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.

White Delights ~ Spiderwort

Tradescantia ohiensis

A Texas native, spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.) honors both John Tradescant the Elder (1570-1638) and his son, also named John. Both served as Keeper of his Master’s Gardens, Vines, and Silkworms at Oatlands Palace, an estate occupied by Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England. One species,  Tradescantia virginiana, recalls John the Younger’s travels to Virginia in the 1630s, and the horticultural specimens he brought back to England.

Some say the plant’s common name comes from its angular leaves and stems, which vaguely resemble spider legs, but the Missouri Botanical Garden notes that when spiderwort stems are cut, “a viscous stem secretion is released which becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening, like a spider’s web.”

Because Tradescant the Elder had no sense of smell, he tended to favor visually interesting trees and flowers; I suspect he would have enjoyed the white spiderworts I discovered among a field of purple and blue in Dickinson, Texas, on March 14. I’ll occasionally find rose-colored spiderwort flowers, but these were the first white that I’d seen.

While this white flower is a natural variant, a cultivar known as T. ohiensis ‘Alba’ exists. It’s a pretty combination of white and lavender; gardeners who enjoy spiderworts, or white flowers, or unusual plants, might want to give it a try.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For a brief, interesting history of the Tradescants, their travels and collections, click here.

A Hint of Things to Come

 

A tall and dramatic Liatris species, this prairie blazing star, Liatris pycnostachya, will come into full flower later in the summer. It blooms from the top down; here, it shows the first hints of its future color, as well as the pleasing structure of its buds.

 

Comments always are welcome.