Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Spring Equinox

I'm not sure what's my favorite time of year, the winter holiday period, or the spring holiday period. It's hard to compare because the two have very different, almost opposite energies. From harvest time through Christmas/Yule it's a time to cuddle up indoors by a fire, look inward and reflect (and enjoy how it's not so hot anymore), while spring is a time to look outward, to be active, to go outside and work in the garden and listen to the birds and smell the flowers. Rather than a time to meditate on hidden mysteries and think of the Otherworld (or Inner World), spring is a time to revel in the outer, physical world and all it's pleasures and beauties.

That's how I feel about it, anyway.

Technically yesterday was the actual equinox (at least according to my calendar), but it was unseasonably cold and dreary. Today the clouds are gone and it's once again warm and sunny and spring-like. To celebrate, I went on a walk through our neighborhood and to the nearest park to enjoy all the wildflowers that have exploded into bloom over the last week or so.

Of course the quintessential spring wildflower in these parts is the Texas bluebonnet. They pop out right around the equinox and cover roadsides, parks, and in this case, churchyards with fragrant, blue and white clusters of blooms.

Here's another patch of bluebonnets in front of some daffodils. I like daffodils too even though they're not native. They're usually one of the first bulbs to bloom.

You want natives? How about bluebonnets with prickly pear cactus? That's more like it.

Another harbinger of spring is the Texas redbud (a more drought resistant strain of the Eastern redbud). I think these make a great native alternative to the (over planted, in my opinion) crepe myrtle.

Here's a redbud in it's native habitat, as an understory tree in an oak forest.

Here's one of the cooler oak trees in that same forest. Technically the live oaks bloom in spring too, but like most trees their flowers aren't impressive in the least. I just took a pictures because LOOK HOW COOL THIS TREE IS! When I was a kid I loved to climb live oaks. They're so climbable because of their large, sturdy, low to the ground branches. I went ahead and climbed this tree, and yup, they're still just as good to climb now as they were then.

Another favorite native flowering small tree/large shrub is the Texas Mountain Laurel or Mescal Bean, with large clusters of purple flowers commonly described as "smelling like Grape Kool-Aid". They're just starting to bloom now. This picture shows how WINDY it is today.

Agarito is another common understory shrub which is now in bloom, with tiny yellow flowers. This shrub is often mistaken for holly, and while we do have native hollies (yaupon and possumhaw), our native hollies don't look like the European "Christmas holly" people usually think of when they think of holly. Actually, our native hollies are a little "friendlier" in that their leaves aren't prickly like agarito (which is in the barberry family) and European holly.

That said, agarito is a good native choice if you want to plant "sticker bushes" somewhere in your landscape, with the added bonus of fragrant (though not the prettiest) blooms and edible berries later on. Agarito berries were reportedly once used by pioneers to make a lemonade-like beverage, though I would imagine you'd have to pick a lot of the tiny berries to make a whole pitcher of agaritade, and very carefully to avoid the prickly leaves.

Back to the forbs, this plant is new to me, but it's coming up everywhere in my neighborhood, even in my own yard. The leaves look like grass, but the blooms are certainly not. Turns out it's called "spiderwort". I don't see any resemblance to spiders.

The blooms are really cute. They almost look like the face of some sort of creature. I wonder if these are related to orchids.

Edit: Actually, this flower is not spiderwort, but dayflower. I've got both coming up in my yard. They both have grass-like leaves and purple flowers, but the flowers are shaped differently. Tricky! The picture above this one is correctly identified as spiderwort. If you look closely you can see that the flowers are different.

Though I hoped I was pretty good with my plant identification, I also found some unknowns. If anyone knows what these are, please comment.

Some kind of small pink thing with grass or sedge-like leaves.

Yellow tubular things by the side of the trail. Seems like the sort of plant a butterfly would like.

Edit: This flower might be called "scrambled eggs."

This picture is a little washed out because of the bright sun. The leaves are deeply lobed, feathery things.

That last blue flower was found growing in Prospect Park around what looks like a great spot to do a ritual. I doubt that's what the makers intended, but look, it's a mosaic of the sun surrounded by the directions and the phases of the moon. This is then surrounded by benches. Very cool. If only it wasn't completely out in the open like this.

Then there's this cute little thing here, growing in the shade of the forest. It also got washed out in this picture, and is bluer in real life. To get a better shot, I went to another one more in the shade, and brushed some vegetation out of the way with my hand. This was a mistake.

The surrounding plants turned out to be stinging nettle. This is a plant that DOES NOT LIKE BEING TOUCHED, and unlike cacti, is fairly inconspicuous. Fortunately the "venom" these plants inject you with wears off within an hour and does no permanent damage. Still no fun. First it feels like burning and stinging, then for a while it fades to that pins and needles feeling you get when your foot falls asleep, before it finally gives up. Good thing I was wearing long pants, because I have brushed my legs against stinging nettle one time before. This allowed the plant to cover a much larger area than it did this time with the side of my hand.

Finally, I leave you with a shot of what I wish my own front yard looked like. This person has an entire front yard of bluebonnets. Nice.


  1. Your nettle picture is awesome. Captions for the win! :)

  2. Lovely photos - I especially like the oaks!

  3. Lovely photos. Lovely Oak. I agree with you about that gorgeous front garden. Much better than a grass lawn.

  4. The live oak looks so very climbable. It's practically beckoning to you.