Texas-Veggies (lovely and not-so-nice plants)

Texas has many beautiful plants. Bluebonnet flowers (Lupinus texensis), for example, are among the brief-flowering, native, spring wild-flower group that grows on roadsides and wild in open fields – stunningly beautiful. They can be cultivated in home gardens. It is the state flower and my wife loves them. We have bluebonnet photos, paintings, and glass art around our home.

Texas longhorn in a field of bluebonnets

She has requested that her ashes be scattered on a field of bluebonnets in Texas. The best bet for that is along the roadsides where their growth is encouraged. It may be the state flower, but fields of beautiful Texas wildflowers have been sacrificed for apartments and parking lots. A similar almost-as-pretty plant, called Indian Paint Brush, can be seen in the same areas.

The natural deep blue color of the bluebonnet is rare in nature. Seen in such great numbers, it is a striking sight often captured by photographers and other artists. One can even sign up for courses in bluebonnet or wildflower photography. The brief season for flowering, around March and April, varies by location and is affected by year-round weather.

Seeds cost about a penny each on Amazon; but like the Texans who claim them, this annual has a mind of its own. They are stubborn and difficult in their own way. Plant seeds in your garden and you may get nothing. Then a year or two later, have a crop pop up from the cracks in your sidewalks five feet from the lovely raised bed you prepared for them.

Bluebonnet seeds are both sensitive and tough. The hard outer-layer must be penetrated by wind, rain, and a difficult climate over months or years to germinate. This happens to the thousands of lively plants seen each Spring. I’ve never thought to smell one of the wildflowers. But while some say it has no aroma, others have described it as a “sickly sweet” smell.

Bluebonnets can be cultivated, but like many things Texas, they can take-over, get in the way of progress, and be obnoxious with excessive pride. Or, they can be the most beautiful of plants with the capacity to bring comfort and the artful beauty of nature into the lives of all lucky enough to see them in full bloom.

When in such glorious, colorful presentation, Texas’ fields of wildflowers attract people with children and cameras, both professional and amateur, who traipse into the fields in hopes of mixing nature’s best with human beauty to record the loveliness on a warm sunny day. Please do, but be wary. In addition to its snakes, tarantulas, chiggers, scorpions, and many other creatures of the stinging, biting, or blood-sucking classes; there may be some stinging life of the vegetation variety lurking just below the comely and attractive surface of flowers. In Texas, one must deal with reality or experience the consequences.

Prickly Pear Cactus with fruit

When my wife and I speak of the prickly pear, we seldom add the word cactus until some innocent soul asks, “What’s that?” One must not consider one’s self as a true Texan, native or immigrant, until one has felt the unforeseen touch of this ubiquitous and annoying plant. The painful and itching touch of prickly barbs that grow abundantly on most varieties is a lesson to be learned from experience. I swear that these pricks can reach out and swipe the legs of any innocent passerby at will. I can hear the merciless, nasty chuckles of the evil bastards even now. There are some needless varieties.

Mule Ear Prickly Pear Cactus

To be fair, the nopales cactus is the most common form and can easily be found throughout desert regions (or anywhere) of the southern US, from Florida to California. It has beaver tail-like thick leaves (although I have seen other shapes, such as the mule-ear variety), and the term prickly pear actually refers to its fruit, a bright neon colored ball that screams “eat me” to cattle. The cow eats it, fails to digest the seeds, passes same with a nice moist cow patty, and a new plant is born. Millions of prickly cacti have started life, literally in a nutritious pile of cow shit.

Cow Patty

The good news is that both the leaves and fruit of the prickly pear plant are edible for both animals and humans. I have eaten the leaves (needleless or needles removed) cut up in scrambled eggs, and I would again if it’s on the menu. Eating the red fruit has been described as a cross between all-natural bubble gum and watermelon. I may try it. The liquid is used for many tasty dishes (see recipes on line).

Stinging Nettles

While Texas probably has the most prickly-pear cactus, it has other unpleasant surprises for your body growing among the lovelies of the field. Stinging nettle is common, annoying, and can be found in other places around the world. More is hidden, lurking in the fields, but other demons are not hidden at all.

Mesquite Tree grove

When Lady Bird Johnson said to, “Plant a tree, a bush, or a shrub,” I feel certain that she did not mean for us to plant a mesquite (pronounced meh-skeet), which can be any of the three. I don’t understand why anyone would plant a prickly pear cactus in their flower bed as a decorative or ornamental, but they do. Anyone, and in Texas for sure, who would deliberately plant a mesquite is either some type of dirt or plant scientist doing research, or a fool. The well-deserved nick name for the mesquite tree is the Devil Tree.

If the normally unwanted cactus is a pox on the Texas landscape, the mesquite tree is a scourge. Yes, the bean pods are edible. The spread of this plague is due to the same pear chomping bovine eating the seed pods or beans, and then crapping out the impossible to digest seeds. Seeds in pods (or beans) can lie dormant for up to 40 years waiting for the right conditions and time to sprout. I wonder how many mesquites have spouted from the rotting carcasses of dead longhorns.

Mesquite seed pods

I have read that mesquite beans have a sugary coating making them quite tasty. I’ve not experienced that taste. Of the 40 species of mesquite, only 7 grow in Texas, the most common being the poorly named honey mesquite. Yet, of the 167.5 million acres that make up this state, honey mesquite flourishes on 56 million of those acres. That means that 76% of all mesquite in America is living in Texas. On any drive through the Texas outback, one can find standing dead mesquite, poisoned with spray herbicides. Owners will have the dead plants bull-dosed and burned. But, the mesquite will return. It’s not that easy to kill the Devil Tree.

Mesquite Tree Thorns

With roots to Hell (or to China, according to my wife), delicate feathery leaves similar to those of a mimosa tree, wood only good for burning in bar-b-que grills or just burning (yes, some shabby, not-so-chic furniture has been made), and nasty thorns up to 3 inches long; the Texas mesquite tree, bush, or shrub is here to stay – useless and as annoying as the sting of a scorpion, but going nowhere soon.

“A native Texan once told me that Texas is one of the most inhospitable places to humans on the planet, coming in just behind Australia. He said that because he believed that Texas has more poisonous critters, and more vegetation that has briars and thorns and poisonous saps than any other place on Earth – except Australia. I do not know if that is true, but I do know that Texas has its share (and maybe a little more) of all the things that man talked about.” ~ C E Clark, read more here.

 

In the midst of incredible beauty, look both ways.
Mind the gaps, the thorns, the barbs, and the stingy-thingies.

5 thoughts on “Texas-Veggies (lovely and not-so-nice plants)

  1. Interesting, informative post.
    I’ve had prickly pear in a cocktail or two, but I’ve never actually eaten the fruit.
    I feel the mesquite is Texas’s version of our honeysuckle or mulberry — can’t kill the things, just a constant battle.
    Like most gardeners, I prize blue flowers above most else. I’ve seen the bluebonnets, but never sniffed them. If I ever have to go to Texas in the spring, I promise to smell them.

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