Leavenworth’s Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, is a very distinctive member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) which includes the popular culinary herbs: celery, parsley, anise, caraway, coriander, cumin and dill. Eryngo appears in Texas prairies from mid-summer to early fall. The grasslands are dried out and drab brown at this time and the metallic purple color of the Eryngo leaves provide a colorful addition to an otherwise sunburned landscape.
Eryngo is native wildflower found only these states: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. They like limestone rich soils and are able to get by on very little water. Their prickly leaves and flowers make people misidentify these plants as thistle. In fact, false thistle is a common name that some folks use for these plants.
Eryngo provide nectar for honeybees, beeflies, butterflies and other insects during the late summer when most wildflowers have come and gone. Notice the honeybee in the above image and compare it to the beefly in the image below. Beeflies lack a stinger and obtain protection from predators by resembling the honeybee which can sting. This is an example of what biologists call protective mimicry.
The beefly pictured here feeds on nectar like the bees. The females of the species follow solitary bees to their burrows and will lay their eggs in the burrow. The beefly larvae hatch and feed on the solitary bee larva while they grow and develop into new beeflies. This is an example of nest parasitism.
I like to call this last image, Endurance. The seed that became this plant germinated in some pretty tough ground and still managed to grow and flower. Leavenworth’s Eryngo is a pretty amazing plant wherever you find them with their prickly pineapple-shaped flower heads and their iridescent purple leaves popping up at one of the driest times of the year in Texas. Not bad for the purple pineapple of the prairie.