I’m on record as having written that “One man’s weed is another man’s wildflower—and I’m that other man.” That said, I’ll grant that some species strike even me as weedier-looking than others. More of us than not probably use the term weed to describe a plant that springs up in the cracks in sidewalks or the edges of roads, or alongside (and even inside) dilapidated buildings, or on pieces of land that have been abandoned or disturbed. But of course the fact that a plant springs up in such places is a sign of how resourceful and adaptive that species is.
The genus Chamaesyce, in the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family, includes species that people incline to think of as weeds. I came across multiple occurrences of one member of this genus when I visited the Mueller Prairie Restoration on the east side of Austin on November 16, 2011. Although I figured I was right about the genus of the plants, which grew 2–3 feet tall, the species eluded me, so I sent some photographs to Joe Marcus at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, who quickly answered: “It appears to be Chamaesyce hypericifolia, a tropical weed that is native from far south Texas to Brazil but now spread throughout much of Texas. It and C. nutans are very similar and I’m not sure I can say for certain which it is.” As the thorough Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas points out: “Because pubescence, stipule, fruit, and seed characters are critical in determining species of Chamaesyce, a hand lens is essential.”
Although my macro lens could have served that purpose, determining exactly which species of Chamaesyce I was looking at wasn’t and isn’t critical for this column, where pictures are the primary thing. So look at today’s picture: weedy or not, isn’t there something charming about the chaos of all these stalks in such close company? This strikes me as a magenta or fuchsia counterpart to the chartreuse Mexican devilweed stalks you saw a closer view of recently, even if the Chamaesyce isn’t as “strictly erect” a plant as the Chloracantha.
Tune in next time for such a different view of this Chamaesyce that you’d hardly guess it’s the same plant.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman