Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

When is a petunia not a petunia?

with 20 comments

Ruellia nudiflora Flower 7436

When is a petunia not a petunia? When it’s a wild petunia, Ruellia nudiflora, which isn’t even in the petunia family, but rather the acanthus family. This species flourishes all through the hottest part of the year in central Texas and is common here, although today marks its first appearance in these pages. I took this photograph in Bull Creek Park on June 27, exactly two months ago, but I’m still seeing a fair number of these flowers, which generally appear individually or in loose groups. The densest cluster I saw this summer was on the west side of Mopac a bit south of RM 2222, but you won’t be surprised to hear that the mowers cut it down in its flowering prime. There’s a civics lesson for you about our tax money in action.

On a more cheerful note—etymology is always cheerful—petunia happens to be one of the few words in English that traces back to an aboriginal language family of South America, in this case Tupí-Guaraní. In contrast, the genus Ruellia was named after Jean Ruelle, a French herbalist who lived from 1474 to1537. Ruelle is the French word for ‘a small street.’ Mower is the English word for ‘as small a number of wildflowers as possible.’

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2013 at 5:50 AM

20 Responses

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  1. Although I am trying to switch my small garden over to mostly perennials, I find that every year I still plant some petunias in my garden because they can always be relied upon to provide lasting colour no matter what Mother Nature has in store for us. However, I had no idea there was such a thing as wild petunias. Very interesting post Steve and beautiful shot :).


    August 27, 2013 at 6:25 AM

    • Yes, there are wild “petunias,” but botanists tell us that they aren’t really petunias. I’m in the opposite situation from you, Cindy, because I know these Ruellia flowers but, unlike most people, I doubt I would recognize a cultivated petunia if I saw one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2013 at 6:36 AM

  2. Very clever, you are, sir.

    We have two pots on our front porch. In past years we planted them full of petunias of different colors. For the past three years, we have been using vinca with good results.

    Can mower also mean ‘one who puts hay up in the loft’?

    Jim in IA

    August 27, 2013 at 7:27 AM

    • Hey, I don’t mind being called clever. Thanks. Yes, there are good and practical kinds of mowing; I wish I saw more of those and less of the wildflower-destroying kind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2013 at 8:09 AM

  3. LOL, enjoyed this post!


    August 27, 2013 at 7:43 AM

    • Thanks, Nina. I added the sardonic remarks at about 4 this morning after I woke up and couldn’t fall back to sleep.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2013 at 8:18 AM

  4. It can be hard to get to sleep in a world of mowers! Just yesterday I saw a man on a huge mower heading straight for a nice stand of Eupatorium purpurea. tch.


    August 27, 2013 at 10:33 AM

  5. Huh — “Development” means the same thing as mowers, only worse! Are these the same tall ruellias that, when they go to seed and you brush against them, fling the hard little seeds out in all directions?


    August 27, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    • Yes, I’ve suffered from both development and mowers, so I know what you mean.

      As for the Ruellia, I haven’t had experience with its seeds, so I can’t answer your question, but I’ll keep my eyes open for a later stage than the flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      • The ‘dozers are busy saving us from the empty lot down the street filled with bluebonnets in the spring. Hate it. Hate it.

        If you go back to the ruellias when they’ve gone to seed, brush against them and wait for them to hurl their little hard seeds at you. It’s amusing.


        August 27, 2013 at 9:59 PM

  6. Pity, when flowers become their own funerary bouquets because someone failed to value them alive. Glad you memorialized this one so prettily first!


    August 27, 2013 at 2:16 PM

    • If it’s any compensation, this hardy species is common here in the summer, so even the cutting down of the cluster along the highway won’t have long-term effects on the species. Still, it would be nice if people valued our native wildflowers more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2013 at 2:54 PM

  7. You are too clever! Just have to respond every now and then because I enjoy your daily pics and wit so much. Kathy Henderson

    Kathy Henderson

    August 27, 2013 at 3:01 PM

  8. I’ve known this one’s cousin for years, and learned its name as Katie Ruellia, or the Mexican petunia. It’s scientific name is Ruellia brittoniana . The little description I’ve linked to describes it as an “aggressive self-seeder”, which would support Kathryn’s observation about them flinging their seeds about.

    No question here about which is blue and which purple. And I’m sorry about those mowers, although they’re not the only threat. There have been two glorious, huge stands of trumpet vine twining up telephone poles near here. No more. When I drove by today, they were dead. The herbicide crew had been through. Honestly, there just was no reason for it. Ah, well.


    August 27, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    • Now that you mention it, I’ve seen Mexican Ruellia planted in places in Austin. And as you know, I’ve seen more than my share of wildflowers “unplanted” by mowers (and sprayers). As if the trumpet vines were threatening the telephone pole….

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2013 at 11:23 PM

  9. truly violet 🙂


    August 28, 2013 at 7:21 AM

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