Like clockwork, the Texas Hill Country comes alive every spring with a colorful display of wildflowers, a palette of purples, reds, whites, yellows and pinks.
But not to be outdone, we have our own display.
While the exhibit of color to the north adorns gently sloping hillsides, ours covers upper stretches of beach, scattering a vivid mix of whites, reds, rose-purples and yellows among the drab colors of beach-front sand.
Because our beaches aren’t all equally blessed with sand, it’s best to visit the eastern or western ends of the island where ample sand has accumulated to support bountiful wildflowers.
In these areas, the whites of beach morning glory and yellows of beach evening primrose are the first to appear in March and April.
Morning glory white flowers are distinctive, each sporting a tubular center colored yellow. Evening primrose flowers are likewise unmistakable, each with four large yellow petals and an upward-directed four-lobed stigma. The large yellow petals appear in late afternoon or evening then wither and turn red as they age.
The lovely rose-purple flowers of railroad vine emerge a little later in the spring. Its large, uniquely shaped leaf resembles a goat’s footprint and is responsible for its alternate name — goat-foot morning glory.
More than just a pretty sight, these three wildflowers are important in trapping sand and stabilizing dunes. Morning glories and railroad vines produce trailing stems, or runners, up to 100 feet long. Runners send down anchoring rootlets along their entire length, securing sand across large swathes of dunes. Although evening primroses don’t form runners, they do form dense mats of vegetation that likewise hold sand in place.
While the three species above grow on foredunes — the front side of the dunes that faces the water — sunflowers grow atop dunes. Unlike the more familiar tall sunflowers, dune sunflowers are only a foot or two tall and form a thick ground cover. But you’ll still know it’s a sunflower thanks to its upright flowers with yellow petals and a dark brown center.
Indian blankets also prefer dune tops. This wildflower, also called firewheel, forms a dense ground cover and produces easily recognizable flowers with yellow-tipped red petals.
Camphor daisy and camphorweed are wildflowers that grow closer to the water’s edge on scattered piles of sand several feet high. Since both are early colonizers of these piles called coppice mounds, they are vital in trapping and holding sand along the beach front.
The two coppice mound wildflowers are very similar, each having small yellow flowers, a short growth form and a camphor odor from crushed leaves. To distinguish them, you’ll have to examine the leaf edges. If you see teeth along the leaf edges, it’s camphor daisy.
These seven wildflowers are now on display on our beach front dunes. Take a look soon, because when the dog days of summer arrive, the collection will be gone until next year.