A Little Old, A Little New

Dwarf palmetto leaf with gold yaupon ~ Artist Boat, Galveston Island

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, we mark the move from one year to the next with ringing bells, fireworks, and more-or-less accomplished versions of “Auld Lang Syne.” On New Year’s Day, different human conventions hold sway. We change calendars, make resolutions, and eat special foods to ensure luck or money in the coming year.

But these are human foibles. Nature hangs no calendar and watches no clock. Old and new keep comfortable company at year’s end, and at the Artist Boat on Galveston Island, I found a lovely year-end mix.

The golden yaupon shown above — probably the cultivar known as Saratoga Gold — is a new addition to the Artist Boat landscape. Several trees line the boardwalk leading to the bird observatory now, and the birds obviously enjoy the berries.

On the other side of the boardwalk, a relative of the better-known silverleaf nightshade, known as eastern black nightshade or West Indian nightshade, bloomed prolifically. Despite its common name, it’s a Texas native, with tiny flowers only a half-inch wide when fully opened.

The day I found it blooming, great clouds of bees skillfully “buzzed” the banana-like anthers, vibrating the flowers with their bodies to encourage the flowers’ pollen to fall from the anthers’ tips.

Lovely Gaillardias were everywhere, in every stage of bud, bloom, and decline.

At least two native plants in Texas carry the name Spanish needles: Bidens bipinnata, and this lovely Bidens pilosa (also known as Bidens alba). I don’t remember finding these before, and was delighted to discover a few in a corner of the preserve.When I noticed this striking seedhead forming, it took me a minute to realize it was the same Macartney rose I’d shown blooming in a previous post. As pretty as the flower is, this seemed even more striking to me: a summery, sunny glow at the turning of the year.


Comments always are welcome.

48 thoughts on “A Little Old, A Little New

  1. Your collection is proof to people in other regions that even in the winter Texas has a scattering of wildflowers. I might be startled by the Gaillardia if I hadn’t come across isolated specimens of it “out of season” so often myself in Austin.

    I’ve seen occasional possumhaws with yellow fruit, apparently natural, but never a yaupon with yellow fruit. Your explanation that it’s likely a cultivar accounts for that.

    1. I was sure it was yaupon, but Artist Boat confirmed it. It is a cultivar; the trees were purchased and planted since you were there. The only thing I’m unsure of is which cultivar, since the person I talked to didn’t know, but the Saratoga Gold’s available at several local nurseries.

  2. The first pic is really good. I never knew about the gold yaupon and I just love it. I have two red ones and wish that I had planted more. Some years the berry crop is really good. This year the crop seems to be a lighter and less showy. I find all the photos very interesting.

    1. Like Steve, I’ve seen yellow and orange possumhaw, but the yaupon surprised me. Since there were several newly planted trees, I assumed they had to be a cultivar. It is interesting how the crop varies from year to year. Last year, they were thick down here. This fall, it’s been a little lighter. I suppose they go through cycles, just like the acorns and pecans.

      I like that first photo, too. Seeing the yaupon and palmetto together made me smile. Just as the seasons can blend into one another, so can plants typical of different regions.

  3. All lovely, but it’s the shot of the bee that I love the most. A great selection for the season.
    Bees are particularly on my mind at present, given the state of the burning country, especially the special area of Kangaroo Island – and I fear these special bees have little chance of survival. (Here’s a video.)

    1. I couldn’t see your other link about the Ligurian bees. My anti-virus program blocked it as a dangerous site, so I took it down. Even when I copied and pasted the URL in a search engine, it was blocked. Here’s one from Atlas Obscura, and another interesting one that has more details and links. And here is the link to that great video.

      I was more than a little surprised to see in reports about the fires on Kangaroo Island that some of the high-end resorts had brush, trees, and other plantings right up to the buildings. Obviously, the causes of the fires are complex, but given that fire has been a long-time threat in the area, it just surprised me. It’s a lesson they’ve had to learn the hard way in California, too.

      1. Good research Linda.
        I’m not sure about those resorts, but it wouldn’t surprise me about the vegetation. I don’t believe in planting close to buildings for a number of reasons, not just bushfire. That said, there are some plants that are fire retardant and can be successfully used in landscaping.
        Every where, people can think – It won’t happen to me… sadly it can and it does.

    1. Thanks, Pit. When I first tried a few photographs after my nearly two month hiatus, it was as though I’d forgotten how to use the camera, and those photos were, shall we say, gawdawful. I was glad to have time over the holidays to begin getting what skills I have back in shape!

  4. Great images, Linda, and an interesting narrative. The fact that bees are pollinating these plants is an encouraging glimmer into the gloom of environmental bad news that is so pervasive today.

    1. Not only the bees were buzzing around that day. There were several species of flies hovering over the nightshades, but I wasn’t able to capture their images.

      It is good to be able to spend time just being in nature, watching the on-going processes: feeding, pollen-gathering, nesting, burrowing, basking — and fighting. This morning I’ve been treated to the sight of about six squirrels in what I think must be a territorial squabble. It’s serious to them, I’m sure, but it’s hilarious to watch.

  5. For one bereft of flowering plants at the moment, seeing your images of flowers in winter months is quite uplifting. I liked them all but the bee collecting pollen is a favorite. It’s always good to see bees gathering pollen and hopefully recovering their numbers. We have a nightshade that decided to grow next to our compost bin. Not sure how it got there but our entire neighborhood is the site of a former farm so it may have been sitting around waiting to reappear once the construction was done. Although it can be poisonous, unlike its relative the tomato, it is one of my favorite wilds in the yard. And of course, there is The Deadly Nightshade.
    The rose seed head looks like an exploding star and is quite lovely.

    1. I was especially happy with the photo of the bee. Since learning about buzz pollination, I’ve wanted to capture a nice image of it happening, and finally managed it. When I was reading about the process, I noticed on the Wiki page a photo that appeared to be of Maryland meadow beauty. Sure enough, that’s another flower that depends on buzz pollination.

      The first black nightshade I encountered showed up in a pot on my balcony. I presume that a bird brought it by. I watched it through the whole process, from first growth to seed ripening, and it was great fun. Eventually, an assassin bug showed up on it, and that was interesting, too.

      As many of the roses as I’ve seen, I’ve never come across such a dramatic seed head. I spotted it from at least twenty feet away. It certainly did shine.

      1. I’ve never seen a rose seed head like that either. The closest that comes to mind is a clematis. That assassin bug was a nice bonus. I’ve photographed several bees pollinating but never with a buzz. Something to be on the lookout for in the future.

  6. Lovely detailed close-ups! And I was fascinated to learn about how the bees vibrate the flowers to help the pollen fall.

    1. Only certain bees pollinate that way — honeybees don’t, for example — and only certain plants are designed to allow buzz pollination. I need to do more reading about it, but my understanding is that native, mostly solitary bees pollinate that way, and flowers like those in the nightshade family depend on them for fertilization. Since tomatoes, eggplant, and potato are in the nightshade family, the importance of native bees to our dinner tables becomes clear.

  7. You prove to everyone that there is beauty in every nook and cranny – all we have to do is open our eyes. I’m grateful to you for that myself. I now no longer get aggravated with the white or blue flowers in the front lawn, because when you bother to bend down to get a good look – those buds are magnificent creations!

    1. It’s true. Remember that old song with the line “everything is beautiful, in its own way”? Sometimes the beauty isn’t the result of luscious color or perfect form, but even things we initially think of as less attractive can become interesting with a little attention.

      Just remember to check out what’s around when you bend down for that good look. I poked a dry branch into my eye yesterday, trying to better see a truly weird little insect (I’m still not sure what it was). No real damage was done, but it was a reminder to always look, but look carefully!

        1. The good news is that I made contact with my eyelid rather than my eye, but I didn’t know it until the swelling went down. Today, all’s good. I need to keep my inner toddler under better control!

    1. What a great description! My favorite part of that photo is the way the leaves of the palmetto fan at the bottom right have draped over the yaupon twig and dried there. In truth, I placed that photo at the top of the post because it’s my favorite — I love combinations of plants that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see together, like rain lilies and prickly pear.

  8. I’m a bit jealous you’ve got so much growing at this time of year. I look outside, and everything is brown. Or gray. In my head, I know a lot is going on underground, and everything needs a chance to rest a spell, but how I’m looking forward to seeing green again!

    1. Yesterday, a lot of the color I saw at between Christmas and New Year’s Day already had faded. The Gaillardia are going strong, though, and probably will until we get a good stretch of cold weather. We always have a little green with us, thanks to the live oaks, but the time will come — probably around the end of January — when we’ll be living with shades of gray and brown, too. Dormancy comes to us all!

    1. There are a few natives that are listed in my books as being winter bloomers, like the nightshade. Others already have basal leaves emerging, plump and green, just waiting for spring to arrive. In the meantime, the bees and such are thick around the flowers that are in bloom. The butterflies are nearly gone now, but a few tiny ones still are fluttering around.

    1. It sure does. Here’s a page with more information about the plant, and a photo of the fruit that you can click to enlarge. I’ve not seen one with hips, but I’m sure there are some out there.

  9. It’s lovely to see flowers in winter! And there is something about flowers going to seed I find equally beautiful and fascinating so that last shot really pulled me in. What lovely things you have there, in nature’s world!

    1. We do, indeed. We have interesting things, too. Yesterday I found “something” in the insect world that I’ve never seen before. As soon as I can get it identified, I’ll share it. It was like a cicada shell, only much smaller, and quite different. It was proof again that there’s always something to see — even when the gorgeous spring and summer flowers (or the autumn colors) aren’t around to attract our eyes.

    1. Yesterday was so beautiful. Brazoria and the Galveston Island beaches were packed. Even the Hamby nature trail was filled with people — including a lot of parents with young children. It was wonderful to see.

      Have you ever seen salt cedars in the fall? Apparently I haven’t, or I would have remembered it. Talk about autumn color — it was astonishing, and reminded me of the larches out west. Photos to follow.

        1. I think the rusty ones that you’re talking about are cypress. I can’t remember seeing any salt cedar around here; it tends to stick to the barrier islands, I think. It’s an invasive, and it has spread throughout the state, especially along some of the rivers. It’s doesn’t seem as though these invasives should be so pretty, but I suppose that’s why people brought many of them here in the first place. As Grannie used to say: so soon old, so late smart.

            1. I looked online, but most of the photos show the flowers — pretty pink, fluffy things. I’ll have a photo or a set of photos up on Lagniappe in the medium future.

    1. Steve Gingold said the rose reminded him of a clematis, and I see a resemblance to passion flower. It is interesting structurally, and I’m surprised I’ve never seen one at this stage, given how common they are. I suppose it’s a matter of timing — or even of being distracted by the flowers when I’m around them. There were scattered spring flowers around yesterday, but only a few. The Gaillardia are putting on a nice winter show, but we can get freezes into March, so it’s too early by far to declare winter “over.”

  10. The nightshade is so recognizable…and isn’t it annoying (to me at least) when the common name for a plant is from somewhere else? We have Oregon this and Oregon that up here. Sure, they grow/fly (Oregon junco) in Oregon, but they’re not limited to that location. But there are bigger problems in this world.

    1. Well, this nightshade has a very wide range, and probably was discovered first in the eastern U.S. or the West Indies, so it makes sense that it would carry that name. That’s how we got so many Carolina this-or-thats: they first were discovered in that part of the world.

      ‘Texas nightshade’ wouldn’t do for this one, because that name belongs to another Solanum species that’s endemic to Texas: Solanum triquetrum. The flowers of that one also are white, but its berries are red, while the berries of this nightshade are black. It’s such a huge family, I suppose naming is a bit of an issue. Two new species were found in Australia in 2016 or so — who knows how many more are out there?

  11. I’m itching for some flowers! Mostly invasive weeds are blooming now around here. Might have to head towards your direction for something interesting!

    1. Speaking of old and new, at Brazoria on Sunday I saw two stems of blooming goldenrod, three Indian paintbrush, and one pink evening primrose. A very few asters are holding on, but the Gaillardia are being absolutely enthusiastic. As much as I don’t look forward to what passes for winter around here, it’s time to get some, so these poor confused plants can get back in rhythm! Of course, there always have been outliers, and there may have been more than I’m aware of, since I wasn’t much of an observer in the past!

      I did see a real outlier on Sunday, and got a photo, too: I actually got to see a pied-billed grebe take off and fly. Amazing.

  12. My brother grows deadly nightshade as an ornamental vine. The flowers and red berries are kind of pretty, but I can’t look at the plant without wanting to reach down and yank it from the ground.

    1. That’s a perfectly understandable response. Our Texas and silverleaf nightshades aren’t quite as toxic, but they do produce fruits that nothing seems to eat. If birds and animals are leaving their berries alone, I’m giving the plant a wide berth, too.

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