Hidden Glory

Sep 29, 2016 - 3:00 pm

-Matt McCaw, Water Quality Protection Lands Biologist

This is Evolvulus sericeus, and this photo may be the sexiest photo ever taken of this particular species.  It is so obscure that its common name is “white evolvulus” or just “evolvulus” because “white evolvulus” is one too many syllables for something so miniscule.  You know you’re small and unimportant when your Latin name is also your common name.  It’s like when all the other guys have cool nicknames like “Rhino” or “J-Rock” but everybody just calls you “Mike.”  And your name’s not even Mike.

Evolvulus does have another common name, a lame one that no one uses.  “Silver dwarf morning-glory.”  I think the silver and the dwarf are appropriate.  We’ll see about glory.  The plant is rarely more than six inches tall and is almost never in flower.  Most of the time it can only be identified by its few narrow leaves rimmed by gossamer hairs that give the margins a silvery sheen.  It passes its days as a spindly little thing trailing under the high grass, subsisting on whatever scraps of light and moisture are left behind by the botanical lions and jackals of the prairie.  
So why should I write a piece about a useless weed that apparently no one besides myself cares about?  The thing I’ve noticed about evolvulus is that it’s everywhere.  Not literally everywhere, but pretty darn abundant.  I have encountered it on almost every plant survey I’ve ever done in central Texas.  Go to any unmowed corner of any park or to any beaten up dirt farm that’s been granted more than a six-month reprieve from constant livestock pummelage (yes it’s a word and no, it’s not in the dictionary), poke around under the grass if there is any, and five to one you’ll find it if you know what to look for.  
Evolvulus isn’t the sacred bluebonnet or the pampered oak.  It is the official flower of nothing.  It’s never been watered or fertilized or bought at nurseries or carefully pruned.  No sandaled hippie has ever chained himself to it or held vigil around it.  But in our area it is more abundant and arguably more successful than the bluebonnet or the oak.  It reminds me of other things that are tough and resilient, things that don’t ask nothin’ from nobody except a fair shake, things that are ubiquitous and yet completely overlooked.  A lot of people are like that.
I don’t want to get too far out with this and honestly I don’t exactly know where I’m going.  I think all I wanted to do was to call attention to a small, insignificant, trodden-upon little waif of a plant that has so impressed me with its ubiquity and with its toughness and to ask: Is it or any of the other small and overlooked living things of this world any less valuable than the dominant exhibitionists that command – demand – our attention and adulation?  And would we be better off as people if we would, occasionally, turn our entranced eyes away from the flickering screen and go shake someone’s hand and listen to their story or walk out into the woods or onto the prairie and poke around until we found something new?