Walden West ~ May 2

The first Turk’s Cap bloom of the season

When I visited Walden West on February 1, only a few Turk’s Cap leaves had managed to sprout. At the time, I predicted their vibrant flowers would begin appearing at the pond edges in a few weeks, and it seems my prediction was right.

On May 2, although only the single flower shown above had emerged, buds were forming everywhere. When I make my June visit, I suspect many more Turks’ Caps (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) will be shining in the woods.

American Germander

By early May, as fields of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush began to fill the roadsides and fields, less noticeable but equally attractive flowers were emerging at Walden West.

American Germander (Teucrium canadense), a member of the mint family often found at the edges of ponds and marshes, clearly had been blooming for some time. Like Coastal Germander (T. cubense), a smaller plant with pure white flowers, American Germander flowers have a greatly reduced upper lip and a long lower lip. That long lip doesn’t mean the flower is pouting; it’s simply providing a landing pad for insect visitors.

Water Hyssop, or Herb-of-Grace

The solitary, bell-shaped flowers of Water Hyssop (Bacopa monnieri)  were new to me. According to Shinners & Mahler’s Flora of North Central Texas, the genus may carry a South American aboriginal name; the specific epithet honors Louis-Guillaume Le Monnier (1717–1799), a French natural scientist.

A mat-forming aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial, its small, white flowers sometimes are tinged with pink or blue. Also known as Herb-of-grace, the plant is a larval host for the White Peacock butterfly.

Now considered a member of the Plantain family, Water Hyssop formerly was included in the Figwort Family, and still is listed there in many sources. At Walden West, I found only a few plants, but it may be that as the summer progresses they will multiply.

Small Venus’s Looking Glass ~ Triodanis perfoliata

I’ve never found more than three or four stems of Venus’s Looking Glass in one location, but they do appear in every refuge I visit and at several locations on Galveston Island. Two were blooming at Walden West in early May; this one, and a second, shabby example that had been nearly nibbled to extinction by some insect.

Two other bits of lavender — Texas Vervain and Slender (or Rigid) Vervain also put in an appearance. Neither was abundant, but it may be that these were among the first to bloom.

Texas Vervain ~ Verbena halei
Slender vervain  ~ Verbena rigida (an introduced species)

As I looked past the vervains, a flash of white led me to a small stand of Whitetop Sedge.Their brilliant white bracts sometimes are confused with petals; they certainly are as attractive as any white flower. A somewhat showier species, Rhynchospora latifolia, is taller, with wider bracts; in Texas, it appears in the far eastern portions of the state.

Whitetop sedge ~ Rhynchospora colorata

Sedges tolerate shade, grow in a wide variety of soils, and occasionally can be found submerged in shallow waters. When they fill roadside ditches, the effect is remarkable.

Despite a relative absence of birds, increasing insect activity was obvious. This web, constructed only inches from the ground, indicated the presence of a very busy, if invisible, spider.

Say hello to the WWW ~ a Walden West Web

High above the ground, a Spiny-backed Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis) went about her work. The six abdominal projections resembling spines give the spider its common name. It’s colors can be quite variable; I’ve seen orange spiders with black spines, white ones with red spines, and now this lovely yellow creature with black spines.

Spiny-backed orb weaver 

Conspicuous tufts of silk scattered about on this orb-weaver’s web are especially interesting.  They appear primarily on the foundation lines; it’s been suggested that the tufts make their webs more visible to birds that might otherwise destroy them.

Perhaps this bee didn’t notice those tufts of silk; he certainly didn’t notice them in time to avoid becoming entangled. While I couldn’t find the spider responsible for the web-work, the tufts do suggest a spiny-backed orb weaver had caught iself a meal.

Even dragonflies aren’t immune to capture. This one may have surprised the spider lurking below one of its wings at the bottom of the frame. If that tiny spider set out the web, it may have gotten more than it bargained for.

Come into my parlor, said the spider to the dragonfly

Other, luckier dragonflies flitted over and around the water,  including a female four-spotted pennant and the easily recognizable Halloween Pennant.

Four-spotted Pennant ~ Brachymesia gravida
Halloween Pennant ~ Celithemis eponina

While the dragonflies flitted and perched, a pretty snail paused on a convenient branch. Whatever its identity, it provides a fine model for moving through nature: slow and steady is the way to go.


And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass.
Henry David Thoreau ~ Walden


Comments always are welcome.

60 thoughts on “Walden West ~ May 2

    1. Thanks! It’s been interesting to see and record the subtle changes in this little spot, and fun to see some of the surprises it has to offer. I got a little behind in my posting, though; it’s almost time for a June 1 visit.

  1. It is delightful to accompany you on your tours such as this one – informative and beautifully photographed

    1. And I’m glad to have you along, Derrick. I was sure there would be something new to see and enjoy each month, and so far I’ve not been disappointed. I’m glad your experience has been the same.

  2. The Halloween Pennant’s adorable and I love the colour and form of the Turk’s Cap, and the Whitetop Sedge looks amazing! All up, a fascinating post Linda ~and thank you!

    1. Halloween Pennants are one of the easiest dragonflies to photograph. They’re given to perching atop plants for relatively long periods of time, and if startled off, they often come back to the same spot.

      The Whitetop Sedge sometimes is called ‘star sedge’ or ‘star rush,’ which can be confusing, since it’s a true sedge and not a rush. You probably know at least a variation of the little verse that helps me remember the difference: “Sedges have edges, rushes are round; grasses have knees that bend to the ground.” It’s the triangular shape of the sedges’ stems that gives them their edges, and grasses’ ‘knees’ are the nodes found along their stems.

      1. I love the Halloween Pennant photo! I’ve part of your verse because I remember Nigel saying the first part! I’m about to return to your post to look at the HP again! :)

    1. Isn’t that just the truth! The first time I saw a Spiny-backed Orb Weaver, I knew it had to be a spider because of the web it was building, but everything else about it perplexed me. They’re sometimes called crab spiders because the shape of the body reminds people of the carapace of a crab, but crab spiders are an entirely different family: the Thomisidae

  3. I knew of the Spiny-backed Orb Weaver, but I have never seen one – my loss! All creatures are both predator and prey in one form or another. I used to know a biologist whose specialty was worms and he always referred to American Robin as a vicious predator! It’s all a question of perspective, isn’t it?

    1. Well, now — that certainly gave me a laugh and a new perspective on my beloved American Robin. Clearly, I’ve not been sufficiently empathetic when it comes to worms, or perceptive enough to see the Robin as a predator. On the other hand, “eat or be eaten” is a reality in this world, as I try to remember every time I host a fire ant or chigger feast.

  4. Leave it to you to find the first bud of the season – way to go, Linda!
    We have those orb weavers and no matter how many I get rid of, the next day I have to go out and start all over again.

    1. At first, I wondered why you’d want to get rid of any Spiny-backed Orb Weaver, and then I remembered something I read. As relatively uncommon as they are here, they apparently adore Florida’s citrus groves — you’re clearly living in the middle of their prime territory. In fact, this interesting article notes that they’re one of the most common spiders in your state.

  5. There’s the making of a delightful book, as you mark the changes of this special little place.

    1. It might make for a nice book. It certainly will be interesting to see how things develop in the coming months. On the other hand, at this point in my life I have neither the time, the money, or the energy to consider creating a book. It’s enough to afford the gas to get to Walden West.

    1. At one of the marinas where I work, there’s an enormous Turk’s Cap shrub. It’s clearly one of the cultivars; the flowers are twice the size of those on the natives I see, and they hang down toward the ground. That said, it survived the freeze, and in the last two weeks has exploded in blooms. I’ve never seen it bear so many flowers. I hope yours does as well.

  6. I love all your photographs but I’m in love with the snail’s portrait. You have a way of making others stop and take a better look at the small creatures and flowers in our lives. That spider is like none I’ve ever seen up here. Looks more like a beetle.

    1. I’ve grown increasingly fond of snails, although I still recoil just a bit from slugs. Telling me “But a slug is just a snail without a shell” doesn’t help much.

      I wondered if the Spiny-backed Orb Weaver could be found in your state, and the answer seems to be ‘no.’ On the other hand, while I was looking through Michigan spiders, I found the Castleback Orb-weaver (Micrathena gracilis) which has the same kind of spines. It’s smaller, and harmless to humans, but just as unusual in its appearance.

  7. Quite a photo collection you’ve got here. Your visit certainly paid off.

    None of the Turk’s cap plants I’ve seen in Austin—including those in our front yard—have even begun budding yet, so once again this year your area’s ahead of central Texas.

    1. It surprised me that your Turk’s cap isn’t blooming yet, but when I went into iNaturalist to take a look, I found you’re not alone. In the past week, there have been reports of blooms south of a line from Pleasanton to Gonzales to Brazos Bend, but the photos I saw from Austin all showed developing buds. Interesting.

      I’ve found more new-to-me plants in the past month than usual. It’s always nice to see familiar ‘faces,’ but the discovery of a new species is great fun, too.

  8. Waking up all over the world. As always, gorgeous photos, Linda. Love the insect images and the whitetop sedge and Slender vervain (Such a sucker for the blue ones!). The snail at the end, the gossamer wings… perfection.

    1. I remember your love of blue; it’s no wonder you enjoyed that Vervain. I tried to identify the snail, but ‘snail’ was the best I could do. I think it might belong to the group called Scrubsnails, but that’s only a guess based on looking at photos. No matter: that curvaceous little creature can be appreciated even without a scientific name.

    1. Thanks, Pit. I was especially pleased to find the Turk’s Cap in bloom, and to be honest, that web-wrapped bee really appeals to me, too. Of course, the bee’s opinion probably differed!

  9. Walden West is, as you knew it would, turning into quite a microcosm of diverse beauty.

    Spending a morning (or more) there would be simply delightful! Every few steps would seem to reveal a new discovery.

    That low spider’s web is certainly complex! Looks the insect version of the movie set for “The Matrix”.

    Thank you for sharing your discoveries!

    1. Of course I’ve heard of The Matrix, but I had no idea what it was about. Now that I’ve consulted the venerable Wiki, I can see why it came to mind for you. The Orb-weaver also was lower to the ground than some I’ve seen.. I suggested it move a little higher, at least for its portrait session, but it declined, and I reclined!

      1. Let me know when you get one of Nature’s subject to move to a better spot, on purpose. I shall then be officially impressed!

        My cousin was an entomologist and said spiders were definitely his best apprentices. They collected all night long for him and never complained about the hours!

  10. Such an interesting walk, Linda! The colors of these flowers are delightful. I feel rather sorry for the caught dragonfly though — we humans don’t usually become somebody’s dinner, and I’m grateful for that!

    1. That’s true. We may ‘eat’ one another metaphorically from time to time, but cannibalism still is frowned upon. I always feel a pang of sympathy for creatures like the bee and the dragonfly, but then I remember that basic lesson of life: everything has to eat to survive. Even the hawk that swoops in on my feeders from time to time has its own life to sustain — and maybe babies, now!

  11. Oh, Linda! Thoreau would be proud of your close inspection of Walden West! This is a beautiful post, filled with subtle discoveries that one can find only by slowing down and appreciating what others might completely ignore.

    Thoreau realized that many might call him a ‘loaf’ (I’ve given away my copy so cannot thumb through and easily find that quote right now) but he was grounded and realized the joy of documenting his observations.

  12. Oh oh oh! Isn’t the internet wonderful in the ability to type in random words and often find the result? Yay: “…If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen. As if a town had no interest in its forests but to cut them down! ” HDThoreau

    1. We’ve had rain, but the drought certainly isn’t broken, and it’s only getting worse west of here. We’ll see. Everyone wants rain, but no one wants a hurricane, so getting the weather gods to strike the right balance is the goal. (If only we could!) I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I certainly enjoyed taking them!

  13. Wonderful naturalist post, Linda. Great shots as always and your writing continues to impress. I am sure Henry David would enjoy your version of Walden. There’s been the Wood Wide Web and now there’s the Walden West Web.

    1. Both of those www’s have their place, that’s for sure. It’s been so interesting to see the slight shifts in what’s around at Walden West. From the ‘left-over’ flowers of January to the new blooms of May — and the change in insect life that accompanies them — there’s always been something new to appeal. What does surprise me is the relative absence of birds. There could be any number of explanations, but so far cardinals, chickadees, and some chirpy invisible “something” seem to have been the only ones around.

  14. If I was a hungry bird, I think the spines on the spiny backed orb spider would give me pause. I’d imagine it would be like eating a goathead thorn. That pix of the Venus Looking Glass perfectly captured the texture of the petals. Obviously, Venus has good taste in looking glasses.

    1. Plenty of spider people and bird people have made just that point (!) — that the spines on that spider are a visual if not an actual deterrent, helping to protect the spider from predators. The Venus’s Looking Glass petals remind me of the fabrics that come with a metallic thread woven into them. I’d love to have something made of one.

  15. Love that photo of the American Germander, especially the curve of it and the way the grasses in the background create little slashes of light. Set off all kind of sparks. You’ll probably see some form of it in one of my future pieces. Thanks!

    1. I’m so pleased that photo appealed to you. I worked a good bit to get the geometry of it ‘right’ — the combination of vertical, horizontal, and curved seemed quite attractive to me, and I was especially pleased to balance the light on the curved flowers and the grasses. Thanks for your appreciation!

  16. For sheer drama, I have to go with the sedges this time, Linda. The bracts are impressive. Do you know the old statement on how to tell sedges? I learned it as a kid. “Sedges have edges,” referring to the stem.

    1. I love these sedges. There are so many variations on the verses you mentioned. The version I learned is: ” “Sedges have edges, rushes are round; grasses have knees [nodes] that bend to the ground.”

    1. Walden West is an out-of-the-way portion of the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge. It’s a wonderful place with boardwalks, ponds, hiking trails, and such, but this isn’t part of the developed-and-tended areas. It’s just a spot I found that had some water and some trees, and I thought it would be a fun place to watch, precisely because it’s so ordinary. Well! It’s turned out to be not so ordinary after all. I’ve been trying to figure out how large the area is, but I’m really bad at that. I’d say it’s probably about the size of a regular suburban lot; at least when I think about the lot my folks’ house sat on, it seems about right.

  17. Indeed, slow and steady is the way to go when wandering through nature. Another beautiful sampling of the diversity that can be found in such small locations. This time around the Texas Vervain stood out to me. I love the color and how the flowers open their way up that stalk. Thanks for continuing to visit this location and share your experiences.

    1. The Vervain is such a delicate little flower. We have several species, both native and introduced; the rigid vervain often lines our roads, and the so-called Brazilian vervain is so tall it sometimes matches cattails in height. The diversity is marked; I always look forward to my visits!

    1. And just today a new critter came to visit me at home — a baby oppossum! I knew it was around, but the last time I’d seen it, it was tennis-ball sized. It’s growing, and clearly healthy. Maybe one of these days I’ll find a four-footed, furry creature at Walden West.

      1. We were watching a young possum in my sweetheart’s garden last night. It seemed unafraid of us chattering and carried on wandering around. It made me smile that its face seemed quite immobile, but its ears were scanning around.

  18. Damn Linda, so much to comment on here. I had Turk’s cap at the Houston house and brought it out here. And I spot Venus looking glass out here every year but only a few specimens. It volunteers in one or another flower bed. And I have what I call German verbena what might be your slender vervain. It’s tall, at least 3’. I don’t usually see spring or weavers till late summer, early fall. And I’m just now starting to see some dragonflies.

    1. It’s possible your German verbena might be Verbena xutha, the Gulf Vervain. I found that species as well, and it was much taller than the Texas Vervain. As a matter of fact, it was the tallest I’d ever seen — certainly over 4′. I’d thought it might just be trying to reach more light, until I read about the vervains and found that we have both species in our area.

      I once found a single Venus’s looking glass at the edge of my parking lot here in League City. It was such an improbable sight. I suppose a bird might have brought it here, and it probably survived because it took root among the cypress roots, where the yard crew can’t mow or weed-eat.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter 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.