Spigelia Times Two


During my explorations of the area surrounding the San Bernard Oak, the most intriguing discovery involved this tiny flower. I’d never seen anything like it and, as it turned out, there’s a very good reason.

Spigelia texana, or Texas pinkroot, is one of our state’s endemics. Unlike other members of the genus found in the state, it’s considered rare, and occurs in only a few counties.  A member of the family Loganiaceae, the genus contains around sixty species; Spigelia honors Adriaan van den Spiegel (1578-1625), professor of anatomy at Padua. Most plants in the genus are known as pinkroots.

Spigelia texana can be found in bottomland hardwood forests along the east Texas coastal plain, in soil containing sand or clay. Only a few inches tall, its funnel-shaped flowers are about a half-inch long, and marked inside with the greenish lines that help to identify it. Another species found in the state, the prairie pinkroot (S. hedyotidea), is similar in appearance, but contains lavender lines inside the flower.

A third species known as Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), is far more common, reaching from Florida across the Gulf coast states to far eastern Texas. Its bright red and yellow flowers are favored by gardeners because of its color, it’s tendency to clump, and its attractiveness to hummingbirds.

Jason, of Garden in the City, was kind enough to share photos of his Indian pinks. Once I’d identified Texas pinkroot, its similarity in shape to Indian pinks became obvious.

As its name suggests, the prairie pinkroot (S. hedyotidea), is found farther inland. This photo by Bob Harms shows the clear resemblance to the Texas pinkroot; since prairie pinkroot grows in areas I also visit, I may recognize it if I come across it there.


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September Scarlet

This beautiful scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata) is the only red-flowering catchfly in southeast Texas. According to Rare Plants of Texas (Poole, Carr, Price & Singhurst), three other scarlet Silene species are native to Texas, but two (S. laciniata and S. plankii) are found in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos, and S. virginica is a spring bloomer limited to far northeast Texas.

As much as four feet tall and somewhat twiggy, scarlet catchfly has thin stems and narrow, grass-like leaves; compared to other catchflies, its stems and leaves are relatively smooth.  A rare plant endemic to a small area of southeast Texas and adjacent southwest Louisiana, it’s most often found in open, disturbed habitats such as the deep, sandy soils of fire-maintained longleaf pine savannahs.

In the course of a wildflower walk at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve near Warren, Joe Liggio pointed out a few developing catchfly buds.

When I returned a week later, I found several buds in various stages of development, and a few already-blooming flowers that had been nibbled and gnawed to a significant degree.

At a different site, I was pleased to find a few fresher flowers that were as eye-catching as fly-catching.

Although named for sticky, insect-trapping bands that encircle its stem between the upper leaves, catchfly doesn’t feed on the insects it traps. Presumably, other predators take advantage of its catch, celebrating their find of an easy meal.

The catchfly’s bloom time probably depends upon its location. One source says that it flowers between August and mid-September; another places the bloom between July and October, occasionally extending into November.

These August and September photos come from Hardin and Tyler counties; the U.S. Forest Service suggests the flower also can be found at the Stark Tract and Fox Hunter’s Hill in the Sabine National Forest. There still may be time to find them there.


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Marsh Mallows

Swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) ~ Big Thicket

I titled my previous post “Marsh, Mellow” as a bit of a joke. Long before I was allowed to make s’mores without adult supervision, I pronounced the name of one of the classic treat’s primary ingredients — marshmallows — as marsh ‘mellows.’ The sight of a marsh on a mellow afternoon brought it all back, and a title was born.

Over time, I’ve lost my taste for the confection, but the pronunciation lingered. Then, I met the Malvaceae: the family of plants known as mallows. Our modern marshmallows actually are the descendents of a treat made from the root of the marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis), a plant  found in Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa.

A. officinalis isn’t native to North America, but a multitude of mallows are, including the lovely swamp rose mallow at the top of this page. Surrounded  by an interesting Big Thicket plant known as ten-angled pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare), it’s also common closer to the coast, where it’s often found along ditches and in other low-lying areas.

This mallow blooms in pink as well as white, but I’d seen only the white until I visited the Watson Rare Plant Preserve in Warren, Texas, where a single pink flower was in bloom.

Saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica) ~ Brazoria County

Michael Eason’s field guide to Texas wildflowers notes that another pink beauty, the saltmarsh mallow, is considered uncommon. I wouldn’t have imagined that, since the flowers are plentiful in this area, and sometimes line roadside ditches for miles. The unusual scientific name honors Vincenz Franz Kosteletzky, a botanist who worked in Prague in the 1800s.

Neches River rose mallow (Hibiscus dasycalyx) ~ Tyler County

Unlike the previous mallows, the beautiful Neches River rose mallow is considered rare. I’ve seen it only twice: once at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center in Nacogdoches, and once in Tyler County. In both instances, the flower was facing downward and not easily accessible, but enlarging the photo will give a sense of the beautiful details in its center.

Lindheimer’s sida (Sida lindheimeri) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Lindheimer’s sida, a flower as often seen in the Texas hill country as at the coast, also belongs to the mallow family. It prefers drier conditions than some of the marsh mallows, but it often grows very near to them, especially at the edges of roads.

Known as the father of Texas botany, Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer must have loved this tiny mallow; his daughter, Sida Rosalia Lindheimer (1860-1943) bore its name. In the 1960s, a granddaughter, Sida Martin, gave the Lindheimer home to the New Braunfels Conservation Society.  Today, a variety of mallows grow in its gardens.


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