Winter-blooming wildflowers: Part I

For those of us eager for spring--or at least the first signs of spring--searching for winter-blooming wildflowers is a great way to feed the soul. The bigroot springparsley (Vesper macrorhizus) is one of the earliest winter-blooming wildflowers in Texas. It's also very easy to overlook because it hugs the earth and definitely isn't what one would call showy. Formerly known as Cymopterus macrorhizus, it's a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae). It can be found from central Texas northward into SW Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico (BONAP map).

As of today, there are only two observations of Vesper macrorhizus in January--one is in full bloom (congratulations @franpfer --you currently hold the record for the earliest documented Vesper macrorhizus in full bloom) and the other is budding out (that would be one observed by yours truly--the earliest documented specimen as of right now). Peak bloom period appears to be March based on iNaturalist data.

I've had most luck finding these in country cemeteries because they grow so low to the ground. If the vegetation is tall, they're much harder to see and may be outcompeted by taller vegetation (speculation on my part).

But be careful with your identifications as a conspecific occurs sympatrically in some areas--Vesper montanus (BONAP map). And I have no clue how to distinguish them! But @nathantaylor has provided some thoughts and maybe he'll stop by here and talk with us some more about these two species.

So head out if you can, and see if you can find this spectacular beauty, er, hidden gem, er, ugly duckling?

Posted on 12 January, 2021 01:59 by pfau_tarleton pfau_tarleton


@nathantaylor, tag, you're it....any more thoughts on what features may be best for distinguishing the two species?

Posted by pfau_tarleton over 3 years ago

I only became aware of this plant last year. I'll be keeping my eyes open!

Posted by bosqueaaron over 3 years ago

I was just at this location the other day scrounging for lichens, and found a small plant tucked into the grass flowering. Let me post it.

Posted by franpfer over 3 years ago

Old cemeteries is a good place to look, since they keep the grass mowed close to the ground. I've seen them blooming in early Feb. at the Greenwood Cemetery;

Posted by alusk over 3 years ago

Is there a soil type that they prefer or don't tolerate?

Posted by bosqueaaron over 3 years ago

I think I'll share my notes with you all. I added some to day to put my comments into context. Also, I don't know if there is any soil preference between species, but in general, V. macrorhizus prefers rocky (caliche), loamy soils and I expect (based on photos I've seen) that V. montanus prefers the same.

26 Mar 2020
Modified from Hartman and Nesom (copied with species removed)

Fruiting peduncles shorter than or equalling the leaves; mericarp wings conspicuously enlarged at
the base ............................................................................................................ 4. Vesper montanus

Fruiting peduncles equalling or longer than the leaves; mericarp wings not conspicuously enlarged
at the base.

Involucel bractlets with lacerate-fringed distal margins ........................ 3. Vesper macrorhizus

Involucel bractlets with entire or irregularly toothed or lobed margins.

Involucre of 1–8, oblong to obovate, often variously lobed bracts; involucel bracts greenish
white to white, 1–3(–5)-nerved; pedicels 1–12 mm long.
Umbels in fruit relatively open, more or less flat-topped, rays 10–50 mm long, pedicels 5–
12 mm long; carpophores well-developed; fruit oblong, 8 mm long.

Involucel bractlets connate for 1/3–2/3 or more of length, the free portion usually
abruptly enlarged distally, broadly ovate to orbicular, with mostly 1 vein, occasionally
with 1–2 pairs of shorter lateral veins, parallel to divergent or branched
........................................................................................................... 1. Vesper bulbosus

V. macrorhizus: Photo of type. Characters to check: papillate peduncle, number of wings; 1st umbel bract shape; habit in various conditions. type with pappillate peduncle, many winged, primary bracts insig.
V. montanus: Photo of type. Characters to check: winged peduncle, number of wings; 1st umbel bract shape (insignificant?); habit in various conditions. type with insig. winged peduncles, primary bracts large
V. bulbosus: Photo of type. Characters to check: winged peduncle, number of wings; 1st umbel bract shape (insignificant?); habit in various conditions. type 4-winged peduncle, insig. primary bracts

Note (12 Jan 2021):
I feel that some elaboration on my notes at the time would be benificial. First, I never fully figured out this group so all my notes here are incomplete. At the time, I didn't feel like I even knew enough to write down more than what was already written above. But, after revisiting the problem briefly after taking enough time away to forget almost everything, there are a few notes I made that jogged my memory.

Here are the observations where I explain my thoughts the most: V. montanus observation 1, V. montanus observation 2, V. macrorhizus observation. Based on my memory and these notes, I think the best character to use is the habit of the peduncles together with their length. These do not appear to be completely reliable as noted in V. montanus observation 1. Ultimately, none of the characteristics appear to be completely reliable (at least, reliably determined from photos) meaning at least 2 or 3 of the characters should probably be referenced for each individual to have the best chance at getting a positive ID.

The hypothesis I proposed in V. montanus observation 1 (i.e., earlier, more basal peduncles are shorter than later, more apical ones and that earlier, more basal leaves are longer than later, more apical ones) is something someone could easily prove or disprove by following one or a few plants from emergence to above-ground death. I think V. montanus observation 1 shows this quite clearly, but it doesn't hurt to get replication. This could just be an odd individual or population for all I know.

Also, I was/am doubtful of the occurance of V. bulbosa on the Llano Estacado or in adjacent areas. Plants referred to as this could be plants that look intermediate between V. macrorhizus and V. montanus (at least, that would make sense looking at the key). With what little I have searched, I have not yet seen individuals that match V. bulbosus.

Posted by nathantaylor over 3 years ago

If you'd like reference material, here's a link to the observations I IDed.

Posted by nathantaylor over 3 years ago

@nathantaylor, I'm game for testing your hypothesis....for macrorhizus only (the species in my county). @amzapp, want to do this for your location?

Posted by pfau_tarleton over 3 years ago

Thanks for this information! I shall start looking for it!

Posted by lulubelle over 3 years ago

Sounds good. I'd be interested to see what you come up with!

Posted by nathantaylor over 3 years ago

Very interesting! I will absolutely look. We have a decent amount of snow here, so I'm curious to see the effect it has on bloom time.

Posted by amzapp over 3 years ago

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