If You Burn It, They Will Come

As spring deepens into summer, I’m always eager for the appearance of basket flowers. They grow in a large swath across the state, so I’m as likely to see them in the hill country as along local fencelines, but I’ve never found them at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge — until this past July.

The pair shown above were some of the last buds in a colony overspreading a berm that separates a small, water-filled ditch from Olney Pond. The berm itself is only about twelve feet wide; the basket-flowers covered it from edge to edge, and extended along the length of the berm for perhaps fifteen or twenty feet.

When I stopped there last October, that same area was covered with balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum), a pan-tropical, introduced, and quite invasive plant that easily smothers more desirable natives. (Another species, the Chihuahuan balloonvine (C. dissectum) is native to Texas, but limited to Starr, Zapata, and Hildalgo counties along the Rio Grande.)

A month later, in mid-November, all that was left of the balloon vine was a collection of fire-scorched vines, seed pods, and seeds. Clearly, a prescribed burn had taken place: the smallest I’d ever seen.

It made perfect sense that fire had been used to clear the area, just as it’s used to manage much larger sections of refuges, prairies, and woodlands around the country.

Prescribed fires clear the way for native grasses and forbs to thrive, but they also allow for some surprises: acres of spider lily where none have been seen; blue star spreading across fire-blackened ditches; and American basket-flower, taking advantage of a newly opened neighborhood with surprising panache.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

 

A Pair of Palafoxes

Rosy palafox (Palafoxia rosea) ~ Brazoria County, Texas

History connects Pensacola, Florida with a small group of lovely flowers scattered across the southern United States, including Texas. Both the genus — Palafoxia — and Palafox Street, the boulevard that lies at the heart of Pensacola’s colonial town, are named after General José de Palafox y Melzi, a Spanish nobleman and military hero.

The connection is understandable, since Pensacola is the site of the nation’s oldest European settlement.

Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna sailed into what we know as Pensacola Bay in August of 1559, charged by Spain’s viceroy of Mexico, Luis de Velasco, with establishing a settlement there.  

Luna arrived in Pensacola six years before Admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés reached Florida’s Atlantic Coast and founded St. Augustine, generally regarded as the oldest city in the United States. Had it not been for a hurricane, Pensacola might have held on to that honor, but as the Smithsonian points out, only the Menéndez colony endured:

On September 19, 1559, only weeks after he dropped anchor, a powerful hurricane blew in from across the bay, sinking all but three of Luna’s ships.
Luna dispatched a remaining ship to Veracruz, Mexico, in hopes of enlisting rescuers. For more than a year, the settlers hung on, their numbers and stores dwindling. At last, some vessels arrived to transport survivors to safe haven in Havana. By spring of 1561, only a military outpost remained; in August, its handful of soldiers abandoned the site and returned to Mexico.
It would be 1698 before Spain established another garrison in Pensacola.
Reverchon’s palafox (Palafoxia reverchonii) ~ Hardin County, Texas

Whether those earliest Spanish explorers noticed Florida’s coastal plain palafox (P. integrifolia)  or its endemic relative (P. feayi) is hard to say. But eventually the flowers did get noticed and named.

By the 1800s, botanical exploration was common, and Julien Reverchon, a French botanist who collected in Texas during the late 1800s, was honored by having his name attached to one of our state’s several species.

 

Comments always are welcome.
To see yet another Texas Palafox species, visit Steve Schwartzman’s Portraits of Wildflowers, here.