Walden West ~ August

Climbing hempvine ~ Mikania scandens

By the time August ended, the area around Walden West had become overgrown and overrun with biting flies: so much so that swatting and sweating through the late summer heat were a considerable part of the day’s fun.

That said, there was no overlooking the climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens) that had burst into bloom since my last visit. A member of the Asteraceae, or sunflower family, its blooms lack ray florets; the clustered white to pinkish disk flowers resemble those of Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).

Found in a variety of moist environments — swamps, bottomland forests, sloughs, pond margins, and ditches — the pretty white-flowered vine clambers over, under, and around anything in its way, including the occasional cattail, as it winds in a clockwise direction around supporting host plants.

Occasionally, its progress is supported not by plants but by insects: specifically, by spiders. When I noticed a bit of hempvine rising straight up into the air, it seemed odd.  Then, I saw the spider silk attached to it: a single slender strand strong enough to support the weight of the plant. Orb weavers begin their webs by establishing anchor lines, and it seemed a spider had chosen a bit of hempvine as one anchor point.

Following the silk’s path, I found its creator in her web: a Golden Silk Orb-weaver (Nephila clavipes) dining on one of the deer flies that had been annoying me.

Not far away, a colorful Spiny-backed Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis)  lurked in its own web. About a half-inch wide, these small spiders attract notice because of their colors: in addition to orange, they may be yellow, or white with black markings. The presence of six ‘spines’ indicates that this is a female. Males are even smaller, with four or five spines.

Growing as enthusiastically as the hempvine, Annual Marsh Elder (Iva annua) already stood four or five feet tall. Also known as sumpweed, this member of the sunflower family produces copious amounts of air-borne pollen;  like all species in the genus Iva, the plant afflicts allergy sufferers throughout the fall. In August, buds still were forming; in time, greenish-white flowers would emerge.

The introduced Indian Heliotrope (Heliotropium indicum) I’d found a month earlier at Walden West still lingered: now turned from white to pale lavender.  I recently came across our native Salt Heliotrope (H. curassavicum) at Brazos Bend State Park, with several Gulf Fritillaries nectaring on its pretty white flowers, but I never saw a native species at Walden West.

I never tire of ironweed; in past years I’ve been lucky enough to come across three of Texas’s species. Here, what I believe to be Missouri Ironweed (Vernonia missurica) adds a splash of color to the late summer landscape. The common name ‘ironweed’ has been attributed to a variety of iron-like qualities in the plant, including tough stems, flowers that appear to rust as they age, and rusty colored seeds.

Ironweed flowers ‘rusting’ away

Another prolific bloomer, Turk’s Cap continued to fill the August woods with both flowers and fruit.

According to various foraging sites, the plant’s marble-sized fruits taste a bit like apples. Their seeds can be eaten raw or toasted, and the fruits also can be made into jelly, jam, or wine.

Turk’s cap fruit

Butterflies and hummingbirds favor the flowers, especially during mid-morning and mid-afternoon when their nectar is said to be sweetest. While I can’t identify this hummingbird, no matter: it was enough to manage a photo as it hovered around the plant.

Despite occasional rains, we’ve moved into another dry period, and the Walden West pond remains empty. Still, a few nearby areas contained enough moisture for saltmarsh fleabane (Pluchea odorata) to offer its pastel accents; also a member of the Asteraceae, it’s found throughout Texas, along the Gulf coast to Florida, and up the eastern seaboard.

As we move deeper into autumn, marsh fleabane will continue to bloom: certainly in October, and perhaps even into early November. With luck, coming rains will encourage it — and fill the vernal pools.


Comments always are welcome.

77 thoughts on “Walden West ~ August

  1. The “fun” you described in your first paragraph sounds like something we could all do without. In contrast, the rest of what you encountered seems to have been worth your while.

    Two days ago I encountered a stand of Iva annua whose seed heads had already developed. The act of walking through them released a gray pollen mist. It’s that time of year again.

    It’s great that you managed to catch a hummingbird, which is often not easy to do. At least their hovering gives photographers a brief chance.

    1. Last week, I began sneezing while out on the docks. Surrounded by water, there was nothing nearby to cause the reaction, so I chalked it up to one of our most dependable — if invisible — signs of fall: wind-borne pollen. It’s that time of year, for sure.

      I’ve never managed a decent photo of a hummingbird, even at my feeders. Part of it’s their flitty nature, and part is my lack of patience. That said, I was glad to catch one at a flower rather than at a feeder, and a Turk’s cap at that.

  2. Your hummer may be a female black chinned hummingbird. They have that “scaley” looking head and, oddly enough, no black chin. Your hempvine reminds me of that cheap supermarket Ramen. I’m not surprised you saw a hummer. They go nuts for the Turk’s Cap. I didn’t know Turk’s Cap set fruit. Learn something new every day.

    1. I remember the first time I found a Turk’s cap fruit. I didn’t have a clue what it was, and there weren’t any flowers blooming in the area, so it took a while to figure it out. As they ripen, they turn a very pretty mottled yellow and red, prior to becoming this luscious, solid red. Even after I learned what they are, it took a while longer to discover they were edible — as are the flowers. I found a photo of Turk’s cap pie online; it was topped with the flowers, which are said to be sweet.

    1. I really enjoyed finding that spider’s anchor line, and being able to capture it in a photo. From what I’ve read, it seems that where those first lines take hold helps to determine where the webs are spun.

    1. I just added a bit of detail to clarify the hempvine/silk relationship. I don’t think the vine was climbing the silk. Instead, I’m sure the silk was an anchor line for the web. It had snagged on top of the vine, and the spider pulled it taut in the process of web-building.

      It was great fun to be able to photograph at least one hummingbird in my life. I can’t tell you how many photos have been consigned to the trash over the years.

  3. That hemp vine certainly takes its opportunities where it can. I’ve never seen a plant climb a spider’s web. I’m tempted to say it doesn’t happen in Maine. However, just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. ;) I’ll be on the lookout.

    1. I just added a note to the post to clarify what was going on with that spider silk. The plant wasn’t actually climbing the silk. Instead, the silk was an anchor line for the web where I found the spider. I’m sure the attachment to the plant wasn’t part of a grand plan, but once it was secure, the spider pulled it taut, and pulled the plant upward, while it was in the process of building its web. When you find an orb weaver’s web, the trick would be to look around for the anchor lines, and see what they might hold!

  4. I truly liked the photos of the wildflowers and hummingbird. The spiders? Not so much. Spiders just give me the creeps and this time of year they try diligently to get into our house.

    1. Over time, my view of spiders has changed significantly. I’m still not pleased to find one cruising through the house, but they’re interesting creatures. I don’t like walking into a big web and having to rid myself of a faceful of silk, but I’m sure the spider doesn’t like a big, lunky human tearing down all that work, either!

  5. That is a beautiful collection of flowers on the plants. I skimmed over the spiders. That hummingbird looks like ones we had around our yard until last week. They are gone. My calendar notes show they leave the first week of October.

    1. The weather gurus are projecting a ‘real’ front for us next week, so some of your hummingbirds may join the ospreys and Monarchs that already showed up with our last, milder front. My upstairs neighbor is seeing increasing numbers of birds at her feeders, so they may be staging for their trip across the Gulf.

      As for the spiders, I find them far less annoying than the pollen that’s spreading across the land now. Between the ragweed, marsh elder, and such, it’s not pleasant. But don’t blame the goldenrod! It’s not a plant that causes allergies. It gets blamed because it blooms at the same time as the ragweed, and is far more noticeable.

      1. Melanie is having more sniffles and sneezes lately. The goldenrod are about done with their show. But, we know they aren’t the problem. Lots of field and harvest dust seems to be her main issue.

        1. When I was in Kansas a few years ago, it was during the soybean harvest. Even though they weren’t in a drought, the amount of dust was amazing. I don’t remember dust being a part of the corn harvest in Iowa, but that was a long time ago, and I might have been so young I paid no attention. The ragweed’s doing its thing here, and everyone’s noticing.

          1. Yes, soybeans are quite dusty to harvest. Less so corn. We are due for a freeze tonight. That might have a helpful benefit for those allergy sufferers.

            1. We’ve had frost on rooftops already. This may be the end of my small garden plot for this year. It has done well supplying rhubarb, tomatoes, basil, and poblano peppers.

  6. I like walking virtually with you. The Kentucky iron weed is purple. Instead ofTurk’s Cap we have something called Coral Berry. It is dark red, like a cranberry, and is a winter food source for birds. Soon it will be the only color in the fields.

    1. I’m always glad to have you along, Sarah. Autumn walks always make me happy, especially once the cool breezes arrive. We’re still not there, but the change is coming. That’s one thing I’ve enjoyed about your recent photos. They have that misty-autumn sort of feel to them.

    1. They’re such delightful, feisty little birds, and their migrations are a marvel. They also frustrate me beyond words when I decide to try photographing them. When this one and its friends showed up, I decided to just keep shooting, regardless, and sort things out at the end. You noticed the pollen; I was quite taken with those little curled-up feet.

      1. I use the same strategy – they dart about so rapidly, I have to trust to luck and good exposure. Their little legs and feet are interesting, having evolved to be as low-mass as possible, shrinking the overall weight of the bird. Like penguins, they can’t really walk or hop, they shuffle from one spot to another (when they aren’t flying).

  7. You hit the jackpot! I was all ready to wax eloquent over that dainty and lovely hempvine but then I kept getting more and more bedazzled. Looks like a great day for sightings!

    1. I’m a little behind in posting these delights, but at least I’m still making my trips in a timely manner. I think after I get September and October posted this month I’ll be ready to roll through November and December. It’s hard to believe that a year can pass so quickly. It’s amazing that every month has had new delights to enjoy, and it’s been great fun documenting them.

  8. Excellent album! I’d expect something called “Missouri Ironweed” to be pretty homely, but that’s a real charmer, as is the Turk’s Cap. And I’m not big on spiders, but anybody who gets rid of deerflies is a friend of mine. So, “ray florets” are what non-experts like me would call “flower petals,” and the climbing hempvine doesn’t ever get them? That’s interesting, and it’s still pretty and fun looking.

    1. I’ve come to think of our ‘autumn colors’ as purple and gold, and the ironweed fits right into the color scheme. There’s a version that grows in the hill country that’s much fuzzier, but just as cute.

      You’re right that ray florets are often called petals. The sunflower family used to be called the ‘compositae’ because its flowers were composed of both disk and ray florets. Sunflowers have both, but many have only one or the other. This one has only disk flowers, but some of my favorites, like our native dandelion and chicory, have only ray flowers. I just foundthis page that does a great job of explaining it all.

  9. I’m amazed at the photo of the spider! Who knew one could use hemp line to support its web? And I’m sorry to hear the weather is still too dry in your part of Texas. I hope more rain comes soon.

    1. I just read our forecast, and lo! A 40% chance of rain shows up by next Thursday. We’ll see. I’ve always enjoyed seeing spiders’ orb-like webs, but when I read an article or two to try and understand the web-making process, I was even more appreciative. What’s most amazing to me is that they produce different kinds of silk — sticky and non-sticky — for different purposes, and the way they build, starting with anchor lines, is amazing. Of course, everyone who’s walked into a web knows how strong the silk is!

    1. I think what actually happened here is that the spider threw out an anchor line when starting its web, and the silk got caught on the hempvine. Then, the silk was pulled taut, and up the vine went! In any event, it was an amazing sight, and there was no doubt who was responsible for it. As for strength, I’ve tried to break some dangling silk after walking into a web, and it’s really hard to do. The webs aren’t nearly so delicate as they look.

    1. Thank you, Becky. I’ve yet to visit this spot without finding something new and interesting. I’m going to be a little sad to have the project come to an end; I’ll probably make one last visit in January of 2023, so I can compare it with January of 2022.

  10. Wonderful post. The image of the spider consuming the deerfly should be a poster for all those who shun spiders – they are our friends!

    1. Indeed, they are. I don’t harbor particularly warm and fuzzy thoughts about the Brown Recluse that bit me several years ago, but I didn’t lose too much flesh, and managed to stay out of the hospital. That experience was worse than sitting on a bull nettle, but not as bad as being stung by a Puss caterpillar. If nothing else, the flora and fauna can mount significant defenses!

  11. The rusting ironweed flowers are two colors I’d not normally put together in my mind, yet in nature they’re perfect. There’s a lesson there, I suppose

    1. Your comment about colors that ‘go together’ reminded me of a great lesson from my grandmother. I’d been fussing and moaning about a back to school dress my mother was making for me (with a knife-pleated skirt!). It was blue and green plaid, and I was adamant that blue and green didn’t go together. Grandma took me outside and pointed to the trees, asking what color they were. I said, “Green.” Then she asked, “What color is the sky?” Blue, of course. “Well,” she said, “do they go together?”

      Lesson learned, and never forgotten over the decades!

  12. The blue and purple might be my favorites here. Of course, they’re all lovely in their own right, and you’ve done a fantastic job capturing them — especially the hummer!!

    1. What’s a little amusing is that I tend not to favor pink, but that last photo of the pinkish flowers might be my favorite. But they’re all lovely, and I really enjoy the way a macro lens can pick out the details of even the smallest flowers. As for the hummer — some day I’ll be patient — and skilled — enough to stop even the beating of one’s wings.

  13. Beautiful set of photos. At first glance, I thought that first plant was boneset. I’m not at all familiar with climbing hempvine, but it’s a lovely plant. Interestingly, I use to have lots of those colorful Orb Weaver spiders, but I haven’t seen any in my garden for a couple of years. Wonder what happened to them? I miss them, they’re such cuties.

    1. It does look like boneset, doesn’t it? I just learned that ‘blue boneset’ is another name for mistflower. They all have the same general appearance, and it seems that they all appeal to pollinators. I’ve not seen much of the blue mistflower yet, but I’m sure it’s coming on.

      I was startled to find one of the spiny crab spiders on my patio recently, and the boats are hosting a lot of jumping spiders right now. For such tiny creatures, they sure do get around!

  14. Sorry to read about all that “fun” the little biters provided. Our drought kept the mosquitoes down this year and there were several days that the dryness and cool mornings allowed me to not use repellent although I did carry some packets in my shirt pocket just in case.
    The climbing hempvine does have some lovely little flowers and I see the resemblance to the common boneset we have here in the yard. Our New York Ironweed showed the same rusting as it aged as yours. The heliotrope is lovely with that soft blue and you know I love the spider shots. I’ve seen lots of plants supporting webs but that’s the first web I’ve seen through your observation skills supporting a plant.

    1. I can fend off the mosquitos, but those flies are something else. Anything that takes enough flesh for blood to appear tests my appreciation for nature. It was so odd to see that bit of hempvine sticking straight up into the air. I’ve often enough seen tendrils reaching out, but I’d never seen anything like that. It took a minute to discover the silk, and even longer to get a decent photo, but I loved the result.

  15. Awesome journey! This post encourages me to look for hidden treasures in the wildflowers following winter’s hiatus. It is amazing to see the changing wildflowers between spring, summer, and fall.

    1. No problem. WordPress decided that post needed to be published for some reason, and I deleted it. I wasn’t even on WP when it happened — I was eating lunch and looking at some sailboat race results. Who knows? But thanks for letting me know! I have accidentally hit ‘publish’ in the past, but not this time.

    1. I have a gardening friend who introduced me to the phrase ‘enthusiastic grower,’ and this hempvine certain is that. Despite our drought, it will make use of any bit of water — apparently even subsurface moisture — and do its thing.

      The surprise I saved for another post involves the spiny-backed orb weaver. It adds stabilimenta to its webs like the ‘zig-zag’ produced by garden spiders, but it’s quite a different thing: much smaller, as befits a tiny spider.

    1. Thank you, Dina! I especially like the colorful ‘crab’ spiders, as some call them. They’re so small, and so intricately patterned. It’s amazing to think of how many wonders we pass every day without seeing them.

  16. How wonderful that Walden West had so much with which to welcome your return!

    We marvel at each morsel you present. A vine, a flower, entire plants, spiders, webs of intrigue, violence as one of your would-be attackers is dispatched, a delicate hummingbird. We feel the heat of August in Texas. We recall the bites of deer flies and flinch at the memory. The aroma of composting detritus of the forest fills the room.

    Each photograph sends a message. We understand that we, too, can visit our own personal “Walden West” and have a unique experience on each and every trip. The synergy of your images and narrative compels us to seek the chaotic solitude only Nature can provide.

    Thank you for sharing and motivating!

    A guy familiar with another Walden wrote: ” Nature will bear the closest inspection; she invites us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf and take an insect view of its plain. She has no interstices; every part is full of life. —”Natural History of Massachusetts”

    1. I love the phrase ‘chaotic solitude.’ That’s it, exactly. Sometimes, so much is obvious it’s hard to settle down and make some choices of what to attend to. Other time, it seems there’s ‘nothing to see.’ Then, a closer look reveals a multitude of ‘somethings.’ I suspect that’s another way of talking about those interstices Mr. Thoreau was so fond of exploring.

      Speaking of creatures being dispatched, just wait until I can get around to posting the story of the ants and the butterfly. Even at the edge of a parking area, there can be interesting things to see!

    1. Some day I’ll manage to stop the action of those wings, although I’ll admit I laughed when I saw this photo. I had some with the bird’s wings more visible, but it wasn’t near the flower. So: this one it was.

  17. That was an excellent set of photos! I love the Spiny-backed Orb Weaver – it’s so fascinating looking! Our orb weaver (or whatever it is – I’m too trifling to go back to my blog post where you identified it) is still going strong.

    That first photo of the hempvine reminded me of quinoa – ha! We just had some soup with quinoa in it so it was on my mind.

    1. Those Spiny-backed Orb Weavers are cute as can be, but they can be really tough to photograph since they so often hang upside down on their webs. I’ve found the white and yellow ones, too, but the photos aren’t so great.

      I’m curious about the hempvine-quinoa connection. The only quinoa I’ve seen is the neatly packaged grain in the grocery store. Does the plant resemble the hempvine? Do you grow it? Does it grow in your area?

      1. It’s the grain after it’s cooked – it’s kind of shiny & loopy like the plant. I’ll see if I can get a picture tonight & send it to you. And as Dr. M would say – I see things in all manner of things that other people just scratch their heads about. Ha!

  18. Once again you have filled a post with so many wonderful things it’s hard to decide what to comment on! I had a golden orb weaver in the yard but she disappeared before she was fully grown. Hummingbirds have been visiting my portetweed this week.

    1. I remember you mentioning that Golden Orb Weaver. They’re such beautiful creatures — and far easier to find than the spiny-backed! What color is your Porterweed? I’ve come across both purple and a kind of coral/orange that’s just gorgeous, and it really was attracting the butterflies.

    1. You saw leg warmers; I saw ‘baggywrinkle,’ the fuzzy additions to sailboat rigging that keep the sails from chafing. Whatever we see, they must serve some function for the spider — but I don’t have a clue what it might be. I’m sure there’s a scientist somewhere who’s figured it out!

  19. That orb weaver anchor line is an excellent find. I’ve often marveled and wondered how they move from a single anchor point to the second or third point that might be on opposite sides of a very large gap. And regarding the spiny-backed variety, I enjoy how the dots on their back often form a smiley face. That along with the spines, or horns, as they appear, is quite a sight. I have a small Halloween post planned with one of them. And nice job capturing a moment with the hummingbird. They’re not the easiest species to photograph.

    1. I found a great Smithsonian article about the process of web building. The scientists know a great deal more about exactly how it’s done than I could have imagined. What’s especially surprising is how quickly it’s done. I guess it’s all those millenia of practice!

      Your choice of the spiny-backed spider for a Halloween post is perfect; I’ll look forward to it. I wonder if spiders go trick-or-treating?

  20. I haven’t checked through your 75 comments so don’t know if anyone has ID the bird. It looks most like a Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I’ve also checked its range which falls within your locale.

    1. No one else offered an ID, Arti. I know we have several species, including the Ruby-throated, but I’ve never been able to spend enough time with them to get decent images. I put up feeders every year, and there’s just something about my space they don’t like. I think it may be that it’s too enclosed. If I could put their feeders in the yard with some space around them, I think it would be better, but the constraints of apartment living come into play.

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