Big Thicket, Little Thicket


One of the most fascinating aspects of the area of Texas known as the Big Thicket is the manner in which longleaf pines, multiple species of ferns, carnivorous plants, and sun-loving wildflowers mix and mingle together, forming a marvelous backdrop for the variety of native orchids also found there.

Above, a grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) contrasts with the trunk of an enormous long-leaf pine (Pinus palustris).  

Here, a grass pink is framed by ferns. While I’ve not yet learned to identify the several Big Thicket fern species with certainty, I believe these to be common bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum).

Finally, these beauties are framed within a cluster of branches that appear to have been burned. Fire is an important tool for maintaining longleaf pine uplands and wetland pine savannas, but pitcher plants and other orchid companions also respond well to periodic fires, growing back profusely from the nutrient-enhanced soil that remains after the flames have done their work.

Here, the orchids have taken advantage of those nutrients and increased sunlight to rise up in  a little thicket of their own: a perfect metaphor for Big Thicket life.


Comments always are welcome.


57 thoughts on “Big Thicket, Little Thicket

    1. I’m still learning about Texas, myself. It’s such a big place, with such variety. I still haven’t made it to the Big Bend area, for example, and only have driven through the Panhandle. One of these days! For now, east Texas and the Piney Woods are close enough for day trips, and sufficiently different to feel like an entirely other world. I’m glad you’re enjoying some glimpses of it.

  1. The orchids are really beautiful. As for identifying ferns, I think that post graduate training in masochism is very handy! This taxon probably gives me more trouble than any other I struggle with! We have a fellow in our Naturalists Club who is very proficient with ferns and sometimes I go out with him. I promptly forget about eighty percent of what he tells me; fortunately the other twenty percent is cumulative, so I get at least a little better each time. Or so I like to tell myself!

    1. I think we must share some fern species. I know there are at least thirteen in the Turkey Creek Unit of the Big Thicket; I suppose many of them are growing elsewhere. I’m sure of resurrection ferns, royal, bracken, and cinnamon ferns; the others still are mysteries, and it’s interesting how little information seems to be available online about them. It seems that many of them just are lumped together in the category ‘fern.’

      The most interesting phenomenon I’ve found is a little critter of some sort that rolls up the end of ferns to create what I think is an egg case. Last year, I found dried ones; this year I came across fresh. I’m reluctant to pull one apart to see what’s inside — eventually, I’ll find someone who knows, and then I’ll share the photos.

  2. It is a metaphor. (Some sort of chiggers to be found in both?HA HA)
    Isn’t it interesting how much the orchids look like a pair of hummingbirds the top photo – or rare butterflies in shape? The elegance of nature – always a wonder

    1. Laugh if you will, but I’m fairly well convinced I’ve come close to the world’s finest collection of chigger bites. It’s not been the best experience in the world, but it certainly has been memorable.

      Hummingbirds, indeed. Those spread ‘wings’ are beautiful, in shape as well as color. One of the truths of life is that we can’t be everywhere at once, and not being able to visit some of my favorite spots has meant that I’ve found other things to enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    1. I’ll be looking forward to your photos of your next trip into the area. I’m not sure about camping spots, but there surely will be something as things begin to open up.

    1. I didn’t even have to click the link to know the source of your clever parody; I still remember both the tune and the words. The Big Thicket’s a little shorter on rocks than the hill country, but it rocks in its own way.

      It’s interesting that the pitcher plants also require fire to thrive. In the longleaf ecosystem, fire keeps woody shrubs from encroaching on bogs and drying them up because of their moisture requirements, as well as shading out the herbaceous plants. Development and a lack of fire have contributed to the loss of pitcher plant bogs around the country; here’s one example from Florida.

  3. Such a pretty shade of lilac. Or maybe lavender. A variety of pink, I suppose. Their discoverer must have decided ‘pink’ was easier to remember. Oh, well, they’re still lovely, and there’s truth to that saying, ‘A rose is a rose’!!

    1. One of my other friends reminded me that there’s another name for this color — orchid! I haven’t heard that for ages; back in the 1950s and 1960s, it was much more commonly used, especially for spring clothing. You got it just right: the shade is lilac/pink/lavender, but it’s hard to describe. Maybe we should bring back ‘orchid’ as a color.

      1. You might be onto something! Still, ‘orchid’ sounds like something a really OLD lady might wear, doesn’t it? Perhaps if we could get the kids behind it, it would lose its age and become timeless.

        1. ‘Orchid pink’ sounds like an oxymoron to me, because I grew up in a time and place when “orchid” referred to a shade of just-barely-pink-tinged lavender. On the other hand, I found this in the Wiki: “Various tones of orchid may range from grayish purple to purplish-pink to strong reddish purple. The first recorded use of orchid as a color name in English was in 1915.” That’s really interesting. It suggests that even if a color has been around forever, the names chosen for it will vary, and it may help to explain why the color name ‘orchid’ has faded away.

          1. Perhaps, or (as with so many things:/) it simply went ‘out-of-fashion’? But to me, all of those colours you mentioned are still different forms of that (so difficult-to-describe) ‘blue’-pink tone that changes constantly with different light throughout the day? Something I’ve noticed while considering which colour/type of orchid I’d like to get next is that almost all have at least a hint of that same tone deep inside the organs of the blossom.

    1. Look at this, Jeanie — it’s common in Michigan. It’s shown on the map as present in both Ingham and Eaton counties — you’d best keep your eyes open when you’re headed to the ditch! One thing is certain; it wouldn’t be hard to spot if it’s around. That pink is just as vibrant as the photos show.

  4. That pink really pops against the subdued, after-the-fire background. Then again, the pink really pops against the lush green fern background, too.

    1. I really like that last photo. It reminds me of the amsonia and spider lilies I found down on the prairies after their prescribed burns. There’s something about blooming flowers in a blackened field that’s as cheering as it is beautiful.

    1. I’ve always had the impression that orchids were terribly difficult to raise. The people I know who’ve tried them fuss and fuss, and more often than not end up declaring defeat. And yet, these do their thing, year after year. Maybe we fuss too much when we try to raise them!

  5. Smokey was wrong, Linda! An occasional fire is essential to a healthy forest and other wild areas. The Native Americans used fire to improve hunting and gathering grounds. And backdrops are always important to any photo! –Curt

    1. Fire suppression certainly can cause problems, and not only in wild areas, as California’s learned over the years. Even some of our urban pocket prairies use fire as a management tool when it’s possible — sometimes, conditions just don’t allow it.

      Speaking of backdrops, I read an amusing article this week about the importance of background in Zoom calls. Get that undone laundry or those dirty dishes out of camera range!

      1. Same here on planned burns. The conditions have to be just right or the burn can get out of control. We watched a hurry-up and bring in the helicopters carrying water when that happened last year. And it wasn’t that far from our home!
        Might be just a bit embarrassing as they zoom in on your sink full of dirty dishes.

        1. Believe it or not, I’ve seen people offering themselves as ‘Zoom consultants.’ For the low, low price of (whatever), they’ll help you spiff up your background to make the best impression possible at those meetings. It’s the newest version of the old lemons > lemonade business.

  6. What a beautiful orchid! They’re such extraordinary flowers. It must feel very special to come across them.

    1. It’s always an adventure, that’s for sure. Because they don’t grow in my area, even if I know they’re blooming, I can’t be sure what condition they’ll be in. Last year, I was a little late, and most were on the way out. This year, an earlier trip allowed me to find fresh blooms, and it was special. It occurs to me they’d look lovely done in your “studio” way, but plucking one of these (or finding one in a grocery store) isn’t going to happen!

  7. Wow! that’s a beautiful flower, and a beautiful color, whatever you decide to call it.
    They do kind of look like hummingbirds or some sort of exotic butterflies.

    1. I don’t fully understand the physics of it all, but the amount of light makes a difference in their color, too. In lower light, they can tend toward lavender; in bright sunlight, they’re often a very light pink. This color’s fairly true to what my eyes saw: it may tend a little more toward the lavender than they actually were. But, as you say, whatever the color, they’re truly beautiful.

    1. I’d hoped to make another trip that direction this weekend, but from what the weather forecasters say, this isn’t going to be a weekend to go anywhere; we’re about to get some real rain. No matter. I have some other photos of different plants I can sort through and share, while I dream about seeing what else might be blooming in the area.

  8. The Big Thicket is a very different part of the state, although I suppose that can be said about other regions of Texas. The size of the trees, like your mention of the pine in the first shot, really stands out to me. I’ve spent years in Lubbock and now live in the Hill Country, even though I grew up in Houston. The trees are a lot taller in the southeast and east parts of Texas.

    Guy Clark had a lyric in his song “Anyhow, I Love You” that says “I wouldn’t trade a tree for the way I feel about you in the morning.” That line makes a lot of sense to someone from Monahans, like Guy Clark was, but could be a head-scratcher to someone from the Big Thicket.

    Great photos, as usual.

    1. The first time I flew into Houston’s Intercontinental, we approached over those pine-thick suburbs and I experienced a sudden fear that I’d boarded the wrong plane: surely that couldn’t be Texas! Of course, I felt much the same way the first time I drove the Twisted Sisters. I’ll probably feel the same way when I finally get to the Big Bend. I don’t think I have enough life left to see everything I’d like to see in the state.

      Guy Clark’s a marvel. I heard him live the first time at the Kerrville Folk Festival, sometime in the mid-nineties. I still remember laughing like a fool at “Homegrown Tomatoes” and his description of it as a love song. He wasn’t wrong.

      1. I really miss having new Guy Clark music to look forward to. I like some of his songs more than others, but he never wrote one I did not appreciate in some way. His sense of humor and verbal dexterity were wonderful.

  9. Your photographic skills continue to impress me. That second shot with the brilliant purple against the green of the fern fronds, and that last one with the flashes of purple against the brown of the tree trunks are so beautifully composed. My favorite, though, is that one in the middle. The rhythmic linearity of the fern fronds and their muted colors provide such a nice backdrop for the color splash of the orchid bloom.

    1. I’ve really enjoyed learning how to manipulate depth of focus to get more or less detail in backgrounds. Eventually, I’ll learn how to keep everything in a landscape in focus — that’ll be an achievement! The real test will come when another species of orchid blooms. They’re native, and they’re completely green. Green on green isn’t the easiest thing in the world — I just hope they appear again this year.

  10. Those first two images of the orchid are delightful. You have so many treasures to discover at the Big Thicket National Preserve.

    One of the most interesting aspects of Florida is that I found out it’s basically a giant sandbar. Yes, believe it or not, it is very flat land that keeps shifting with the hurricanes and high tides. It’s a giant sandbar with limestone underneath.The Everglades were formed in a limestone basin, which accumulated layers of peat and mud bathed by freshwater flows from Lake Okeechobee. The highest point is 173 feet above sea level in the Ocala National Forest.

    1. That was not accurate. The summit of ‘Britton Hill’ is Florida’s highest point at 345 feet. It’s found at the northwestern part of the country. However, the southern part is flat land. The formation of the Everglades is fascinating to read.

      If you’re interested, this is a good article.

      When Marjorie Stoneman Douglas wrote that the Everglades was a ‘River of Grass’, she truly meant it. In order to photograph anything there, you have to pay someone to take you on a boat, otherwise there’s just no other way.

      1. Ha! I no more than asked the question than I got the answer. Thanks for that link; I’m looking forward to reading the article. I learned about Marjorie Stoneman Douglas some years ago, and was fascinated by her work. I actually found her while I was researching Charles Torrey Simpson, another very interesting person who was known for his shell-collecting exploits.

    2. What’s really interesting is that the preferred habitats for this orchid are analogous to your sand/limestone structure. In the seepage bogs, for example, there’s sand over a layer of impermeable clay. And they also can be found in baygalls, which we share; the various plants mentioned in this article about Florida baygalls often are found in the Big Thicket.

      Are the Everglades being affected by saltwater intrusion? It’s a problem here, in a variety of ways.

      1. That was are really interesting article. Thank you so much.

        Well, they say that with the problem of high tides, salt water begins to intrude farther inland and alter the Everglades fresh water levels. So the problem seems to be with the tides, according to the article I read.

        1. In Louisiana, subsidence is an issue, but the canals created by the oil companies contribute to the problems. If you look at a map of coastal Louisiana, the difference between the bayous and the canals is obvious; bayous wind, while the canals are straight, and I’m told they’re a primary way for the salt water to work its way inland.

  11. I love the piney woods and do miss them out here in this agricultural county. I grew up on the outskirts of Houston (where the West Loop/Post Oak is now if you can believe that) in an area tucked into piney woods near Buffalo Bayou. very wild. I got lost more than once before I managed to find my way home. and of course, beautiful pics of the grass pinks.

    1. I sure can believe that West Loop/Post Oak area as country. I have a friend who grew up hunting quail with his dad out there — when it still was ‘out there.’ That would have been the early 50’s. It’s hard to believe all the changes that have come over the years. I knew a woman who picked dewberries and kept cattle where the League City Home Depot and Target are now.

      You know, being able to get lost and then find your way home as a kid isn’t the worst thing in the world. A lot of today’s kids would be far better off if they could wander a little. Besides, as has been famously said, not all who wander are lost.

    1. Fire’s a tool, like a hammer. You can drive a nail with a hammer, or you can badly harm a person by swinging it. The tool’s the same — only the use differs. Knowing what tools are capable of, and using them with a good intention are key!

    1. The podcast was good. There were a number of other articles on their blog that intrigued me; I subscribed to both. One of my favorite places to visit is the Sandyland Sanctuary, which is very near to the rare plant preserve where I photographed the grass pinks. It’s a Nature Conservancy site, and like the Longleaf Alliance, they make those trees (and the ecosystem that surrounds them) their primary focus.

      I’m beyond anxious for Sandylands to reopen to the public; I suspect it will happen sooner rather than later. The good news is that I picked up some books about the area at the Big Thicket visitor center last year, so I’ve been able to do some reading in preparation for this year’s visits.

  12. I cannot get enough Grass Pink images, either mine, yours or anyone else’s. I like the three ways you’ve displayed them here, especially with the softly focused background ferns.

    1. They really are quite wonderful. I have one more image to share, which I think I’ll do tomorrow. Then, it will be time to move on to other things — just as nature does, now that I think about it.

      1. That is how it should be as they don’t remain much longer once we spend some time with them. Although still beautiful, they are not quite as photogenic when the last upper bud flowers above a few browned and spent ones. When you are done with your ours will just be budding up.

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