Saturday, May 17, 2014

Census of the Weeds

prairie coneflower, Ratibida columnifera 
Without quite realizing it, I've been noting every species of native wildflower I encounter when I wander the vacant lot across the street from my house. I think it is partly due to my gatherer instincts. Every flower I mark is a possible seed-source later in the season.  The other half of this unwitting push is my naturalist's inclination to catalog the world around me.  If I can put a name and a couple of factoids to the flowers I see, then I feel more engaged by my urban prairie.

diamond flowers (Stenaria nigricans var. nigricans)

Once I recognized that I was keeping a mental tally, I decided to commit the list to paper. More than that, I have made it a goal to get pictures documenting every species of wildflower, May - ?, that I see in this little prairie.

I've also seen some great plants pushing through people's lawns in my neighborhood-- hill country rain lily, western spiderwort, and others. Funny enough, the more boarded up windows and "KEEP OUT!" signs, the better the hunting. Alas. Such is the beauty of native plants-- all they need is to be left alone. 'Well-maintained' landscapes are much less hospitable than run-down and neglected lots.

hill country rain lily, Cooperia pedunculata 
Hill country rain lily, as you might gather from the name, pop up in the spring after a good soaking rain. This is exactly what these lovely lilies did this May. I checked their species distribution on USDA plants, and we are about a hundred miles north of their documented distribution. Good for you, plant. If the future's going to be hotter, then bring on the lilies.  I wonder if my prairie's extremely shallow soils over crumbly limestone are encouraging the more southern and western (droughty?) plants I seem to find here. On the other hand, I have yet to spot a cactus in this lot. So there's that. I scattered some seeds in the vacant lot prairie, and I collected a few more to plant around my lawn. 

There is another closely related species with smaller flowers, C. drummondii, which tends to bloom in the fall (not spring) and ranges north of C. pedunculata.  I actually did see one lone C. drummondii blooming near an abandoned structure on the edge of my vacant-lot prairie. I'll have to come back tomorrow morning to get a picture. Like many delicate wildflowers, the blooms only last a few days.  Then the plant goes crypto for the rest of the year.
texas frog fruit (Phyla nodiflora)

With regards to the western spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis), whose flowers only last hours anyway, someone mowed the entire stand a few days after I first noted it blooming. Again, alas. I picked up a seed head with one last blooming flower to set on my table at home. If the seeds are viable, I'll sow them in my own yard. Perhaps if I set them in a designated plot, they'll be respected as intentional and spared the lawn-mower's blade in the future.

I have a half-baked ambition to plant a garden in my front yard seeded entirely from the vacant lot and other seeds gathered around my neighborhood. This is my opportunity to build the appreciation of these "weeds".

If you're interested, I've included more pictures of the species I've documented so far and a plant list after the jump.

Ratany (Krameria lanceolata)

Antelope horns, Asclepias asperula

Scarlet gaura, Gaura coccinea

prairie parsley 

indian blanket, Gaillardia pulchella

Green thread

Horse Nettle

Two-leaf Senna

Cousins! Yellow puff and sensitive briar.

Lastly, my plant list (as of May 17):

Common Name Latin Name
prairie verbena Glandularia bipinnatifida
texas vervian Verbena halei
green thread Thelesperma filifolium
indian blanket Gaillardia pulchella
texas bluebonnet Lupinus texensis
antelope horn Asclepias asperula
prairie coneflower Ratibida columnifera
pink ladies Oenothera speciosa
lantana Lantana urticoides
sensitive briar Mimosa nuttallii
hill country rain lily* Cooperia pedunculata
evening rain lily Cooperia drummondii
texas frog fruit Phyla nodiflora
engelmann daisy Engelmannia peristenia
ratany Krameria lanceolata
scarlet gaura Gaura coccinea
western spiderwort* Tradescantia occidentalis
two-leaf senna Senna roemeriana
diamond flowers Stenaria nigricans var. nigricans
prairie parsley Polytaenia nuttallii
carolina horse nettle Solanum carolinense
yellow-puff Neptunia lutea

*indicates found in neighborhood, not vacant lot


  1. Congratulations on your new blog. Your photos are fantastic. I've got to start paying more attention to those "weedy" lots.

  2. Anne,

    I like the new blog - I followed over from the Prairie Ecologist. Good luck cataloging and photographing every wildflower species that you see in the vacant lot. I have a similar self imposed project this year. I am working on a wildflower "big year" for the parks in a nearby town up here in Michigan. It can become a bit of an obsession when you know a species should be blooming but you can't find a single one.

    Also congratulations on the new job!

    1. Thanks Mike! Good luck with your Big Year.

  3. Great to see prairie wildflowers this time of year! including many new to me (from eastern WY). Looking forward to more.

    1. These are all new to me too. Texas prairies are *different*.

  4. love your list some of the flowers I recognize as having been in our yard once thriving and so beautiful in their gay abandon

  5. Congrats on your new job and the new blog. Almost all of the plants you show are new to me and beautiful I might add. I'm at hour northwest of Chicago. We don't have much left in the way of prairies, but there are still a few good, if small, spots and restored areas. Best of luck.

    1. Thanks, and have fun exploring the pocket prairies! Botanists are never bored.

  6. I see you're settling right into your botanical "new digs". I love seeing how the prairie down in TX is almost a parallel universe to the ones I'm more familiar with to the north.

  7. Good start to your blog, Anne. You have a nice vacant lot to prowl!

    1. Thanks Suzanne! I hope to catch up with you at the "State of the Prairie" conference.

  8. Anne, followed over here from the prairie ecologist blog. I'm down to your south in College Station, TX and do a fair bit of grassland restoration work in 7 counties down here with Parks & Wildlife. Look forward to following your blog as well. Tim Siegmund, TPWD