Native Son – September, 2009

A cloud of rain lilies (Cooperia drummondii) along Hwy 180 West.
All photos by Steven Chamblee.

Rain Lilies and Devil’s Claw

Well, the rains did come, the air cooled off a bit, and the fall equinox was celebrated with primal drumming at several places around Parker County — my house being one. Traditional fall blooms have begun to dot the roadsides — goldenrod, gayfeather, sumac, etc. — which inspired me to hit the road again.

Traffic appreciating the author’s rain lily photography

As I buzzed down 180 West to Clark Gardens the other day to give a little chat on herbs, my eyeballs almost popped right out of my head. Right there in the median, surrounded by a sea of asphalt, was the most glorious patch of rain lilies I’ve ever seen. (Yes, I featured these little cuties in e-gardens last summer, but I couldn’t resist sliding in a photo here.) Rain lily (Cooperia drummondii) bulbs lie dormant in the soil until triggered into bloom by summer rains. Then pure-white, inch-wide blossoms rocket up out of the ground (often in a single day) to perch proudly atop foot-tall flower stalks. Well, the rain came by the bucketful and so did the blooms, creating a veritable blanket of blossoms right in the middle of the road. I did appreciate the patience of the other drivers while I took the photo … several of whom honked repeatedly to show their support of my endeavor.

Before I forget … Saturday, Oct. 3 … 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m…. Clark Gardens Fall Festival. Bands, activities, garden lectures, food and fun. Check out (Happenings) for more info. (I’m checking out the rock band, “Elixir,” at 9:30 a.m.)

Devil’s claw flower

On the way back, I stopped by some railroad tracks to see the progress of a small patch of Devil’s claw (Proboscidea louisianica). I like this plant because almost no one knows what it is, yet just about every Texan is familiar with it. Oxymoron? Read on. 

Devil’s claw starts out as a short but rather stout plant (about 2 to 3 feet tall) with relatively large leaves (up to 6 inches long and wide). It pops a few inch-long, pink-tinged, white blooms out the top of the plant that superficially look like individual foxglove flowers, but devil’s claw is actually more closely related to Sesamum, the tropical plant that produces those famous sesame seeds. While I photographed these blooms a few months ago (so you could see the progression of the flower), I took the opportunity to pluck, crush, and smell the leaves. “Lawd-a-mercy!” as my grandmother used to say. Try as I may, I cannot accurately describe the odor with words. (Even those eloquent, brainy boys at BRIT were reduced to describing it simply as “…ill-scented….”) The best I can conjure up is “a delightful combination of the scents arising from rancid feta cheese and a moldy hair-clog in the P-trap below the bathroom sink.” 

Devil’s claw fruit.

Anyway … these flowers grow into these strangely shaped, green fruits that adorn the plant in autumn. (I’ve heard some folks pickle ‘em when they’re small, but I haven’t tried them.) After frost, the whole plant dies, as annuals are apt to do, and dries out. That’s when the magic happens. The weird fruits are technically called dehiscent capsules, the dehiscent part meaning that they will split apart by themselves. They do so “longways” in a straight line, along a special structure called a suture. At this point, the two long, skinny parts of the capsule will curl upwards, resulting in a V-shaped, very strong, almost woody, dried capsule tipped with very sharp points that are particularly adept at snagging animal fur. When deer, bison, sheep, cattle or, sometimes, unfortunate dogs catch this capsule in their fur, it holds fast. Biologically, this is to disperse the seed as the animal travels. Realistically, the blasted thing burrows into you like a little demon and is almost impossible to remove without suffering additional and substantial pain — as I personally found out while prairie hiking one winter. (Hint: Be patient … do NOT “yank it off like a Band-Aid.”)

Texas Mosquito

“So, Steven, why is everyone familiar with it?”

Well, friends, clever crafters have made a lot of money with these strange and devilish capsules. With a small rock, two plastic eyes, and a dab of hot glue, devil’s claw is easily transformed into that quintessential icon of roadside kitsch, the ever-popular “Texas Mosquito.” 

To quote the late, great Paul Harvey, “And that, folks, is the rest of the story.”

About the author: Steven Chamblee is the chief horticulturist for Chandor Gardens in Weatherford and a regular contributor to Neil Sperry’s GARDENS magazine and e-gardens newsletter. Steven adds these invitations:

Plan your visit to historic Chandor Gardens now. We have made lots of changes this past year, so if you haven’t seen Chandor Gardens lately, you just haven’t seen Chandor Gardens! We’ve got heirloom color plants, waterfalls, fountains, sculpture, grottoes, a labyrinth, and more. You can go to the website ( for a preview and call 817-613-1700 for reservations and more information. Combine your Chandor trip with a visit to nearby Clark Gardens for a full day of blooms and beauty.

A little help from my friends…. I still need some destinations for my Texas road trips! If you would like me to speak to your garden club or group, just shoot me an e-mail at to make arrangements. I’m inexpensive and low maintenance, and you know I love to go just about anywhere, so let me know. No city too big; no town too small. As long as it has a Farm to Market road nearby, I’m in.

Posted by Neil Sperry
Back To Top