The first Texas native wildflower that became ingrained in my memory while working on saving a historic Texas ranch headquarters was a little purple, aster flower. Often it was a single stem flower and sometimes it grew in massive patches. Its growth pattern was correlated with annual rainfall amounts. The purple aster flower in question I first learned is what is known locally on the Llano Estacado as Tahoka daisy, Machaeranthera tanacetifolia. It is known as tansy aster outside of the Llano Estacado.
Lately, I have become captivated with learning how wildflowers got their names on the scientific end. How did such a small purple aster get the name of a small Texas town?
Let’s begin with a bit of history of the Texas area known as the Llano Estacado. The Llano Estacado was the prairie we all could only dream of. Seas of unending grasses, hardly a tree in sight, and maybe a lone cholla cactus or a yucca in bloom breaking the sea of grass like the Nessie of Loch Ness breaking the water with her head only to go back under disappearing under the waters. The Llano Estacado was literally a waving sea of grass on land.
As the area slowly developed with people moving to the region to establish their fortunes, ranching became more common by big-name ranchers of Charles Goodnight, H.H. Campbell, C.C. Slaughter, and David DeVitt – just to name a few. With all ranching bobbed wired fences went up keeping cattle confined to those lands. Once the fences went up and grazing began the sea of grasses slowly disappeared.
With the advent of ranching came cowboys, ranch hands, and the women who often kept those men alive to do their jobs.
Rancher C.C. Slaughter liked acquiring land to lease to raise cattle. In 1897 he acquired a lease of 140,000 acres known as Tahoka Lake Ranch in Lynn County through a foreclosure note and later bought the ranch in 1898. He hired a man by the name of Jack Alley to run the ranch. Six years later Slaughter sold the ranch to Alley.
Alley’s wife was named Effie Paralee. Effie was not a typical woman who sat home while her husband was out working cattle. Effie always rode herd with her husband and the cowboys.
Legend has it that Effie first discovered a tiny purple aster flower emerging from the ground at the Tahoka Lake Ranch in 1898. Imagine walking on the ranch and discovering this little purple aster with a yellow center and aptly naming it Tahoka daisy. Unfortunately, not much is known about Effie.
It took another twenty-five years for the purple aster to get noticed again this time it was by a Lubbock lady named Roberta Myrick. Roberta was driving south of Lubbock, towards Tahoka, probably on a dirt road, when the lavender color flower caught her eye. It must have been a rainy season for she said it was almost a shrub-like plant covered in purple flowers. Roberta got out of her car and dug up the daisy plant and transported it back to Lubbock to plant it. As the plant went to seed, she saved the seeds and sent them to the Burpee Seed Company in Pennsylvania.
How the seeds became part of the Burpee Seed Company seed production is not clear but they were featured in their catalogs starting about 1925. Burpee has been selling a variety of seeds for 143 years. Their company slogan back then was “The best seeds that grow.”
Not much is known about Roberta except for a few details, not even a known photograph was found of her. Roberta was the first woman to own and drive her own car in Lubbock County. She was a charter member of the Lubbock Garden Club. Most importantly, she loved working with rare flowers. Roberta died at the age of eighty in 1948.
Historically, the tansy aster daisy was officially named by Carl Sigismund Kunth in 1832 as prairie aster. Kunth was a German botanist who categorized and named a diversity of plants. Its scientific name is Machaeranthera tanacetifolia.
Tahoka daisy is a hardy upright sprawling annual native of the Llano Estacado. It is quite easy to recognize with its two-inch lavender-blue flowers, golden-yellow center, and green, fern-like foliage. They prefer sandy or gravelly soil in full sun with a blooming period from May-September.
After one hundred and twenty-one years, the local name of Tahoka daisy has stuck for this native wildflower all because of Effie and Roberta.