Engelmannia peristeniaa (Engelmann Daisy) is the tall, bright-yellow flowered plant that lines the backroads of Grimes County in the spring. Once learned, this is a plant one can recognize at a glance even while driving. (Such plants are known as "sixty-mile-an-hour-plants.")
Cornsalad (Valerianella radiata) is a little more subtle. Its tiny white flowers are best appreciated up close. (This is known as "belly botany.") Cornsalad is edible, though the plants taste best before they flower.
Be sure not to eat the Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve). It has pretty white flowers and grows from a bulb that looks like a little onion. They're poisonous.
If you want to eat wild onions, be sure to choose the real Wild Onion, Allium drummondii (or A. canadense). The flowers of Wild Onion are usually tinged with pink, as below, and the foliage and bulbs smell strongly of onion or garlic. Crow Poison lacks the smell that says, "safe to eat."
Two members of the Crowfoot Family that put in an appearance each spring are Windflowers (Anemone spp.)
and Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.)
Windflowers lack a corolla but have a showy lavender and white calyx. All of the local Buttercups are yellow and produce clusters of achenes when they mature.
Cherokee Sedge (Carex cherokeensis) isn't as showy as some of the other spring-flowering plants, but it has some interesting details. There are separate male and female flowers, with the ovary of each female flower wrapped in a sack-like structure called a perigynium. Carex is one of the largest genera of flowering plants. Most of the 1,000+ species prefer wet habitats, so you won't see too many around the outcrop. C. cherokeensis is one of the species that can tolerate drier conditions.
Summer brings a different palette to the roadside near the outcrop. Herbaceous Mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa) has bright pink pom-poms that are clusters of many little flowers. The calyx and corolla of each flower are quite reduced--the showy parts are the long stamens. In the local area, this plant sometimes goes by the nickname "Seuss-flower", presumably because the flower clusters look like something the famous children's author would have drawn.
The show at the foot of the outcrop doesn't stop in the fall. In fact, some of the season's showiest flowers wait until the days grow shorter to make their debut. Ruellia (Ruellia sp.) has brilliant amethyst flowers that look a little like Petunias. Enjoy these flowers where they stand--the corollas tend to fall off as soon as the plant is picked.
Spiranthes cernua (Nodding or Common Ladies' Tresses) is the most common local orchid. The small creamy flowers make several loose spirals around the stalk. The leaves are absent at flowering time; they appear in the spring, manufacture food, and then wither away before the heat of the summer. S. cernua is very similar to S. parksii (Navasota Ladies' Tresses). That species is listed as endangered. It grows only in scattered openings in Post Oak woods, usually along the drainages of seasonal creeks and streams. We won't see that species on this trip!
Perhaps the showiest plant on the fall roadside is Prairie Agalinis (Agalinis heterophylla). Nothing else is quite the same shade of pinkish-lavender as Agalinis. This species is quite common in East Central Texas. It has, however, an extremely rare relative that we will meet as we ascend the outcrop.
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