By Jake Landers
Published December 2012
It might be meant for an early Christmas flower, but Michaelmas daisy starts blooming in October and it’s spent by Thanksgiving. Other plants in our native plant collection fit Christmas a little better. The brilliant red berries of Snailseed, or Coralberry vine, are ideal to drape around a branch of cedar for a table decoration or the Christmas tree itself, and although the leaves remain green, the berries tend to dry out by the time Christmas rolls around. Blueberry Cedar (Ashe juniper) fits well into our Christmas traditions. It doesn’t have deep blue berries every year, but the green foliage and its odor are always there. There’s nothing like the smell of a Cedar Christmas tree in my memories. The red Poinsettia, now commercialized in many colors, is a far cry from its native populations of Euphorbia cyathophora, by scientific name, because of our human tendencies to add splashy colors to most decorations and to make them look artificial. It has become the most popular of our Christmas flowers.
Most wildflowers are dormant at Christmas time, surviving as seeds or roots, or as rosettes spreading out on the ground to get a better exposure before something else gets the patch of sunlight for spring blooming. Few insects are about, and flowering is not an important activity. One can make do with colorful leaves of Spanish oak, Flameleaf sumac, and Virginia creeper vine. Too soon, in the drying air of the house they are ready for the compost bin.
The large dark blue flowers of Michaelmas daisy are very attractive in a flowerbed cluster, better left outdoors than brought in for a more temporary display. It has an interesting bit of history associated with it. Since 1792 the name has been applied to one of the five or so native Asters in America with blue flowers when the adoption of the Gregorian calendar caused Michaelmas Day to fall 11 days earlier to coincide with their flowering. The name has settled on the bluest and darkest. St. Michael the Archangel is recognized in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim tradition with Michaelmas Day on September 29th, a long time before Christmas.
Another one of our native blue Asters is Aromatic aster, with the scientific name of Aster oblongifolius, with paler flowers. It is probably the most common blue one in central Texas.
An Aster that grows from here to Iowa is Frost aster, scientifically, Aster ericoides, with small white flowers. It might be appropriate for Christmas depending on how late frost occurs. It is one of our latest native plants to bloom with a mass of white flowers that hang on through a few light frosts. Many of our other Asters are colorful spring and summer wildflowers that are more common in roadsides than pastures because of sheep, goat and deer grazing.
The only one I’ve seen blooming often in the week before Christmas is an Aster that I consider a weed, and I don’t let it grow in the lawn where it can take over. It is the most abundant Aster in the state. It is resistant to mowing and almost the same texture as lawn grasses making it hard to spot until it blooms. The flowers are tiny but produce a lot of seeds.
Its scientific name is Aster subulatus, but it is often placed in the genus Symphyotrichum by some specialists because it is so different. Other names listed in the manual are Wireweed, Blackweed, Salt-marsh aster, and Slim aster, which suggest that I am not the only one who doesn’t want it in the lawn at anytime, much less at Christmas.
Reading The Landscape
In this pasture view along Highway 83 in Menard County, Texas, how do you explain the pattern of patches of white flowers and yellow ones? Can you identify them? What are the two main tree species? What range site would you call it? Would you think this rancher has adequate forage for livesotck going into the winter? —JL
|See below for Jake's answer|
Jake’s summary: The white flowers are St.Maria feverfew, a perennial that spreads as colonies often in overgrazed pastures; the yellow flowers are Broomweed, an annual that grows anywhere there is less competition from other plants, often in pastures overgrazed by cattle rather than sheep and goats (this is an exception); often called a Mesquite flat site with scattered Mesquite and Liveoak thickets on shallower soil; no, where is the grass? —JL