Meanwhile the world
heedless of human concerns
springs again to life
Indian Paintbrush blooming alongside a Brazoria County Road
Sunday, February 7
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.
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.