On my first post-Harvey visit to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t help smiling at the profusion of water-loving plants I found in and along the ditches: Mexican primrose-willow (Ludwigia octovalvis), salt marsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), Texas spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme), and broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia).
Equally eye-catching, though not at all familiar, was a small collection of milkweeds growing not far from one of the open roads on the refuge. I’d already seen large colonies of slim milkweed (Asclepias linearis) and green antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis) in bud or bloom, so the presence of another milkweed wasn’t so surprising. What did surprise me was the structure of the plant, and the beautiful white flowers.
When I consulted one of my favorite online guides to milkweed identification, published by Texas Parks and Wildlife, it showed an image similar to the plants I had found, and described its usual habitat as moist, bottomland hardwood forests of river deltas, marsh edges, sloughs, swamps, and coastal prairie potholes.
A note had been appended to the plant’s description: “This milkweed species has heavily declined in Texas. Please notify us via email if you document a population of this milkweed in Texas.”
Of course I sent an email, with a copy to Thomas Adams, a botanist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who works at the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Brazoria refuge.
He confirmed the identity of the plant, adding in an email that it isn’t common in the area of Brazoria County where the refuge is located. In an interesting side note, he added:
The larger populations are in and around bottomland forests. I consider this plant #1 for attracting monarchs, but the danger is the plant grows in standing water. Therefore, larvae can be trapped when they need to move on to pupate.
While I didn’t see any monarchs — or butterflies of any sort — around the milkweeds, I did find some interesting little creatures hidden among the flowers. Perhaps they were equally pleased to find such unusual plants blooming in an area that has tended to be — prior to Harvey — grassy and dry.
To paraphrase an old saying, a flood may taketh away, but sometimes a flood giveth as well.