Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A subtler wildflower meadow

with 18 comments

April being the 4th (and according to T.S. Eliot the cruelest) month, with the 22nd designated Earth Day, here are 2 x 2 pictures showing a floral meadow in my Austin neighborhood as it looked 10 days ago. Flowers covered the ground densely enough that I found it hard to walk without crushing any of them, yet at the same time they were subtler than the flashy, color-saturated wildflowers from March and early April that you so often saw here. You may recognize the background trees in the first photo as Ashe junipers (Juniperus ashei), which proliferate in central Texas.

Each of the next three views brings you closer to the wildflowers in the meadow.

The yellow flowers are four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris linearifolia.) The upright white ones are rain-lilies (Cooperia pedunculata). The purple ones are wild garlic (Allium drummondii). Most numerous of all in this luxurious meadow are the low white flowers that have the curious name corn salad (Valerianella spp.) They’re also unusual in the way they tend to grow in roughly rectangular arrays.

Notice in the last picture that the prominent 4 x 4 array in the center consists of 16 clusters, each of which is a little rectangle in its own right. The folded-over ray floret in the lower of the two four-nerve daisies was likely the work of a spider making a little hide-away for itself. That’s a common sight in these parts.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 22, 2019 at 4:42 AM

18 Responses

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  1. A mathematical flower! Well, actually, I guess they both are but I get a kick out of the one that forms a rectangle.
    My botanist friend sent me a photo yesterday of a tiny sedge spider. It was as tiny and as green as the seed sacs on the sedge~amazing.

    melissabluefineart

    April 22, 2019 at 7:27 AM

    • Many flowers are mathematical. A well-known example in the daisy family is the way the numbers of spirals of disk florets are often consecutive Fibonacci numbers. In my (limited) experience, a rectangular array is much less common.

      It sounds like your sedge spider has made good use of camouflage.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2019 at 8:40 AM

  2. Quintessential hillcountry!

    Tina

    April 22, 2019 at 8:57 PM

    • It is, and it’s in my Great Hills part of town. I often tell people our house is literally one mile inside the Hill Country. Heading home, one block after we turn west off Jollyville Rd., the hills begin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2019 at 10:40 PM

  3. I’ve not seen any rain lilies yet, although I did find some early four-nerve daisies on my last trip to the hill country. The corn salad, on the other hand, was thick when I last visited my “vacant” lot. I think this one is Valerianella radiata, or beaked corn salad.

    When I went looking for information about the name, I made an interesting discovery. V. locusta, aka mâche, may be the original ‘corn salad’:

    “Once considered a coarse weed, mâche is now a chic salad green. Before French farmers began cultivating it in the 17th century, mâche (Valerianella locusta) was harvested from fields where it grew among cereal crops like corn, rye, and wheat―hence one of its common names, corn salad (it’s also known as lamb’s lettuce).

    The sweet, slightly nutty leaves are tender and juicy. To truly appreciate this delicacy, serve mâche the traditional European way: lightly dressed with a simple vinaigrette. If you have hazelnut or walnut oil, this is the green to drizzle it on. The French also like to add chopped, hard-boiled eggs or sliced roasted beets. Mâche is good mixed with sharper-tasting greens like arugula or endive. Or try braising it lightly as you would spinach.”

    I wonder if the traditional name ‘corn salad’ didn’t get applied to all of the species in the genus.

    shoreacres

    April 22, 2019 at 10:03 PM

    • And this, from the Illinois wildflower page:

      “Distinguishing the different corn salad species (Valerianella spp.) can be difficult without examining the shape of their fruits, or the size and color of their flowers. Beaked Corn Salad differs from the cultivated Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta) by having white flowers, instead of light blue-violet…The leaves of Beaked Corn Salad can probably be added to salads like the cultivated Corn Salad, although I have not tried this.”

      shoreacres

      April 22, 2019 at 10:07 PM

      • In British English, corn still refers to grain in general, and in fact corn is the native English cognate of the Latin granum that became the French grain that then passed into English.

        I used to assume the corn salad I was seeing in Austin was Valerianella amarella because that’s the one and only species included in Marshall Enquist’s book. Then I noticed that in Bill Carr’s Travis County plant list he includes three additional species, all with white flowers. One of them is the Valerianella radiata you mentioned, which may well be what’s shown here. Bill Carr says that another species that grows in Travis County, Valerianella stenocarpa, is sometimes lumped into Valerianella radiata. The fourth species, Valerianella woodsiana, is known from a single specimen found in Austin. Given the uncertainties, I haven’t tried to be specific (literally determining the species), but have taken the easy way out by saying Valerianella spp. Maybe someday I’ll go out with a key and try to nail the identification.

        And yes, this has been a good spring for corn salad in central Texas, judging from your sightings and mine.

        Steve Schwartzman

        April 22, 2019 at 11:13 PM

  4. These photos of “subtler” wildflower fields look more like what I’m used to seeing in rural Oklahoma. By the way, I walked out to the orchard after another heavy rain the other day and noticed the wild onions are up. They haven’t flowered yet, but it’s time for me to get out there and dig! Right after a rain is the best time to extract them from the ground. The south end of the orchard is loaded with them, and the onion fragrance is amazing just walking through the area. The tiny onions are a nightmare to clean, and it seems to take forever to get enough to cook with, but the flavor and experience is very worth the effort. Forrest collected a bag of morel mushrooms just before the rain… I’m salivating just thinking about a wild mushroom and onion omelet, made with farm fresh eggs.

    Littlesundog

    April 25, 2019 at 9:01 AM

    • Too bad you can’t photograph the aroma of those wild onions. I’ve noticed a few coming up in Austin, but not the multitude you describe. Sorry to hear they’re so hard to clean, but glad that you say it’s still worthwhile. As for morels, some years ago we gathered several pounds in a local greenbelt where they throve after a rain, but unfortunately only a few (or none) have sprung up in the years since then. In any case, bon appétit to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 25, 2019 at 4:42 PM

  5. Ashe juniper is the ‘other’ juniper that replaces the Eastern red cedar the farther west one goes from the native range of Eastern red cedar into Texas. Actually, I believe I saw it in a landscape in Arizona. It seemed like an odd choice for landscaping, especially when there are other junipers there that are actually native. Perhaps there are no native that are comparable to it.

    tonytomeo

    April 25, 2019 at 11:20 PM

    • I don’t think anyone in Austin would ever plant an Ashe juniper, because the species is already so dominant here. We have several in our yard. In addition, the airborne pollen released by the male trees in the winter causes allergic reactions in many people. The map at

      http://bonap.net/Napa/TaxonMaps/Genus/County/Juniperus

      shows eight juniper species in Arizona.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2019 at 5:05 AM

      • Well, that is more than I can keep track of. It is interesting to see that Juniperus californica is in some of the counties that we drove through. Those that I thought looked familiar might have been what they looked like. I noticed junipers in landscapes that were not like landscape junipers here, and some looked like those in the wild. I really did like the simplicity of the landscapes outside of California.

        tonytomeo

        April 28, 2019 at 9:20 AM

  6. […] had opened and a greater number of buds were still to open. The accompanying white flowers are corn salad (Valerianella […]


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