Oenothera curtiflora

Velvetweed - Oenothera curtiflora
East of Hillsboro
New Mexico, USA

A friend conducted an experiment centered on the effects of winter watering on plant growth in the southwest a few years ago.  He marked out a plot, watered some areas and not others (several units of experiment and control).  After a few weeks - nothing - nada - no difference in the plant growth in the various plots.  Come spring, however, and the plots which had received winter water were covered in plant growth, more and more vigorous - and this (apparently) independent of the amount of rain during the spring.

I mention this because we received a little more than two inches of precipitation this winter at our home in Hillsboro.  It has been a good year for spring wildflowers.

One plant in particular, Small Flowered Gaura, Oenothera curtiflora, has caught my eye.  It is doing very well this spring on the eastern slopes of the Black Range, at around 5,000’ elevation.  I had not noticed the species before, most likely observational oversight (as in a deficient observer).  This year it is hard to miss, however.  These photographs were taken yesterday along NM-152 east of Hillsboro.

As can be seen in the BONAP (right), this species is widely distributed within the United States.  The light green color indicates that the species is native to, and not rare within, the county indicated.

Scientific synonyms for this species include Gaura parviflora (varieties typica, parviflora, and lachnocarpa), Gaura australis, and Gaura mollis (James) - the latter being different from the plant species identified by Renner as Oenothera mollis.  Other English Common Names include Velvetweed, Velvety Gaura, Lizard-tail Gaura, and Willow Gaura.

The photograph above shows the growth habit of this species, prior to blooming.  The stem is erect.  As the flower buds begin to develop the plant begins to “nod” and the flower spikes become wispy, waving elegantly in the mildest breeze.

© Robert Barnes 2018-2023