Along the Roadsides

Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson, Texas roadsides are filled with wildflowers in the spring.  She was the catalyst for changes to the highway department treatment of the land along highways.

First, the strips of land along the pavement were seeded with wildflowers in the autumn.  Then, mowing was delayed in the spring until after the wildflowers went to seed.

Now we Texans are known for our love of Bluebonnets, which bloom in early spring.  But I think the wildflowers that follow in later spring are just as spectacular.

The flowers that are seeded along the highway spread into the fields.

Love the fields of yellow.

There are lots of different yellow flowers that are seen in the fields.  But these are Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria).

This year a nice surprise was seeded.  Massive drifts of Basket Flower (Centaurea americana) were lovely.  This is the first time that I can remember that this wildflower has been used by the highway maintenance department in our area.

I suspect that the reason they haven’t been seeded before is because some people might mistake them for thistles, which are very invasive and are not desirable.

In fact, several different thistles thrive in our climate. Now sure if this one is Mexican Thistle, New Mexican Thistle or Texas Thistle.

Although it is quite pretty, beware, the foliage is prickly.  Tiny needles will cut into bare skin.  The smooth foliage of a Basket Flower is one way to distinguish it from a thistle.

Where one thistle grows this year, hundreds will grow next year.

Here, Basket Flowers are mixed in with thistle.

Another wildflower that has been more prevalent in our area this year is Horsemint (Monarda citriodora).  It’s one of my favorites.

Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera) usually has a brown splotch on the top of each petal.  These solid yellow petals are unusual.

And the central disc with the seeds is especially long.

Some of the more aggressive wildflowers are not seeded, such as these Beggar’s Lice (Torilis arvensis)  on our county road.  They look pretty from the car, but they are a menace in the yard.  They are also called hedge parsley or wild carrot.

As the flowers dry up, their seeds stick to anything like lice, so they can repopulate the world.  This year, we tried to pull them early, so that seeds wouldn’t fall to the ground.

The thing is, they first look like Queen Anne’s Lace, so it’s tempting not to get rid of them.  But I learned my lesson a few years ago.

Antelope Horns Milkweed (Asclepias asperula) is another native that spreads easily.  When the brown seed pods open up, hundreds of tiny puffs will float, like dandelions tufts, to germinate in other spots.

Since milkweed is the only plant where Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, it is essential for their survival.  When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars then consume the leaves of the milkweed.  Even though it isn’t the prettiest wild flower around, it vital to not destroy them.

Now that the highway mowers have been busy cutting everything down, it’s the end of spring wildflowers and the beginning of the long hot summer.

“Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart.”  Lady Bird Johnson

On the Wild Side

Out in the fields, it looks like color bombs have exploded scattering bright hues everywhere.

This field is between our house and barn.  Notice up front are three areas that have been mowed around.  Behind them is another perpendicular spot with red dots.

The three plots up front were planted with old fashioned irises about 12 years ago.  The first few years, I toiled to keep them weed free.  I even hired a guy to help me one year.  I noticed that he only pulled the top of the weeds off and did not get the roots.  So, eventually, I resorted to mowing around the rows.  When the irises are in bloom, they stick up above the weeds.

Here is a close up view of one clump of iris leaf blades. along with Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctorial) and wild native grasses.

Plains Coreopsis tends to grow in isolated small clumps, but can probably spread if the conditions are right.

The long plot behind the iris beds was seeded with native wildflowers three years ago.  The first year it produced most of the different seeds in the packets.  The next year, there were almost no wildflowers.

Because of the dry, hot summer last year and the wet fall and spring, this year there are masses of the hardy wildflowers.  Those are the ideal conditions for Texas wildflowers.

The Indian Blankets (Galillardia pulchella) are iconic all over Texas.

Their strong color really draws the eye.  Here, the one on the right has lost its petals and has dropped some of its seeds.

The white balls of Basket Flowers (Centaurea americana) have opened into beautiful white centers and lacy purple edges.

The first time I saw Basket Flowers was four years ago.  I fell in love with them immediately.  They are not common in many parts of Texas.

There are two main companies that sell Texas wildflower seeds – Wildflower Farm Seeds in Fredericksburg and Native American Seeds in Junction.  Both have online order services.

One of the flowers that I had hoped would reseed was Horsemint (Monarda citriodora), also call Purple Lemon Mint.  This year, I’ve enjoyed those stalked, ruffled layers of different shades of purple.

Every year we have these gorgeous flowers scattered across the field.  I haven’t be able to identify them.  They grow on a single stem all alone.  Anyone know what they are?

A reader has just identified this flower.  It’s Texas Skeleton Plant (lygodesmia texana).

Another wildflower favorite is Mexican Hat or Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).  Small groups of them rise above the grass level.

The tall top part of their “hat” is covered with brown seeds.  When the seeds drop, they’re left with a white top hat.

Growing low to the ground is this cluster of tiny white flowers with a pink tint.  Wish I knew their name.

Another mystery plant are these tiny stalks.  It looks like they had purple flowers.

In the yard, patches of Texas Frog Fruit (Lippia nodiflora) pop up most years.  It’s a creeping perennial that many consider a nuisance.  I’m sort of neutral about them.

This is a great time to get out and enjoy whatever flowers nature provides for you.

“Wildflowers – I envy them.  They’re brave.  Seeds cast by the wind to land where they may, they stay and hold against most hot, most cold.  They persevere, roots shallow, yet fierce and free.  They epitomize to me all that I sometimes yearn to be.”               Julie Andrews

Shades of Pink

Color in the yard provides a lift to the spirit.  Especially when the summer heat is parching everything.

One characteristic of a Desert Rose (Adenium obesum), is a swollen trunk just above the soil level.

The flowers on this succulent are lovely.  Because it is a desert plant, it must be protected inside during the winter.  Strangely, it does better in filtered light rather than direct sun.

A gift from a bird has multiplied into a small forest of Germanders.  They are in the mint family with clusters of tiny flowers with a touch of pink inside each petal.  This variety grows to be about a foot tall.

Nothing like annual Petunias to bring some pizzazz.

Good old faithful succulent Ice Plant (Aptenia cordifolia) returns every year when the weather warms up.  This one has been in a pot for years.  Because our winter was so cold, it took longer to spring back and bloom.

Basket Flower (Plectocephalus americanus) is native to the southwest.  The buds look like thistles.  But this one isn’t prickly.

By the middle of summer, the buds dry and the flower is almost white.

But the pollinators aren’t picky about the color.

One of my all time favorite flowers is Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).  The common name seems so wrong since they are pink rather than purple.  It generously reseeds making for some surprising locations of new plants each spring.

The round red flowers are Strawberry Gomphera.

When the sunlight hits coneflowers just right, they glow.

Even without petals, their dome-shape form is so attractive.  Just can’t say enough good things about these wonderful garden charmers.

“A mind is like a parachute.  It doesn’t work if it is not open.”  Frank Zappa

Wildflowers Dance in the Wind

Last autumn we scraped a plot in the field near our house in order to rough up the soil.  Then we scattered wildflower seeds.  Over the last few years, I had accumulated several mixed seed packets from different sources.  Most were free from meetings.

Because we had some rain in late fall and in the spring, some are blooming now.  Hooray.

fieldofwildflowers01These tiny little flowers were the first flowers from the seeds to bloom.  I think they’re Drummond’s Phlox (Phlox drummondii).

fieldofwildflowersI had hoped a red poppy would bloom, but I’ll take a pink one instead.

The small light purple bloom close to the ground is the only wildflower that we see consistently every year.  That is Sweet William or Prairie Verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida).

fieldofwildflowers2The area is about 7 ft. by 14 ft.

fieldofwildflowers3The one seed package I bought was American Basket Flower (Centaurea americana) from the Native American Seed company in Junction.  Some nursery catalogues sell them as Powder Puffs or Sweet Sultan.

Basket Flowers look a little like Thistle but without the prickly stems. They are also more desirable.  The flowers are 2 to 3 and half inches wide on a strong stem.  They bloom from May to August.

fieldofwildflowers4Purple Horsemint or Lemon Beebalm (Monarda citriodora) often forms colonies.  That would be lovely.

fieldofwildflowers5Indian Blankets or Fire Wheels (Gaillardia pulchella) are old standbys seen in many parts of Texas.  Books say that they bloom from April to May or June.  Actually, they last longer than that here.

fieldofwildflowers6We’ve seen Horse Mint in a couple of spots on our property once or twice.   My hope is that all these wildflowers will reseed and expand over the years.

fieldofwildflowersc

fieldofwildflowers7From the top of this picture there is Horsemint,  Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), and Clasping Coneflower (Dracopis Amplexicaulis).

fieldofwildflowers8The wind is causing this Coreopsis to sway.   Surely the frequent days of wind will scatter seeds when the flowers have dried.

fieldofwildflowers9Don’t know what the bug is, but pollinators love wildflowers.  That’s a very good thing.

fieldofwildflowersdAs I was walking back to the house, I noticed one of the old fashioned irises planted in this field has a seed pod.  It’s possible to plant the seeds, but the chances aren’t good that it will be same color flowers or as big.  To propagate irises, it’s better to dig up the bulbs and separate them.

Pods needs to be removed so that the plant will focus its energy on the roots and other parts.

I’m tickled that the wildflower patch is doing well.

“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”   Proverbs 22:1