Friday, April 4, 2008

I'm an April Fool for Spring Wildflowers!

Spring Brings Endless Entertainment to Wildflower Enthusiasts

In the past I have found that even when there is only a "minor wildflower show" there are still a huge variety of species represented. I remember one of our wildflower walks (usually held in the first week of May) when it was a dry year. One of our participants asked, "So where are the wildflowers?", and I answered, "Just wait and see". We saw around 100 species in our 4 hour field-day. In fact, we have a large percentage of our May list blooming each year, what varies is the number of individuals of each species that are blooming. In wet years there are lots of individuals of each species, and in dry years, fewer individuals of each species in bloom. So the determined enthusiast sees lots of wildflowers even in dry years.

Following are the wildflowers that I've taken pictures from this past couple of weeks (in alphabetical order):

Buckeye, yellow (Aesculus pavia var. flavescens)
Buckeyes are multi-trunked shrubs 5' to 10' tall. There are 2 varieties, a red one, and a yellow one, that are divided by range. Both have palmately compound leaves with 5 leaflets, that are attached to the stem opposite another leaf. We are in an area that has both varieties, and we have yellow ones and others that are intermediate between the two. The red variety are found on the eastern edge of the Hill Country, and scattered throughout East Texas counties, and the yellow variety is in the south-western Hill Country. The individual flowers are 1 1/2" long. Large brown seeds with a white "eye" are in a pod in late summer that remains after the leaves are gone. The flowers, leaves and seeds are all poisonous to animals.

Buckeye (Acsculus pavia), red & yellow intermediate form.

Damianita (Chrysactina mexicana) is found in the eastern and south-west portion of the Edwards Plateau and throughout the Trans-pecos region of west Texas. It grows here in dry areas of limestone and caliche. It is a short spreading shrub 8 to 16 inches tall. Flowers are typical of its family, Asteraceae (daisy), and have disk flowers in the center surrounded by ray flowers. The leaves are dark green, linear and very aromatic. You can smell them by rubbing them gently between your fingers and sniffing your fingers.

Death Camus (Zigadenus Nuttalllii) is in the Lily family, grow from dark brown bulbs, and are found on prairies and open hillside on limestone soils. The upright flowering stalk is 1 to 2 feet tall and is surrounded at the bottom by arched linear leaves. The flower-head is usually 3 to 5 inches long and individaul flowers are 3/8 to 1/2 inch wide. The plant is poisonous to all livestock species, but is not often eaten becuase it is not tasty to them.

Green Dragon (Arisaema Dracontium) is 1 to 2 feet tall with one compound leaf on a long stem. The flower stalk is 4 to 10 inches tall topped by a light a light green spathe (c0vering) from which emerges a pale tapering spadix that has tiny male flowers above the slightly larger female flowers on the spadix. I have looked for years in hopes of seeing a Green Dragon blooming, and finally this year saw one and got some pictures.

Knotwood Leaf Flower (Phyllanthus polygonoides) is a tiny plant that you won't find pictured in a flower book. At the bottom of the picture I have my ring which is 3/4" wide so you can tell how small it is. The flowers are white and when the seeds develop (one where each flower was) they look like tiny green stars with a bump in the middle. A friend of mine who is a botanist taught me some of these "itty-bitty" plants.

Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis) has leaves and catkins in the spring, which are the oak tree's flowers. There are both green ones which are female flowers, and yellow-brown ones that are male flowers that are covered with pollen which falls and cover sidewalks and cars a with brownish-yellow dust in the spring. Plants that make lots of pollen which is spread by wind are generally not showy, but because of the abundant amounts of pollen they produce, people are often allergic to them.

Texas Madrone (Atbutus xalapensis) is in the Heath Family. It is a tree with smooth red bark, white small flowers in the spring, and red berries in the fall. Once a year the dark red bark peels away and the new bark underneath is a pale pink, or white. Leaves are thick, evergreen and glossy. The flowers are urn shaped with the opening at the bottom. It is an uncommon tree and is rarely found in dense concentrations. Here at Selah they are scattered in canyons and on hillsides. The lake was named Madrone Lake for the tree that is on a rise just above the spillway to the dam. The tree specialist didn't think it would survive there, but it is still alive. J. David has had success planting Madrones around the lake.

Pink Mimosa (Mimosa borealis) is a small bush with sharp claw-like thorns on it. Leaves are around an inch long and have 2 to 4 little branches of pinnately compound leaves (that means that the leaflets are arranged along a midline like a feather). The freshest flowers are pink globes with white tips, and the more mature ones are white. Fruit is a pea type pod with 2 to 7 seeds that is 1 to 2 inches long.

Prairie Verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida) with White-lined Sphinx Moth sipping nectar from a flower. The White-lined Sphinx moth is active during the day. In this photo, you can see its proboscis extend into one of the individual flowers to reach its nectar. (Click on the photo to see a larger copy).

In this photo of the back of the White-lined Sphinx moth, you can clearly see the markings on its back and wings, including a peach-pink area on its hind-wing. I couldn't see any details when I was there taking pictures, because they buzz around so rapidly that they are only a blur to your eyes.

Prairie Paintbrush (Castilleja purpurea) is a native of Central Texas, and extend to the north-central counties near the Red River. There are three color varieties, orange, yellow and pink or purple. Orange is the common color here, though we have an occasional deep pink one. The bight colors of the paintbrush are due to the colored bracts which are modified leaves that are around the actual flower.

Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) likes the sandy soils that are found in the Llano Uplift region. The Texas Department of Transportation has planted them along the highways throughout the rest of the Hill Country.

Stemless Evening Primrose (Oenothera triloba) is a low plant whose flowers open in the evening near dark. They are around 2 inches wide.

Straggler Daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis) is low growing and is common throughout our area. It is another of the "itty bitty" flowers, and you can see my ring (3/4" diameter) in the background for size. It is in the daisy family that has disk flowers in the middle and ray flowers around the central disk.

The wildflower photographs in this blog are not a complete inventory of the blooming flowers that I have seen recently, and I'm sure that there are many that are blooming that I haven't seen yet. Also, because we are in a relatively high area (between 1350' and 1900' above sea level) there are wildflowers I've seen along the highway that are not blooming here yet.

I hope you all enjoy seeing pictures and reading about some of my favorite early wildflowers. I surely hope we get some more rain to nourish more wildflowers for this spring. If you live in the Texas Hill Country, there is one outstanding book for identification of wildflowers by Marshall Enquist, called Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country which was published in 1987, ISBN 0-918013-0-1. GOOD NEWS: The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center now has copies of a new printing of this wonderful field guide, for $17.95. My copies are dog-eared, dirty and show signs of having gotten wet a time or two, because they are in constant use in the spring. I'm terrible at remembering scientific names, so I'm always looking them up, along with the interesting facts about each one.

Wildlowers offer a cheap, engaging activity!

Photographs were all taken by Margaret Bamberger and are copyrighted, so if you would like to use any of them, please get permission from me. (If you send a comment I get them on my e-mail. Let me know if you are OK with my publishing your request). All of these pictures were taken in the last 2 weeks with my Canon XTi.


Bob said...


I just love your flower shots. Isn't this the best time of the year? Every day something new pops out. Thanks for sharing the beauty of the Ranch with those of us stuck in the City. I've been cheating, though, by walking the trails at McKinney Falls during lunch. We have a pretty good show going there. Lots of marbleseed this year. I spotted a Celestial today.

Julia said...

Amazing spring flowers this year! You've got some I've never seen before in the wild.