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Flora Fact: Play Misty for Me

Brightly colored mistflowers attract swarms of butterflies.

By Jason Singhurst

As young boys, my best friend David Ilfrey (now a Texas horticulturalist) and I explored Spring Creek, a lovely perennial stream that flows over Austin chalk limestone in Collin County in North Texas. When we tired of trying to catch crayfish or bullhead catfish, we examined the plants along the creek.

We first encountered blue mistflower in the fall of 1983. We were struck by the bright blue of the fuzzy clusters of flowers swarming with butterflies as they lined a seasonal seep flowing into the creek.

Mistflowers are native herbaceous plants that grow 1 to 3 feet tall and have blue to violet flowers that are infrequently white.

Mistflowers acquired their name by being well adapted to moist areas. The genus Conoclinium is in the sunflower family and contains four species, three in the United States and one in northern Mexico.

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Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelistinum) is native to eastern North America from Ontario south to Florida and west to Texas. In Texas, blue mistflower occurs in the eastern third of the state along creeks, bottomlands, edges of ponds, prairie potholes and bogs.

Blue mistflower plants can grow to 3 feet high and flower from August through October. They attract bees, butterflies and day-flying moths to their late-season nectar. Blue mistflowers are often grown as garden plants and have a tendency to spread.

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) is distributed in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Gregg’s mistflower occurs in arroyos, springs, woodlands, thornscrub and canyon bottoms in far West and Southwest Texas. This species can grow to 2 feet tall with palmate leaves that are deeply divided into three lobes and contain small, purplish-blue clusters of flowers. Gregg’s mistflower flowers from August through October. Monarch butterflies are highly attracted to Gregg’s mistflower during fall migration.

Betony-leaf mistflower (Conoclinium betonicifolium) is distributed along the middle and lower coast of Texas and in Mexico. It can be found in sandy coastal prairies, in sandhills on the Texas Sand Sheet (at the southern tip of the state) and in dunes. Betony-leaf mistflower roots at nodes in sand or sandy clay and has flowering stems that curve upwards, with leaf blades that are fleshy with toothed margins. The flowers are small, bluish, flat-top clusters. This species flowers from April through November.

The plants typically thrive and flower in full sun but will still produce in partial shade.

If you happen to be traveling in eastern Texas this fall, you could visit Brazos Bend, Caddo Lake, Cedar Hill, Fairfield Lake, Fort Parker, Tyler, McKinney Falls, Stephen F. Austin or Village Creek state parks to find blue mistflower. If you are traveling in West or Southwest Texas this fall, check Davis Mountains, Devil’s River or Seminole Canyon state parks (and Big Bend National Park) for Gregg’s mistflower. Along the coast, search for betony-leaf mistflower at Goose Island and Mustang Island state parks or on Padre Island National Seashore.

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