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Flora Fact

Tears of Blue 

The dayflower — also called widow’s tears — provides splashes of color across the state.


Long before I learned the flower’s woeful moniker, I thought about the true-blue color of widow’s tears and how it might have permeated history. As a child, I picked the bi-petaled flowers and rubbed them between my fingers, staining them blue. I imagined how Native Americans might have used the prolific flower for inks and dyes.

Widow’s tears (Commelina erecta) gets its name from the tear-like drop of liquid that oozes out if you squeeze the bracts below the flower. Attractive and ephemeral, the flowers of widow’s tears bloom for only one day, specifically just one morning, prompting its other common name of dayflower. Multiple flowers on the plant bloom over the course of different days, keeping constant blooms despite their short lifespan.

Widow’s tears and its many variations grow across North America. In the north, yearly freezes seem to keep its growth in check, but here in Texas, widow’s tears can be nearly invasive in their vitality. They can be seen here much of the year, through spring, summer and fall.

Roughly an inch in diameter, two blue petals resemble ears on either side of the stamen where the third, less-noticeable white petal sits below. Unless there is a host plant to allow vertical growth, widow’s tears creeps near the ground, creating cover. Bright yellow pistils attract pollinators; seed pods attract birds such as quail and dove.

“Swedish botanist [Carl] Linnaeus named this genus for three Dutch botanists, the Commelin brothers,” write John and Gloria Tveten in Wildflowers of Houston and Southeast Texas. “Two of the brothers, Jan and Kaspar, published widely in their field; the third died before becoming well known. Linnaeus thought the unequal petals of the dayflower nicely represented the talents of the three brothers.”

The flowers themselves are edible and can be eaten raw or candied, their beautiful blue color providing natural accents on baked goods. In fact, the lance-shaped leaves and shoots are also edible. The Spanish name for the plant is hierba del pollo, or “herb of the chicken.”

The plant has medicinal benefits as well, having been used to treat wounds and spider bites.

 Bruce W. Leander

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