Lindheimer’s beeblossoms, Clockweed, White Gaura, Pink Gaura, Indian feather, or Whirling butterflies, what do you call it? Gaura in our area is usually tall, short or velvety.

Lindheimer’s beeblossoms, Clockweed, White Gaura, Pink Gaura, Indian feather, or Whirling butterflies, what do you call it? Gaura in our area is usually tall, short or velvety.  The tall Gaura species spend a good deal of time growing during the spring, but as we arrive at the hottest time of the year, Gaura explodes in flowers.

Gaura could stem from the Greek word for superb. In India, Gaura is a girl’s name referring to fair woman or the Hindu Goddess of love and devotion. In 2007 three botanists decided most of the Gaura species should be moved into the Evening Primrose group, doing away with lovely name of Gaura. Even though we still call them Gaura, their official Latin scientific name is Oenothera. Still sounds Greek to me.

The native Tall Gaura (Oenothera filiformis, Gaura longiformis or G. biennis) is an annual or biennial that may top 6 feet in height. These plants can be used in xeriscaping as they tolerate dry conditions once they get going, although their native region is the Mississippi River Basin. From rosettes of leaves erect stalks emerge and branch up into thin stemmed flower spikes. The blooms are asymmetrical: four white petals lined up in row with eight stamens jutting out and curving down, somewhat resembling a butterfly. As each bloom matures through the night during its brief appearance, it becomes pink by morning. Pollinators with long tongues, such as bumblebees and metallic bees, can reach Gaura nectar, but they must be fast. The flowers close down as the day heats up. Late in the afternoon another set of flowers open and bloom through the night. Small thick-bodied Noctuid moths, often called owlet moths, fly in. You may have encountered its larval state as the notorious cutworm, but if you are a kind thoughtful person and allow them their space, these little guys perform a valuable service at night after they get their wings.

Small Gaura (Oenothera suffulta), fondly called Kisses, struggle to reach 3 feet in height. Small Gaura prefers to live in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. Lizard tail, Willow Gaura or Velvety Gaura (Oenothera curtiflora, Gaura parviflora) is a very tall sinewy streamlined plant with one soft hairy stem that towers over 10 feet, ending in a spike of flowers at the very tip. This Gaura grows along the Shawnee airport fence. Originally it focused its energies only in the central United States, but has spread beyond its native range to become a pest (in the words of those who don’t appreciate a good dependable native plant) in other places.

The highly touted nursery Gaura was the 2009 Oklahoma Proven Gaura ‘Siskiyou pink’ (Oenothera lindheimeri). This drought tolerant Gaura has pink blossoms on 3-4 foot tall stems. If you are a diligent gardener and remove the spent floral spikes, this plant will continue blooming into the fall. It is considered a perennial, but a nasty winter can do in this native of southern Louisiana and Texas.

Most Gaura want to form thick colonies and their deep woody tap roots help them survive hostile summer conditions. They are an ideal native plant for your city and country gardens, don’t need much water and attract butterflies, birds and other insects.

Although Gaura is currently thriving at my house, I am not there. This past week, my fractured patella and I have been in the Baltimore, Maryland area. The trees grow much taller, the daytime temperatures have been in the 80’s, the nights in the low 60’s and everything is quite green. Growing around the centerpiece of the neighborhood, a small pond, are dozens of common milkweed plants (Asclepias syriaca) with thick immature green pointy pods. If you wait until the pods are mature, carefully remove the grayish brown shell. The seeds inside are arranged like scales of a pinecone and even look like a pinecone.

Let’s not forget another fluffy seed pod producer, Kapok (Ceiba pentandra), the giant 150 foot rainforest tree growing in Mexico, Central/South America and Indonesia. It dwarfs all other trees in the area. The 6 to 8 inch woody seed pods contain seeds which resemble small cotton bolls arranged on a corn cob. The feathery floss is called Java or silk cotton and weighs much less than cotton. Cotton and Kapok historically were used as stuffing for pillows. Kapok fibers have a waxy coat to help repel water, trap air bubbles and were used in life jackets. Kapok does not clump. Even today many teddy bears have this as a filling instead of polyester.

Milkweed and Kapok share a common history. Indonesian Kapok supply, the usual filler for life preservers, was cut off during World War II. Milkweed pod floss had been discovered to be six times more buoyant than cork. Truckloads of milkweed pods were collected, much of it by rural schoolchildren, processed and used.

Cut back on plastic, help the Earth, and fill your pillows, quilts, duvets and life jackets with milkweed floss!

Maryland is nicknamed ‘America in Miniature.’ The state has pine-covered mountains to the west, marshlands in the center around Chesapeake Bay and sand dunes to the east. I was in the Piedmont Plateau Province with its own distinctive topography. Along roads, ditches and excavated areas the rocks shimmer and glitter. The hillsides in this part of Maryland contain numerous crystals of quartzite. Originally quartz sandstone, some powerful heating and compression from moving plates of earth squeezed the rocks into mosaics of quartz crystals. Rock faces are glassy instead of sandpapery. Quartzite, usually white to gray, can also be pink due to iron oxide. Very resistant to chemical weathering, these rocks form ridges and hilltops with thin soil.

The quartzite in this region is used in landscaping, driveways or as road guards to prevent vehicles from driving into yards or mailboxes. Behind the house quartzite had been piled up behind a retainer wall from previous patio construction. The Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) had covered the collection like Kudzu. I pulled away some of the grass to discover this magnificent huge white quartzite boulder with colorful mineral veins. Beside it laid a large flat greyish white rock, also of quartzite. During the process parts of an old birdbath were resurrected, recycled and put to use as bird/squirrel seed holders. My projects: Free the rocks, rip out the Bermuda grass and tackle the enormous clay pot by the patio. It too was overflowing with Bermuda. Hosta plants were discovered growing below. Surprise.

Another surprise. The leaves of these plants sprout in the spring then die down. The pink blooms unexpectedly pop up months later. This week, in central Maryland, the beautiful clusters of pink tube flowers on long purple stems have suddenly appeared. The Naked Ladies (Amaryllis belladonna) are making their appearance. They bloomed early August at my house and lasted all of 3 days in the heat. These are the true Amaryllis. Hope a few surprised you at your house wherever you are!

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.