Truly Wild Flowers

Carolina larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) ~ Rockport City Cemetery

If you think this larkspur seems unusual, you’re quite right. The mass of blooms, the unusually flattened stem, and the sheer size of the plant — nearly sixteen inches of floral exuberance — are clues that the plant is fasciated: a relatively uncommon condition that produces a variety of abnormalities in the plants it affects.

Sometimes, there is fusion or flattening in the plant — usually in its stem — that results in ribbon-like, coiled, or contorted tissue. Banding at the top of plants can cause them to increase in size and weight, while flowers and leaves growing on a fasciated plant’s flattened stems may be smaller than usual, or more more abundant, as with the larkspur I found at Rockport.

Fasciation has been attributed to a number of causes: genetic mutation, the presence of bacteria, fungi, or viruses; the activity of insects; or even weather conditions such as frost. Any physical damage to the growing point, or apical meristem, can lead to quirks in the production of new flowers, leaves, or stems.

Plant meristems usually produce the round or cylindrical stem we’re accustomed to seeing. In fasciated plants, the meristem flattens out and becomes elongated. Instead of producing a round stem, the mutation causes a flattened stem to develop.

A larkspur’s normal, cylindrical stem
The wide, flattened stem of the fasciated larkspur

Here, a fasciated and top-heavy Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) shows off its own flattened stem and remarkable size while lying on the ground; unbroken, it had been brought low by the weight of its own growth.

This Brazoria County paintbrush would do for a really large canvas

Here, the banding typical of fasciated stems is obvious.

Looking more like a chrysanthemum than an Indian paintbrush, this remarkable collection of individual blooms and colorful bracts had grown to be more than six inches in diameter.

It may be a bit of a commonplace, but it’s impossible to see these botanical anomalies without saying, “Fasciation is fascinating.”

 

Comments always are welcome.

Plant Birthdays: Indian Paintbrush

Texas Indian paintbrush bud ~ Round Lake Cemetery, Gonzales County

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes of what he calls ‘plant-birthdays.’ He notes that:

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…

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.

Nearly everyone in Texas is familiar with Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), the dramatic reddish-orange companion to the bluebonnets that blanket our state’s hills and pastures during the spring. Other species can be found in different areas, but say ‘Indian paintbrush’ to a Texan, and this is what will come to mind.

What’s less well known is the fact that Castilleja indivisa sometimes produces a yellow or white bloom. Such flowers aren’t particularly common. A few years ago, I found one yellow paintbrush in a field next to the Deutschburg Community Center in Jackson County, but that unusual flower was both the first and the last such variation I’d seen.

Until this year.

Mature Indian paintbrush ~ Round Lake Cemetery, Gonzales County
A developing, whiter paintbrush along a Gonzales County Farm-to-Market road
A view of a nearly-pristine bloom on the Olmos Loop ~ Guadalupe County

When searching for wildflower treasure, cemeteries often reward exploration as surely as refuges and back roads. Some are large, well-publicized, and filled with lush floral displays. But even smaller cemeteries like Round Lake can yield unexpected finds. The key is to stop, and look.

A few of the white paintbrush are included in this photo. Do you see them?

Round Lake Cemetery

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Just As Pretty In Pink

 

The flower commonly known to Texans as Indian blanket or firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) generally blooms in combinations of red, yellow, and orange. A close relative, the maroon blanket flower, or maroon firewheel (Gaillardia amblyodon), can cover a hillside with — what else? — lovely sweeps of purplish-red flowers. In some parts of Texas, there are yellow gaillardia, and a little beauty called sweet gaillardia, or perfume balls, often arrives with only tiny ray flowers, or none at all.

When I stopped for a better look at a patch of unfamiliar pink among the traditionally yellow and red gaillardia lining the roadside near the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, there was no denying it; nature had provided yet one more in an apparently inexhaustible supply of surprises. The little pink patch was gaillardia.

While seeds for a pinkish gaillardia cultivar now can be obtained through catalogs, none seems as attractive as these unusual flowers, provided by nature herself. Their clear, pure pink was delightful, and if I’m lucky, they’ll reappear next year. I have the spot marked.

 

Comments always are welcome.