Monday, May 5, 2008

Plants Have Families Too.

Grouping items that share characteristics helps us organize them.

Plant taxonomy (or the study of plants and their scientific names and categories, such as Family) is a huge subject with vast amounts of information, including a lot of scientific information that is not visible to the naked eye, which most of us will never learn. Many of us are interested in wildflowers as we see them blooming, and what we want to learn is their common names. I've never taken plant taxonomy, but there are some general characteristics of some families that help me know what group a plant belongs to, and that makes it easier to identify a plant, because most field guides are arranged by family. At times I look up a flower in a book that is grouped by color, but find it much harder to find the one I'm looking for. I find that the author's idea of the color group a plant belongs to is frequently not the same as mine, plus there is a lot of color variation in many species.

Let me introduce you to three plant families. All three have lots of flowers in our area that belong to each of these families, and their characteristics are pretty obvious.

DAISY FAMILY (Asteraceae)
is a huge family and the example below is one of the best known and most easily recognized.


Firewheel or Indian Blanket (Gailardia pulchella) frequently produces massive displays in fields and along roadsides in Central Texas. The brightly colored flower-heads are 1 1/2" to 2" across and the red ray flowers are tipped with yellow.

This illustration was drawn by me (as Margaret Campbell) in 1990 for A Field Guide to Wildflowers Trees & Shrubs of Texas by Delana Tull and George Oxford Miller, Gulf Publishing, Houston Tx, 1991. It shows a flower head and a cross section of a typical head of a flower in the Aster Family. Many flowers in other families are single flowers, whereas in the Aster Family a head is made up of multiple flowers which can be divided into disk flowers in the center and ray flowers around the outside.

Parralena (Dyssodia pentachaeta) is a low plant 2 to 8 inches tall that is found on dry caliche roadsides here on the ranch. The flower heads are 1/4" to 1/2" in diameter, and bloom from spring to fall. Their leaves, which are very thin, but numerous, are aromatic; you can rub them between your fingers, and then sniff your fingers.

Black-Foot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) blooms all through the Texas summer. Their flower heads are 3/4 to 1 1/4 " wider with white ray flowers and yellow disk flowers. The base of each ray flower has a black dot near the point where it meets the disk flowers, and is the reason it is called "Black-Foot" daisy.

Skeleton Plant (Lygodesmia texana) looks leafless and therefore has the name Skeleton Plant. It stands 10 to 24 inches tall with only a few branches and grows on dry, rocky ground. The pink to lavender flower heads are 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Each head has 8 to 12 ray flowers and no disk flowers. In the flower center are the anthers (male) and styles (female) of the 11 ray flowers. They can bloom from April to August.

The MILKWEED FAMILY (Ascelpiadaceae)
contains plants that make life possible for the Monarch and other "milkweed" butterflies. Their caterpillars eat milkweed plants that contain cardiac glycosides and those make the Monarchs poisonous to many birds both as larvae and adults. Their bright colors of orange and black (yellow and black as caterpillars) advertise that they are poisonous. Many of the insects that eat milkweeds, or suck their sap, are brightly colored too.

This milkweed is called Antelope Horns (Asclepias asperula) and is common from March to May in the Hill Country. The rounded inflorescence (flower cluster) at the end of each stem is composed of numerous pale yellowish-green flowers. Their flowers are 5-merous (5 of each part) and they contain the milky latex that bleeds out if the surface of a leaf or stem is broken. Each flower is from 3/8 to 5/8 inch wide. Note that in the enlargement (click on picture) there are two brightly colored bugs that are common on milkweeds.

Antelope Horns fruit. The reason this plant is called antelope horns may be due to the long fruits which look like a horn. The seeds emerge when the fruit splits. Each seed is attached to a mass of silky hairs.

This milkweed came from a plant nursery and is usually called Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias sp.) I am including it because it is easy to distinguish the yellow carona (a crownlike appendage in the form of a fringe, cup, or tube in the center of a flower) from the orange carolla (the inner whorl of a flower, the petals collectively, which are often colorful) and in this case the carolla is partially curled back. Tropical Milkweed is a good plant to have, if you'd like to raise Monarch caterpillars.

Texas Milkweed (Asclepias texana) is a very pretty plant. It lives on caliche outcrops, and at Selah we also find it growing along Miller Creek near Madrone Lake. Flowers occur in clusters and each flower has its carona on top with curled down carollas.

This interesting vine is in the Milkweed Family and when I first saw it along the drive to our house, I got out my book by Marshall Enquist, "Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country" (you can buy this at the LBJ Wildflower Center), and looked in the Milkweed Family section of the book. There it was, Wavy-Leaf Milkweed Vine (Sarcostemma crispum). Its flowers normally hang straight down and are easily missed.

Wavy-Leaf Milkweed Vine (Sarcostemma crispum) flowers up close. The inside of the flowers have the 5 merous parts, but I couldn't get into a position to take a picture.

Evening PRIMROSE FAMILY (Onagraceae)
flowers are 4-merous, and the ones featured in this blog all have 4 yellow petals.

The Stemless Evening Primrose (Oenothera triloba) is a low ground hugging plant that opens in the late afternoon just before dark from March to May. When I was getting ready to take this picture a sphinx moth popped into my view as it quickly took a drink of nectar from the flower on the right, and I was so startled I not only didn't get a picture of it, I dropped my camera in my lap.

Square-Bud Primrose (Calylophus Berlandieri) is common in the Hill Country, and it can be counted-on to make some good shows, even in dry years like this one. The yellow flowers are about 2 inches wide, and have a black throat and a black stigma which extends well past the stamens. In this picture there is a bug in the throat of the flower, but I can't tell what it is. Note that directly under the flower is a bud and you can see the square shape of it.

In this photo you can see both black throated and yellow throated flowers.


Fluttermill (Oenothera macrocarpa) is an amazing flower which is not common, but every year we see one or two blooming in May. They grow out of a dry caliche bank and the flowers are up to 3 1/2 inches across. This one has very little stem.

All photographs were taken by Margaret Bamberger, many of them recently, some last spring. I hope you find this blog interesting. Please feel free to comment, and if you don't want your comment published, just let me know as part of your comment. Questions are welcome too.

1 comment:

Kallie said...

OMG - Margaret this is gorgeous.

Now I see why you said - just look! The problem is, I CAN'T just look. I HAVE to read. The photos pull me to it. The pics, the ones of nature and of the bird renderings, are all absolutely arresting. What a talented family you are! I've seen your work and Margie's, but Frannie does art too? You guys BLOW me away. I really want to meet them on my next trip...

I'm also very curious about Kathleen Marie's work. I haven't seen it with color. It's stunning... How does she do it?

Isn't she the gal who did the work in your powder room? When I saw that screech owl, I had to read the legend because I couldn't figure out how you got such a good shot on a walk! I had to read to know it wasn't a photograph.

I love going through this blog. It's such a great BREAK for me. The other night I lay on the couch with my laptop on my stomach and just cruised the pictures until I drifted off. My husband had to wake me up to go to bed...

Apart from the sheer beauty, this blog is stunning legacy and labor of love, Margaret. I'm moved by your dedication - doing this without fail every week. I'm also deeply grateful that you are taking the time to provide us with these glimpses of Central Texas nature through Selah so well-informed and loving. It's clear why the Bamberger Ranch education programs are so successful. It's the love...

(No need to post this or, if you like, excerpt it and leave out the personal parts.)


XOXO Kallie

PS Gil and I are really shocked and sad about Tim Russert's death today. We watched him faithfully every Sunday (and any other time he was on the news programs..) I feel like I've lost a brother.