A Different Form of Cloudlessness

With Tropical Storm Nicholas wandering off to the northeast, rain turned to drizzle and the wind began to lay, but no more than a tiny patch of blue decorated our afternoon sky. Two hundred miles to the west, lovely blue after-storm skies were beginning to appear, but, in southeast Texas, clouds were the order of the day.

On the other hand, I had a different sort of cloudlessness to enjoy, having discovered this Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) near the beach on Sunday. I almost always see this butterfly in flight, but this one had chosen to pause and sip nectar from a deeply shaded Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), said to be one of its favorite flowers.

As autumn approaches, I sometimes see dozens of these butterflies in a single afternoon as they migrate back into the area. One of our most common butterflies, their colors range from an eye-catching lemon yellow to a darker yellow or white; in this instance, I suspect the wings may appear a bit green because of the foliage surrounding the insect.

They do make a nice substitute for an uncloudy day.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Theme and Variations

Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)  ~ Brazoria, Texas

Because of its resemblance to a Turkish turban, this member of the mallow family usually is called Turk’s cap; some call it Drummond’s wax mallow,  red mallow, Texas mallow, Mexican apple (it has an edible fruit), or sleeping hibiscus — a name no doubt occasioned by petals that normally remain closed, rather than fully opening.

Designated a ‘Texas Superstar’ in 2011 by Texas AgriLife Research, the Turk’s cap claimed the honor without the usual testing by AgriLife Research and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service because of its long history in the state. According to Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research horticulturist:

When it comes to climate and soils, it’s a very tough, versatile plant. It’s a native plant, and a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s extremely drought-tolerant and will thrive in dry soils. It does very well in the shade but will take quite a bit of sun, so it’s a very versatile plant; something that is pretty well adapted all over the entire state.
It’s an old garden plant — something that’s found in old-home sites and in old gardens.

Of course, to paraphrase that famous line from The Wind in the Willows, there’s nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about with plants. After some horticulturalists messed around with the Turk’s cap, a new variety was created.

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii ‘Pam Puryear’
Lady Bird Johnson demonstration garden, Nacogdoches, Texas

Greg Grant, formerly with AgriLife Research and now with Stephen F. Austin Gardens in Nacogdoches, Texas, was urged to develop the pink variety by Pam Puryear, one of the first women to graduate from Texas A&M University.

Both Grant and Puryear were members of Texas Rose Rustlers, an organization dedicated to antique roses and gardening in general, when Puryear asked Grant to develop some new varieties of Turk’s cap.

After first achieving a large hybrid plant he named ‘Big Mama’ because its flowers doubled the size of those on the native Turk’s cap, Grant crossed ‘Big Mama’ with a cold-hardy plant with white flowers, and among the variations that emerged was the peachy-pink version of our more common red flower.

A typical turk’s cap ‘pinwheel’ ~ Lady Bird Johnson demonstration garden, Nacogdoches

Today, the pink version surrounds the Raiford Stripling-designed house that anchors the Lady Bird Johnson demonstration garden at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center in Nacogdoches. Associated with Stephen F. Austin State University and located near the campus, the Center was dedicated on April 8, 2000, becoming the third affiliated garden of Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center. Both Lady Bird and Dr. Robert Breunig, director of the Center at the time, attended the event.

Of course, nature enjoys messing about with flowers, too. Outside Nacogdoches, at the edge of thickly-forested land along Bonaldo Creek, I found a treat for my white-flower-loving heart.

My name for it would be M. arboreus var. drummondii ‘Lagniappe’

A number of white varieties have been bred, but this was no nursery plant. It was nature at her finest, producing her own variation on the beloved traditional flower we know as Turk’s cap.

 

Comments always are welcome.