Given the impossibility of being in more than one place at any given time, choices have to be made. During June, multiple trips to east Texas meant neglecting one of my favorite coastal spots: the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. When I returned to the refuge during the Independence Day holiday, there were some surprises.
One of our earliest spring wildflowers, the pink evening primrose, continued to bloom throughout the refuge. I often see its flowers from February through April or May, but it’s much less common during June and July. Field guides say the blooms become smaller, less frequent, and less colorful as the weather gets hotter, so our relatively cool and rainy spring may have allowed it to flourish longer than usual.
Another harbinger of spring, the Indian paintbrush, flaunted its orange-red bracts with unusual verve. It’s not unusual to see an occasional paintbrush during the summer, but the presence of multiple young plants suggested that recent favorable conditions had brought about a flush of new growth.
The Texas bluebell was well past its prime, but buds remained on plants along pond edges and among prairie grasses, suggesting that their season may linger at least a while longer. The patch of white flowers I’ve tracked over the past four years was nowhere to be seen: a reminder of the arbitrary comings and goings of native plants.
On the ponds themselves, green duckweed and red mosquito fern formed dense, colorful carpets, covering the broken reeds scattered over the water’s surface. Duckweeds, tiny, free-floating aquatic perennials about a quarter-inch across, were named for their appeal to feeding ducks and other waterfowl.
Fish enjoy them too. A note on the Missouri Botanical Garden site suggests anyone choosing to grow duckweed in a fish pond might want to “consider keeping a separate stock of plants in a fish-free pond or container, for replenishing supplies in the event the appetites of the fish outpace the supply of plants.”
Like duckweed, mosquito fern is green until excess nutrients in the water or bright sunlight turn it reddish brown.Like all ferns, it propagates through spores, but its ability to multiply by stem fragments as well makes it especially prolific and difficult to remove.
Across from Alligator Nest Pond, a colony of saltmarsh morning glories twined through the reeds and grasses. Remarkably tolerant of salt and able to thrive even in standing water, the plant’s large flowers have a wonderful, satin-like texture that belies their delicate nature. Open by sunrise, they begin to close by late morning: fading like most of us under the Texas heat. The grains of pollen scattered along this one’s petals suggest it’s already been visited: probably by a bee.
A member of the borage family, Mexican olive isn’t a true olive, but its fruit — which looks like a small olive — is palatable to wildlife. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are attracted to its long-lasting flowers. It seemed likely that a flower beetle or other insect had been feeding on these, but I found the combination of white petals and browned edges attractive.
Speaking of feeding, the Carolina wolfberry, also called Christmas berry because of its bright red fruit, provides energy and nutrition for the endangered whooping cranes that arrive in Texas each fall. Found across mud flats and in sandy soils, it not only tolerates standing water but also resists drought, making it a dependable food source.
This primrose, my first discovery of the day, actually lay outside the boundaries of the refuge. Bright and perky, it caught my eye along the edge of the road leading into the refuge, where it had pushed its way through a crack in the blacktop.
Descriptions of the flower usually mention that it grows in protected areas behind sand dunes. This one, miles from the nearest sand dune, was the first I’ve seen in the area. It amused me to think that it, too, might have been out exploring.