The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall is Mistflower Time
by Ro Wauer

Our crucitas are starting to flower, Wright’s bonesets are budding, and Gregg’s mistflowers have been blooming for the last several weeks. All of these Eupatorium species (or Conoclinium, according to some botanists) are some of the best butterfly magnets in all of Texas. All can be lumped into one to three common names: mistflowers, bonesets or thoroughworts. They all are much-branched and non-twining with a woody base and with opposite, toothed leaves that are deltoid or triangular or ovate in shape. The compact clusters of flowers vary from blue-violet to purplish-blue to lilac to whitish in color.

Almost two dozen species of Eupatorium are known in Texas, but I have found that the truly butterfly-friendly species are limited. The best of these is the crucita, scientifically known as Eupatorium odoratum. Although it is native in Texas only from Deep South Texas, where it grows on the coastal plain and Rio Grande floodplain, transplanted plants do very well throughout the Golden Crescent and even north to Austin and Houston. Crucitas are extremely hardy and can take over an area if not trimmed back. But when this plant is in bloom, from early October until December, no other flowers can compete in attracting butterflies. And the flowers possess a pleasant fragrance.

Another favorite is Gregg’s mistflower or Eupatorium greggii, sometimes called palm-leaf eupatorium. This shorter, bluish flowering plant occurs from the Trans-Pecos to the Hill Country to South Texas. Those that I have planted in my yard are currently in bloom and until crucitas come into full bloom are the most popular of all my butterfly plants. Queen butterflies in particular seem to prefer the nectar of Gregg’s mistflowers.

Over the years I have also introduced two additional Eupatoriums to our yard:
blue and Wright’s bonesets. Blue boneset, scientifically known as Eupatorium azureum, produces a blue-lavender flower. And unlike our other yard Eupatoriums, this species flowers in spring, from February to May. As one of the springtime bloomers, along with agaritos and a few citrus trees, it is utilized by Henry’s elfins, gray hairstreaks, red admirals and white-striped longtails.

Wright’s bonesets, Eupatorium wrightii, produces whitish flowers. This shrub is another of the fall butterfly magnets in our yard. It flowers only from October to early December. Although its importance for butterflies can hardly be compared with that of the crucitas, it also does a good job in attracting butterflies. This species is another Eupatorium that occurs natively in the United States only in South Texas from the Trans-Pecos through the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Where can these shrubs be purchased? I believe that some of the larger area nurseries are carrying crucitas and Gregg’s bonesets, but I have not found blue or Wright’s bonesets in our nurseries. We purchased our plants in the Valley, in Weslaco at the Valley Nature Center. They sell an amazing variety of South Texas natives. And it also can be a good location to see a variety of Valley butterflies. Good luck!

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