Meanwhile, Back at the Refuge

Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa)

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.

Texas Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa)

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.

Prairie gentian or Texas bluebell (Eustoma exaltatum)

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.

Lesser duckweed (Lemna aequinoctialis) and mosquito fern (Azolla caroliniana)

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.

Saltmarsh morning glory (Ipomoea sagittata)

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.

Mexican olive (Cordia boissieri )

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.

Carolina wolfberry ( Lycium carlinianum)

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.

Beach evening primrose (Oenothera drummondii) 

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.

 

Comments always are welcome.

47 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Back at the Refuge

  1. It’s good to see you took refuge among all those native plants. This time you’re ahead of me on species we share: I haven’t seen a single Texas bluebell so far this year. The many droplets on the beach evening primrose are a nice touch.

    1. Isn’t it strange how flowers come and go? When our basket-flowers finally bloomed, they put on a good show, but they were much later than yours, and I still haven’t seen any rain lilies.

      Those dew drops were my reward for getting up early. I arrived about an hour later than I’d planned, but I managed to be there a couple of hours earlier than usual. In my book, that’s progress.

  2. Wonderful series of images. It is not hard to appreciate why Brazoria Wildlife Refuge is one of your favourite spots. Now you need to show us the birds!

    1. Aren’t they pretty? Even people who don’t pay a lot of attention to the natural world have been commenting on how long we’ve stayed green this year. By mid-summer, we’re often beginning to turn a little crispy around the edges.

      Ah, yes — the birds. Actually, on this same day I did sight some birds I’ve only seen once — two or three years ago. They’ll be getting a post of their own; they deserve it.

  3. I think it was exploring, too…and looks amused you spotted it.
    You caught the paintbrush at just the right angle – the petals lifting up like a ballerina after completing a dance.
    (I know somehow flowers all remind men of dancers…the yellow, a polka?)

    1. Polka’s good, but I see one of the dancers from Ballet Folklórico.

      It didn’t occur to me until today that the road where I found the beach primrose recently has been resurfaced. If sand was used in roadbed preparation, that might explain the the presence of a plant often found on the dunes. I read that some Texas construction companies mine sand around the mouth of the Colorado, and there are plenty of the flowers down there. It would be a weird, but fun, way of transplantation.

  4. I saw one bluebell on our way down to the Pedernales River last weekend. First I’ve seen this year, though I haven’t exactly been traipsing where they would be found.

    1. They were widespread across some parts of the refuge, but not in great numbers. It was hard to tell whether they’d been as thick as in the past and had faded, or if it was a natural cycle at work. I did find my first rosy palafox on the same road into the refuge, as well as scads of saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica). There’s always something new to see.

  5. These are so beautiful, Linda. That first one — it’s practically translucent in the pink, reminding me of a very fine china that you can all but see through.

    You mentioned Missouri Botanical Garden. I donate to their butterfly garden each year in memory of Diana. We enjoyed visiting there together on the last time I saw her.

    1. I remember that visit, although I didn’t remember that the two of you went to the Botanical Garden. I think of Diana every time the Mississippi rises; when I wrote about the terrible midwestern flood over a decade ago, that’s how she found my blog. They had gone down to the Arch just to look, and she’d come home and started browsing online for photos and articles. I still miss her.

      Your comparison of the evening primrose to fine china’s a good one. The translucence is noticeable in several of the poppies and mallows; I think it’s one of their best features.

  6. So much beauty here today, Linda — thank you for sharing your finds! I happen to love Morning Glory, and usually, it grows pretty well here, especially on fence lines. For some odd reason, it hasn’t been as prolific this season, probably due to the weird weather. I enjoy the Paintbrush and Bluebonnets, but I find myself fascinated by that Mexican Olive. What a pristine color! The Primrose would naturally draw one’s eye, with that cheery yellow hue. My car’s temperature gauge indicated it was 92 degrees this morning, way before 10 a.m., so we’re in for a hot one. Ugh!

    1. I never think of morning glories of any sort without remembering my dad’s favorite way to wake me in the morning, by saying, “Morning, Glory!” I only knew the cultivated sorts when I was growing up, so it’s a real treat to find the various native ones now. It’s too bad that Mexican olive you like doesn’t grow in the north; even San Antonio’s a little ‘iffy’ for it. But it’s hardy as can be, and everything I read says there aren’t any diseases or insects that bother it.

      It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with 92L, aka Barry. Without a center, there’s no way to predict landfall, but it seems right now to be southwest Louisiana. That’s good for us, of course, but not at all good for them, or even for Mississippi. Maybe it won’t get its act together at all; that would be the best.

        1. It may feel early, but it isn’t. Allison showed up here in the first week of June, 2001, and dumped three feet of rain. It was the first storm of the season, too. I just did a quick skim of the records and found around twenty-four June storms. September and October is peak season, but the early, homegrown critters can do some real damage.

          1. You’re right, Linda. And typically, whatever hits that coastal region ultimately finds its way right up here, where it dumps even more rain (which we don’t need!)

    1. Which ones haven’t you seen? I’m sure you know the pink evening primrose, paintbrush, and beach evening primrose. I found some others that were new to me, even though I’ve seen photos of them: rosy palafox, one of the Lythrum species, and two species of Agalinis. I’m sure of the genera, but I need another look at the leaves and stems. I’m still not as good as I should be at taking photos of every part of the plant — especially when I think I know what I’m looking at (and really don’t).

        1. Of course, I’m learning from the other side of the native/cultivated fence. I know almost nothing about garden plants, so I’m often surprised and delighted by what appears in gardening blogs like yours, too.

    1. Now, that made me laugh. There actually is a lot of open water in the ponds where I took the duckweed photo, and there were a whole lot of ducks happily browsing their way through it. In a smaller pond, though, you’re right that it might need a little ‘disciplining.’

      I did read that in some parts of the world duckweed and azolla are used as ‘green manure’ for increasing yields and reducing nitrogen loss in rice fields. Apparently even side dressing home gardens with the plants provides a bit of a boost: who knew?

    1. I read a few articles about duckweed and aquariums, and hardly could believe what a nuisance the stuff is: how quickly it multiplies, and how hard it is to get rid of. Given its small size, it makes sense that it could hitchhike on other plants. Knowing your source would be important!

  7. I like the shadows of the stamen/pistils on the petal in the first primrose shot, and that striped pink is a very pretty flower. This is a great album, and it’s cool that you thought to include some humble duckweed in with the showy stuff.

    1. The first time I saw duckweed, I thought it was algae. And the first time I saw azolla, I thought it was duckweed that was fading, or diseased, or the victim of a murdering pesticide. Eventually I got it sorted out, and now I enjoy seeing it. For one thing, all those cute waterfowl babies seem to love it, maybe because it’s a baby-sized plant.

      I like those shadows, too. I was pleased to find one open enough that all of the parts and pieces could be seen.

    1. They certainly made an early rising worthwhile, Pete, although I must say an early start’s almost mandatory these days. Not only do the flowers seem to start fading earlier in our heat, photographers do, too!

    1. I was pleased to find one that had opened so nicely. The blooms only last for a day or so, but there often are such large colonies of them, they’ll cover fields or highway right-of-ways. One thing I’ve learned is that they’re more pink in the southern part of their range, and often tend toward white in the north.

  8. Wow, that salt marsh morning glory looks like satin and what a wonderful rich hue. Good on you for getting out early. It’s the best part of the day and often affords us having a place to ourselves for a while. You are fortunate to have the refuge as a place to visit. So much diversity.

    1. When I saw the photo, I was surprised to by that satin-like texture. It wasn’t so noticeable when I found the flowers; it was the vibrant color that attracted me. There are so many pretty mallows and morning glories; I’ll be showing a couple more than I found on the same day.

      Like you, I enjoy mornings, but getting up early on the weekends to go roaming isn’t so appealing after a week of working in the heat. I’ll be glad when sunrise is a little later, and the temperatures are a little lower. The melting point of my good intentions is pretty low this time of year!

      1. I don’t blame you, Linda. Tomorrow morning will be a big test as we are quite humid here too. Probably not Houston humid but pretty damp. If I have my car’s a/c on my glasses fog up when I get out. I am determined though to not miss some small orchids I’ve been watching near the noble prince’s-pine in North Quabbin. I have to admit, I sort of like the sun coming up later. Even though I do get up in plenty of time for the summer sunrise, I prefer to not have to rush out and fly up north. Leisurely is much better.
        Looking forward to more of your flower images.

  9. Beautiful photos, as usual. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the names: red ‘mosquito’ fern and ‘Alligator’ Nest Pond might dissuade a less brave person from exploring this obviously beautiful and rich habitat–I’m glad you’re not such a person. :)

    You mention that several plants are still around, somewhat out of their blooming range. I still have a columbine blooming! I’ve never, ever seen a columbine blooming in July. I’m not complaining, mind you, but still it’s a nice little gift this summer. It’s all about the rain, I think. I don’t typically water much, but this year, the skies are providing plenty.

    1. Actually, the mosquito fern got its name for a good reason. Its tendency to cover the surface of the water reduces the area where mosquito larvae can breed. That’s a big plus, for sure. Now, if the alligators could read the signs and limit themselves to their pond, that would be good, too. Unfortunately, they’re everywhere right now. It’s a little unnerving to turn from photographing a flower and suddenly hear that bellow from only a few feet away — but they really don’t want a confrontation any more than we do, so it’s all good.

      I think you’re right about the rain and cloudy days extending the blooms for some of the flowers. On the other hand, others were noticeably late this year; perhaps too much water was the issue for them.

    1. I’m not surprised you like the color — it’s much like that of your favorite wine cups. When I think of circle skirts, I don’t think of anything so elegant as this. Instead, I remember my poodle skirt: a perfect circle of gray flannel, with a knitted and appliqued poodle sporting a rhinestone collar. Mom always did love a good project.

  10. The pink evening primrose always takes me back to a friend’s garden, a sloping infertile ground facing the ocean, and yet these grew rampant for some years. She would have adored that saltmarsh morning glory – and even I – not a lover of pink, am charmed by it.
    Cheers for the wild places that still exist, and the folk who care for them. We need wild places, if only for the reason that we don’t realise the treasures they hold. Simply trust their right to BE.

    1. The pink evening primrose are hardy little things. They’ll set up shop almost anywhere, and thrive. One thing that saves them from what I think of as ‘terminal pinkness’ is the mixture of pink and white they display, and their delicacy. On the other hand, I think the salt marsh morning glory profits from that touch of blue in its color. It’s not quite mauve, and certainly not burgundy, but it’s a nice, rich color that really is pleasing.

      Here’s your bit of irony for the day. After getting all philosophical about the NY blackout and such, I came home from work today to discover my internet had gone kaput. I’ll spare you the details, but even a trip to get a new modem didn’t help, and now I await the guru who’s to arrive on Wednesday to fix me up. He’d better. I can work around a few issues, but I can’t get to my photos. Oh, woe!

    1. They’re not precisely ‘night’ blooming, but they don’t begin to open until afternoon. If it’s cloudy, they may open by 3 or 4 p.m., but a little later seems common. That’s when I’ve seen them, at any rate. They close the next morning.

      I’m still processing some photos of unusual-to-me flowers from my east Texas travels; there are some real beauties in that bunch. Right now, I can’t do anything until I get my internet connection back. I can use Photoshop and Lightroom for processing, but I can’t get the photos off my computer without an internet connection. At least, I haven’t figured it out yet. In a couple of days, I hope to be back to what passes for normal around here.

        1. I was frustrated enough last night to just go to bed and let things be, but when I got up this morning, I did a little search, and found it’s apparently possible to transfer photos from a PC to an iPad using iTunes. I’m going to set that little project aside for the time being and wait for the tech visit, but at least it seems that those of us not living entirely in the Apple world can still function: sort of. Now I’m really glad I installed iTunes on my computer; it seems it’s good for more than music.

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