From Bud to Bloom

Blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) ~ Midfield, Texas

Despite similarities among the buds shown in my previous post, the flowers themselves may not immediately suggest their membership in the iris family. When I met blue-eyed grass, it certainly didn’t seem iris-like. Only later did I learn that the rhizomes from which it grows, its tall, blade-like foliage, and its six petals all point to its connection to our more familiar irises.

Despite its common name, it isn’t a grass; it’s often lavender, violet, or white rather than blue; and the ‘eye’ in the center of the flower is yellow. Its name isn’t always hyphenated, but when it is, ‘blue eyed-grass’ would be a better choice than ‘blue-eyed grass.’

Blue-eyed grass spreads along roadsides and across fields in huge numbers, but I seldom encounter dense colonies of prairie nymphs. Individual flowers spreading across a large area seem more common, but their delicate color and intricate design make even a single flower worthy of attention.

Prairie nymph (Herbertia lahue) ~ Cost, Texas

The flowers bloom in succession over a two to three week period in early to late spring. Each flower lasts only a day, opening above narrow, sword-shaped leaves in the morning and closing by late afternoon.

The flowers themselves are two to three inches across, and their height seems to depend on whether mowing has occurred. Along roadsides or in cemeteries, they may be only a few inches tall, but on prairies or untended land, they often grow to be six to twelve inches in height. Rich in pollen and nectar, they hold special appeal for hoverflies and native bees.

Purple pleatleaf, sometimes called propeller flower, is found in the eastern third of Texas. Unlike blue-eyed grass or the prairie nymph, this is a flower that prefers a bit of shade.  It’s often found along woodland edges; these were blooming in the Big Thicket, alongside a road leading to the Sundew Trail.

The ‘pleat’ in the name comes from the plant’s leaves, which are folded along their length as they rise from the ground. Taller than the prairie nymph, with a mostly leafless stem, purple pleat-leaf seems to me the most iris–like of the trio, and it certainly is eye-catching.

Purple Pleat-leaf (Alophia drummondii) ~ Warren, Texas

To my chagrin, I realized only this morning that I failed to mention another member of the iris family in these posts: a favorite from the hill country that I’ve seen only twice. As the saying goes, “So many flowers, so little time!” ~ so I’ll save the neglected one for another time.

Comments always are welcome.

 

A Natural Tribute to the Fallen

Fannin Monument ~ Goliad, Texas

Thanks to Hollywood and assorted writers of historical fiction, “Remember the Alamo” has become one of America’s best-known battle cries. But before the Alamo, there was James W. Fannin, a few hundred fighters for Texas independence, and the infamous Goliad Massacre: a pivotal event leading to the establishment of the Republic of Texas.

Events leading to the massacre of over four hundred men and Colonel Fannin were complicated; a brief explanation can be found here. After the executions, the bodies were burned and their remains left exposed until June 3, 1836, when Gen. Thomas J. Rusk gathered them and provided burial in a common grave.

The grave remained unmarked until about 1858, when a Goliad merchant, George von Dohlen, placed a pile of rocks on what was believed to be the site. Decades later, some Goliad Boy Scouts found charred bone fragments nearby and, in 1930, University of Texas anthropologist J. E. Pearce began an investigation. With its authenticity as the Fannin burial site verified by historians Clarence R. Wharton and Harbert Davenport, money was allocated in Texas’s centennial year — 1936 — for the construction of the monument shown above.

The monument’s sculptor, French-born Raoul Josset, moved to the United States in 1933. Many of his works in this country are dedicated to individuals who helped to shape the State of Texas: a bronze and granite tribute to Captain Amon King, hero of the Battle of Refugio; an eight-foot bronze of George Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence; and a bronze angel guarding the crypt at Monument Hill, where remains of Texans killed in the Mier-Sommerville expedition are interred.

When I visited the Fannin Monument this spring, all was peaceful. The years-old explanatory sign, rusting but undamaged, still brought a smile. Nature herself is being allowed to decorate the gravesite, year after year.

Blooming among this year’s crop of bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and Engelmann’s daisies was an uncountable number of huisache daisies (Amblyolepsis setigera). A Texas endemic found primarily in the central part of the state, I’d last seen them during the Great Wildflower Explosion of 2019.

One of the flower’s most appealing characteristics is the range of colors it displays as it begins to fade. Clear yellow blooms become tinged with orange, and green ‘nerves’ in the ray flowers (akin to those seen in the four-nerve daisy, or Tetraneuris linearifolia) become more obvious.

Eventually, the colors darken even more, occasionally turning a deep, reddish-orange.

Even as they age, the flowers’ beauty endures: not unlike a grateful state’s memories of the men who lie beneath them.

Comments always are welcome.

Anemones, Again

 

Ten-petal anemone bud

One of our earliest spring flowers, the ten-petal anemones (Anemone berlandieri) had begun to appear in late January, until the February freeze put an end to their eager opening. Undiscouraged, they began blooming again once temperatures moderated.

The plant’s scientific name honors French naturalist Jean Louis Berlandier, who was active in both Texas and Mexico during the 1800s, but the common name ‘ten-petal anemone’ is somewhat misleading. The plant has sepals rather than petals,, and the number of sepals can range from seven to twenty-five. This pretty white example has eleven.

In Brazoria and Galveston counties, white flowers seem to predominate, so I was pleased to find a lavender example in Palacios, and a strikingly pink flower near Cost.

No matter the color, the flower’s sepals eventually fall away, leaving the cone-like structure that gave rise to the common name ‘thimbleweed’. Eventually, the individual pistils begin to dry. The developing fruits, designed for wind dispersal, provide yet another common name for the plant: windflower.

As summer approaches, the plant becomes dormant in response to the rising heat. Their appearance may be a sign of spring, but their disappearance is a sign of summer, and the fresh set of floral delights it will bring.

 

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.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ditch

Wild irises along Brazoria County Road 306

After returning from my recent foray into the wilds of Bluebonnetland, I realized I was in danger of repeating a mistake I’ve made in the past. Despite knowing last year’s iris leaves had emerged in the ditches surrounding the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, I put off a return visit; by the time I saw the irises again, the flowers were gone.

Not wanting to miss them this year, I decided to make a quick trip to the refuge to see if a few irises might still be blooming. They were: another form of ditch diamond to enjoy.

A different sort of flag

Everyone seems to agree that at least three iris species are native to Texas. This Southern Blue Flag (Iris virginica) may be the best known. I first heard the phrase ‘flag pond’ after moving to Texas, and misinterpreted the phrase. I assumed it meant a pond with a flag pole next to it. A pond filled with irises never occurred to me.

Two to three feet tall, Blue Flags can vary in color from very light blue to purple, leading me to suspect that the next two photos also show Blue Flags.

The Zigzag iris (Iris brevicaulis) has different growth habits. Flowers are borne on sprawling stems which typically zig-zag to a height of no more than fives inches. The specific epithet brevicaulis means ‘short-stemmed,’ and the long, strap-like green leaves often hide the blooms.

A zigzag Iris blooming only inches above the ground

Color variations also exist among Zigzag Iris. While some sites describe the flower as lavender, others mention purple and yellow as possibilities. Given their short stature and the length of their sepals — substantially longer than their petals — I suspect this next pair might be Zigzag iris as well.

The colonies were pretty when seen from the road, but only a walk among them revealed their variety of color and form: except, of course, for the yellow iris, which demanded to be noticed.

Comments always are welcome.