Autumn Colors, Coastal Style

Carolina Wolfberry ~ Lycium carolinianum

When it comes to autumn color, trees hold pride of place. During my years in the midwest and mountain west, Sunday afternoon drives “to look at the trees” were a beloved seasonal ritual.

In parts of Texas, perfect conditions can produce equally colorful trees, but on the coastal plain autumn color is less easily seen from the road. On a recent visit to Galveston State Park, the reds, golds, lavenders, and oranges of the marshes were best encountered on foot.

Carolina wolfberry  blooms with a pretty purple flower from May through October, although it sometimes blooms even in December. Its vibrant red fruits typically ripen in October and November, when migrating whooping cranes arrive on the Texas coast. The cranes’ winter diet consists primarily of blue crabs, but wolfberries provide as much as one-quarter to one-half of the birds’ energy needs in early winter.

Carolina Wolfberry flower

Wolfberry and goldenrod blooming simultaneously provide a charming variation on autumn’s many purple and gold combinations. Seaside goldenrod thrives among the other salt-and-sand loving plants of our coastal counties, and often blooms in tandem with other goldenrod species.

Seaside goldenrod ~ Solidago sempervirens

As other flowers begin to decline, autumn goldenrods offer sustenance to a variety of insects, including bumblebees.

Even the lowly glassworts shine in autumn. Both Virginia glasswort (Salicornia depressa) and Dwarf glassroot (Salicornia bigelovii) begin life as green, low-profile members of the marsh community, but by early October their changing colors start to catch the eye.

Dwarf glasswort~ Salicornia bigelovii

The taller and many-branched dwarf glassroot often becomes especially attractive, with colors ranging from a true red to this rusty orange. Granted, it’s not as obvious as a maple or sweetgum dressed for autumn, but it decorates its marshy home perfectly well.


Comments always are welcome.

71 thoughts on “Autumn Colors, Coastal Style

    1. These plants may not be as obvious as a maple or cypress, but they are dependable. Some years we have very little color in our trees, but goldenrod always is golden, and we’re glad for it.

        1. There are so many goldenrod species, I often don’t know which I’m looking at. But we have a couple of species I’ve learned, including this one. The bees love them all.

    1. In decades past, my autumn colors were very much like yours, but I’ve come to enjoy what we have here — even though I do have to fight off occasional bouts of autumn envy.

  1. There are even some yellow hues for those who are attached to the color! Definitely a good display. Here in The Valley, trees in the genus Populus, willows and of course imported trees and vines from Europe, including grape, help to compose that Autumn feeling.

    1. A trip to the Napa, etc. vineyards always was an autumn treat when I was living in California. Those vineyards equal any hardwoods when it comes to color. Cottonwoods are another of my favorites. They’re especially attractive in western Kansas, where they outline the course of the rivers.

  2. It’s one of the nice things about goldenrod, all the variations, a couple dozen in NY alone, some of them taller than I am. I’m always on the lookout for goldenrod honey, some years there’s none around. It’s got a nice spiciness to it.

    1. We have some of those tall species, too. It’s fun to find them combined with others — there’s such variety in one genus. I’ve never heard of goldenrod honey, but I’m no honey connoisseur. I see there’s no lack of places to purchase it. I even could get Iowa goldenrod honey if I wanted it; Texas seems to stick with a more generic ‘wildflower’ honey.

      1. Oh, I meant honey on local farmstands. I’m not a connoisseur (especially because I can’t ever remember how to spell it!) I just like to try different kinds, sometimes they’ve got buckwheat honey, which is dark, kinda strong flavored and I’m not crazy about, sometimes apple blossom honey, etc. Once my mom went on a business trip to Siberia and came back with really delicious lime honey – – we all were wondering, how they heck do they grow limes in Siberia? but it’s a kind of linden tree not citrus.

        1. Just so you know — I had to look up ‘connoisseur’ as well. I have to check the spelling every time I want to use the word. My impression is that ye olde search engine has seen every possible permutation; it always calls up the right one.

          I have friends who always buy local honey; it’s said to help with allergies, since it’s based on local plants. Clover honey’s what I grew up with in Iowa, but I recently received some Manuka honey from New Zealand. It’s supposed to have a multitude of good qualities, including being useful for treating things like superficial burns, but it did just fine on an English muffin.

    1. I was hoping to get away to the hill country later for a taste of fall color that’s a bit more typical, but reports are that the drought seems to be ensuring more brown than red and yellow. We’ll see. In the meantime, there’s plenty to enjoy on a smaller scale; now that it’s cooling down, goldenrod and sunflowers will prosper.

    1. And then there are the grasses: fluffy or smooth, rusty, red, or pink. I just noticed the first pink Gulf Muhly last weekend, and I’m ready to make a prairie trip to see if it’s in full bloom.

    1. There’s one I only found two weekends ago and haven’t yet photographed: the purple beach morning glory called the goat’s foot morning glory . I found only two flowers in bloom at the state park, and I couldn’t get close to them without crossing the dunes. I hope you got to see them. Their color is gorgeous.

  3. You may not have the scarlet and gold we have here, but this is not a bad substitute if you ask me. Not bad at all!

    1. Their colors are marvelous, and at this time of year they’re all hosting a plethora of insects, especially bees and butterflies. As I like to say, come for the beauty, stay for the interest; there’s a lot more than color to see.

    1. Have you confirmed that your allergy is to Goldenrod? Many folks assume that’s what is making them sneeze in the fall because its blooms are so visible and wide-spread, but they are actually reacting to ragweed, which grows in the same soil and conditions as Goldenrod, and blooms little green almost invisible flowers at the same time as the often unfairly maligned Goldenrod.

    2. And here comes the goldenrod advocate, ready to take on The Myth. Your sneezies are due to ragweed and other plants with airborne pollens; goldenrod pollen is big, heavy, and given to falling to the ground or attaching to insects. It doesn’t blow on the wind like ragweed. Here’s a neat, short article that describes the difference. There was a note in the Wiki article about ragweed that its pollen can blow for hundreds of miles, and even has been found at sea.

      I had to laugh when I read that article. I didn’t realize that the ragweed genus is named Ambrosia. I wonder if the namers knew how much havoc it can cause; perhaps they just had a sense of humor.

  4. Thanks for looking closely at our “brown/green” fields for the colors of fall. Fortunately these are also the food providers for everything from migrating Monarchs to migrating Hummingbirds, and apparently to the Sandhill cranes – you’ve inspired me to look carefully for those feasting on the wolfberries!

    1. Speaking of Monarchs, they seem to be on the move. One of the advantages of my outdoor ‘office’ is that I get to see what’s arriving or moving through, and I’ve been counting at least twenty Monarchs per hour since the winds shifted into the north.
      More osprey are arriving, too, but I’ve yet to see any of the white pelicans. I’m going to be on Galveston’s west end tomorrow, and we’re planning to take some of those roads less traveled (e.g., 8 Mile and 11 Mile) to see who might be lurking.

        1. I’ve meant to ask if you know one of the places I’ll be spending some time tomorrow: this gem of a spot down in Sea Isle. It can be hard to find the first time, since there’s no street that cuts directly to it, but the marina store is a great place to stop for a drink, and you can use the restroom in the Sandbar. (You know how the west end is about ‘public facilities.’) The food’s pricey, but extremely good. The gumbo and shrimp and grits are as good as any I’ve had in Louisiana.

            1. We went into the store and looked around today, and they have everything from basic groceries to eye drops to SPF tees to drinks of all sorts. It’s really nice!

  5. We. have nine laying hens in our backyard flock, and as a treat they get fly larvae from time to time, worms they are. Looking at the Dwarf Glasswort, I can only think of worms. We are in year thirty five living on the Eastern Shore, the lack of Hardwood trees eliminates a lot of the high color change, dang loblolly Pines. However, the low grasses and fall wild flowers, ever so delicate, make our colors unique in their own right. Fall trips to USAFA over the years has brought the wonderment of the Aspen to our eyes. Tis now time for the Oranges and Blacks of Samhain. As a side note, the Loblolly provides the makings for some grand Christmas door decorations with Holly berries and gold ribbon.

    1. Now that you mention it, ‘worms’ is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of the plant’s form. The color’s quite close, and of course there are those segments. I finally dealt with my greedy starlings by adding some dried mealworms to the feeders. They gorge on those, and then fly off, instead of tossing the other seed around in frustration.

      We have loblollies, too. There’s a local marina that has some fine examples, and they drop nicely-sized cones when the time is right. It won’t be long now — which is convenient, since it’s not all that that long until Christmas.

      I spent a year in Salt Lake City, and the colors in the Wasatch were glorious. I still regret that I wasn’t interested in wildflowers at the time. I did quite a bit of hiking up to the small alpine lakes, and in spring there were flowers galore; I just don’t know what any of them were.

  6. These are real beauties, Linda! No, they don’t look like the maples and nut trees we have here in the Midwest, but they’re a perfect representation of the truth that Nature has its own variety of loveliness … wherever we may roam!

    1. That’s so true, Debbie. Salt marshes aren’t necessarily ‘pretty’ at first glance, but they’re a complete world, filled with interesting creatures and plants capable of nourishing them. And when the seasons change, they produce their own kinds of new, colorful beauty — all the better for us!

  7. When I looked up wolfberry, I found it is a member of the Solanaceae (tomato) family. Judging from the flower and fruit, I suspected it was. It is pretty, both flower and fruit, and interesting that cranes find it attractive.

    1. Another ‘wolfberry’ is this one’s close relative, the goji berry: Lycium barbarum. Part of eastern diets for centuries, goji berries are widely available in the west now, and are considered to have benefits for human health.

      In fact, the same berries that nourish the cranes can nourish us, as well. As one of the best Texas foraging sites puts it:

      “[Wolfberries] have a tangy taste as they are related to tomatoes…and so are in the nightshade family. Related to the fad-food Gogi berries, this Texas plant has all the same high vitamin content as well as other beneficial chemical compounds. Usually the berries are dried/dehydrated then nibbled as a healthy snack. They can be added to muffins, and breads. People also use them in smoothies.”

      I’ve not yet made wolfberry muffins, but this year I might.

      1. Interesting! Given the price of goji berries, it might be a boon to dehydrate a bucket full for winter use. I think they are full of antioxidants, too, always a good choice for one’s health.

        1. They are good sources of antioxidants, and apparently dry quite well. Personally, I’d not go picking these wolfberries for my own use, especially in a year when they’re less than prolific. They’re better left for the birds.

    1. Isn’t he a cutie? Bumblebees come close to the top of my list of favorite insects, and there were plenty of them around on this day. There were so many, buzzing so loudly, that they often were heard long before they were seen.

    1. ‘Berry’ usually brings to mind strawberries and raspberries, but in botany, “a berry is a fleshy fruit without a stone (pit) produced from a single flower containing one ovary. Berries so defined include grapes, currants, and tomatoes, as well as cucumbers, eggplants (aubergines) and bananas, but exclude certain fruits that meet the culinary definition of berries, such as strawberries and raspberries.” These ‘berries,’ are in the Solanaceae: the nightshade, or potato family. You can see the relationship especially clearly in other family members: the eggplants and tomatoes. So interesting.

  8. In northern New Mexico this past week we got to re-create your drives “to look at the trees,” with the operative color being primarily yellow. As you’ve shown in this post, the Texas coast can’t rival fall colors elsewhere in expanse, but on a small scale it can beat them in variety.

    1. I wondered where you’d gotten off to. It looks like ‘happy homecoming’ is in order. I hope (and expect) we’ll be treated to some images of what you saw. I’ll try to keep the inevitable waves of envy from eroding the pleasures of our small-scale fall!

    1. I remember that cosmos from your last entry, and I remember how surprised I was that the plants were so tall. I think of those flowers as much shorter, but yours clearly are happy. I’m not surprised you’re feeding the neighborhood — these past days have been so pleasant for everyone, including the butterflies and bees.

  9. The wolfberry reminded me of nightshade, the sepals and shape are similar. A lovely blossom as well. An unusual hue of the goldenrod, I notice nothing but yellow goldenrod up here. All are lovely photographs!

    1. The resemblance makes sense, since nightshades and wolfberries both are in the Solanaceae — along with tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and goji berries. There’s quite a difference between these flowers and the nightshades, though. The nightshades, with those banana-like anthers, are buzz pollinated.

      There does seem to be a bit of a color range in our goldenrods. I’m not sure if it’s the light, the species, or the camera, but they’re all cheerful and pretty.

  10. We enjoyed lots of beautiful fall colors in our drive across the northern states, Linda and I couldn’t resist photographing the trees (and other plants) every time they popped up and said “see me, see me.” I now have many more than I will ever use, but how can one resist! I’ve always been a fan of goldenrod. –Curt

    1. I know the impulse. I have this file of ‘about’ 500 photos of white prickly poppies that I ought to cull ‘someday.’ The next time I come across one of those flowers, will I take a photo? Of course.

      Now that the weather’s so glorious, I’d love to be doing some traveling myself. That’s not in the cards, so I’ll just spend some time with our goldenrods, and etc. It’s not the owrst thing in the world!

      1. Spending quality time with goldenrod (or any flower) is always a plus! In fact I feel the same way about ponds, woods, creeks, etc.: I.e. almost anything nature has to offer.

        Laughing, I have pulled the car off the road and stopped to take photos of white, prickly poppies.

        1. I suppose you’re no more inclined toward bumper stickers than I am, but let’s face it: the old one that said “I Brake for Wildflowers” certainly would be apropos.

  11. I love seeing this range of regional autumnal colors. Interesting that I read this now, seeing the bright red of the wolfberry, as yesterday while on a hike my father mentioned how the bright red of the holly berries really stand out this time of year.

    1. We have two native holly species, both large and often tree-like. One can be really stunning, since it loses its leaves and the berries can remain on the branches through the winter. The berries usually are red, although I’ve seen orange and yellow as well. One of the things I enjoy about late fall and winter is the way any bit of color catches the eye, as your red holly berries obviously did.

  12. Coastal Color!

    We have always called L. carolinianum Christmasberry. It’s startling to see bright red among the dunes. The plant looks like a succulent and the wonderfully purple flowers almost seem like they don’t belong on that bush. But I sure am glad THEY don’t feel that way!

    Goldenrod of some sort seems to thrive almost anywhere. Adding an “autumnal” touch to the beach scene is refreshing. The lowly glasswort normally gets no respect. Most of the year it is easily overlooked. Tall and rusty looking now, most will at least glance and wonder “what’s that”?

    Our memories of the Smoky Mountains, the Adirondacks and Lost Maples park are great when it comes to the stereotypical “fall foliage” image. But wandering the salt marsh or dunes at the beach and coming across wisps of gold and drops of scarlet is both unexpected and incredibly rewarding!

    Thanks for the “fall fix”!

    1. I’ve read that ‘Christmas berry’ is another common name for the plant; I sometimes call it crane candy. I was perplexed by the difference between its flowers and those of the nightshades until I looked further, and found that even some plants like petunias are part of that large family.

      More typical colors do emerge here at times, depending on conditions. Some of the prettiest fall colors show up on salt cedars. Like Chinese Tallow, they’re invasive as can be, but they certainly can be pretty. Unfortunately, that’s one reason people actually plant the Tallows; they love the fall colors. It’s one good reason to publicize colorful native plants as options!

  13. There’s color aplenty if we look close enough. Your examples are lovely flowers. It appears that the seaside goldenrod on your coast is a taller variety than that which I have seen in Maine. More orangey also. Of course many things are stunted that exist on that rocky coast and those I see there are 12″ -18″ tall and bushy. Not your typical goldenrod.

    1. I’ve seen stands of seaside goldenrod that are in the range you mentioned. We have so many species it can be hard to sort them out, and even the seaside goldenrod can vary a good bit in height. It always amuses me when I find a single stalk blooming in January or February; if conditions are favorable, goldenrod always seems to find a way.

      I’ve never thought much about the color of goldenrods, but when I looked at my photos of some Arkansas species, they were more yellow than golden. Whether it’s a species difference or the result of different growing conditions, I can’t say.

    1. If red, orange, and yellow don’t evoke fall for you, which colors do? I’ve always associated those colors of the changing leaves with the season. Since we’re a little short on the kinds of spectacular hardwoods that I grew up with, I have to make do with what I can find.

    1. That’s something we just were talking about today. Our landscape isn’t exactly barren, but today we stayed in the 40s, with day-long rain and strong north winds. In the heart of summer, this is what we were longing for. Today? Spring sounded pretty good!

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