Beauty In the Midst of Beastly Ice

Ice-encased Texas mountain laurel ~ Dermatophyllum secundiflorum
photo courtesy of Tahlia Sowa-Gutierrez/CBS Austin

In 1972, a long-haul trucker persuaded my parents to choose a Dallas motel over a trek across ice-covered north Texas and Oklahoma roads. In 1990, certain live-aboard sailors on Clear Lake had to be freed from their boats by chipping off the ice that surrounded them.

When the ice of 1997 arrived in southeast Texas on January 12th of that year, more than an inch collected on power lines and trees until temperatures finally began to moderate on the afternoon of the 14th. Despite the thaw, three-quarters of the area between Houston, Beaumont, and Lake Charles remained cold and dark for as much as five days. And of course during Valentine’s week in 2021, the entire state went into the deep freeze, causing immeasurable misery.

During the 1990 event, I said to one of my dockmates, “You Texans may not do snow, but you sure know how to do ice.” This week, central and north Texas had yet another turn at ‘doing ice.’ Conditions are miserable for far too many people, but moments of amusement, delight, and awe have appeared in the midst of the chaos.

I found a bit of unexpected beauty in Austinite Tahlia Sowa-Gutierrez’s photo of one of my favorite Texas plants. Native to limestone soils in central and southwest Texas, as well as to the Chisos and Davis mountains, Texas mountain laurel flowers remind many people of wisteria; wonderfully fragrant, their scent resembles that of grape Kool-Aid.

In areas north of hardiness Zone 8, flowering isn’t reliable because late freezes often damage the buds. How this week’s freeze will affect trees farther south is hard to say, but many mountain laurels survived the 2021 week-long freeze, producing both flowers and seeds in its wake. We’ll hope the same for many of our native plants —  especially the tough mountain laurel.

Mountain Laurel at the Texas Revolution Monument ~ Cost, Texas, March 26, 2022
A survivor in bloom at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge ~ May 15, 2022

Comments always are welcome.

A Few Lines for the Winter-Weary

The Hollow ~ Chris Mousseau

As January ended in Prince Edward County, Ontario, this is the view that greeted Chris Mousseau: a jumble of snow and branches decorating a local hollow. When I came across it on Chris’s Country Gardening site, it brought to mind Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man,” a poem capable of evoking the strange sense of hollowness that sometimes sets in during the wait for spring.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Comments always are welcome.
For more information on poet Wallace Stevens, please click here.

A New Answer to an Old Question

Texas Dandelion ~ Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus

Each year, as shrubs begin to bud and a flush of nearly-green begins to overtake lawns and roadsides, I remember the teasing question from my childhood:

Spring has come, the grass is riz!
I wonder where the flowers iz?

Yesterday, the beginning of this year’s answer came when I discovered some of the first of my beloved spring flowers.

Texas dandelions, visually similar to the European dandelions but in a different genus, suddenly have appeared on small town residential streets and county roads; despite being few in number and a bit bedraggled, they are a welcome sight.

Because of a late, after-errands start, I easily could have missed them. Their showy flowers, composed entirely of ray florets, open early, but close in only a few hours. Somewhat later in the day, when I passed down the same road where I’d found the one shown above, no flowers were visible.

Ten-petal Anemone ~ Anemone berlandieri

Knowing that Ten-petal Anemones have appeared a bit to the north, I stopped by the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge to check a small, meadow-like area where I’ve found them in the past. Numerous flowers had emerged despite a relatively recent mowing; in time, they will overspread the area and host a variety of pollinators.

Texas Vervain ~ Verbena halei

The unexpected prize of the day was a scattering of Texas Vervain at the end of the Brazoria refuge’s auto tour route. Flowering beneath a sign near the Rogers Pond viewing platform, they obviously hadn’t consulted a calendar. March seems to be considered the beginning of their season, but at this spot a variety of flowers appear early or linger late into the fall. Prickly pear, verbena, Indian paintbrush, and firewheels mix with a variety of salt marsh plants, and even ladies’ tresses orchids have popped up in the past.

It’s time to begin looking.


Comments always are welcome.

A Sweet & Sour Flower

Slender Yellow Woodsorrel ~ Oxalis dillenii

As I left Walden West, the last flower I encountered was the Violet Woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea). Not long after, I discovered a few Slender Yellow Woodsorrels at the Laffite’s Cove Nature Preserve on Galveston Island. One of several native pink and yellow Oxalis species that can be found in Texas, they’re among our earliest-blooming spring flowers.

Derived from the Greek word for ‘acid,’ Oxalis sometimes is translated as ‘sour.’ Both the leaves and flowers have a somewhat sour taste because of the oxalic acid they contain, but in small quantities they’re not toxic to humans, and often are included in salads.

On a sweeter note, the leaves surrounding the small, half-inch flowers are divided into three heart-shaped leaflets perfect for a Valentine’s Day bouquet, and various insects, like this hoverfly, clearly enjoy finding a sweet spring treat.


Comments always are welcome.

Sometimes, It Is the Berries

Possumhaw ~ San Bernard Wildlife Refuge

Like other slang phrases from the 1920s — invoking such fancies as bees’ knees, or cats in pajamas — I grew up hearing my parents and their friends commend something they considered especially fine by saying, “It’s the berries.” 

The expression sounds dated today, but the colors adorning our late winter landscape truly are ‘the berries’ in every sense of the word. As leaves fall and berry-laden branches of Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) become increasingly visible, their variety makes the wait for spring wildflowers more enjoyable.

Red predominates in both of these members of the holly family, but where eye-catching yellow and orange appear, they demand attention.

Yaupon ~ Artist Boat, Galveston Island
Possumhaw ~ Brazoria County Road 203


Comments always are welcome.