Immigrants come in yellow, blue, and pink

2009 February 26
by David J. Ringer

DUNCANVILLE, TEXAS — I’ve been featuring some of the native Texas plants that started flowering in January and February, but the fact is, most species that are flowering right now have been imported from Eurasia. (I was going to call this post “The British Invasion,” but actually, some of these plants are native to continental Europe and western Asia, and are in fact also considered introduced in Britain. So … that’s maybe more than you wanted to know.) I’m not talking about ornamentals like daffodils, flowering quince, and Chinese magnolias; I’m talking about “weeds.”

Yep, a whole range of hardy forbs are up and blooming in lawns and parks and along roadways long before many of the native species have even started to think about cracking a bud. I’m a naturalized Eurasian myself, so it didn’t seem right to ignore all these tiny, colorful plants. And hey, because they bloom so early, they provide nectar for early insects and seeds for migrating birds like American Goldfinch and Indigo Bunting.

Well then, here we go:


The common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a very interesting plant. Each yellow “petal” in the flower head is in fact a ligule formed from the fusion of a single flower’s five petals. That’s why there are five bumps at the tip of each one. So each dandelion flower head actually comprises scores of individual flowers, or ray florets. As the flowers age, the stigmas curl tightly backward to come into contact with pollen that is stuck to the style, transferred there from the anthers during an earlier stage of floral development. This gives them a pretty good chance of self-fertilizing if they haven’t already gotten some pollen from another flower.


Henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule) practically oozes with personality. From early childhood on, I’ve been convinced that those furry purple heads and speckled faces are just about to start speaking! The strongly squared stem and the flower structure point to the plant’s affinities: It belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae.


There’s nothing common about common chickweed (Stellaria media). Surely these jewels are fit for a queen. Each flower has five petals, but they are so deeply cleft that they appear as ten. Stellaria comes from the Latin for star — a much more suitable name than “common chickweed.”


Blue fieldmadder (Sherardia arvensis) has itty bitty lavender flowers which, from six feet in the air, look like tiny purple stars scattered on deep green space. And the tiny buds remind me of hot cross buns. Well, if those were purple. Mmmm, now I’m hungry.


Black medick (Medicago lupulina) is related to alfalfa and a little more distantly to the clovers. Its flower heads are not much longer than a grain of rice, though they are a bit bigger around. You may be wondering why such a sunny-looking plant has the first name “black” — well, the plant’s small, round fruits turn black as they mature.


Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) can grow a foot high or a little more under suitable conditions, but its heart-shaped fruits (the source of its name) are more conspicuous than the small white flowers. The four-petaled flowers and growth habit might tip you off to the plant’s family: Brassicaceae, the mustards. The family also includes familiar food plants like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, several edible greens, and of course, the plants whose seeds are ground to produce the condiment called mustard.


This is another member of Brassicaceae; I think it is Diplotaxis muralis, annual wallrocket. But I’m open to correction because these yellow-flowered mustards are rather confusing. Here’s another photo showing fruits growing along the stem.


And yet another mustard. This is Rapistrum rugosum, annual bastardcabbage, if I’m not mistaken. It is a large, rather untidy looking plant, but the flowers are certainly cheerful.


Corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis) has such tiny, modest flowers that you might not see them at all unless you get down on your hands and knees. But it’s worth it; they are lovely. Some other Veronica species have larger, showier blossoms.

Redstem stork’s bill (Erodium cicutarium) belongs to the geranium family. The name stork’s bill comes from the elongated fruit structure that forms after those pretty petals wither and drop. Cousins Geranium (cranesbill) and Pelargonium (cultivated “geraniums”) also show this feature. Texas has a native stork’s bill, Erodium texanum, too.

Related posts:

  1. Orchids and thunderstorms
  2. Springiness
  3. Singers, movers, and bloomers
  4. Hexalectris grandiflora and other orchids
  5. (Almost) birdless Dallas
3 Responses
  1. February 27, 2009

    Henbit and dandelion in a single post? Awesome! Both represent the upper echelon of my favorite flowers.

    Do I have common tastes? Probably. Am I a fanatic when it comes to natural beauty? You bet!

    Thanks for sharing these marvelous images of too-often-overlooked splendor.

    (And, WOW! The larger photos really do justice in these posts.)

  2. February 28, 2009

    That Stellaria is so pretty! you know, before you made that comment about the latin name and the meaning, I was thinking the stella is star in Italian, and estrella in Spanish… was wondering why the other name when I finished reading that paragraph…

  3. Jackie permalink
    March 22, 2010

    Thanks for such gorgeous pictures of these native flowers. I always thought that the henbit’s flowers looked like purple llama heads, and swore they would open their mouths and say something back when I was younger.

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