Rayless Among the Rocks

After my recent posting of Gaillardia aestivalis and the white variety known as Winkler’s Gaillardia (G. aestivalis var. Winkleri), several readers commented on the pleasing structure of the ball-like seed heads.

Another Gaillardia species, G. suavis, is ball-like from the beginning. Known for its sweet scent and generally missing the ray flowers that mark other members of the Asteraceae, the variously-named fragrant Gaillardia, pincushion daisy, or perfume balls, is common along roadsides in the Texas hill country.

The disk florets that form the pretty round flower tend toward a reddish brown, interspersed with numerous stiff bristles. All of these were found on open, dry hillsides in Medina and Kerr counties, thriving in the gravelly soils.

This especially vibrant example reminds me of the fruit of the buttonbush, another ball-shaped bloom.

I’ve yet to find any fully-developed, fluffy seedheads of these flowers, but perhaps this will be the year.

Comments always are welcome.

Sunnyflowers

 

Specifically established and managed to provide native coastal prairie habitat for the endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken, the 10,541 acre Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge is home to a wealth of other birds and plant species.

Driven away from the coast by a wealth of newly hatched and unbearable mosquitoes, I decided on Saturday to make a first visit to the refuge. Yesterday’s relatively long drive was worth it; the entire refuge was aglow with a variety of sunflowers, partridge pea, bitterweed, and a yellow ‘something’ that I’ve not yet identified.

From my vantage point on one side of the refuge’s lake, this flower-covered bank — no doubt a combination of species — shimmered in the high noon sunlight; its reflection in the water was lagniappe.

 

Comments always are welcome.
As always, you can click on the image for a larger and more detailed image.

Cotton Country

Snake-cotton (Froelichia floridana)

 

Growing up in corn country, I’d always thought of Texas as cattle country. In truth, cotton has been nearly as important to the state, from battles waged over the product during the Civil War to the economic benefit provided by bales leaving Galveston’s wharves.

Even today, cotton fields abound — in the Panhandle, in west Texas, throughout the midcoast — and cotton has become part of the culture. To favor something is to ‘cotton’ to it. To be secure, financially or otherwise, is to be ‘in tall cotton.’ One of my customers once named his post-retirement sailboat High Cotton, and I’ve danced more times than I can count to the “Cotton-Eyed Joe”.

Recently, I met another bit of Texas cotton: snake-cotton, a member of the Amaranth family known scientifically as Froelichia floridana: a tribute to German botanist Josef Aloys Frölich. Given the plant’s preference for full sun, dry conditions, and sandy soil, its appearance at the edge of a service road at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary wasn’t surprising.

Its tiny, conical flowers emerge in a tight spiral, but they soon swell to become shaped like a short vase with a short narrow neck. There are no petals; the orange stamens and style are contained within the neck of the ‘vase.’

Blooms become densely woolly or cottony, giving the plant one-half of its common name. Why it’s called ‘snake cotton’ is more mysterious. While it might be that snakes commonly were found in the same area as the plant, it’s just as likely that the development of the plant itself led to the name. Young plants have short, erect spikes of blooms. As the plant ages, the spike elongates, adding weight to the stem and ‘snaking’ it down toward the ground.

Whatever the source of the common name, it’s a fascinating plant that rewards a second, closer look.

 

Comments always are welcome.