Down By the Waterside

Climbing Hempvine ~ Mikania scandens

It’s not a river that runs through the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, but Cocklebur Slough. In drought or in flood, it’s an interesting place: a sweet tangle of growth buzzing with the sounds of insects and tiny tree frogs as well as the calling of well-hidden birds.

On September 26, the heart-shaped leaves and pretty white flowers of climbing hempvine were flourishing: even taking advantage of supple tree limbs to arc out over the water. Despite being a member of the Asteraceae, the family of sunflowers and daisies, this flower lacks the ray flowers commonly called petals; its disk flowers resemble those of plants like shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis).

At the water’s edge, I found my first cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). I was surprised to find the plant in standing water, but that was due only to my own ignorance; I’ve since learned that its preferred habitat includes ditches, woodland edges, stream banks, swamps, and areas near lakes or ponds.

Cardinal flower ~ Lobelia cardinalis

Another surprise was this pair of pretty white fungi. Having associated mushrooms with rotting wood and wet lawns for most of my life, I wondered: had these grown up around the tree before it fell into the water, or had the rising waters of the slough surrounded them?

Eventually, I learned that different marine habitats also support fungal communities. Fungi can be found in ocean depths and coastal waters as well as in mangrove swamps and estuaries with low salinity levels, like Cocklebur Slough. Whether this species prefers a watery environment I can’t say, but even without certain identification, it’s possible to enjoy their unexpected presence.


Comments always are welcome.

56 thoughts on “Down By the Waterside

    1. “Live and learn” was a saying I heard hundreds of times when I was growing up. I used to think it was just a way to respond to making a mistake or doing something stupid. Now? Not so much. There’s nothing like learning to make life more pleasurable.

  1. It’s rewarding to see the cardinal flower you mentioned. The patches of blue across the bottom of your picture add a welcome contrast. As you discovered, this wildflower does well even in standing water. Climbing hempvine is another species we share, and have both featured this season.

    1. Isn’t it a pretty one? I discovered these flowers on the 25th, but the ones in bloom were in sad shape. I noticed this bud-filled stem, and decided to bet on the buds being open the next day. They were, and they certainly made the trip back to the refuge worthwhile.

      I really like the blue accents, too. My photo of sunlight hitting the reddish soil was taken along the same slough, and I thought the blue accents also added to that image.

  2. “In drought or in flood, it’s an interesting place: a sweet tangle of growth buzzing with the sounds of insects and tiny tree frogs as well as the calling of well-hidden birds.”
    That, Linda, and your wonderful pictures make me want to go there. Thanks for the educational post here, and have a great weekend,

    1. It’s an interesting and varied place. In winter, it’s filled with migratory birds, and it’s a good place to visit during the spring ‘fallout,” when the songbirds return. There are several nice trails, a place to fish, and you can launch kayaks or canoes. The champion live oak that I wrote about is on a separate trail not so far down the road. I’ve been waiting for the weather to cool and the mosquitoes to calm down for another visit to that spot.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. I never know what I’ll find there!

      1. Now that’s on my list, too. But first it will definitely be back to Port A. [Goose Island State Park and Aransas Wildlife Refuge] to hopeful see some Whooping-Cranes.

        1. I have friends who’ve stayed in Rockport and taken one of the boat tours. They really enjoyed it, and were able to get relatively close to the birds. It varies from time to time, of course. The birds don’t punch a time clock!

  3. We have a trail that runs through the county – an old railroad track, lovingly reclaimed and converted to a 40km multi-use path – that I run and walk on with regularity. A friend asked me, earlier this year, what a patch of red flowers was, growing near it, so on my next run I stopped – it was a huge patch of cardinal flower growing along the sides of a stream. It was wonderful to see them in the wild.

    1. Until I found these, I’d never seen cardinal flower in the wild. I’ve seen the lavender and purple Lobelia both locally and in east Texas, but after so many years I’d come to assume the cardinal flower wasn’t in my area. Clearly, that’s not so! I can only imagine how pretty that large patch was — good of your friend to mention them to you, so you could have the experience of seeing them.

    1. Sometimes I think there’s nothing worse than flower (fungi, rock, water, beach, mountain) envy. Especially in autumn, I can fall victim to colorful leaf envy, and then I remind myself that we’re awash in beauty here, too. Sometimes the beauty seems a bit odd, like those fungi, but they’re beautiful nonetheless.

  4. Cardinal flower is one of my favorites. Those deep red ones grew wild in Connecticut in swampy areas and along river banks. Haven’t seen them here except as cultivated varieties in gardens.

    1. If they’re one of your favorites, I’m even more pleased that I found one for you! The red is so deep and pure. It reminds me a bit of Turk’s cap, but even more of our scarlet catchfly. I suspect I’ve missed the catchfly for this year, but the cardinal flower is a lovely consolation prize.

    1. Thanks so much, Derrick. Of course, there were a good number of photos that weren’t so beautiful. That’s why they’re in the trash, and I’m showing you these!

  5. You captured the Cardinal Flower with its typical, to me at least, bird pose. The Hempvine leaf has a wonderful shape to it. Don’t be fooled by those mushrooms…they aren’t pancakes.

    1. It wasn’t until I looked at this image that the resemblance to a bird caught me. It’s interesting that both the cardinal flower and cardinal-the-bird were given their common names as a nod to the red robes worn by Roman Catholic ecclesiastical cardinals.

      The hempvine was so thick this year it was hard to find a way to isolate both the flowers and the leaf. There were quite a few swallowtails and some monarchs nectaring on them, but they were well beyond the reach even of my telephoto lens.

  6. Beautiful pictures. The Cardinal flower is especial. I like the intense red that still holds detail. The leaf of the Climbing Hempvine called my attention. It might deserve its own spot light.

    1. I enjoy heart-shaped leaves, and I especially enjoy red flowers. I didn’t realize until I saw it at the refuge that the red of the Cardinal flower is akin to the deeply saturated red of one we call Scarlet Catchfly.
      And look at the Catchfly’s buds! They’re remarkably similar in appearance to those of the Cardinal flower, even though they’re in different genera.

  7. So many interesting and beautiful specimens here today, Linda. Thank you for doing the research and sharing them! I love that cardinal flower — who knew there was such a thing?!?

    1. You’d better keep an eye out for the Cardinal flower, Debbie. It’s one that seems to be more common in your state than in mine; it appears in nearly every county! Apparently it’s a gardener’s favorite, so even if you’re not hiking around the countryside, you could very well see it in someone’s landscape. When you see that bright red shining, take a second look!

      (And this will interest you: both the bird called the Cardinal and this Cardinal flower received their names because their color resembles the robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.)

  8. Your fungus on the tree stump is a reminder that no matter where we go, there’s always a fungus among us, even if we don’t see it. Pretty red flowers with their petals outflung.

    1. You’re right; the fungi seem willing to set up shop just about anywhere. Like the algae and lichens, they can be hard to identify, but they surely are interesting. As for the cardinal flower, I’ve seen a lot of photos, but I’d never noticed the resemblance to a bird in flight until I saw this one.

  9. Reading cocklebur, Linda, I imagined a horror story. When I was a kid, my cocker spaniels used to get cockleburs in their fur. The only easy way to get them out was to cut them out of the fur with scissors. Nasty. Beyond that I found the cardinal flower gorgeous and the fungi quite interesting. –Curt

    1. I had a friend whose dog used to bring home sandburs galore, and her approach was the same as yours: scissors. I don’t have a dog, but I did a fine job of covering myself with stick-tights at Pawnee Rock in Kansas. It was so bad I changed clothes in the parking lot; there was no way I was getting into the car with those things covering me. Picking those things out of my sweater and jeans took forever.

      1. We have our own version of stick tights here, Linda. I’ve been known to throw away a pair of socks rather than try to pull all of the stickers. One of my reasons for building a trail through the forest above out house was to get rid of them. The other was the poison oak!

        1. I brought home my first poison ivy of the year last weekend. It’s not much and not at all bothersome — an inch-long streak on the inside of my wrist where I touched the plant without seeing it. I try to pay attention, but I’m still not very good at it.

            1. They’d better hurry. I got into a good patch of what I didn’t recognize as poison oak a week later. It had been cut back and was resprouting. I’d never seen those cute flowers, so I got up close and personal with my macro lens. Two days later, I was wondering how I got that stuff under my chin and down my neck. Ah, well. At least it doesn’t particularly itch, and at least I’ll recognize it next time.

            2. I’m laughing, so you might as well. The only thing better than my inexperience with the plant was the experience of finding a snake in the bathroom this morning. If it’s not one thing, it’s another …. etc., etc.

            3. Was it big? Was it poisonous? Did you scream? I remember one morning in Liberia, I heard my first wife scream from our outdoor toilet. I grabbed our machete and raced out to find Jo Ann standing on top of the toilet. A small snake had crawled under the door next to her feet and was roaring around tryin to catch the small toads that lived in our bathroom. He couldn’t have been less interested in Jo. I chased him out and told him that a repeat performance might get his head chopped off. I watched Jo chop up a green mamba once.
              It’s not uncommon for Texans to find snakes in their toilets. If that happened to me, I might not go for a month. –Curt

            4. No — no screams. It was a little thing, and obviously panic-stricken. I wasn’t very happy myself, but I had to catch the thing, lest it disappear into some corner. I’d always be looking for it. Finally, it headed to the dining area and I threw a bath mat over it. Then, I got it into a kitchen towel, and out the door we went. I bid it a fond farewell as it raced beneath a shrub.

            5. Laughing, it was probably as interested in escaping as you were interested in having it escape. Obviously, you never adopted the Liberian attitude that all snakes are poisonous. –Curt

  10. Thanks for the botany lesson, Linda. A wise old woman I knew when I was a boy once told me, “You should learn something new on the day that you die.” I will try my damnedest to make sure her advice is taken.

    1. I learned something new just yesterday: how to identify poison oak. Apparently I’m not as sensitive to it as I am to poison ivy, and I’m grateful for that, since I was plunked down in the middle of a nice, big patch! I’m not intending to die today, but I’m sure I’ll learn something, and I’m grateful for that, too.

    1. It was eye-catching at the time, but the photo really does emphasize that glow. I think the blue of the water helps; it’s one of my favorite wildflower images.

  11. Gazing at the beauty of your splendid photographs I can hear the insects, frogs and hidden birds. Mesmerizing.

    Each time I encounter the Cardinal Flower it takes my breath away. Your eye for detail found a bloom in that hempvine many would have passed by. It helps to have a big heart-shaped leaf to grab your attention, I suppose. The fungi shows us it’s possible to survive in spite of the detritus all around us.

    Your title immediately had me humming an old gospel tune: “Down By The Riverside”.

    Have a wonderful and exciting new week!

    1. I thought about using “Down By the Riverside” as a title because of that song, but couldn’t justify it, so “waterside” it was. In truth, ‘waterside’ was commonly used in Liberia, so it felt perfectly right to me.

      You would have been amazed at the undifferentiated mass of hempvine I found. While it was easy enough to spot the three or four cardinal flower stems, I had to really hunt to find a bit of hempvine that I could separate from its friends: at least for the purpose of a photo.

      There’s a good bit of detritus floating around in the world today. Let’s hope we do as well as that fungi!

  12. I do like the sound of Cocklebur Slough. That Hempvine looks like a robust climber. Love the cardinal flowers, the fully opened ones look like exotic birds about to take flight. Fungi sure are a fascinating, incredible ancient species. The more I learn about them the more I’m in

    1. ‘Robust’ is exactly the right word for the hempvine. It’s an enthusiastic grower that attracts butterflies and bees galore. It has a bit of a fragrance, and it loves water.

      Since this was my first cardinal flower, I hadn’t fully appreciated the resemblance to a bird. In fact, I didn’t really notice it until I looked at the photo on the computer. But the color? Oh, my!

      I rarely find fungi, but I was in woods on Sunday and found four species. I haven’t a clue what they are, but each is differently colored, so IDing them should be relatively easy.

  13. A lovely post, Linda. I am always captivated by fungi of all colors, sizes and shapes. What a treat for you to find it. What a joy to discover so many lovely things. The cardinal flower is especialy lovely — I wasn’t familiar with it.

    1. I was so pleased to finally find a cardinal flower in the wild. I’ve always admired people’s photos of it, but it was even more lovely in ‘real life.’ As for those fungi, I found three more last weekend that are really unusual; they’ll show up here, too. I rarely see anything except the common white ones, like the ‘fairy ring’ sort, so I was captivated by the new species, myself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.