A Pleasing Prairie Combination

After weeks of steady, soaking rains, a sudden swerve into the hot and sunny weather more typical of our Gulf Coast summers encouraged a second flush of growth on the prairies, as well as the development of wildflowers not yet in full bloom.

Finding these graceful Texas bluebells (Eustoma exaltum) combined with the prickly starbursts of Hooker’s eryngo (Eryngium hookeri) was especially pleasing. The transformation of this eryngo from green to lavender or purple isn’t always predictable; it often takes place after the bluebells have faded, and in some years the color is less deeply saturated.

This year, both species seemed to glow among the grasses at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge: their lovely lavenders a cooling note in the rising mid-summer heat.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Sure Sign of Summer

If I’m lucky, this Prairie Gentian will be only the first of many that I’ll find this year. Its scientific name, Eustoma exaltatum, points both to its ‘large-mouthed’ appearance (Eustoma) and to its height (exaltatum).  Other common names — Catchfly Prairie Gentian, Bluebell Gentian, and Seaside Gentian — all apply to this showy, purple-to-lavender flower that occasionally appears in white.

Before its flowers appear, the plant easily is identified by grayish-green, oppositely-arranged leaves that clasp the stems. Tolerant of salt and with a preference for moist conditions, the it can be found in salt marshes, wet prairies, and coastal flats from Florida through Texas, to California and northward.

A large colony of these flowers on the west end of Galveston Island fell first to the mowers and then to the developers, but this single bloom at the side of a west end road whispered a message: “Get thee to Brazoria County. I have friends there.”

Who could ignore a message from a flower?

 

Comments always are welcome.

Bud, Bloom, and Banquet

Purple leatherflower bud ~ Dudney Nature Center, League City

One of my favorite native vines, the Purple Leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri), typically climbs over and around woodland margins, road cuts, fence rows, and disturbed ground such as construction sites. While its stems can grow to a length of ten feet or more, its flowers usually are less than an inch long. Solitary and simply shaped, the sepals of the blue-to-purple flowers have recurved, slightly ruffled margins; the plant blooms from late spring through summer.

The genus name is derived from the Greek klematis: a word which designates climbing plants. The specific epithet pitcheri honors Dr. Zina Pitcher (1797-1872), a surgeon with the United States Army, Regent of the University of Michigan, and botanist in the Great Lakes region.

Purple leather flower in bloom ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Seeds begin to form even while the plant still is blooming. Held in clusters, they mature from light green to dark red or brown, with slightly hairy tails that some describe as spider-like.

The flowers are pollinated primarily by bumblebees, although other insects such as flower-feeding thrips and caterpillars of various Thyris moth species feed on the foliage. The vine is used as cover and nesting habitat by songbirds, and although no specific butterflies are associated with the plant, this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) seems to have found it a congenial resting place. Whether it was sipping a bit of leftover nectar or pondering its next stop on the vine, I can’t say.

Painted Lady on developing C. pitcheri seed head ~ Brazos River bank, East Columbia

 

Comments always are welcome.

From Bud to Bloom

Emerging between February’s freeze and March’s bluebonnet extravaganza, wisterias brightened our landscape considerably.

This American Wisteria (Wisteria frutenscens), a Texas native with fragrant purple flowers, covered a chain-link fence in the nearby town of Dickinson. A member of the pea family, the shape of its opening buds makes clear its relationship to other early bloomers in the Fabaceae, such as Mountain Laurel and various wild indigos.

A bit farther down the road, at the Buddhist temple in Santa Fe, white wisteria covered an archway. While the native Texas species sometimes produces white flowers, I suspect this to be a form of Japanese wisteria: Wisteria floribunda. Although listed as a noxious weed in many states — the Missouri Botanical Garden has a firm “DO NOT Plant!” notice on its site — careful pruning had confined this beauty to a single area of the garden, where it was busy delighting the bees.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Autumn Elegance

On September 27, I  noticed tiny purple buds developing on an unfamiliar plant at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve in East Texas. By November 1, it was hard to turn around without seeing what those buds had become: stands of graceful and not at all rare Downy Lobelia (Lobelia puberula) blooming across the Big Thicket.

A perennial in the bellflower family, Downy Lobelia is native in several eastern and south-central states as well as in Texas. Often found in the company of other autumn flowers, especially mistflowers, goldenrod, and the asters seen here in the background, its color can be as rich and deep as that of the red Cardinal Flower, another native Lobelia.

Characteristically, the flower produces blooms on only one side of its stem. Seen in profile, the effect is unusually charming: as appealing to the human eye as its nectar is to the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds that serve as its pollinators.

 

Comments always are welcome.