Texas Thistle ~ From Bud to Bloom

One of our prettiest and most useful plants, the Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) begins blooming in April and continues to benefit a variety of birds and insects throughout the summer. A larval host for the Painted Lady butterfly, the plant provides nourishment for a variety of native bees, including bumblebees, and birds such as Goldfinches make use of its fluff and its seeds.

Each plant produces a single flower at the top of its usually unbranched stem. Sometimes confused with Engelmann’s thistle (Cirsium engelmannii), Texas thistle lacks that plant’s spiny bracts at the base of its flower.

 Its color and form are especially attractive, and its minimal prickliness makes it a fine addition to landscapes or pollinator gardens.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Mornings with Monarda

Spotted beebalm with phlox ~ Medina County

Named in honor of 16th century Spanish physician, botanist, and pharmacologist Nicolas Bautista Monardes (1493-1588), native Monarda species are widespread across Texas.

Monardes himself never traveled to the New World, but Spanish captains engaged in trade with the Americas knew of his interest in plants, and kept him well-supplied with new species. Monardes established a museum in Seville to house his growing collection — the first such museum in Western Europe — and brought the plants’ therapeutic values to the attention of his colleagues.

Drought tolerant, clump-forming members of the Lamiaceae, or mint family, Monarda species thrive in sunny areas with dry soil. During a visit to the Texas hill country on May 7-9, I found colonies of both Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata) and Lemon Horsemint (M. citriodora) giving clear notice that late spring is turning into summer.

Spotted beebalm ~ Medina County
Lemon horsemint ~ Wilson County
Lemon horsemint with firewheels  ~ Gonzales County

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Rain Lilies’ Country Cousins

On impulse, I decided to forgo a return to Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries to check on developments in the small patch of rain lilies I’d found there on April 29. Instead, I traveled to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, where rain lilies also appear from time to time.

I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing our native rain lily species from one another, but these Brazoria blooms seemed to be the same Cooperia drummondii I’d found in Galveston. Their long floral tubes and the preference of the so-called Prairie Lily (Cooperia pedunculata) for more open spaces certainly suggests that, and the USDA map doesn’t show C. pedunculata in Brazoria County.

Regardless of the species, there was no questioning the source of the heady fragrance that hung above the flowers. In Galveston, strong winds had blown away the scent; here, a perfectly still morning allowed it to linger.

A special treat was finding this native thistle (Cirsium spp.) blooming next to the lilies. I tend to think of thistles as plants capable of thriving in dry conditions, so this one’s juxtaposition with floral evidence of rain made me smile.

Comments always are welcome.

Texas Spring à la Monet

The words are Monet’s. The flowers — Bluebonnets, Toadflax, Phlox, Butterweed, Old Plainsman, Indian Paintbrush — are typically Texan.
 “Paint what you really see, not what you think you ought to see; not the object isolated as in a test tube, but the object enveloped in sunlight and atmosphere, with the blue dome of Heaven reflected in the shadows.”
“For me, the subject is of secondary importance: I want to convey what is alive between me and the subject.”
“I am chasing a dream, I want the unattainable. Other artists paint a bridge, a house, a boat; and that’s the end. They’ve finished. I want to paint the air which surrounds the bridge, the house, the boat; the beauty of the air in which these objects are located; and that is nothing short of impossible. If only I could satisfy myself with what is possible!”
“For me, a landscape does not exist in its own right, since its appearance changes at every moment; but the surrounding atmosphere brings it to life – the light and the air which vary continually. For me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value.”
“When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene before you.”
The light constantly changes, and that alters the atmosphere and beauty of things every minute.”

 

Comments always are welcome.

My Favorite White Delight

A just-opened White Prickly Poppy

The beauty of bluebonnet and Indian paintbrush-filled fields can’t be denied, but a more widespread if less well-publicized native flower always makes me smile. The White Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora) blooms for weeks across wide swaths of Texas: not always in dense colonies, but equally lovely in isolated stands. I found at least a few near every stopping point on the weekend of April 9 and 10.

I once had the pleasure of watching one of these poppy buds open; it took less time than drinking my cup of coffee. While I’ve missed that sight this year, the still-crinkled flower in the first photo recalled that experience, while spreading petals of more mature blooms glowed against a background of bluebonnets and phlox.

That said, little compares to the sight of these flowers, wind-blown and delicate above their otherwise prickly buds, stems, and leaves, shining against a blue Texas sky.

 

Comments always are welcome.