To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…
“Auguries of Innocence” ~ William Blake
Another name for Texas Bull-nettle (Cnidoscolus texanus) is ‘Tread Softly,’ and there’s no question that treading softly and carefully is good advice if Bull-nettle’s in the neighborhood. The inattentive or inexperienced risk discovering why the plant sometimes is called Mala Mujer, or ‘bad woman.’ Its stem, branches, leaves, and seed pods are covered in stinging hairs; when the hairs come into contact with human skin, the results can include intense pain, burning, itching, or cellulitis.
Several years ago, entranced by the sight of a field of white prickly poppies and eager to photograph them, I met my first bull-nettle by sitting on one. I don’t recommend the experience, any more than I recommend kneeling in a spot where the highway department has mowed them down, leaving invisible hairs strewn across the land.
A member of the Spurge family, bull-nettles produce several stems from a single taproot; the plant thrives even in the hottest and driest parts of the summer. Its lovely flowers, five to seven white, petal-like sepals surrounding ten or more stamens and a three-lobed pistil, bloom from early March through July across a large swath of the state.
Oddly, the stinging hairs don’t seems to bother the plant’s many non-human visitors. Here, a common green bottle fly (Lucilia spp.) pauses on bull-nettle flowers mixed with colorful Indian Blankets.
A Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) sips nectar, heedless of the hairs.
Perhaps sensing an opportunity for camouflage, this Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) holds its hairy legs next to the plant’s hairs, while it assumes its characteristic prey-catching posture and awaits its next meal.
The number and variety of creatures that can be found on and around the Bull-nettles is remarkable. Just don’t get too close while admiring them!
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.
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.”