More wildflowers are blossoming here than at any of our previous stops. Now I walk among the Creosote-bushes with no special destination in mind, and sit down beside the first six wildflowers I find. Here they are:
WOOLLY-DAISY, Eriophyllum lanosum
Though this tiny member of the Composite Family rises only half an inch above the sand, its white-rayed blossoms spread almost half an inch wide. It's rare to see a plant with a blossom as large as the entire vegetative body. The book says it's a perennial, and it's hard to see how such a small body can make such a large flower.
Looking like a foot-tall Hollyhock with bright, orange blossoms an inch wide, this eye-catching member of the Mallow or Hibiscus Family was the most conspicuous wildflower along the highway as I drove here yesterday. Its leaves are rough-hairy, crinkly margined and summer-green. A special feature of all blossoms of Mallow Family members is that the stems, or filaments, of the numerous pollen-producing stamens unite into a cylinder or column surrounding the flower's style, that part of the female pistil holding up the stigma, which is the part onto which pollen is deposited.
ROUGH FIDDLENECK, Amsinckia intermedia
Mostly about eight inches high, these plants bear their tiny, yellow flowers in a one-sided coil, or "shepherd's crook," technically referred to as a helicoid cyme. In order to picture a helicoid cyme, imagine that the plant's top is nothing but an upward-jutting, leafless, slender stem. Now line up match-head-size, trumpet-shaped, yellow flowers just on one side of the tapering, vertical stem. Let the top flowers be immature and not yet open, but let the lower and outside ones be expanded. Now roll the upper part of this structure into a tight coil so that the immature flowers lie inside the curled-up part, while the open flowers are on the stem below. As the middle and upper flowers mature, the coil unwinds. Helicoid cymes are a typical feature of the Forget-Me-Not Family, of which the Rough Fiddleneck is a member.
WHITEBRISTLE STICKSEED, Lappula redowskii
Less than a foot tall, this slender, second member of the Forget-Me-Not Family bears tiny white flowers that open, fall off, and leave behind a fruit composed of four slightly connected nutlets. Each nutlet is adorned with hooked spines. I can't look at this plant without visualizing a jackrabbit one night beneath a full moon innocently hopping along, brushing against the sneaky stickseed, and then carrying nutlets in its fur until somehow they are scraped off.
PHACELIA, Phacelia crenulata
About six inches high, this delicate-looking member of the Waterleaf Family also bears its dime-size flowers in a helicoid cyme. Its blossoms, a special hue of blue-purple seldom seen, are born on shiny red stems.
MARIGOLD, Baileya multiradiata
We've already met this member of the Composite Family on the sandy banks of Tornillo Creek at Big Bend. Though its crushed leaves emit a wonderfully pungent odor, when I see this plant the main thing I think of is seeing it for the first time at Big Bend. I can's see the plant without recalling the surprise and pleasure experienced that day I broke out of the dry arroyo into the valley of the Tornillo and saw cold, pure water streaming between white, alkali-encrusted banks and, out on the dry, sandy river-bed, Big Bend Lupines and some smaller wildflowers were blossoming, but the brightest of all was the Desert Marigold.