Tag Archives: Texas wildflowers

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 3

Even in better times, Texans and tourists rushed out every spring to view the return of the Texas bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis, bringing family, loved ones, and pets into the mix. This didn’t always end well for the bluebonnets: the plants themselves are reasonably tolerant of abuse, but the flowers are very easily crushed. This was really a problem for actively trafficked areas: for the most part, bluebonnets are common enough and widespread enough that the species can handle the occasional trampled cluster. In these days of social distancing, that dose of blue, purple, and green is even more important than ever, as is the need to give everyone a chance to see them who wants to do so. Please, please be careful when taking family photos in bluebonnet patches, if only by sticking to the edges and not flattening the whole thing. Most importantly, clean up after your pets, unless you want that kind of karma in an age of security cameras everywhere. Everyone else will thank you for this in the future.

For everyone who has followed this little trek so far, thank you very much, and keep an eye open for future posts. Bluebonnet season is just getting started, and there’s no telling what we could find among the undergrowth in a week or so. No telling at all.

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 2

One of the things that amazes so many initiates to Texas bluebonnets is exactly how much animal life can reside inside one bluebonnet clump. No, not bluebonnet rattlesnakes: a thriving field of bluebonnets captures dead leaves and other debris to feed detritivores, and the leaves provide sustenance for a whole legion of foragers and grazers, while the flowers attract a wide range of pollinators that themselves depend upon the flowers’ pollen and nectar. With those herbivores come predators to take advantage of the largesse, and bodies of predator and prey themselves feed the detritivores. It’s a short-lived cycle that ends when the plants die off and burn back in May, but it’s absolutely essential for a wide variety of fauna, mycota, and other flora to continue their own life cycles. Give the land a chance to cool and rest over the winter, and the cycle starts all over in spring.

To be continued…

Bluebonnet Season 2020 – 1

For those outside of Texas, and for everyone sheltering in place, the Texas wildflower season started about the time we all started self-quarantining, and it now gets going with the beginning of bluebonnet season. Lupinus texensis is a denizen of poor soils throughout the state, growing thickly on roadsides, fields, industrial parks, and anywhere where nitrogen is at a premium. Part of their appeal is the tremendous clumps of blooms at the height of the season, but also their transitory nature: by the end of April, they generally burn off and deposit seeds for next year’s crop. By July, most people who hadn’t witnessed the waves of blooms in April would never have known they existed: the stems and flowers turn to powder and are overgrown by grasses and other summer flora.

Because of this temporary display, many bluebonnet habitats throughout Texas will not mow until the bluebonnets and other wildflower species go to seed. With the bluebonnets come legions of wildflower tourists to get photos of family and/or loved ones among the bluebonnets, in addition to utter idiots fussing about bluebonnet rattlesnakes. This is all fine and good, but these photos generally avoid one important fact: L. texensis is a fascinating plant when seen from the ground, to the point of seeming unbearably exotic.

It’s easy to be flippant about plant blindness, the cognitive bias that prevents people from seeing the plants in their everyday environments. It’s an understandable heritage of being taught over and over to look for the animals in various environments: look back on the number of pictorials of exotic environments and then consider how many focused solely on the plants and ignored the animals. You might be considering for a while: everything from National Geographic foldouts to dinosaur books focus on the animals big and small, with the accompanying flora a sidenote at best. The phenomenon of plant blindness is even worse with documentary films and videos: show a field of Sarracenia pitcher plants, and interest only perks up when the viewer sees tree frogs in the pitchers. On a personal level, I deal with this at Triffid Ranch shows on a constant basis: not only do people look at an enclosure in a quest for the animal they’re sure is inside, but after being told that the enclosure holds nothing but plants, they check again just to make sure. Plant blindness isn’t innate and it isn’t genetic: it’s a learned behavior, and it’s one that can be broken with enough practice.

This is why, in the tradition of Sir David Attenborough, it’s time to go among the bluebonnets. Expect more pictures in the very near future: after all, bluebonnet season is only just starting up, and they’re going to get thick in the next few weeks. Most importantly, though, try to remember that plant blindness. Don’t focus on anything else: focus on the plants. Note the foliage as well as the blooms. Only this way can you break the curse of plant blindness.

To be continued…

April cold fronts bring May cactus blooms

Blooming prickly pear

While chasing wildflowers the other day, I very nearly stepped into a big surprise. While the cliche of Texas being covered with wild saguaro cactus is indeed false (not even mentioning the fact that Carnegia gigantea isn’t found in the US outside of Arizona), about half of the state is clear of most forms. Well, kinda. The thick clay soil of North Texas isn’t amenable to most cacti, but every once in a while, a migrating bird dumps a prickly pear seed after feeding on cactus fruit further west, and if it comes across just the right conditions, it might sprout and continue. It won’t thrive, and it certainly won’t form the massive clumps found west of Fort Worth, but it’ll grow and very occasionally bloom.

Blooming prickly pear

Blooming prickly pear

April cold fronts bring May wildflowers – 4




Trumpet vine seed pods

April cold fronts bring May wildflowers – 3





April cold fronts bring May wildflowers – 2



Texas thistle

Texas thistle

April cold fronts bring May wildflowers – Overview

Wildflower overview

Every spring in North Texas is different, and this one was one of the oddest I’ve seen since 1982. Last year, we practically didn’t have a winter, so the local peach and pear trees were in full bloom nearly a month before normal. The year before that, the weeklong killing freeze in February stunted a lot of plants that might have been ready for the usual March botanical explosion, and before that, everything had to deal with the repercussions of the deepest snowfall seen here in recorded history. This spring, not only was everything dealing with the ongoing drought (in which we’re still trapped, even with yesterday’s wildly anticipated rainfall), but we’d fluctuate wildly between high and low temperatures. Normally, I can put the winter coat into storage around the beginning of March and give up on light jackets by April. This year, I had the coat out to deal with near-freezing temperatures all the way up until the first week of May.

Because of that, the annual wildflower season lacks a bit. The bluebonnets simply failed, with the exception of a few in hollows protected from our mid-March freezes. Everything else…well, it’s time to let the photos do the talking.

Japanese honeysuckle



Tales from the Ranch

Several big intrusions from real life get in the way, so it’s time for a bit of backstory. The Czarina’s family owns a rather large ranch in West Texas, alongside the Brazos River, and it’s become quite the playground for the extended clan. Her parents come out regularly to relax when their own workday routines start to tear them down. The kids and the grandkids (with possible great-grandkids very soon) come out to fish, race all-terrain vehicles, and wonder “Hey, what the hell is Paul doing this time?” And me, I come out there to study.

In any case, I’ve spent the last ten years doing my best to convince my UK friend Dave Hutchinson is nothing but an elaborate set for Peter Jackson’s planned remake of The Valley of Gwangi. If only: I may be joshing him, but it’s odd enough out here as it is. For a moment, though, I’ll spare him the horror of what my adoptive land is like, and settle for a few moments of beauty.

Unknown wildflower

Unknown wildflower 2

Unknown wildflower 3

Introducing Oenothera speciosa

Last month, I had one of those conversations that makes you want to dig around in reference material for a few days. Specifically, I was showing plants at a show to a gentleman who was unfamiliar with carnivores, and he took a particular shine to a primrose butterwort (Pinguicula primuliflora). The name confused him, though: “I know primroses, and that’s no primrose. Why do they call them that?”

At the time, I explained that this was a great example of why Latin binomial nomenclature is so important: I explained that a lot of plants receive the common name “primrose”, but that he needed the Latin names to help distinguish between them. After he left, though, I kept asking “Why ‘primrose’?” I was familiar with the color primrose, which could fit some varieties of plant with that color of flower. However, North Texas has at least two varieties of plants called “primrose”, one with bright canary yellow blooms and one with bright pink blooms. So what was the connection?

I learned later that the term “primrose” refers alternately to the first-blooming flowers of the spring and to flowers that close in the morning and open in the evening. This works, except for the flowers that buck that trend. Oenothera speciosa, the pink evening primrose, does a great job of waggling various appendages at pedantics, as it pretty much opens if and when it feels like.

Oenothera speciosa

O. speciosa is quite the common wildflower in Texas, especially right now, and it usually cheerfully blooms when most other wildflowers have died off for the summer. It grows just about everywhere, but does best in open areas with lots of sun and protection from excessive mowing. As such, it’s found along highways, drainage ditches, vacant lots, and back alleys. It’s usually not invasive, so most people don’t notice it save when its blooms pop in the middle of an otherwise monotonous field.

Oenothera speciosa, the pink evening primrose

Now, you may notice that the common name for this primrose includes the word “pink”, but this photo shows precious little. That’s a bit of a surprise. O. speciosa blooms tend to be rather reactive to ultraviolet light, and shining a UV flashlight on one in the dark reveals that it tends to fluoresce white-yellow. The upshot is that this photo was taken with a new camera after my old one finally cacked it about two weeks ago, and apparently this new camera is much, much more sensitive to UV than the previous one. This may not be much, but get ready for some interesting projects in the next few weeks.