24 April 2015

Under-appreciated Texas wildflowers

In my ongoing quest to balance the computational aspect of my work, I've been working with the East Texas Master Naturalists to continue developing their herbarium collection of local, native plants. It's been a great synergistic relationship: they teach me about native species, and I've been setting up their herbarium database as a series of spreadsheets and documents in Google Drive.

We met this morning out at The Nature Center, a Texas Parks & Wildlife facility that houses the herbarium and has meeting space. This very wet spring has led to an abundance of iconic Texas wildflowers, like bluebonnets and primroses. Much to my delight, I also found some of my favorite spiderworts growing nearby. It's been several years since I did serious plant collections, but I still managed to spot them on a roadside on my way from campus this morning. I apparently haven't lost my skill at picking out the flower color and growth habit from the multitudes of flowers blooming right now. This beauty (picture to right) is a great example of Tradescantia ohiensis, one of the very widespread species of erect Tradescantia. Each individual flower only lasts a day before deliquescing (melting), but the plant will keep blooming until next fall, as long as it doesn't get fried in the Texas heat.

While visiting with my old friend T. ohiensis, I took the opportunity to scratch another itch that's been in my mind for several weeks now. I've been absolutely awestruck by the thistles growing on the roadsides this spring. The picture (to the left) doesn't do it justice, but these plants are almost five feet tall, and covered in menacing, spiky leaves. There appear to be several species of Cirsium here in Texas, and I'm looking forward to seeing more examples of these monsters.

While perhaps not as charismatic as other wildflowers, these two examples get a thumbs up from me as particularly cool plant species.

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