Water Colors

View from the Big Slough boardwalk ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

When August-like heat, typical Houston haze, and Saharan dust combine to create nearly-unbearable days and uncomfortable nights, a trip to the water is in order.

Some prefer Gulf beaches, but for those whose taste runs to fewer people, less traffic, and fewer beer-fueled antics, one of the area’s wildlife refuges can be the perfect destination. A new boardwalk over the Brazoria refuge’s Big Slough provides occasional glimpses of alligators and birds, while inviting admiration of aquatic plants thriving there in the summer’s heat.

Water lily (Nymphaea spp.)

With blue sky above and clear water below, this lily’s  reflection couldn’t have been more refreshing. 

At first, I assumed it to be our native white water lily — Nymphaea odorata — but that plant floats on the water and closes by noon or early afternoon. These flowers stood well above the water, and continued to bloom until late afternoon. The spots on their sepals suggested they might be dotleaf water lily, but the leaves didn’t seem quite right.

Whichever species they might be, their afternoon display was lovely.

Here, a flower and bud are surrounded by a combination of duckweed and Carolina mosquito fern: velvety green fronds that turn reddish in full sun. A staple in still or slow-moving waters, the fern sometimes is confused with the so-called red tide: a microscopic algae (Karenia brevis) that occasionally appears in Gulf waters. But this plant is harmless unless it completely covers a pond, when it can reduce the water’s oxygen content.

Water lily and bud surrounded by Carolina mosquito fern (Azolla caroliniana)

Like blue water, these tiny red plants provided a fine backdrop for the white lilies. Elsewhere, a more subtle green was the order of the day, as a different sort of bud — still unidentified — rose from the water.

Lovely as red, blue, and green might be, no summer is complete without a bit of yellow. Only two hours after I arrived at the boardwalk, several of these gorgeous native water lilies began to open. The common name ‘banana lily’ hardly fits such a beautiful flower; another common name — ‘sun lotus’ — seems more appropriate.

Yellow water lily (Nymphaea mexicana)

The Saharan dust is moving on and rain is in the forecast, but there are weeks of heat ahead. I can’t think of a better way to cope than by revisting this slough, and these lilies.


Comments always are welcome.


55 thoughts on “Water Colors

  1. To my mind, the reflection adds something special to the first picture.

    Never heard of Carolina mosquito ferns. They sure beat mosquitoes.

    The yellow water lily sure is a gorgeous flower.

    1. It’s rare that I come across such clear water, so the reflection was especially nice. Even the ripples add to the effect. As for the Carolina fern, I first saw it at Armand Bayou, and was certain it was something nasty. I asked another visitor about it, and learned its identity. It still amazes me that it can live on the water and reproduce by spores.

      I think the yellow lily’s gorgeous, and I like that the water below it has an empty space that reflects the shape of the flower.

  2. Beautiful lilies. Majestically rising out of the water. There is a magic lotus lily pond in Ubud, Bali. The situation in front of a Hindu temple but…since a few years ago … a Starbuck café joins it now.
    The big Slough and its serenity is much more attractive.

    1. I wondered what kind of magic was being wrought in Ubud, so I looked it up and found more reviews of the temple and pond than I cared to read. I did smile at those I browsed; they were filled with comments like, “Worth a couple of minutes to look at the flowers.” I suspect they might have been worth more than a couple of minutes. What I’m sure of is that, given the location of the temple and pond in Ubud, the Big Slough is much more serene.

    1. Thanks so much. I found some of your water lily photos in your blog, and was astonished by the colors. As with so many flowers, the variety is remarkable.

      I still smile when I see your name. Every time I read it, an old Jimmy Buffett song comes to mind, and then it takes a few hours for me to stop hearing it in my mind.

  3. Lovely post Linda! I love water lilies and lotuses (obsessed, I must say). May be my obsession with the Sun and the Moon led me to this love for their lovers! I have rambled on both the flowers in my blogs.
    The yellow lily looks so beautiful! There is a myth on a ‘blue lotus’ associated with a temple in our village in Kerala. Though it is called the ‘blue lotus’ the flower is not nelumbo nucifera but a variety of water lily.
    Your title is so apt for the month, as July is the World Watercolor Month.
    Lovely and heartwarming read on a bright morning this side!

    1. I had no idea this has been designated World Watercolor Month, but what a nice bit of coincidence. I’m going to have to stop by and see what you’ve written about the flowers, and the role they play in your myths and culture.

      Both water lilies and lotus are beautiful. We have Nelumbo lutea here, and I have just a few photos of its leaves and seed pods. I should make the effort to cross the bay to a place where I know it grows, and see if I can get some photos of it in bloom, too.

    1. I also saw the rose resemblance. It might be the beginning bud of the white water lily I showed, although the buds of those seem differently shaped. Perhaps they elongate as they grow. Or, it could be that there are some N.odorata mixed in, and this will open as a flower that floats on the water. Clearly, another trip is in order to sort all this out.

  4. I try to avoid the neighborhood fireworks, so this would be a great idea for me. Maybe I’ll hit the wetlands near me or Morikami Park for the holiday.

    1. I did feel sorry for our town’s planners last night. They’d scheduled our big fireworks show a day early so it wouldn’t compete with other shows in the area, and they got more than they bargained for. We had a terrific, lightning-filled storm that dumped over three inches of rain in an hour just at sunset. I was at a meeting and decided to drive home at the height of the storm, rather than waiting until after full dark. It was enough excitement for me — not as pretty as fireworks, but far more impressive. Happy 4th, however you spend it!

  5. That yellow lily, and the whole water park, looks beautiful.
    Starting with the 2nd para. after “Water lily (Nymphaea spp.),” some of the sentences seem to be on top of each other, and overlaying the next two photos. I don’t know if that is deliberate, or a WP glitch, just thought I’d mention it.
    Hope you have a great 4th! Long live the Revolution!

    1. I don’t see the overlapping you mentioned, but I made some adjustments in the text editor. Did it help? If not, I don’t have a clue. I’ve never seen that happen.

    2. It’s actually not a water park, but a refuge that includes a variety of settings: bluestem prairie, salt marsh, freshwater ponds, and bayous. I’ve always headed for the sloughs and brackish ponds where the birds collect, as well as the the prairie for the sake of its flowers, but this pond certainly deserves more attention.

      Happy Independence Day to you!

  6. A new boardwalk! YEA! (but will have to wait until fall to be explored – I feel like a vampire hiding from the sun with this heat)
    Places much nicer than the beach this time of year. Those Lilies remind me of olympic ice skaters – just as graceful
    (Oh, didn’t see any overlap…but as it’s a holiday week, I expect WP techies to be fiddling with stuff in the back room)

    1. The boardwalk’s new in the sense of being rebuilt, actually, but it’s still a lovely thing. It leads to one of the best hiking trails that winds all along Big Slough. The advantage of that trail in summer is the shade; the disadvantage is the mosquitos. They’re out in force now, and just as annoying as you remember.

      I’m surprised you didn’t mention frog-stranglers in your current post. You must have been in town last night and missed the excitement here. I was over at UHCL, and when the rain started, the frogs in the demonstration garden came out to dance — it was wonderful to see.

  7. Better than the people-infused beach; probably cooler as well. BNWR is a favorite to go except in times of maximum mosquito hatching (when we won’t even get out of the car).

    Lovely lilies, Linda! (La la la la ..)

    1. I’m sorry to say it’s not been a bit cooler there, but you can find all the mosquitos you want. They’ve not been bad until the past week; apparently Brazoria County agrees, since the first aerial spraying just took place.

      Given the rain, it’s going to be an inside holiday, but after getting a good look at the empty ponds and cracked mud flats at the refuge, I’ll not complain. We’ve needed this rain, and the slower it moves, the happier I’ll be. The lilies will like it, too.

        1. Brazoria County’s pretty good. They announce their spraying ahead of time in various ways, so that people who have special circumstances — like beekeepers — can have them avoid their property. I’m sure they’re careful around the refuges.

  8. Perfect pictures, Linda. Thanks for sharing them. I really think that wildlife refuge needs to be on our agenda the next time we’ll be in that area.
    Have a wonderful 4th,

    1. I think you and Mary would enjoy it, Pit. It’s a wonderful visit in spring or fall. Summer has its pleasures, but it also has abysmal heat, humidity, and mosquitos. None of those are on anyone’s “must do” list. It’s actually part of a complex, and the San Bernard Refuge, about a half-hour west, is just as appealing. It’s a little different — more trees, for example — and it’s back in shape after Hurricane Harvey, too. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s open and great fun to visit.

      I hope you get some of the rain that’s moving through here. We got three inches last night, and it’s been raining steadily this morning. It’s supposed to be through here by afternoon, and headed west.

      Happy Independence Day to you and Mary.

      1. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll make it a tradition to go to Galveston for my birthday. Then we could do the Wildlife Refuge.
        Unfortunately, we didn’t get much out of the current rainfall. Not much more than a drizzle. I haven’t checked the raingage yet, but from afar it doesn’t look promising.
        Have a great day,

  9. Water lilies are such a beautiful flower. What kind of insects use those flowers? We have some areas around here where the water lilies grow. I have only seen the white variety. There are a lot of yellow wildflowers growing all over the area. The bee balm plants are also beginning to bloom. I like their pink flowers.

    1. I saw dragonflies perched on them, and lots of spider webs. There were some tiny flies, too: or some sort of fly-like insect. They were much smaller than hoverflies and I don’t have any photos that do them justice. I think I might have some nice ones of the dragonflies; now all I need to do is identify the species. I’ve read that bees and butterflies enjoy them, too, but I didn’t see any of those.

      Our bee balm has come and is almost gone. There are several varieties around here. I just got a new Texas wildflower field guide that’s superb, and it lists seven varieties across the state. The nice thing about this new book is that it covers all of Texas’s eco-regions, so I can carry it with me to other parts of the state — and it has a laminated cover with a ruler on the back, in inches and centimeters. It’s one of those good ideas that seems obvious as soon as you see it.

      1. “…one of those good ideas…” I like a good idea. I’ve come up with some myself.

        The ocean bottom vessel in the live streams had 2 parallel laser beams 10 cm apart in the field of view of the HD camera. It made for quick estimates of specimen sizes. That was a good one.

        Happy 4th to you. We have no fireworks to set off. The town and some neighbors will take care of that later tonight. BOOM!

    1. A happy Fourth to you, too, Kayti. I’ve paid so little mind to water lilies I’d never noticed that some of their flowers float, and some stand tall on stems. There’s another native that’s blue (Nymphaea elegans. It’s uncommon, but shown in Brazoria County, so maybe one day I’ll see it, too.

  10. Cool shots for a hot, hot day…days. Weeks. In my pond, there are currently no blooms, but plenty of foliage. One of my lily plants produces foliage which stand tall and reaches for the sun, much like the flowers in your lovely shot.

    1. Our heat finally has been broken by inches of rain. I hope it makes it to your neighborhood. I had to laugh when I saw my stats filled with search terms like “what plant predicts rain?” and “what does it mean when the sage blooms?” Apparently the cenizo burst into bloom, and people got curious about the “barometer bush.”

      Do you have native lilies in your pond, or hybrids? I just learned that a hybrid yellow lily called N. Texas Dawn is our state water lily. It was created in 1985 and adopted in 2011. It still seems silly to me to have non-native plants and hybrids as state this-and-that, but this one does have quite an interesting story, and it was developed by a Texan, so there’s that.

  11. Beautiful! We’ve got a small heatwave here at the moment (another couple of weeks of it, apparently, then I expect we’ll get storms.) It’s nothing compared to where you are, but I find the temps very difficult to cope with.

    Our little pond has waterlillies, not seen any standing to attention like these, though!

    1. From what I’ve read, your temperatures haven’t been so terribly different from ours. Humidity makes a difference, of course, but heat is heat. Ours has broken in true Texas fashion, with flooding rains. I hope you get some cooling soon, and some rain, too.

      It must be delightful to have these waterlilies nearby. I’ve always thought of them as an exotic plant, so it was quite a surprise to finally realize that a few species are native here. We have a native lotus, too. I need to visit the spot where I know I can find those, and see if I can find some blooms.

      1. Often we have high humidity which makes things difficult. I haven’t looked at the weather in your neck of the woods, I hope the floods aren’t as bad as last year.

        Yes, lovely to have the waterlilies. Equally lovely are the little whirligig beetles that swim round and round on the surface of the pond, and the reflections in the water, and all the surrounding plants. The lotus sounds great!

  12. Those gorgeous lilies and their accompanying ferns and duckweed certainly give the slough a refreshing appeal! Were it available here, I know I would visit it often!

    1. It’s a beautiful spot, Terry. You’d like it. Even on the busiest days, it’s a large enough area that people can spread out and not get in each other’s way.

      It’s quiet right now, but there are many species of birds that can be seen on a regular basis: gallinules, moorhens, coots, whistling ducks, red-winged blackbirds, and the occasional heron or egret. I found a new species of dragonfly there on the day I took these photos, and a butterfly I’ve never seen. I’ve no idea about their identities, but I’ll figure it out and post their photos — both are beautiful.

  13. I love water lilies, their big green floating pads and their delicately colored flowers. I didn’t know that water lilies’ flowers opened and closed based on time of day, but it makes sense. Friends in Spokane have a lily pond in their back yard, smaller companion to their larger koi pond.

    When I saw that top picture with the stands of reeds (cattails?) and the quiet water channels, I thought of bitterns, coots and rails, and baby Moses in his basket in the bullrushes. And the blackbirds with their red and yellow epaulets sounding their calls while perching on reed stems.

    We’re hot, too, although we’ve been having some afternoon and evening showers off and on — boy, did we need the moisture! We’ve been baking in the heat for quite a while now. But the humidity has climbed to up in the 50’s%, we’re supposed to get a long weekend’s worth of it, and everybody is noodle limp with it (was that a guffaw I heard just now?). AC’s are being set on “stun” all over town except here. Mine remains steadfastly set on 80°F/26.6C. We have a 40% chance of thunderboomers on Saturday. Hope we get one with lots of boom but no grapeshot (hail), just a good hard rain.

    1. Your thought of the birds was exactly on target. The place is a magnet for a variety of birds. I’ve never seen a bittern there, but the coots and moorhens can be thick, as well as night herons, the occasional great blue heron, and of course the red-winged blackbirds. There are some alligators, too, and a prim little sign that suggests feeding them might not be the best course of action.

      You betcha that was a guffaw. We’d kill for 50% humidity. On the other hand, we’re getting deluged right now. My area got about four inches last night, and it’s still raining. Pearland’s sitting under a big old blob, and Houston proper has the usual street flooding going on: six inches is the latest total I heard. We need it, and the refuges need it, too. Many of the ponds have dried up — my hope is that they’ll get enough to entice some of the wading birds back.

  14. Beautiful images, and the title is very appropriate. I have seen Nymphaeas, but I’m hoping to find a ‘Nelumbo lutea’ one day. I know Steve from ‘Portrait of Wildflowers’ did. ‘Nelumbo’ is the other genus of water lilies (Nelumbo lutea being the Native American). Here’s the link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelumbo). Sometimes they are so far from reach that one just has to be lucky to get a good glimpse of them. They bloom at night and begin closing up by late morning.

    1. Plants in the Nelumbo genus seem to be called lotus rather than water lily. It’s a fine distinction in some ways, since both grow in the water and have similar blooms.

      N. lutea is native to my county (Galveston) but it also appears in Chambers County, across Galveston Bay. It’s not shown there on the USDA map, but it does appear on the BONAP map. I’ve seen it in the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge, but always have been too late to find anything but the foliage and seed pods. Here’s a photo of those from September, 2015.

      I’m glad you mentioned them. I ought to go back over there and see if they’re in bloom; I’ve been wanting to make another visit, anyway. It’s a bit of a hassle to get there on weekends, because of the crowds in Galveston and the need to take the ferry across the channel. It can be a very long wait. Perhaps I’ll try to open up a day in the middle of the week to make the jaunt.

      1. That’s right, the Lotus is a genus in itself from a totally different family: the ‘Nelumbonaceae’. The ‘Nymphaea’ is another family, not related to the Lotus at all. Thanks for reminding me.

  15. Absolutely gorgeous and so beautifully photographed. Love that yellow water lily (and I’m not a big fan of yellow flowers normally).
    Those high white lilies, (whatever the name), look to be very similar to the lovely mauve ones I’ve photographed on Nymphaea Lake in the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Melbourne.
    I wonder………

    1. That’s right — I remember that you’re the blue flower lover. I very much enjoy yellow flowers, but the composites confuse the heck out of me. There are so many, and the differences can be slight. But this one? there’s not much mistaking it. There are some cultivars that are close, but from what I’m told they tend to be larger, have more petals, more vivid color, different leaves, and so on.

      In the process of putting together this post, I learned that there’s a highly-regarded water lily garden in San Angelo, Texas. That’s more than a day trip away, but if I’m ever in the neighborhood, I’d certainly take time to visit.

    1. They do have just a bit of a painterly effect, don’t they? If they were a bit more impressionistic, I could add them to Paris in July, dont you think? I would like to manage a trip to the refuge to see them in the very early morning, but somehow I haven’t made that happen yet. Soon, I hope!

    1. Why, thank you. That’s a lovely compliment. Evoking thoughts of Monet certainly isn’t the worst thing a group of photos could do. Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting.

  16. This is the type of place where I could easily lose time! Quite magical, love those tall water lilies, delightful. We are in the middle of a heatwave, but your heat sounds far worse, here’s to rain for all of us.xxx

    1. I’m not sure about the heat, Dina. Some of the reports I’ve read from your part of the world sound ever so much worse than anything we’re experiencing here. Everyone grumps, of course, but the rain does help. We’ve had some, and I hope you have, too.

      Water lilies love water, of course, so I suspect these are even happier. No doubt the wading birds are, as well. Many of their ponds had dried up; I’ll be interested to see what they look like when next I’m able to visit.

      On another subject entirely — is Peanut still with you, or has the great capture-and-move taken place?

  17. I agree, this refuge would be a far better place than the beach! Thanks for explaining the red fern – very interesting. And the lilies are so lovely.

    1. What most intrigues me about the little floating fern is that it tends toward the fuzziness end of the scale. I always expect water plants to be smooth and slick, but this one isn’t. I think the lilies are beautiful, too. I’ve always thought of them as cultivated plants, but of course they do grow wild. I was curious whether there might be native water lilies around the San Juans. I didn’t get that question answered with any certainty (it seems not) but I did find a reference to a chocolate lily there. I can’t wait for you to go exploring!

  18. Your waterlilies remind me of the times I visited the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, and would stay mesmerised by the flowers, or pods, or leaves, or all aspects of the plants.
    I especially loved the yellow one here!

    1. Isn’t the yellow one pretty? I learned that its leaves are bi-colored, too: green on top, and red beneath. One site suggested that the leaves often will curl up, displaying both colors. I’d love to find that.

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