A Delight of Basket-flowers

American basket-flower ~ Plectocephalus americanus (formerly Centaurea americana)

As spring transitioned into summer, I began to fear I had missed seeing my beloved basket-flowers this year. Finally, around mid-June, they began to appear: along abandoned rail tracks and in ditches; tucked into unmowed corners of vacant lots; lurking at the edge of a shipyard. By July, seeds I’d given to friends began to produce as well, and their reports of successful germination pleased me immensely.

Generally speaking, basket-flowers bloom a soft, lovely pink, or various shades of lavender. As they age, the intricately woven ‘basket’ containing the slender disk flowers turns golden, becoming the center of attraction as the seeds form.

Occasionally, as with this flower from a colony in Kemah, Texas, the fading bloom darkens, taking on shades of bronzed purple and red.

Sometimes, white basket-flowers appear. Near Tres Palacios Bay on Texas’s mid-coast, this lovely example stirred in the wind: a reminder of the surprising variety nature offers to even the most casual observer.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Not Warts, But Worts

 

Beautiful though the Maryland milkwort may be, that little “bouquet in a blossom” is far from the only milkwort in Texas. Several species bloom across different regions of the state, including this pretty Polygala alba, or white milkwort, found on a rocky slope near Willow City on July 1.

The genus name Polygala comes from the Greek for ‘much milk,’ as the plants were thought to increase milk yields in cattle. The ‘wort’ in ‘milkwort’ is simply an old word for ‘plant’ which appears in the names of many species; bladderwort, St. John’s wort, bellwort, and lungwort are some of the better-known.

Three hundred miles away and two weeks earlier, in the Big Thicket, the pinebarren milkwort (Polygala ramosa) was coming into its own. An uncommon plant that prefers wet pine savannas and bogs, it’s found primarily in far southeastern Texas.

Another half-dozen Polygala species can be found in southeastern or far eastern Texas, but most bloom in spring; finding them probably will have to wait until next year’s explorations.

 

Comments always are welcome.
There is a plant known as thewart-wort‘, but, etymologically, ‘wart’ and ‘wort’ are unrelated. If you’re interested, you might enjoy this article from the Columbia Journalism Review.

 

The Pleasure of Unexpected Treasure

Yellow rain lily (Zephyranthes pulchella)

After a friend and I discovered great swaths of bluebells and eryngo at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I decided to return for a day of solo exploration, and July 4 was my opportunity. 

Stopping for a quick survey of the planted gardens, I noticed what I assumed to be a late Texas dandelion blooming in the mowed grass edging the parking lot. A second look revealed something entirely different. A yellow rain lily was glowing in the sunlight, and at the very moment I recognized it, my day was complete.

I first encountered one of these lilies at a local nature center, and spent a good bit of time trying to identify it. Later, I found patches of them at Armand Bayou, and in the process of writing about them, satisfied myself that I’d found Zephyranthes smallii.

Still, my original identification had been provisional, so I emailed a pair of photos to Thomas Adams, botanist at the Mid-Coast National Wildlife Complex, which includes the Brazoria refuge. After noting that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between Zephyranthes citrina and Zephyranthes pulchella, he added that, given the equal size of the stamens and the short perianth tube, it seemed likely that I had stumbled across Zephyranthes pulchella: a Texas native that historically has been found close to Brazoria County.

Other surprises would come that day, but nothing could equal this bit of explosive color — an example of floral fireworks that seemed made for a day of celebration.

 

Comments always are welcome.