Nature’s Alchemy

Even in a post-freeze year marked by continuing drought, Texas wildflowers can put on quite a show. It’s tradition here to set aside at least one spring weekend for “going to see the flowers,” and last weekend was mine.

Many consider our fields of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush to be iconic, but they’re often rivaled by other wildflowers. The Christian City Fellowship, a large congregation between Sealy and Bellville, has allowed acres of flowers to bloom on their property; the huge patch of yellow flowers there certainly caught my eye.

After a quick U-turn, I pulled into a parking lot at the back of the church and found myself gazing at the largest colony of Nueces Coreopsis (Coreopsis neucensoides) I’ve ever seen. With its pretty red detailing and frilly ray florets, it’s an especially attractive flower, but the history of the field was equally compelling.

The church was open, so I ventured inside to ask permission to roam the property. A young man offered permission with a smile, then mentioned that the flowers had changed dramatically. In past years, the fields had been covered with bluebonnets. This year, only an occasional bluebonnet bloomed amid the coreopsis; Nature as alchemist had transformed blue into gold.

Was the change due to last year’s freeze? Had drought played a role? Whatever the reason for the change, the result was beautiful, and I lingered a good while luxuriating in the sight — until I remembered that bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush were waiting down the road.

Nueces Coreopsis

 

Comments always are welcome.

Spring’s Primary Colors

Anagallis arvensis ~ a blue form of the more commonly salmon-colored Scarlet Pimpernel

In another month or two, Indian paintbrush, Engelmann’s daisies, and bluebonnets will cover the land with their bold primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.

Just now, a combination of factors have created a landscape given to brown, light brown, sort-of-brown, and gray, but as February comes to an end, newly-emerged flowers are beginning to shine.

In areas of the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on February 20, the blue form of the so-called Scarlet Pimpernel had begun to emerge.

Even on a somewhat gloomy day, scattered Butterweeds provided bright yellow accents in the ditches.

Butterweed ~ Packera glabella

While not a pure red, the indefatigable Indian paintbrushes were scattered throughout the refuge, completing the traditional triad of colors and suggesting that spring’s full flowering may arrive sooner than we imagine.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Pre-Freeze Pastels

Despite our current freezing temperatures, a new season is ready to spring forth across the Texas coast. On the last weekend of January, these delicate but familiar beauties already had appeared: a welcomed sign of things to come.

Along a Brazoria County road, one of several species of Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) was flowering in small patches. A member of the Iris family, its blooms eventually will fill ditches and cover roadsides.

Several Oxalis species are found in Texas. Some are native; others, like this Oxalis debilis blooming at a local nature center, have arrived from the tropics and made themselves at home. Often found at woodland edges, its flowers regularly host a variety of bees and flies.

Less toxic than the Celery-leaved Buttercup, Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) can appear seemingly overnight, filling pastures and vacant city lots with its pleasant glow. Favored by bees, a variety of flies, and butterflies, they bloom in numbers capable of attracting human attention as well.

While each of these may have been set back by ice and cold, a bit of sunshine and warming temperatures will be all that’s needed to encourage them back into bloom.

Comments always are welcome.

A Last (Prim)rose of Summer

Mexican Primrose-willow buds

Our native Mexican Primrose-willow (Ludwigia octovalvis) is widely distributed: so much so that it’s as likely to be found in Samoa or Singapore as in the southern U.S.  Its flowers certainly recall other primrose species, while its slender leaves suggest the water-loving willows found along the banks of ponds and streams.

Primrose-willow begins flowering in June or early July and continues well into November: bearing buds, blooms, and seed capsules simultaneously. On October 31, new flowers were developing on a multitude of plants I found in wet areas of the Big Thicket, including the Watson Rare Plant Preserve.

A bud that suggests an especially prim rose

Once the flower is pollinated, its petals, style, and stamens fall away, leaving the four triangular sepals shown in the upper right of the photo below. As the plant ages and seeds develop, both sepals and stems develop a pleasing reddish color that contrasts nicely with the pretty yellow flowers.

Several Luwigia species serve as larval hosts for the Banded Sphinx Moth  (Eumorpha fasciatus) and the Primrose Flea Beetle(Altica litigata).   A variety of butterflies visit the plant, including this Gulf Fritillary that paused for a photo session alongside Village Creek near Kountze, Texas.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sleek, Silky, and Semi-Spiky

Canna glauca buds ~ Brazoria County

Water Canna (Canna glauca), sometimes known as Louisiana Canna, is native to only a few southern states: Brazoria and Matagorda counties in Texas, several Louisiana parishes, and single counties in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. Found primarily along the margins  of marshes, swamps, and ponds, it’s an impressive plant that can attain a height of six feet.

The genus name is rooted in the Greek word kanna, meaning reed. The specific epithet also comes from the Greek; glaukos gave rise to glauca, which refers to the grayish-blue color of the leaves. 

One of several September-blooming plants at the San Bernard Refuge ~ Brazoria County

Cannas commonly are propagated by dividing their underground rhizomes. Some gardening sites note that the rhizomes can be overwintered in the ground if the temperatures remain above 40F (or 50F, depending on the website). They’ve been described as temperamental, easily lost if not kept in perfect conditions, but these plants seem to have weathered last February’s freeze perfectly well.

The plants can be grown from seed. Once the flowers are spent, clusters of green, spiky pods that remind me of dog chew toys develop. The pods usually contain one to three large, black seeds which can be harvested after the pods become dry.

Fresh and dried Canna seed pods ~ Brazoria County

The transformation of the plant from one stage to another is remarkable and interesting to witness. In mid-September, I found buds galore still emerging; with luck, more photos of the flowers themselves will be possible before their season is ended.

 

Comments always are welcome.