Few plants would be expected to be blooming in the winter, other than in subtropical and coastal areas of Texas. The year 2015 has proven to be an exception that may become the rule in the future.
On December 25 we went outside to walk around the yard and garden and on to the local greenbelt, where several plants were observed in bloom. Some of these typically bloom in the fall (September through November), so their December flowers were not surprising, given the absence of frosts in Central Texas this year. One interesting find was a vine which usually completes blooming by September, a fact that helped to make it harder to identify than usual. Dr. Art Bishop, retired botanist, was invaluable in identifying the Ibervillea lindheimeri in particular.
A slideshow of some of the plants in bloom or providing interest on December 25, 2015, appears below, followed by comments on the individual slides.
Gregg’s Mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) bloomed late and sparsely this year at this location. Fortunately it was in bloom when the Monarchs migrated south, although it seems that the numbers of Monarchs and Queens was less this year than previous seasons. A key differentiator between Gregg’s Mistflower and Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) is the leaf shape. Gregg’s leaves are palmate and deeply lobed, which gives it one of its common names, Palmleaf Mistflower. Blue Mistflower leaves are entire and triangular. This particular photo, it may be noted, does not include the leaves in focus, and one could not clearly identify the species from this image alone.
Straggler Daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis) is a shade tolerant ground cover that spreads but is not aggressive. It is native to south and south central texas, but is introduced elsewhere. If memory serves, the specimens under my oak tree were “volunteers” that were blowing in the wind and decided to settle down here. Their main rivals are snake herb, another ground cover plant that grows well under shade trees, and the leaves of the oaks that tend to cover up this low lying forb and block the sunlight. It is evergreen in areas that are frost-free, which has been the case for 2015 and thus far in 2016.
Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) is not yet in bloom, but is included here for the recognition of its basal rosette of palmate leaves. The leaf is similar to that of the Silver-Leaf Scurfy Pea, which typically only has three leaves per palmate compound, and which has been observed by the author sprawled out over the grounds. Homeowners who purchase Texas Bluebonnet plants at stores may wonder why it doesn’t come back each year, even though it is an annual. One suspects that the use of “weed and feed” compounds may be the culprit, as they typically provide a poison to kill off dicots (most flowers, shrubs and trees) and fertilizer for the monocots (grasses).
Hierba del Marrono (Symphyotrichum subulatum). This member of the Asteraceae family could, at first glance, be mistaken for any number of other asters. However, the habitat of part shade and types of soil, which includes limestone-based, fits the location. Likewise, the blooming period is given as July or September through November. Since this is a warm year with little or no frost in this part of South-Central Texas, the extended season for flowers is not too surprising. The small flowers are mostly white with faint tinges of purple towards the outer areas of the petals. Reference was made to Enquist, Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country (page 218) to reach this tentative identification
Baby’s Breath Euphorbia (Chamaesyce hypericifolia). Also known be the more prosaic name Garden Spurge, this species was identified as far back as 1753 by Linnaeus. It is native to Texas and several other states, mostly along the southern coasts. It has been cultivated, and one cultivar “Diamond Frost” has apparently achieved sufficient popularity that it has been trademarked. Horticulturists recommend it for containers as well as to offset coarser textures in the planned landscape. This specimen was flowering far outside the nominal season, but since it will bloom until frost, it is not unusual to see it blooming on December 25 if there have been no local freezes.
Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii). Perhaps the only thing that needs mentioning about this species is that it has made its way into the nursery industry and that various cultivars or hybrids can be easily located throughout Texas, even in natural settings. Some gardeners cut back or thin out dead wood during the winter, keeping the plant from becoming scraggly or overly large. This particular garden specimen had been “deadheaded” earlier and responded with new growth and a seasonal mix of red flowers and green leaves. Although Autumn sage attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, none were observed on this winter day.
Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis). This drought tolerant grass was grown from seed in order to complement Buffalo Grass sod. It has done well, providing a thick mat or small bunches that provide a home to skipper butterfly larvae and which attracts butterflies and birds, the latter for the seeds, and perhaps for the leaves for nesting material. The flowers of this grass rise above the main bunch of leaves, looking like little pennants in the wind. An easy way to distinguish this grass from Hairy Grama (Bouteloua hirsuta) is the lack of a little spike at the tip of the seedhead.
Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana). Fragrant foliage and flowers keep the deer away from feeding on this native that grows in clumps with many small flowers. An already long blooming season, from April through September, has been extended through December and January. Technically a shrub, Damianita has a woody base that can get extended across the ground if it is not trimmed annually. Most people use it like a perennial flower instead of an evergreen shrub.
Four-nerve Daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa). Also known as bitterweed, among other common names, some of which are shared with other species, this yellow flower rising above green clumps of narrow leaves has a long blooming season, even longer than Damianita, and has been noted to bloom during the winter months on occasion. It grows throughout Texas in dry, well-drained soils, is drought tolerant and deer-resistant.
Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum). Many people report having difficulty with Blackfoot Daisy, as it seems to fail to thrive under cultivation. Having heard many times that one should be careful not to overwater, this specimen was typically not watered at all except by the rather plentiful rains of 2015, and seems to have thrived on a lack of tap water. In fact, the author has had to trim the Blackfoot Daisy twice in the last year to keep it from sprawling over the curb (where it is planted in the “nuisance strip”) and into the gutter in violation of HOA rules and guidelines. These plants attract their share of nectar feeders and pollinators as can be seen in the slide show photo.
White Mistflower (Ageratina havanensis). Known by several common names, including snakeroot, thoroughwort, boneset, and variations including Havana, White, and Shrubby, this shrub usually blooms in October and November, but this year this plant held off until later, perhaps due to the lack of cold temperatures. On December 25, there were no butterflies around, but in mid-January, a Red Admiral Butterfly has been seen on consecutive days hanging around. In years past, we have seen dozens of different species of nectar feeding insects sharing the nectar from this species, but this year the timing has been off. However, we did observe two species of insects that look like bees. Two separate photos are shown, of which the second features not a bee but a bee-mimic fly. If one looks closely at the first picture, it appears that the wings are folded straight back. In the second, you can observe a pair of wings which are folded down and outward, forming an angle, not unlike the common housefly.
Balsam Gourd (Ibervillea lindheimeri ). Finally we come to the end of our Christmas day walk, which included sightings of Texas Lantana (Lantana urticoides) in bloom as well as more than enough instances of invasive exotics such as nandina, ligustrum, and Chinese elm. This yellow blossom was difficult to identify because the plant is supposed to finish blooming around September, and in December should have been showing off bright red globes as its fruit. The ovaries on this monoecious vine were small and one could barely make out the green striped fruit of this member of the cucumber family. If it had had fully mature fruit earlier, they had been eaten or carried away, and none were identifiable on the ground. This vine, named after the Father of Texas Botany, has been favored by horticulturists and it is often cultivated for the ornamental aspect of its red globes. We have saved the GPS position of this vine and will certainly look in upon it in the future.
That concludes our neighborhood walk on December 25, 2015, at the beginning of winter in Central Texas on the margin of the Edwards Plateau and the Blacklands Prairie.
All photos by Robert Kamper