Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gumbo Evening Primrose: Prairie Wildflower

Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada: Gumbo Evening Primrose is a low perennial prairie wildflower with a lovely — and elusive — flower. The flower opens white in the cool of the day and then deepens to darker shades of pink as it wilts with rising heat.  

White unfurling bud of Gumbo Evening Primrose,
Grasslands National Park  © SB

For more pictures, earlier in the season (fresher flowers!) see
Gumbo Evening Primrose at Grasslands National Park
The classic prairie flower reference, Budd's Flora, says this prairie flower opens early morning, which surprised me, given its name. However, that would explain why the white flower (top image) I tried to photograph late one evening stayed furled in a bud (even though I patiently walked circles around a black-tailed prairie dog town at Grasslands while I waited), as well as why the ones I saw in the afternoon were pink and dying.

This name is true prairie: gumbo is a local name for the clay soil where these wildflowers grow on dry hillsides or flats. I think of gumbo after the rain, when clunky clods of mud stick to shoes. Hardly the word to describe such a delicate bloom, although the plant itself is obviously hardy, with a thick, woody root (Budd's Flora).

Its scientific name is Oenothera caespitosa, and other names apparently include Rock Rose, Butte Primrose, Gumbo Lily and Tufted Evening Primrose (Jennings, Prairie Beauty, where it's listed under the Green tab, for white flowers — although based on my experience, it's easier to recognize if you look for something pink, as there may be far more wilted blooms than fresh). 

These photographs were all taken at the end of July along an easily accessible path near the north entrance to the West Block of Grasslands National Park, along the Ecotour Road. (And yes, I really did go back in the evening, hoping to see a bloom open wide, but that was not to be. Instead, all I found was one flower that had cast off its calyx, but was still in bud.)

Wilting bloom, Gumbo Evening Primrose © SB
Low cluster of Gumbo Evening Primrose
leaves and flower © SB
Spent flowers and buds, the more common version
(at least for me) of Gumbo Evening Primrose © SB

Prairie Wildflower: Gumbo Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespiosa Nutt.)
Location: Grasslands National Park (along the edge of the ridge near the first Prairie Dog town)
Photo Date: July 26, 2011


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