Little Pink Stars

It’s always a treat to look down and find the little pink stars of Lady Bird’s Centaury, Centaurium texense. It always feels as if these are rare, but I don’t think they truly are. Just easily overlooked.

photo by Hugh D. Wilson

They’re diminutive plants, usually less than a hand-span high, with slender stems and narrow leaves. They disappear into the surrounding foliage, but when they bloom—wow! Hot pink stars with a tuft of bright yellow stamens and a yellow stigma. The ovary sits at the bottom of the long floral tube surrounded by a long calyx.

photo by A. Sergeev

The common name of this delightful wildflower honors Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady who passionately loved Texas’ wildflowers. She was the driving force behind the seeding of bluebonnets along the state’s highways, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin is named for her.

There are other species of Centaurium in Texas, but this is the one that grows locally. I drew one plant, somewhat simplified since they tend to be a little bushy.

I charted it, then reversed it and rearranged the branches.

One uses darker shades for the shadowed petals and the undersides of the corollas on the folded flowers.

I like the second one better, both for color and for the shape of the plant. If I only put one in my large assemblage, it will be the one on the right.

I made quite a few changes to the shapes of the flowers from my original penciled chart. What looks fine in black and white doesn’t always “read” correctly once you see it in color. I thought for sure I had already used all the colors in my previous work, but no. Each chart so far has added at least one color to the developing palette of the whole. This design introduces some deeper shades in the DMC 600-605 color family, a series of cool pinks.

This is what it might look like stitched up, keeping in mind that the program tends to show skips in the stitching that wouldn’t be there in the finished product.

I’m reasonably happy with this. It certainly looks like what it’s supposed to, and it will be good to have a nice pop of pink in the big piece that will have all the plants together.

An Unlikely Name for a Beautiful Flower

No spring assemblage of plants from a sandy area in East Texas would be complete without Blue Toadflax.

copyright D. Tenaglia

These plants used to be grouped with the true toadflaxes in the genus Linaria, but now they enjoy their genus, Nuttallanthus, named after one of the pioneers of Texas botany. (I learned them as Linaria and had to retrain my middle-aged brain.) There are some subtle differences in the shape of the corolla, but both genera boast a long, tubular spur which emerges from the back/bottom of the corolla and houses a nectary that offers treats for long-tongued pollinators.

These plants have slender stems that are largely unbranched. At the base, smaller stems with pairs of opposite leaves look like compound leaves.

But why “Toadflax”? Supposedly, the flowers resemble little toads, or else the broad, two-lipped corollas are reminiscent of the mouth of a toad.

Yeah, I don’t see it either.

There are two species locally, N. canadensis and N. texanus. At one time, N. texanus was viewed merely as a variety of N. canadensis, but they are sufficiently distinct to be considered separate. The flowers of N. texanus are bigger overall, but the surefire way to tell them apart is by looking at the seeds under high magnification. They’re bitty little things, and more or less trapezoidal. Those of N. texanus are round-edged and minutely pebbled…


while those of N. canadensis are sharp-angled and smooth to only sparsely pebbled.

Interestingly, sometimes these plants skip making showy flowers altogether and make very reduced, self-pollinated flowers instead.

But enough about the botany–what about the stitching? I drew one plant. I’ve tried my best to keep all my drawings to the same scale so that the plants can all be stitched together in a single piece, but I’m sure there’s enough “slippage” that this could be either species.

This is the chart. Skinny leaves are not fun, and there’s a lot going on in the pedicel-spur-bract region of each flower. There ought to be more buds up top, but that would end up as just a wad of green and bluish-purple, so I reduced the number and separated them.

(You can see a bit of the Triodanis on the left of the same sheet. Why waste graph paper?)

After I charted up one plant, I mirrored it and made the second one taller by adding some more stem between the leaves and the flowers.

This is a close-up of the inflorescences:

The one on the left is too pink. The one on the right is too blue. DMC desperately needs to make a color family of blue violets, from very pale to very dark. Each flower needs three shades to differentiate the upper lip from the lower lip, the center of the lower lip from the turned-back portion, and the spur from the rest of the corolla. In real life they are much more nearly uniform in color. It might be interesting to see if a) brands other than DMC have a color that more nearly matches anthocyanin plant pigments or b) whether there exists a variegated or overdyed floss with a long enough repeat that different sections that are a bit closer to one another in shade could be separated out and used for the three colors.

Also, the flowers look very, very large, don’t they? I guess this is N. texanus after all. Drat. Now I think they’re too big.

And, finally, here is what they might look like stitched.

The idea is for these to be tall-plants-in-the-background in the large composite work. I think, with their very basic stem and leaves and complicated flowers that will be held above shorter plants in the foreground, they will do very nicely.

I’m not sure these are Gerda-ish at all, but they are recognizably Nuttallanthus, so I give them at least a six out of ten.

They’re Everywhere, But Have You Seen Them?

At the same time I initially charted the Valerianella, I did another of spring’s tiny-flowered plants, Sherardia arvensis, commonly called Herb Sherard.

This plant is absolutely everywhere in Central Texas in the spring. It’s one of the first plants to blossom, starting as early as January, and here it is nearly May and it’s still going at it.

This plant, which is the only member of its genus (no need to decide which species to draw!), is in the Rubiaceae, the same family that gives us Bluets, Gardenias, and Coffee. The plants are low, with slender stems. The leaves are in whorls at each node, and the tiny, four-petaled, lavender flowers are borne in clusters at the ends of the branches. Since the whole plant is about six inches tall, it easy to overlook these little beauties.

Field Madder

Up close, the flowers look a lot like Bluets, but they’re only one quarter to one half the size!

Slideshow 699-05: Tiny flowers of blue field madder (spurwort...M  University. College Station, Texas
Photo by master photographer A. Sergeev.

The plants usually grow in clusters, which can make sussing out their branching pattern a little tricky. I drew one plant and simplified it a bit.

I originally charted it as drawn, trying to fit the squares to the sketched flower shapes.
The results were less than satisfactorily. The essential four-petaled-ness of the flowers was lost. In the end, I decided to chart the flowers all as crosses and to vary the floss color used just a bit to help keep them distinct.

Stitched up, it will look something like this:

I’m still not sure if I’m entirely happy with this. Are there too many flowers per cluster? Are the clusters too big? Too dark? Do I need to use a lighter green? Probably “yes” to that last, but let’s be honest–most little herbaceous plants have about the same color foliage, unless they’re furry or waxy. Chlorophyll is approximately DMC 3347. I can’t make every design call for the same colors of floss, though, since the ultimate goal is to stitch all of them together in one ginormous piece. Something has to be a little darker, something lighter, something bluer, something grayer. Also, the colors the program displays aren’t exact matches for the floss. The darkest green is 3362, and all the greens (except maybe the stem and the withered leaves at the base) are from this palette:

Nothing near as black as what the program displays. But when it comes time to put needle to fabric, I may well lighten everything up a notch. Second-guessing can lead to remorse!

Absence Makes the Heart Go, “Wonder..?”

As in, wonder why I can’t muster up the enthusiasm to work much on charting lately? I’m busy, sure, but I’ve been busier before. I pondered, and it became clear that I just wasn’t happy with the last chart I posted, the Valerianella. I’ve been keeping an eye on the Valerianella that blooms (well, bloomed, past tense–they mowed this week : ( ) in the open area near the herbarium where I spend a lot of time.

Why didn’t my design look right? I wasn’t seeing the large bracts under the clusters of flowers that I had put into my design. Part of that is that I’ve been looking at V. radiata, not V. florifera, which may be more bract-y. I mean, I did work from photos of V. florifera.

I wondered what would happen if I made the bracts under the flower clusters smaller, made the space between the ultimate groups of flowers blank rather than green, and put in more white to make the groups appear more as they do in real life, at least on other species.

Here’s the result.

Compared to the previous version:

I should have done this a month ago.


On Beyond Bluets

I have charted some very tiny plants so far, but I hadn’t yet charted the tiniest flowers. Yes, there is something smaller than bluets! Recently, I remedied the situation and charted two of Spring’s smallest.

The first is Corn Salad. That’s the common name for plants in the genus Valerianella.

Supposedly, the plants can be weeds of corn (grain) fields and are edible in salads, hence the common name. I’ve never put the edibility to the test, though. I imagine, as with most plants that have edible greens, they taste better before they flower.

Valerianella is related to the herb Valerian, the one that helps people sleep and which cats like so much. These plants used to be in their own family, the Valerianaceae, but molecular research has shown that they belong in the Caprifoliaceae with the honeysuckles. One of the distinguishing features of the Valerian group is a distinct odor of wet wool or “wet dog” in fresh plant material. I’ve even seen that character referenced in keys. Certainly makes you want to eat some doesn’t it?

Valerianella has a very distinctive growth habit. The leaves are opposite, (always in pairs), and the stem branches dichotomously–in two, again and again, even throughout the inflorescence at the top. The flowers are always minute. All the local ones are white, though elsewhere there may be bluish species.

When I was first studying botany, our class had keying (identification) quizzes every week. If we moaned about the flowers being too small, the next week our Teaching Assistant brought in something even smaller. We must have been cranky one week, because the next we had Valerianella. It takes a microscope to distinguish the five fused petals, the few stamens, and the three-lobed ovary with its one fertile and two sterile compartments. Identification to species requires looking at the tiny fruits end-on and determining whether the two sterile parts together are wider or narrower than the fertile part, and at what angle the parts diverge. And then one starts looking at hairs.

I drew one Valerianella plant, deciding that it was V. florifera, since that speices has slightly larger flowers. I didn’t do more than suggest the flowers because I knew that for this plant, charting the shapes of individual flowers was going to be impossible, even with the plant drawn twice life-size.

Here’s the chart, marked for place-keeping as I was putting it into the charting software:

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the graphed chart. It doesn’t really show the divided and divided again nature of the inflorescence. When it came time to input the flowers, I randomly placed some white to indicate them and filled in the spaces and bracts with shades of green, making sure to leave a green channel between the first two divisions of each flower cluster. I promise that the greens I’ve chosen are not as garish as the program makes them out to be!

The second plant is a mirror image of the first, in a different colorway, with the shapes of the leaves changed a bit and the internodes made shorter to give a smaller plant. This is a close-up of what a stitched sample would look like:

There’s more than a little artistic license here, but I think it “reads” as Valerianella. I showed the chart to a botanist friend who knows nothing of needlework or Gerda Bengtsson, and he was able to identify it as Valerianella.

I keep looking at this. It’s very stylized, with the branches and leaves spread wider than they would be on a live plant, so as to show the characteristic shape of the plant. If you look back up at the top, it’s the same artistic liberty that was used in the botanical illustration. Sometimes a drawing–or a design–needs to be a little inaccurate to portray something accurately. I may fiddle with this one more before finalizing the chart, or I may leave it. What do you think?

A Tiny, Multicolored Party

Many people love irises–and why not? They’re perennial, easy to grow, and come in every color of the rainbow, including nearly black. Many people are familiar with Blue-eyed grass, a common sight on Texas roadsides during spring.

Sisyrinchium - Wikipedia

What most people don’t realize is that Texas has a species of miniature Sisyrinchium, S. rosulatum. They can be found growing by the hundreds in sandy soil, but since they’re only a few inches tall, it is easy to walk right past them.

The fun thing is that they come in all sorts of colors.

White with a diffuse purple eye-ring:

White with a more well-defined, maroonish eye-ring:

Pale pink-purple with a darker eye-ring:

Yellow with a maroon eye-ring:

Or even blue (though this is less common locally):

Often multiple colors will be found growing in the same colony–all but the blue image above were taken at the same spot on the same day. Since the flowers are less than a centimeter across, the effect can be like confetti.

Photo by Bobby Hattaway

The sepals and petals are the same color and texture, though there may be three of one size or shape and three of a slightly different size and shape. The fruits nod after flowering.

I drew three plants of various sizes, simplifying them a bit by not putting in too many leaves, flowers, or fruit. By the time I picked out colors, it was a very annotated sketch. (I keep thinking that surely I must have all the colors I need already specified in the palette for the big project as a whole, bug I end up having to add five or six for each new design!)

Charting it was a bit tedious, since long, thin shapes like the grassy leaves are a a bit boring–and also hard to render naturally.

I then reversed the largest sketch and changed the position of the flowers so that I’d have four and could chart designs with white, yellow, pink, and blue flowers. I chose three different colorways for the stems, leaves , and fruit. A stitcher could mix and match flowers and foliage in any way they choose.

This is about life size on my laptop!

As stitched, the individual plants would look something like these–bearing in mind that the program shows non-greens as brighter than they really are:

I’m reasonably happy with these. The leaves don’t come out smoothly, the bases of the corollas need to be more green and not petal/sepal-colored, and they’re actually a bit big. I will probably play with them some more. But they’re still recognizable as Sisyrinchium, so I suppose I will put this one in the “Win” column.

Through the Looking-glass

My latest plant is one that is easily overlooked. It’s not tiny, the flowers aren’t minute, but it doesn’t have many blossoms at any given moment, and the stems are slender and unbranched.

Triodanis perfoliata is one of our local members of the Campanulaceae, or Bell-flower Family.

This species has egg-shaped leaves that are widely spaced along the stem and usually one or two blossoms open at any given time.

The common name for this plant is Venus’ Looking-glass. I think this stems (ha!) from the unique way the fruits are constructed. Instead of breaking open along a seam as most capsules do, the fruits open by a single pore that opens in the side. The flap of tissue that initially covered the pore rolls up like a little Roman shade, leaving a peep-hole through which the microscopic seeds can fall out.

Fruit photos by Larrhy Allain

Sometimes the pore goes all the way through. In variety shown above, var biflora, the pore is located above the middle of the capsule.

Another interesting fact is that most of the fruits are not made by the showy purple flowers. Instead, they’re the product of cleistogamous flowers–reduced, non-showy flowers that are self-pollinated. Plants with cleistogamous flowers can get away with self-pollination because, usually, they are so genetically heterogeneous that no bad effects of inbreeding occur.

I sketched var. perfoliata, which usually has 2 (or sometimes more–got to get in as much color as possible!) showy flowers open at the top and the pore on the fruit located below the middle.

Since the leaves have low, rounded teeth, I initially charted it with wavy leaf margins, but that gave the impression of too much toothiness…

… so I did not carry them into the finished chart.

I’m happy with how these turned out. It was fun to do a plant less complicated than some of the others, without a lot of backstitches. You’d think by now I’d have all the colors of the floral rainbow, but nope! I had to add a couple for this design.

Here’s a close-up of what the stitched flowers would look like, complete with white style and stigma.

And here are the little peep-hole fruit:

When put in the chart with my other plants, they look very tall and leggy, but really, they are about right. If I stitch them in company, I can always take out a node or two of stem and make them a little shorter.

If anyone is curious, here’s what my doodle space looks like now.

Looks like spring!

Plants Don’t Read the Rules

My latest plant is something of a maverick. Meet Claytonia virginica, Spring Beauty.

They more than deserve their name. They flower in the spring at the same time as—and frequently together with—bluets. Where you find one, you usually find hundreds, if not thousands.

Mt. Cuba Center | Virginia Spring-Beauty - Mt. Cuba Center

Look at those hot pink stripes! The flowers can be white or pale pink, but the petals are marked with that great pink that is so commonly found in plants in the group that used to be called the Caryophyllidae. This group has betalain pigments for pink and red, rather than the more common anthocyanins–think prickly pear fruits, beets, rhubarb stems, etc. The two sepals and the stems are often pink as well. The flowers nod before and after blooming.

The plants are low-growing, with narrow, grass-like leaves. Each one grows from a roundish corm that lies deeply buried at the bottom of a very slender stem. It is a real challenge to collect a whole plant as a scientific specimen, since the stem breaks if you even look at it funny. On older plants the corms can be several centimeters across–and they’re edible! In fact, the other common name for this plant is “fairy spuds.”

The other characteristic that makes this plant a nonconformist is that it doesn’t seem to care how many chromosomes it has. There are reliable counts of 2n= anywhere from 12 to 191. Extra set or two or ten? No problem! Lose one somewhere? Doesn’t matter. Plants are much more tolerant of having their genetic material disturbed than animals are. All of this variation can be reflected in how the plant looks. Extra petals are not unheard of.

I drew two plants, one with white flowers and a green stem and one with pale pink flowers and pink-flushed stem and sepals.

This is how they charted up.

In a symbol chart with colored backstitch, things get very wild very quickly!

The program doesn’t show very thin backstitch lines very well in chart view, but this is how they might look stitched.

I may, when it comes to stitch them up, shorten the internodes–the distances between the leaves, because the plants are often a bit more compact. A close-up shows how they might look with colored anthers and the veins a more reasonable width.

I’m reasonably happy with these. I don’t know how Gerda-ish they are. Her designs didn’t include much backstitching, and I don’t believe she ever called for a French knot. But you can’t have spring beauties without stripes!

Soon it will be spring beauty time for real! I can’t wait to find a patch, plop myself down, and bury my nose in their sweet-scented glory.

A Spring Flower Perfect for the Holidays

It is cold, bright, and definitely winter outdoors and, today being Epiphany (as celebrated—the actual feast is on the 6th), we are winding down the Christmas season with all of its feasting and goodies. How much butter have we consumed in the last few weeks? Too much!

So, butter. Buttercups. You can’t have a lineup of spring flowers without buttercups. They’re iconic; instantly recognizable. They’re on of the first flowers little children learn to recognize. I can remember holding a blossom under a playmate’s chin to see if they “loved butter.” I seem to have misunderstood the tradition, though. You’re supposed to look at their chin for the reflection of yellow from the shiny petals. I always though the point was to mash the flower into the friend, leaving a smear. Yep, definitely yellow!

Buttercups belong to the genus Ranunculus, the type genus for the Ranunculaceae, introduced in a previous post. Think: divided leaves, yellow flowers, lots of stamens, lots of stamens, little achene fruits. That covers most of them. There are a few with white petals or no petals at all, and not all have divided leaves. The yellow ones, though are almost always a bright chrome yellow with no hint of orange or red at all. And shiny! To me, the petals have always looked like they were cut from fancy wrapping paper, the glossy kind that tape can barely stick down. They like to hang out in wet places, and a stretch of wet pasture or roadside solid yellow with them is a sight to behold.

There are multiple species of Ranunculus in Texas, and someday I hope to do a piece with several different kinds. But for now, I chose Ranunculus fascicularis. It is easy to identify. The leaflets, aside from lobing, have smooth margins, and the petals are relatively long and “strappy”, as opposed to some of our others with toothy leaflet margins and short petals.

The above photo shows a low-growing individual, but usually the flowers stand well above the foliage.

I did a sketch with front and side views of flowers, a bud, and a head of achenes.

I know the petals are long, but they still looked a bit too long, so I shortened them in the charting.

The larger the charts become, the worse the screen-caps of them look! That floating flower in the upper right shows the flower as it would be stitched, with some long backstitches forming the stamens:

The side-view flower would be done in two shades, just to keep the petals at least a little distinct:

This is one case where I can compare my work directly with Gerda’s. I’m not sure I have a buttercup chart of hers, but I found some images of different species online.

She didn’t do a face-on flower, possibly to avoid having to deal with the stamens. That is always an option, and I could easily amend the chart to feature two side-view flowers.

All in all, I’m pleased with how this turned out. I look forward to sharing other buttercups in the future!

Life Gets in the Way, But Here is an Anemone

It has been a while. Thanksgiving and then Christmas preparations have sidelined the wildflower charting, but I did manage to finish some Anemones.

Anemones, or Windflowers, belong to the buttercup family or Ranunculaceae They have the divided leaves, many not-united pistils, and many stamens common to the family. They are unusual, though in not having any petals. Instead, the sepals are petal-like and showy. How do botanists know that the parts are sepals and not petals? I’m not sure, but in the 1800s German botanist really studied plant anatomy, down to seeds and hairs and pollen, and by looking at various groups of plants in all stages of development, tracking the fate of individual groups of cells, they figured out that where only one whorl of perianth (collective term for petals and sepals) is present, it’s sepals.

There are many showy varieties of garden anemones, like this one:

(Creative Commons License, photographer Llez)

The two species found locally are less showy but just as pretty. This is Anemone berlandieri.

The sepals can range anywhere from white to lavender to intense blue or purple. They’re much less colorful underneath and the flowers open mid-morning. You can walk through a whole patch of them when the flowers are closed and not notice them. But when they’re open, they’re lovely. The green column in the center is a tall receptacle on which the tiny individual pistils are located.

Anemone berlandieri can be recognized by how the involucre (whorl of leaf-like bracts) on the flowering stem is borne above the center of the stem, and by how the bracts of the involucre look different from the true leaves. The leaflets of the true leaves are less finely divided, as can be seen in this herbarium specimen. (Note that the stalks of the individual leaves may be longer or shorter.)

In contrast, Anemone caroliniana has the involucre below the middle of the flowering stem, and it is about as divided as the leaves. There are differences in the hairiness of the stem and rootstock as well.

I charted A. berlandieri as a plant in full, fresh flower.

The small flower in the upper right shows how the stamens would be put on with backstitch:

The shaded sepals are charted in three colors of floss, but if one was very careful, starting each sepal at the same point in the variegation, it might be possible to use variegated floss.

It doesn’t really show, but the lower right leaf is charted for a blended thread, one shade of green and one of purple. Why? Because the leaves can sometimes have a purply-bronze cast:

A stitcher would be free, of course, to make the leave entirely green. When stitching over one, a choice between green and purple would need to be made. As far as I know, Gerda never called for blended threads, since her designs were meant for one strand of Danish Flower Thread, so this is a real departure from the norm.

I charted a second plant, this time A. caroliniana, at the gone-to-seed stage. At maturity, each tiny separate pistil matures into a fuzzy achene and the whole mass breaks up and the fruits float away:

My plant has lost its sepals and petals and the achenes are fuzzy-grayish, but they’re not yet flying away.

I’m reasonably happy with this pair. They’re recognizable as anemones, and even with my scandalous notions of variegated floss and blended threads, they’re not too far off Gerda’s garden path.