photos were taken on the same October morning at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge in Arkansas’s Ouachita Mountains. In the first image, near-zero visibility fog meant very little light, and another common name, ‘purple muhly,’ applied. In the second photo, the fog had begun to lift, and the grass took on its more usual color.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Our Glorious Grasses ~ Gulf Muhly

Gulf Muhly in the city

A favorite of both residential and commercial landscapers, Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) sometimes  is known as pink or purple muhly because of variations in its natural color. The species name capillaris, which means hair-like, gave rise to other common names that reflect the plant’s delicacy: hair grass, or hair-awn muhly,

The genus name Muhlenbergia honors Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg (1753-1815), an American born and German-educated Lutheran pastor who returned from Germany to live in Pennsylvania. Forced to flee Philadelphia ahead of British forces during the War of Independence, he hid in the countryside, where he became interested in the plants that surrounded him. He began collecting; by 1791 he had the nucleus of his Index Flora Lancastriensis, a work containing descriptions of 454 genera and over a thousand species of both native and introduced plants.

Muhlenberg was particularly interested in the grasses, so it’s fitting that a species should be named for him. Even the plant’s common name, ‘muhly,’ points back to that early botanist.

For years, I came across the grass only in urban areas: in home gardens, parking lot dividers, and hotel landscaping. I’d occasionally see a pink fringe running down a fenceline or a small patch of pink decorating a forest’s edge, but substantial stands of the colorful grass evaded me.

This year was different. While visiting the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge  in mid-October, I found rivulets of pink coursing through the land.

Light as it was, the grass bent easily before the persistent wind.

Sometimes, it mingled pleasantly with other plants, like woolly croton. Known scientifically as Croton capitatus var. lindheimeri, woolly croton is named for Ferdinand Lindheimer, commonly considered the Father of Texas Botany because of his own extensive collections. Finding the two plants nestled together was delightful.

Muhlenberg‘s grass and Lindheimer’s croton meet on the prairie

Nature planted this single bunch of especially pale pink grass in such a way that nothing obscured its beauty.

The fringes of the grass present a surprisingly different appearance.

When it comes to color, autumn Gulf muhly blooms like a spring wildflower, enlivening the landscape in a similar way.

Comments always are welcome.