On most visits to the ranch lasting more than a day, I gather plant material — whether bare branches or full blooms — and make an arrangement to display at the house. It might be a simple zinnia or fern frond in a vase, an oversized arrangement of fall leaves and grasses, or a quickly put together assortment of whatever I find from between the front gate and the front door.
No matter the season, even in the dead of winter, nature provides a find for the table. Different from foraging for survival, finding flowers feeds my well-being by awakening my senses to nature’s diverse beauty and reminding me to trust I have all I need.
It was a treat to plan three full days at the Lost Madrone Ranch over the Memorial Day weekend. Sure, on a longer stay we do a lot of the same activities — Ranger rides, walks, work, watching animals, sunsets, and sunrises — but the pace is more relaxed thinking there is more time to “fit everything in,” even though the “everything” we want to do in Comfort is endless. We still try.
The weekend would be full, and I started my visit with a morning collecting wildflowers.
The skies last weekend were cloudy, casting a haze over the green of summer.
The haze did not hide the pops of color found in the summer wildflowers.
The most prevalent blooms right now are the waves of Prairie Coneflower, commonly referred to as “Mexican Hat.”
Tall leafless stems topped with sombrero-shaped flowers bloom by the thousands across the ranch.
It is easy to find people who dislike this flower, including Jim, referencing its aggressive weedy-like spread.
I love them.
I think they are whimsical when you examine them up close.
And up real close they are fascinating.
They attract bees and butterflies.
And when the heat of summer comes on, they withstand the high temperatures and tolerate drought, resulting in a showy swath of flowers.
How do you not like a field of flowers when without them there is only dry brown grass?
They leave their mark when you walk through them — a physical mark on my pants and a sunny mark on my spirit.
Many summer weekends my porch table is adorned with a bucket full of Mexican Hat. But knowing summer is just beginning and Mexican Hat blooms over a long season, I set out to see what else I could find in bloom.
With two pails of water in tow, I jumped in the Ranger and headed toward the lake.
As I reached the bottom of the gorge, I spied a patch of thistle with pinkish-purple circular flowers, another summer bloomer.
Remember how I said it is easy to find people who dislike Mexican Hat? More people dislike thistle.
Many thistles — while good sources of nectar for pollinators — are invasive and listed on noxious weed lists across the country. There are calls for all-out war to eradicate them.
In fairness, there is a native Texas thistle that is not as aggressive and also attracts insects, bees, butterflies and birds.
Both types of thistle grow at the Lost Madrone Ranch. The invasive non-native thistle mostly grows in disturbed areas — following the lake construction or where we clear cedar — but they have not crowded out other plant species or grasses …yet. We manage the thistle by cutting them down before they bloom or popping up the young plants down at the root crown, but a smattering of thistle remains.
For this post, I won’t further debate the value or terror of thistle, but I will share the beauty of a thistle bloom and the fascinating details when you look closer.
The invasive thistle has spiny stems and leaves,
and can grow to over 4 feet in height.
They are attractive in bud form.
They are fantastical in full bloom.
They are even beautiful when dried.
Removing and disposing of the seedhead helps reduce the spread.
And oh, when you approach a flower and look up close, each one is full of fascinating visitors of all sorts.
Warning, if you don’t like bugs or spiders, now is the time to abandon this post.
The native thistles are not as aggressive and lack the spiny leaves and stems.
The flower shape differs also — narrow tube-shaped flowers billowing from a more bulb-shaped base.
The seeds are downy-like and spread in the wind. It is less concerning to see a native thistle going to seed.
Goldfinches love the seeds of a thistle.
I filled a bucket with thistle to enjoy their form and color for the weekend before tossing their heads to prevent further invasion.
As I drove back to the house, I looked carefully along the roadside for smaller flowers in bloom, cutting a sample of each flower I found. The additional time of a long weekend would afford me an opportunity to sit with my wildflower books and identify what was growing on the ranch.
Driving along “Dad’s Cactus Ridge,” I found a small clumping cactus in bloom, Coryphantha sulcata, or also called pineapple or nipple cactus.
I know several places where these grow around the ranch, and every year I find new ones if by chance I catch them in bloom. Without the flower, you can see why they would easily remain undiscovered.
About 10 feet further down the road, I spied a second pineapple cactus in bloom.
Both are just feet from the road, so now that they are found, I will continue to watch them slowly spread.
As I parked back at the house with my buckets of flowers,
I looked toward the well and saw a white poppy in bloom.
With thorny thistle stems and spiders still on my mind, I walked over to take a closer look.
White Prickly Poppy, Argemone albiflora, has a thorny stem similar to a thistle, and the flower is always full of pollinator bees and insects.
Yep, this poppy plant did not disappoint, full of spiders and bugs!
The white of this flower is so bright and pure and the flower petals are delicate and almost translucent. It is such a contrast to the fierce stickers on the stems and leaves.
After a few short steps to the house, I threw the thistle in a different bucket for a cheery front porch greeting that made me smile all weekend,
and I quickly arranged the smaller flowers found along the roadside.
Following lunch, I grabbed my wildflower books and set about to identify what I had found. I plan to create an inventory of the plants on the ranch. I know it will take several years and help beyond my reference books.
Sure enough, after spending a fair amount of time looking up each flower in my little arrangement, I still had to send a text for help to Patty, my friend who is an expert at Texas trees, plants, birds and more! Thanks Patty for your expert identification.
Here is what I could identify in this one little arrangement, just two flowers remained unknown.
Prairie Coneflower (Mexican Hat)
While looking through the wildflower books, something caught my eye from where I was sitting on the couch.
I looked over at the corner above the utility room door.
Oh, my! Can you see it?
Yep, another spider!
A large tarantula!
(Remember, I did give fair warning earlier in this post that if you didn’t like spiders to stop reading!)
I reached to grab the broom to take him further away from the house, and eek, another bug!
Looking right at me!
I moved the tarantula from the corner.
Swatted him to the door mat.
Scooped him up on the broom.
Carried him away from the house.
And let him crawl away on the road.
Whew! Anybody anxious?
A lot of lovely and a lot of eeks!
Symbols of both calm and alarm.
A few hours later a storm rolled in, bringing high winds, heavy lightning, and loud thunder. We scampered under the porch and watched with wonder as the clouds swirled in a haunting manner, and the rains poured. We lost power for the rest of the evening.
Following the storm, just before dark, the sky turned a powerful shade of blue, as if to say, “ease all fears.”
“Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Luke 12:27
Another Ranch Day to Remember.