The Glories of a Vacant Lot

Deer pea vetch surrounding green milkweed ~ Asclepias viridis

One of my favorite places to roam lies along a short Brazoria County road. Dead-ending at a fish camp on Hall’s Bayou, it has a ditch and a small, triangular piece of land on one side, and a small private hay meadow on the other. Sunflowers, ladies tresses orchids, a variety of milkweeds, and some lovely blue sage all have been found on the land, but it’s generally impossible to predict what I’ll find.

On April 6, I decided to visit the spot to see what might have appeared. It was a trip well worth making.

Browne’s savory ~ Clinopodium brownei

I’ve seen this pretty ground cover for years. With the help of Michael Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, I finally identified the tiny, complex flowers.

Closeup of Browne’s savory
Lady Bird’s centaury ~ Zeltnera texensis

Once known as Centaurium texense, Lady Bird’s centaury became Zeltnera texensis after genetic analysis split the genus Centaurium and limited Centaurium to Eurasian species, placing Lady Bird’s centaury in Zeltnera.

Named after the former First Lady, the flower resembles mountain pinks, but the isolation of individual blooms helps with identification. Most guides place the flower in the rocky soil of the hill country, but Eason notes that it has spread southeast, into the Houston area.

Spring obedient plant ~ Physostegia intermedia

Three years ago, a nearby field was filled with hundreds of these flowers. Named for their stems’ willingness to remain in place once bent, they’re not so obedient when it comes to staying in place in the garden. They can spread enthusiastically, and I hope to find more as the season goes on.

Blue-eyed grass ~ Sisyrinchium angustifolium

Like the Herbertia blooming at the Varner-Hogg plantation, this lovely plant is a member of the iris family. It’s quite common, and always appealing.

Roughstem rosinweed ~ Silphium radula

Rosinweeds have been blooming for weeks, and their sunflower-like faces always appeal. I’m equally fond of their buds and seedheads, but for now, this flower will do.

Curly dock ~ Rumax crispus

An introduced plant that has naturalized nearly everywhere in the world, curly dock often is mentioned by foragers. The flowers appear in whorls encircling the stem; here, the separation of the clusters of fruits makes the pattern visible.

Carolina Geranium ~ Geranium carolinianum

With flowers only about a third of an inch wide, this common native lawn flower is easy to overlook. After identifying it, I began to see it everywhere, even in the grassy areas of the marinas in which I work.

Slim milkweed – Asclepias linearis

Surprised as I was to find both green and slim milkweed spread across the hay meadow, they clearly had been blooming for some time. A few plants had pods developing already, and a multitude of pollinators were visiting the flowers.

Bur clover, bur medick  ~ Medicago polymorpha

Another introduced plant, bur clover reminds me of a favorite member of the pea family: Vigna luteola, or hairy cowpea, the only native species of Vigna in Texas. Small-flowered, bur clover’s blooms are about a quarter-inch wide, but its vibrant yellow makes it noticeable.

Butterweed ~ Packera tampicana

This was the year I finally began to sort out the various Packera species. Some are obvious, like the prairie grounsel (Packera plattensis) I found in the hill country, but others required deep contemplation of stems and leaves, since the flowers appear quite similar. Also called yellowtop or Great Plains ragwort, this lover of disturbed ground was growing at the edges of the ditch that had been deepened and mowed.

Sand rose gentian ~ Sabatia arenicola

Smaller and differently-leaved than the meadow pinks (Sabatia campestris) that are so common here, this pretty flower prefers sandy soil, and often can be found on the inland side of dunes. Like Lady Bird’s centaury, it was new to me, and a delight to discover.

 Delta arrowhead ~ Sagittaria platyphylla

Just add water — even in an inland ditch — and the Delta arrowhead will be happy to make itself at home. One of my favorite ‘ditch diamonds,’ I’m always happy to see its unusual and pleasing flowers.

Horrid thistle ~ Cirsium horridulum

There are a number of names for this thistle, including some that sound more like a curse than a name. Still, despite the miserable, prickly, damaging thorns, the flower is entirely approachable, and on this particular afternoon the bees were everywhere: a good reminder that the flowers we find so pleasing visually also have a purpose.

As for those vacant lots? The next time you come across one, you might want to stop, and have a look.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

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.