Never Say Never

New growth emerging from freeze-damaged branches

Despite its name, the Mexican Olive, or Anacahuita, doesn’t produce true olives. A member of the Borage family, Cordia boissieri is more closely related to flowers such as Comfrey, Heliotrope, and Forget-Me-Not. 

Butterflies and hummingbirds frequent the blooms, while the fleshy fruits — which do resemble an olive in shape and color — are palatable to birds, deer, and cattle. Don’t add one to your martini or tapenade, though; the fruits’ slight toxicity makes them unfit for human consumption.

Native to only a few counties in far south Texas and to portions of northeastern Mexico, the plant rarely exceeds a height of twenty feet. It tends toward shrubbiness, but can be pruned to become more tree-like. No matter its shape, it blooms through most of the year with showy, trumpet-shaped flowers that glow against its dark leaves.

Pest and disease free, Texas olive’s greatest downside is its dislike of cold weather. In the normally frost-free region of south Texas, Mexican olive thrives, but survival in areas like Austin and San Antonio is less certain. At that northern limit of its range, the trees often are smaller, and deciduous or evergreen depending on the weather.

After Texas’s state-wide freeze last February, the single specimen tree at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge seemed to have succumbed to the harsh conditions; its leafless branches suggested it never would survive. Then, I noticed a few leaves, followed by small but perfectly formed buds. In time, normally-sized flowers once again bloomed: delighting my human eyes as well as the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds that find it so appealing.

 

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Brookweeds Will Not Brook Being Ignored*

While I found the fully-opened flowers of the Limewater Brookweed (Samolus ebracteatus) charming enough to be featured in my previous post, I was equally taken with their plump little buds, and the interesting, vase-like form of the flower when seen from the side.

Like flowers of the dewberry or rain lily, they can be touched with a hint of pink which fades as the flower matures.

 

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* While the construction ‘brook no’ is old and generally uncommon, it still shows up in phrases like “He would brook no criticism” or “She brooks no dissent.” It means not to allow, tolerate, or accept something.
The etymology of ‘brook’ in this sense is interesting, as this condensed passage from the LanguageHat blog demonstrates:
The Old English strong verb brúcan is historically the same as the German brauchen and has the same meaning: ‘to make use of, have the enjoyment of, enjoy.’  A specialized usage is found in the Oxford Annotated Dictionary’s second sense: “To make use of (food); in later usage, to digest, retain, or bear on the stomach.”  Citations of early usage include Thomas Raynalde (Roesslin’s Byrth of mankynde, 1540): “If she refuse or cannot brooke meat.” The first OED citation is found in Palsgrave’s 1530 “Lesclarcissement de la langue françoyse”: “He can nat brooke me of all men.”

No Brook, but a Brookweed

The distribution of this tiny flower  — Limewater Brookweed, known scientifically as Samolus ebracteatus — is interesting. It can be found in every Texas coastal county save one, but after skipping a good bit of territory, it also appears in central Texas and the hill country before making its way west into a bit of New Mexico, where it’s sometimes known as Mojave Water Pimpernel.

The plant’s willingness to grow near springs and intermittent rivers in desert areas, as well as in the wetlands and salt marshes of coastal Texas, makes clear that Brookweed doesn’t require a brook in order to thrive.

Its flowers, measuring no more than a quarter-inch to a half-inch wide, appear on short stalks arrayed along a long wand. They mature from the base upward; as the season progresses, the plant continues to produce new blooms while fruits mature from the older flowers and release seeds.

The flowers of this in the Primulaceae (the Primrose family) attract the Southern Carpenter Bee, hoverflies, and butterflies. When I found this example at the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail in Brazoria County, other Brookweeds were being visited by an assortment of Sulphurs.

 

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Life Among the Rain Lilies

A centerpiece for nature’s table

Discovering one charming group of rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge was immensely satisfying, but nature had another surprise in store: a second bouquet so beautifully arranged it might have been created by a professional florist.

After admiring the second clump of flowers, I turned my attention to  individual lilies scattered along the roadside, and found them teeming with life.  Emerging rain lily buds, elegant as the flowers themselves, played host to a number of tiny grasshopper nymphs who hugged the slender stems.

Among the blooms,  a dozen or more Lesser Meadow Katydid nymphs (genus Conocephalus ) roamed and nibbled.

Tempted by pollen and nectar, hoverflies joined the party.

Some insects secreted themselves within the flowers’ depths, closing the door behind them. Here, a spider or caterpillar might have been at work. Despite my curiosity, I chose to imagine a ‘Do Not Disturb” sign and moved on.

One camera-shy crab spider retreated beneath the petals so quickly I missed a clear image, but she’d found a beautiful place to await her prey. Rather than spinning a web, many of these spiders engage in lurking: snatching up unwary visitors seeking nectar or seeds.

Even a few minutes of roadside observation confirms an important truth: as much as we enjoy decorating our homes with flowers, innumerable creatures consider the flowers themselves to be their homes: places of shelter and sustenance. We’re lucky they’re willing to invite us in.

 

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Gaillardia, Too

Lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis)

One of our most widespread and beloved wildflowers, Gaillardia pulchella — commonly known as Indian blanket or firewheel — isn’t the only Gaillardia species abroad in the land.

During my recent visits to the Attwater Prairie, I found no firewheels, but Gaillardia aestivalis, the lanceleaf blanket flower, or prairie Gaillardia, was plentiful. Its distinct ray flowers surround a center that becomes even more striking as the plant matures, suggesting a floral version of a geodesic dome.

Seeing a lanceleaf blanket flower, it’s impossible to miss its resemblance to the rare Winkler’s blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri), a plant limited to the sandy soils of Tyler, Hardin, and Newton counties in the Big Thicket.

A purple version of Winkler’s blanket flower known as ‘Grape Sensation’ was developed by Dawn Stover at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center in Nacogdoches. It does resemble the color of grape soda, and has its fans, but for me these two natives far outshine the various cultivars.

A developing Winkler’s blanket flower seedhead

 

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