A Sweetly Tangled Season

Indian paintbrush and mixed grasses

Three primary components of Texas’s famous spring floral displays — red Indian paintbrush, yellow ragwort, and bluebonnets — often cover the landscape with grand, monochromatic sweeps of color.

The fields are dramatic and beautiful; they draw visitors from across the state and beyond to exclaim over them. But on our back country roads, I find myself equally attracted to the fencelines, where the flowers — tangled, half-hidden by rising grasses, often ragged or beginning to fade — present a different sort of picture.

Part of their charm is their small scale, and their easy willingness to mix with other species, including humans. You almost can hear them saying, with just a bit of a twang, “How’s about ya’ll sit a spell, and we get to know one another?”

Texas ragwort mixed with an unidentified grass or cane
Bluebonnets, Texas ragwort, and a touch of pink phlox

 

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.

 

Plant Birthdays: Pink Evening Primrose

Pink evening primrose bud

Despite the risks of repetition, I’m including this brief introduction from the first post in this series as a word of explanation for readers who might have missed it.

In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes:

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…
Tell me of what plant-birthday a man takes notice, and I shall tell you a good deal about his vocation, his hobbies, his hay fever, and the general level of his ecological education.

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.

When the first of this season’s pink evening primroses began to unfurl, a delighted friend took notice. “Look!” she said. “Buttercups!” I’d always thought of buttercups as yellow, but she learned ‘buttercup’ as the common name for Oenothera speciosa a pretty pink or white ground-hugging flower that carpets roadsides and fields beginning in February, and lasting well into summer.

Other common names include Mexican evening primrose, showy evening primrose, and pink ladies, but a pink evening primrose by any other name remains a widespread complement to our bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, willing even to colonize urban construction sites and traffic medians.

In some locations, these flowers open in the evening, although ours prefer the morning. When I found this dew-touched bud south of Gonzales early on the morning of March 21, it looked for all the world as though it was poking its stigma out into the world to see if the time to unfurl had come.

Impressive as fields of these flowers can be, this single Brazoria County blossom reminds me of Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings. Every time I look at the image, I expect to find a tiny tiger or monkey hidden within in its depths.

 

Comments always are welcome.