A Botanist, A Politician, and a Sage

The disputed crape myrtle

As she retold the stories of a pair of charming and heart-warming turtles — Torty New Zealand’s oldest survivor of World War I, and Myrtle, a fictional but sensitive creature who is bullied because she happens to be purple — friend and fellow blogger Gallivanta provided reassuring proof that both authors and illustrators have the power to change our world for the better.

In the process, she added some interesting details from New Zealand’s history, riffed a bit on the color purple, and then provided a bit of botanical trivia.

As a tail-piece to these Chelonian Tales, let me remind you of the original purple Myrtle. She was not a turtle. In the 19th century she became so popular (supposedly) that many people gave her name to their daughters. She’s a true beauty and she was the very first purple Myrtle I ever met.
Myrtle’s  full name is Crape Myrtle, or Crepe Myrtle: Lagerstroemia indica. She’s hardy and resilient and, although she is a native of China and Korea, she is the Official State Shrub of Texas.

Reading that postscript, I couldn’t have been more astonished if a purple turtle had walked through my door. Like most Texans, I know our state flower is the bluebonnet and that we honor the mockingbird as our state bird, but it never had occurred to me that we might have a state shrub — let alone one that’s native to China.

It wasn’t hard to unearth the facts. Crepe myrtle became the official state shrub of Texas on June 18, 1997, when Governor George W. Bush signed House Concurrent Resolution No. 14.  After ten Whereas‘s, written in language fully as flowery as the shrub in question and clearly meant to flatter as many constituencies as possible, the following Resolutions were entered into the record:

RESOLVED, That the 75th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby formally recognize the valuable addition of the crape myrtle to our native flora and declare the crape myrtle the Official State Shrub of Texas; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That Lamar County be declared the Crape Myrtle County Capital and that Paris, its county seat, be designated the Official Crape Myrtle City for their longtime association with the celebrated shrub; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That Waxahachie be declared the Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas and that Brazos County be recognized as an Official Crape Myrtle County for their communities’ lasting contributions to the beautification of Texas.

That might have been the end of the story, had not a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service botanist by the name of Thomas Adams — the same Tom Adams who led the grass workshop I attended, and who’s helped me identify plants at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge — discovered that crape myrtle had been named our state shrub. As he wrote in response to my curious email, he was “a little perturbed” to find that a native plant hadn’t been chosen.

After making the discovery, he enlisted help from members of the Native Plant Society of Texas, and the group began to study their options. Eventually they decided Leucophyllum frutescens — a native shrub popularly known as cenizo, or purple sage — would be the best choice to replace the crape myrtle.

When Adams contacted his State Representative, Dennis Bonnen, the legislator agreed to sponsor a new resolution, but suggested a politically savvy option. Rather than ruffling feathers by trying to replace the crape myrtle, Bonnen urged creating a new category for the sage.

And so it was. With only six Whereas‘s and one Resolved, House Concurrent Resolution No. 71 was approved on May 27, 2005, and Leucophyllum frutescens — the purple sage — became the official native shrub of Texas.

Long before the Texas legislature put its stamp of approval on Leucophyllum frutescens, I’d come to love the plant that thrives under a variety of common names: Texas sage, Texas ranger, cenizo, silverleaf, or purple sage.

A tough, desert-loving plant native to Texas and Mexico, purple sage is resistant to drought, foraging deer, freezes, high winds, salt spray, and blazing heat. Its foliage has the soft, grayish appearance of mealy blue sage or dusty miller, and its blossoms, which range in color from pink to lavender, tend to appear in times of high humidity.

Since suddenly rising humidity generally precedes rain in arid or semi-arid climates, sage often blooms just before a rain. This quirky yet predictable behavior has led to yet another name for the plant: the barometer bush. Depending on conditions, particularly during extended dry periods or in the midst of drought, a blooming sage often signals coming rain, and excitement over its flowering can be palpable.

I first encountered blooming sage on a ranch road south of Uvalde, Texas. Astonished to see the nondescript, silvery-leafed shrubs I often passed awash in shades of lavender, thistle and plum, I asked a rancher about the abrupt change. “Just you wait,” he said. “They’ll be rain comin’ along, for sure.” 

Three days later, it poured.

In 2017, a lack of rain hasn’t been an issue in southeast Texas, but things are drying out, and concerns about drought are rising. During our last significant drought, I stopped watching the weather reports, but I did keep an eye on the sage. The plant tolerates city life as well as country living, and the movement toward xeric landscaping has increased its use in my area substantially.

One day, I noticed that plants around the parking lot of a local business had broken into riotous bloom. Every inch of the bushes was covered with purple flowers, nearly obscuring their silver leaves. I mentioned my sighting to some friends, and bravely predicted rain. Precisely when it would arrive I couldn’t say, but I knew that it was coming.

And after a few days’ wait, there was rain.

At first, there were only scattered showers: enough to wet the pavement and leave shallow puddles along the curb. The next day, after an afternoon cloud built up over the lake, the rain didn’t stop for an hour. Despite little actual accumulation, people were beginning to smile.

For the next few days, sporadic showers continued until, exactly ten days after the sage began to bloom, drizzly-and-scattered turned into significant rain. When I visited the barometer bush, there wasn’t a bloom to be found, but the glittering drops of rain covering the plant more than made up for its loss of color.

Certainly, it could have been coincidence. But more often that not, our nondescript, silvery-gray shrub has equaled or beaten the forecasters for accuracy. Let sceptics say what they will. In the midst of any dry spell, I’ll keep a close eye on the barometer bush, and if it surprises me by suddenly blooming, I’ll know to pay attention.

There’s no question that Texas’s official state shrub is beautiful in its own exotic way: its deeply saturated colors, long bloom time, and offering of seeds to migrating birds all are welcome.

But our official state native shrub is useful and dependable. And, honestly? In a harsh land historically given to drought, nothing shines so beautifully as a blooming barometer bush.


97 thoughts on “A Botanist, A Politician, and a Sage

  1. Well how neat is that?! I love it that a plant can predict rain. And I love it that you have two purple shrubs in Texas~ a welcome immigrant (for who doesn’t love a crepe myrtle?) and a beautiful native. This is a very good story :)

    1. The crepe myrtles truly are lovely. The color range seems to increase from year to year, no doubt because of demand for new cultivars. Allowed to go to seed, they’re magnets for the goldfinches, and the dried seedheads hold up very well in arrangements. Sometimes, the leaves even provide a little color in the fall.

      Still, in a forced choice, I’d take the cenizo. Even when it isn’t blooming, the leaves are gorgeous: a soft gray-green that complements so many other plants.

        1. I have a friend in central Illinois whose crape myrtle continues to survive and more or less thrive despite the winters. The little I’ve learned about such things suggests you’d have some luck with the tree, and none with the cenizo. I’ll bet there’s a master gardener around who could tell you for sure.

  2. A “barometer bush” is such a cool phenomenon. It’s a beauty, no question
    And I learned a new word, “xeric”which I like, too.
    I guess it’s only natural that George Bush would take an interest in this.
    When we visit my great-uncle, he’s got a lot of old books that belonged to my great-grandfather, and a whole shelf of Zane Grey’s, including, of course, “Riders of the Purple Sage”.

    1. I laughed at your reference to “Shrub” Bush. I was thinking about the Unsinkable Molly Ivins just the other day, wondering what she’d have to say about some of our current goings-on. There’s no doubt it would be good reading, whether you agreed with her or not.

      Xeriscaping is quite the thing around here now. And last spring, I discovered some xeric ferns in the hill country. For a good while, I had no idea they were ferns — they certainly are different from the ones growing in the woods or near water.

      I’ve never read any Zane Grey, but I do know the “New Riders of the Purple Sage.” I wonder what the author would have thought of the musicians?

      1. The fern in the first picture is kind of nice, but the fiddleheads, if that’s the right name for unopened fronds, look an awful lot like worms. I never knew there were desert ferns like that, and some named for Lady Gaga, no less. It’s an interesting ol’ world we have here.

    1. Given my predilection for native species, I wish each whereas in the proclamation for the crepe myrtle had been a whereasn’t. At least the supplemental proclamation for the cenizo partly made up for the choosing of the non-native.

      1. As with so many things, “follow the money” probably is good advice. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn horticultural lobbyists were involved in the original selection.

  3. I wish I could grow purple sage, but I’m afraid we get too much moisture (and I have a tendency to “baby” plants!). Yet it’s gorgeous, and I’m fascinated by a plant that notifies you when rain is on the way. I’ll just stick to my crepe myrtles, though. I had some lovely ones when I lived in Texas and am delighted that they grow up here, too!

    1. I thought about your little pink crepe myrtle while I was writing this. The last photo I saw showed some lovely blooms. Did it keep on thriving through the summer?

      You would have been in prime crepe myrtle territory when you were in Texas. It was the areas around Dallas that got so much attention in the legislative resolution to make it our native shrub. The biggest ones I’ve seen are in a park near the Johnson Space Center. I don’t know how tall they are, but they’re substantial trees. They haven’t suffered at the hands of people who insist on cutting them back to the trunk every year. There’s nothing sorrier than a crepe myrtle that’s been scalped.

      1. Linda, my crepe myrtles didn’t do well this year. I watered and fertilized as usual, but I guess our weather conditions weren’t ideal. Did you know they call over-pruning “crepe murder”??

        1. I’ve never heard the term “crepe murder,” but it’s perfect. Ours escaped the landscapers last year, and are looking very nice, now. I hope they leave them alone again this year, or at least trim them as they should be trimmed, rather than taking a chain saw to them.

  4. i didn’t know crepe myrtles were not native to the US. we have them in abundance here in Arkansas as well. in fact, here in downtown Benton, we now have some that are easily 30 feet tall. they only have some sparse growth at the top and you have to guard your eyes against the sunlight to make out a bloom. amazing, but pretty useless when it comes to enjoying the blooms

    as for the sage, it grows well here too and after having it at one house, my husband who loves it more than anything that blooms is determined to have a large stand of it again, despite the fact it has to be trimmed where you must keep it contained. he loves it because the bees love it and he’s determined to help save the bees. oddly enough, while the bees swarm in a large stand of sage, they act as if they are unaware of a human.

    love the post !

    1. Since I started paying attention, I’ve discovered that many of the plants I assumed were native are in fact imports. Another imported tree we share is Vitex, or chaste tree. Here’s a photo of one in Fayetteville. It’s a long, prolific bloomer, too, and certainly draws the bees with those beautiful purple flowers.

      I hope you can get some of the cenizo established again. A friend who has some also enjoys watching bees and other insects hover around the plants. I’m much more comfortable around bees than I used to be. I’ve had a few encounters, but for the most part they seem intent on their pollen and nectar, just as you say. I love the bumble bees and carpenter bees — they’re so loud you know when they’re around!

  5. What an interesting history… I had no idea where the crepe myrtle came from. We see them in just about every garden or yard here. I planted a row of them two years ago and the blossoms are gorgeous – but who knows how long it will take them to provide any kind of shade? I think though, being interested in native plants more these days, that I may look into the availability of purple sage in this area. I may not have success since we are not considered a desert or arid region, but we do have drought conditions some years. It is worth experimenting with. And we are all about plants that bees love!

    1. The crepe myrtles here rarely seem to do well as shade trees, but that’s partly because they’re constantly being cut back to keep them “landscape-sized.” The very fact that they have to be cut back every year suggests that, untrimmed, yours should take on some size fairly soon.

      I think the sage would do well for you, too. I’ve seen it in gardens in far north Texas and Arkansas, and that’s practically your back yard. As for droughty or dry conditions, it seems the plant thrives in them, but doesn’t require them. We’ve just had one of the wettest years on record, including that flood from Hurricane Harvey, and the cenizo is perking right along. I think it must be one of those plants the gardeners refer to as “highly adaptable.”

      I read that cenizo is deer resistant, too. They’ll browse it, but only if there’s nothing else around. Texas Parks and Wildlife says that shallow ridges covered with cenizo are an important part of creating a deer-friendly habitat. One more reason to give it a try, perhaps.

    1. We have a mountain laurel in Texas, too. Quite different plants can share the same common name, which makes things confusing sometimes. Is this pretty plant your mountain laurel? Ours is different; it has lovely purple flowers, and a reputation for smelling like grape kool-aid, or grape bubblegum. It’s fun to see the variation in plants from place to place.

  6. As a stickler for truth in advertising, I wish that cenizo had never come to be called purple sage. True sages are in the mint family; cenizo is in the figwort family.

    While cenizo’s native range doesn’t include Austin, many people here have planted it, as you confirmed for your area as well. One pleasure of recent trips that have taken me through west Texas is that I got to see this species in its native habitat.

    1. The name that intrigues me most is Texas ranger. It often pops up in lists of common names for the plant, but I’ve yet to find an explanation for how it came to be. I suppose the plant’s resemblance to sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) underlies names like Texas sage and purple sage.

      Of course, wanting to highlight its purple quality in this piece was one reason to stick with “purple sage.” Beyond that, if I’d used “cenizo” in the title, I wouldn’t have been laughing for a week at the unwritten but obvious second half of the title: “A botanist, a politician, and a sage walk into a bar…”

  7. I always learn something interesting reading your blog. A plant that predicts rain in such a beautiful way is fascinating! I never would have guessed that is possible.

    My grandmother’s name was Myrtle.

    1. I love that your grandmother’s name was Myrtle. Knowing that we’re about the same age, I suspect that would put her back in the late 1800s — exactly the time when the name was in favor. Since you’ve done some genealogical work, do you happen to know why she received that name? It would be fun to think that she was named after the tree — although other explanations are more probable.

      There are so many signs in nature. Down here, fire ants build high mounds ahead of heavy rains. I still count the number of stars I can see inside a haloed moon. The number of stars predicts the number of days until rain: two stars, two days. Or so they say.

  8. I did know where the C Myrtle came from, thanks to plant id in college. When one gets to looking it is interesting the number of plants here that people think are native that aren’t.
    Interesting stuff, Now I have to find a barometer bush for my yard, what fun!

    1. It seems to me that people here are becoming more aware of invasive plants (and species like the zebras mussels that are invading the lakes), but you’re right that even non-invasive non-natives are everywhere. The nature center down the road from me is filled with them, and really needs an informative little sign to explain to people that they shouldn’t plant them in their yards.

      Even though the genus is native only to Texas and parts of New Mexico and Arizona, cenizo might work for you. If not, there are trees that are good rain predictors: silver maple, poplar, and sycamores among them. They’ll “flip” their leaves before rain, and appear silvery. I’ve read that the leaves react to the sudden increase in humidity that precedes a storm. Their soft stems become more limp, allowing the wind to flip them over and show their undersides. So many signs, waiting to be read!

  9. That is so cool! I had no idea! I didn’t know about the crepe myrtle — I keep hearing people talk about it but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one. A Barometer Bush. Very cool. I think we do have purple sage here but now I’ll have to investigate!

    1. I enjoy cenizo’s foliage as much as the flowers. I found it combined with yuccas and prickly pear at a ranch gate recently, and it was stunning. Even on a cloudy day, its silvery leaves shone.

      I started poking around, and found that Ann Richards signed a resolution in 1993 naming the Texas red grapefruit as the official state fruit, and the prickly pear became the official state plant of Texas when Governor George W. Bush signed House Concurrent Resolution No. 44 on May 25, 1995.

      Here’s an amusement: in 1995, some legislators wanted to make the prickly pear’s tuna the official state fruit, and a resolution was filed, but someone remembered the grapefruit, and that was the end of that.

  10. There was a happy ending in all this for Texas, but think of the poor crepe myrtle, now being ostracized due to politics. Oh-well, such was the fate of the purple turtle.

    1. Don’t feel too bad for the crepe myrtle, GP. It’s still loved, and planted like crazy. Drive through any of the sprawling developments outside Houston, and there it is, filling medians and plunked into the middle of those great, expansive lawns as part of the “lots of grass, two bushes and a tree” school of development landscaping.

      The fact that it’s a boring, water-sucking landscape isn’t the poor crepe myrtles’ fault, but it would be nice to see some other options tried.

    1. It’s a wonderful connection, isn’t it? And despite being a non-native, the crepe myrtle is lovely. One of its best attributes for landscapers is its long bloom period, and it does seem to attract bees to its flowers and birds to its seeds. I’m glad the sage is part of your world, too. It’s lovely with or without flowers.

    1. I do too, Terry. It’s lovely in a well done landscape, and a joy to discover in its natural setting. Besides, who doesn’t love a little quirkiness — in plants, as well as in people!

  11. A great story, well told. As I was reading the first paragraphs, I was thinking to myself, ‘I thought the cenizo was the state shrub!!!’ I guess I never noticed the descriptive ‘native’ as part of that honor. I just recently pulled up my two cenizo shrubs that my mother gave to us when we bought our home 32 years ago. They never bloomed particularly well (too much shade), but when they did–there was always rain. These poor shrubs had wood that was so rotted, it was not hard to dismantle them. Actually, I’ve left bits of the trunks and wood in the spot where they grew. Ironically, almost everything I’ve planted in their stead are non-natives (Mexican honeysuckle, iris, star jasmin vine) but native plants suround that area, so I’m still patting myself on the back.

    1. I don’t mind a mixed garden at all, though I’m becoming increasingly sensitive to the presence of invasives (hello, Japanese honeysuckle, Macartney rose, and Chinese tallow).

      I’m curious about your reason for leaving the trunk and wood of the cenizo in place. My hunch is that it’s for the bees, or any other creatures that utilize old wood for shelter. I’ve started noticing the dead trees that are part of various refuges and nature centers. It finally came to me: they’re for the birds, and who knows what else.

      As for our “official” this and thats, it seems that the mid-90s were a time of naming frenzy in the legislature — see my comment to automatic gardener, above. Apparently no one has yet proposed a state vine. I believe I might launch a campaign on behalf of Clematis drummondii. It’s another one that’s interesting in all its phases, and quite beautiful even as it seeds.

      1. Your hunch is correct–I’m leaving/placing “dead” wood all over the place-within reason, of course. Oh, I love your state vine pick and I so want one!

  12. Linda, this is such a wonderful story, and I am so pleased to learn about the purple sage/barometer bush. The botanist and the politician reached a sagacious solution to the problem, and showed, just as in Myrtle, there’s room for all sorts to be loved and accepted in our communities. I would love to have purple sage in my garden; I wonder if I can find some. As for plants as barometers; when I was a child in Fiji, the folk lore was that a heavy Poinciana bloom meant a harsh hurricane season. Invariably that was the case.

    1. I tried to find evidence of cenizo in NZ, but sites like iNature showed no observations, no comments, and no photos. On the other hand, I did find this tidbit tucked into a Hawaiian weed assessment page based on the Australia/New Zealand system: “It is now widely cultivated in Florida and Southeast Asia, where it flowers magnificently in steamy tropical weather.” That was a bit of a surprise, although its tendency to flower when the humidity goes up makes sense of it.

      We had poinciana trees in Liberia, too. They’re exquisite, though I never had heard of them as weather predictors. Of course, the climate in Liberia was quite different, and it seemed perfectly possible to predict the rain there by the calendar and clock.

      Apart from the charm of Cynthia’s story, and the interesting details about Torty, I’m so grateful that you included a mention of the crepe myrtle. Think how much I still wouldn’t know if you hadn’t.

  13. Sage should certainly be our state shrub ( not a Bush shrub). When they bloom it certainly indicates that there has been rain. I tried growing one in the back yard but they seem to love the rocky hills. Good post!

    1. Thinking about your location in our fine state brought fish to mind. When I found the information about our state fish, I had to laugh. There might be an interesting history there, too.

      The official state fish is the Guadalupe bass, which was named in 1989. However, in 2011, the red drum was designated the official state saltwater fish. Presumably, the freshwater and saltwater constituencies all are happy now.

      It’s too bad your cenizo didn’t do well, but I’ll bet you have the pleasure of seeing it in your travels.

  14. A Barometer Bush! Like many others, I love that concept, and I’m glad that you noted the explosion of blossoms – and boldly asserted your prediction for rain! It reminds me of the halo around the moon, and I remember predicting with that same faith – and yes, we had a monster of a rainstorm!

    1. The halo around the moon does very well, too. Do you count the number of stars inside the ring? I grew up being told that the number of stars indicate the number of days until the rain arrives. I’ve found that if I’m willing to be a little elastic about the definition of “day,” it works pretty well.

      I suspect your experience is like mine. We’re both dependent on nature, although in different ways, and we clearly pay it more attention than many (most?) people. I’m not particularly good at reading the computer models, and can’t tell a low tropopause from a lowfat yogurt, but if you want a short-term local forecast, I’m your girl. I do get surprised from time to time, of course. I knew yesterday we’d probably have fog this morning. I just didn’t expect zero-visibility that’s only now beginning to improve.

  15. I planted a Purple, Dwarf Crape Myrtle in my garden approximately 4 years ago and it is my beautiful pride. When it flowers in the Summer is the most gorgeous thing you can see. Great post my dear Linda. :)

    1. I think the purple are among the most beautiful, along with the deep crimson and rose. I can only imagine the pleasure yours offers. Once the seeds have formed, our winter goldfinches often feed on them. Are there other birds that are attracted to yours?

  16. I have a marked tendency to want to spell Crape Myrtle as “crepe” myrtle because I strongly associate the texture of its petals with crêpe fabric (crêpe de chine, crêpe de Suisse, etc.), and because “crape” looks misspelled to me (says the woman who steadfastly refuses to spell the color “grey” with an “a”). I used to live in a duplex that had a trio of them in the front yard that had deep cranberry colored blooms.

    I love purple sage — one is inevitably reminded of the Zane Grey novel, “Riders of the Purple Sage.” and the band (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IAn8jIkNiZc). I didn’t know of its barometrical talents, however. As for its common name of dusty miller — I knew about the song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMnju8uEuSQ), (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdxLI9r-2K0) and the inimitable (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfL0o1FgLs0) (so, how many years did it take me to realize why millers are dusty?!? ) but the only dusty miller plant I was aware of was Centaurea cineraria, which is an ornamental from Italy.

    1. I learned the spelling as crepe, and it wasn’t until recently that I bumped into crape. It seems both are acceptable, or at least nearly equally used. When I checked out the results on the Ngram viewer, it was interesting to see how the spellings have moved in tandem.

      There are more varieties of dusty miller than I realized. I was especially interested in this, from the Collins English Dictionary: “Also [in Britain] called snow-in-summer: a caryophyllaceous plant, Cerastium tomentosum, of SE Europe and Asia, having white flowers and downy stems and leaves: cultivated as a rock plant.” So, we have our snow-on-the-prairie and snow-on-the-mountain, but it’s snowing elsewhere in the world, too.

      I’d forgotten the song. Another good version is Daniel Carwile’s. I saw him in Hallettsville some years ago — great fun.

    1. I don’t think you’re confused at all, Gerard — I think you’re teasing. Still, just in case:

      There once was a myrtle named crepe;
      from China to Texas it traipsed.
      But the native sage grinned,
      “We can let it come in
      if it’s willing to forego a scrape.”

  17. What a fascinating story. I’ve never seen sage flowers that shape before, but certainly recognise the leaves.
    Crepe Myrtles were on my blog post agenda today to tie in with yours.

    1. It may be that you found the flowers an unexpected shape because cenizo, commonly called “purple sage,” isn’t in the same family as other salvias and sages.They’re in the mint family, while the “barometer bush” is in the figwort family.

      I read recently that while all sages are salvias, it’s become customary to refer to the more decorative plants as salvias, and plants used for cooking or medicinal use as sages. But just to make things even more complicated, the sagebrush that is a feature of so many classic Old West movies is from yet another family. Sometimes I get so confused I get out a note pad and make diagrams to figure out the families, the genera, and the common names.

      I saw your crepe myrtles and smiled — but I only got a glimpse. I’ll soon visit to see what Aussie crepe myrtles look like.

    1. I swear, Becca, every time I turn around I discover something new that’s odd, beautiful, or just plain interesting. It’s great fun sharing discoveries, too. There are times when I think of blogging as show and tell for big people. Your Sunday Trees is a perfect example; I love your new series, and the enjoyment people clearly are getting from it.

  18. Fascinating! I love crepe myrtles – we have a LOT of them around here (and I have fond memories of one in the yard of the house where I lived until I was 5).

    1. I grinned when I read about Bella and H doing their crepe myrtle trimming. They clearly love them, too — I hope we get to hear more about their yard sagas.

      I went for a little look at Google, to see if I could find some photos of the trees in your new town, and it turned into a really spooky experience. Your courthouse and especially your historic railroad depot could be duplicates of the courthouse and depot in my home town in Iowa. I’m sure it’s an “era” thing, and that there isn’t any direct connection, but it’s still strange to see such similarities between two towns with the same name.

  19. This story confirms once again that there are plenty politicians that have no clue. Good that you were able to get a local shrub instated as the state’s official shrub – even if you still have a Chinese/Korean one in the same place.

    1. Or, even if they have a clue, they’re willing to forget where they put it when someone waves some money under their nose. I certainly would prefer that the lovely sage be our official state shrub. If they had to honor the crepe myrtle, they could have declared it the official imported state shrub. But at least now we have both, and that satisfies my preference for both/and over either/or!

  20. Well, that turned out better than I expected when I saw someone was trying to wade through a bureaucratic mess on account of a shrub! In a few short sentences, you pulled me back into the story and its largely happy ending. I like the sage better anyway, regardless of provenance!

    1. My favorite part of doing the research was reading the text of those resolutions. Both of them sound like something that would be produced by a small-town city council trying to honor a departing mayor, or a church council trying to make sure no one who contributed to the community garden has hurt feelings because of being omitted from the list.

      All things considered, the end result was just fine, and the story’s interesting — although I suspect the sage didn’t care one way or the other. Official or unofficial, it was going to bloom, anyway.

  21. Now I like this story, Linda. A native plant that predicts weather, an invader from overseas that becomes the official shrub of Texas, your own work in raising the alarm, and a political compromise that allows Texas Sage to become the official native shrub… a tale worthy of being included in a book. –Curt

    1. It’s quite a story, isn’t it? What’s even more fascinating is that I might have missed it entirely, had not a New Zealand blogger added a comment about the crepe myrtle in her own entry about a purple turtle. You know as well as I do that a good bit of what’s written arises from the experience of thinking, “That’s weird. I wonder what that’s about?”

      It’s a fact that this tale has enough interesting and well-defined characters — good guys and bad guys, the hopeful and the hapless – that it even could be structured as a play. I’m glad you liked it, Curt.

      1. “That’s weird. I wonder what that’s about?” If it weren’t for curiosity, Linda, we would probably still be hanging out in trees or caves. One of the best things we can do for our children is encourage it. One of the things I like most about your posts and comments is the level of curiosity you always show.
        It was definitely one of those stories I had to read to the end to see what the resolution was going to be. –Curt

  22. The title itself nudged my curiosity and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece! Crepe Myrtle trees are common in India. Lagerstroemia speciosa (Queen’s crape-myrtle or Pride of India) and Lagerstroemia indica. I found the history and story of your state shrub and native shrub quite fascinating. Linda, this may be interesting for you, here in Vietnam Phu Quoc island is famous for Rose Myrtle Wine.(Rhodomyrtus tomentosa myrtaceae) The bushes have deep purple berries and purple flowers. We visited the island and the rose myrtle winery last year. The plant grows wild on the island and the recipe comes from the ethnic minority groups, they say.

    1. I’d never heard of the rose myrtle, but when I saw the common name associated with Florida, I read a little further. It seems it’s become invasive there, and is causing problems in places like mangrove swamps, where it displaces native species and transforms the ecosystem. It seems to happen with so many pretty plants. Another that comes to mind is Japanese honeysuckle. It’s so lovely, and smells so good — and in our area, is willing to strangle anything in its path.

      It’s interesting that wine and jellies are made from the berries. We have native berries that are used in that way, too. While they aren’t especially tasty to eat out of hand, they do transform very nicely. The crepe myrtle, of course, isn’t particularly fragrant, and it doesn’t have a thing to contribute to either wine or jelly making — but we do love the way it looks.

    1. It certainly is similar. Yours is a beautiful and interesting plant, and when I read E.nivea I smiled with an ah, ha! sort of smile. It’s intriguing that it’s Australian environment is so similar to the places where our cenizo is native: Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. Or, to look at it another way, it’s interesting that such similar plants evolved in such similar environments.

  23. I loved this! When we were walking across Saskatchewan a couple of years ago, the smell of sage was just heavenly. I also picked some this last summer in Alberta. Indigenous folk in our area consider it one of the four sacred medicines (along with cedar, sweetgrass, and tobacco). There certainly is something special about sage. I think was a very fine choice for your official native shrub!

    1. I think you must have a different cedar than we do! Our Ashe juniper (aka post cedar or mountain cedar) is a pollen producer extraordinaire, and causes untold suffering. When it pollinates, usually in late December or January, great clouds of pollen float above the trees like smoke. I’ll bet you have something like the aromatic cedar that is used in closets and cedar chests. I think it’s fragrance is as lovely as the sage.

      I’d forgotten about your walk, but you’ve just pointed to another advantage of traveling by foot. We not only see more and hear more, we are closer to the earth and can breathe in more of its fragrances — pleasant and unpleasant. There’s nothing like the smell of loam, or smoke on the air. Thanks for the reminder.

  24. Very interesting, and it’s nice to make the acquaintance of the “real thing.” I’m glad someone went to bat for natives. The amount of flowering on the sage is amazing! I know I would love those soft green leaves, even without the flowers. Crepe Myrtle is nice, but come on, state flora & fauna should be native to the state! Have a good week!

    1. The silvery-gray-green leaves are delicious. They make the plant worth having even when it isn’t blooming. I found some at a ranch gate recently, paired with yucca, prickly pear, and other such plants, and it softened them beautifully. It was high noon — a good time for Western movie gunfights, perhaps, but not so much for photographs. I tossed about two dozen photos — but I know where the plants are now, and one of these days I’ll be back. Such a beautiful gathering of natives in a landscape deserve to be seen.

      1. That does sound attractive – all about the foliage, the shapes and textures. I love that. Just thinking. ….we should have a plant here that predicts a dry spell! That would be so cool. (Enjoyed your vanishing metaphor over at Otto”s) ;-)

        1. Varnishing’s taught me a good bit. In the paragraph I didn’t quote, I also mention patience, forebearance, and a sense of humor. As for dry-spell predicting plants, I suspect they exist. There’s a hint of it in this article, and support for weather predicting abilities in general.

        2. Another reason to go to Tibet! ;-) Seriously, it’s a dream, but I don’t think it will happen. Closer to home, I thought of you yesterday when we came across a marine supply store. It also sells antiques and curios, alongside all the regular stuff. Marine Supply & Hardware has been doing business in Anacortes for 104 years. The old floor boards had a lovely creak, and there was a dial telephone sitting near the man doing desk work in the back.Here it is:

          1. When I first began varnishing, there was a place called Y.E.S. (for Yacht Equipment Services) in Seabrook that was much the same. It was enormous, and old, and filled with every sort of thing. It was the only place around where you could walk in with a broken bronze latch in your hand and get exactly the right replacement. No one but Bill knew the inventory, but he knew it perfectly. There was a huge raised sandbox with mini-anchors of every sort. You could drag them through the sand to see how they worked. Everyone loved that sandbox.

            He had a parrot, too. A big green fellow who was a talker, he stayed at the front door, either inside or out depending on the weather, and chatted people up. But if you were so gauche as to ask, “Polly want a cracker?” he’d give you the eye and scream, “Hell, NO!”

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