Walden West ~ October Flora

In October, Walden West’s vernal pool looked almost exactly as it had in September. A few more leaves had fallen from the trees, and most of the surrounding growth showed insect damage, but no visible water had collected.

On the other hand, my feet could feel what remained invisible to my eyes. Enough rain had fallen that the ground had grown soft if not spongy, and the pleasant scent of rotting leaves hung in the air. An assortment of logs showed the effects of weathering, including the intricate patterns etched into this large log lying in the middle of the dry pool.

Deeper in the woods surrounding the pool, a different log displayed hard, brittle chunks where the wood had fractured and broken. This type of decomposition results when mycelial networks digest cellulose, leaving the wood’s lignin intact.

One of the oddest sights I encountered suggested that someone armed with a can of spray paint had been at work. Given the log’s location away from a trail, the absence of any other signs of human presence, and the perfectly even, glowing color that didn’t rub off, some sort of fungus seems the most likely explanation. If a graffitti artist with a quirky sense of humor had been at work, that artist deserves kudos for both patience and skill, since the ground on which the log lay and the surrounding vegetation showed no signs of color.

Other changes had taken place. A single orchard orb weaver (Leucauge venusta) lingered in the branches of a yaupon tree, but the huge webs of orb-weavers like Argiope aurantia no longer shimmered across every opening, and those large, dramatically patterned spiders seemed to have disappeared.

Many flowers I’d grown accustomed to seeing were gone as well, in part because of significant clearing done by refuge staff. Here, climbing hempvine continued to climb, despite losing some of its support.

The most brilliant color belonged to this standout in the midst of a patch of blooming dayflowers (Commelina erecta). The flowers are highly variable in color; this was the most deeply saturated blue I’ve encountered.

Perhaps encouraged by rain, a saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica) had put on a new bud.

Some distance away, another saltmarsh mallow, having bloomed, slowly faded away.

The pretty red Turk’s caps had nearly stopped blooming, but some fruits still were available. Many of their leaves, covered with small grasshoppers, showed signs of nibbling, but the fruits remained undamaged.

A few stems of Gulf vervain (Verbena xutha) lingered at the sun-dappled edge of the woods. The tallest I’d seen, I assumed their height was due to a stretch toward sunlight, but according to Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, they can grow to a height of six feet.

A common sight in our area, the hairypod cowpea (Vigna luteola) is the only native Vigna species in Texas. Depending on conditions, it can bloom nearly year-round; here, an early-opening flower is decorated with dew.

It’s said that nature leaves clues, but in the case of this Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), one clue wasn’t enough for me to solve the mystery of its appearance. Also known as Bois d’Arc or hedge apple, the trees usually produce a number of fruits, and yet only one lay on the ground. When a search of the area turned up not a single tree bearing Osage oranges, it seemed reasonable to assume that some creature — human or otherwise — picked it up elsewhere and dropped it at Walden West.

Speaking of creatures, I’ve split this October visit into two parts because of the wealth of creatures I encountered. The next post will show some of them, including my first encounter with a mammal.


Comments always are welcome.

46 thoughts on “Walden West ~ October Flora

    1. The Osage orange are around. I know they’re more common north and west — Oklahoma and Kansas are full of them — but I do see trees occasionally. There’s a large one at the Brazoria refuge, and one at Brazos Bend. There used to be one at the Dudney Nature Center here in League City, but I’ve not seen any fruit for two or three years. They’ve done quite a bit of work there. and the tree may have been cut down, since it was very near a path that’s been enlarged.

  1. Interesting how much difference there is in our climates. We are keeping an eye on an approaching winter storm with blizzard conditions, wind, and very cold. We will be staying home.
    Good shot of the hedge apple. There are always plenty of them here. Would you like a shipment?

    1. That’s very kind of you! I know people in Kansas who slice them and put them around the outside of their house to keep mosquitoes away. I’m doubtful, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt anything. There’s a town named Bois d’Arc, Texas. If you want to be taken for a town native, or at least someone from the area, you pronounce it ‘BOW-dark.’

      That winter storm of yours probably is part of the same system that’s arriving here on Thursday. From a high of around 65F or a little more, they say we’ll drop to about 22 in very little time. I’m hoping to arrange things so I can be down on the water; I expect there’s going to be steam fog, since the water temperature’s holding around 60F.

      1. Bowdark, TX. We drove thru Dubois WY a few years ago. We even stayed overnight at the Black Bear Motel. Very interesting place. The locals pronounced the town name dew-boys. I had some French in high school. That doesn’t seem correct.

        Take your coat along for warmth. It was 28 when we went to bed last night, 2 this morning, and 0 last time I looked. Thanks to the Arctic.

  2. That hairypod cowpea with its dewy yellow hue is a keeper, Linda. So is the Gulf vervain with its dainty lilac flowers. But the No. 1 prize, in my opinion, is that stunning sapphire-colored dayflower! Of course, sapphire is my birthstone, and I seem to gravitate to that color like a bee to nectar!

    1. I just realized you haven’t done a gem post in quite some time. I always enjoyed those. It wouldn’t surprise me to know those posts became less frequent when a certain someone joined your household!

      Sapphires are gorgeous. I like the colored stones — sapphire, emerald, ruby — as much as diamonds. Maybe more. Do you like to wear that color in clothing, too?

    1. I had a little conversation with the oleanders I found blooming this afternoon. In a couple of days, they’re going to be regretting all that showiness!
      Still, the swings from cold to warm and back again are standard operating procedure around here. The pattern just started a bit later this year. The good news is that we’ll be warm again next week, so the damage may be somewhat limited. We’ll see.

    1. Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m a little blue that I didn’t find your comments sooner (thanks, spam file!) but I’m glad you like that flower as much as I do. I can’t remember ever seeing a more deeply saturated blue among flowers.

  3. In nature I’ve also occasionally come across a seemingly painted surface like the one you’ve highlighted here, and I couldn’t tell if it was natural or artificial. Let’s hope some biologist clears up the mystery for you.

    With the freeze coming on Friday, maybe you’ll get to see some ice on Walden West.

    1. I spent a good while trying different keywords on Alexy Sergeev’s site, but only found a few crust fungi that looked to be ‘in the neighborhood.’ On the other hand, he had multiple photos of various molds and fungi on Osage orange fruits; that was pretty interesting.

      I fear ice on Walden West isn’t very likely. We’ll have the cold, but the last time I was there, the first weekend in December, there still wasn’t any standing water. Depending on time timing of the front, I might make a flying trip down there Thursday morning, just to see how things are.

    1. They are rather citrusy, aren’t they? But like Trifoliate Orange, they’re inedible: certainly for humans, and from all appearances for everything else, too. I did come across a note in a forum that the hedge apples were a preferred food for — Wooly Mammoths! I did some quick searching, and found several reputable organizations confirming that little tidbit. More research is required. Apart from that, there were some wonderful photos of hedge apples being used in wreaths and usch at places like Colonial Williamsburg.

      1. In Central Illinois, the squirrels feasted on them. You’d see one that looked as though it had been exploded and it was a squirrel. There was something inside it that they liked.

    1. I thought the textures were especially interesting. When I decided to divide up the ‘finds’ from this trip, it occurred to me that they would fit right into the ‘flora’ category. I’ve never thought of trees as flora, but that’s what they are — as much as those pretty little flowers.

  4. Once again I see this as a place not many would give a second glance in passing. Your intrepid exploration continues to prove how subtle nature can be in revealing her treasures.

    We were fortunate to find several places this year where dayflowers were incredibly abundant. Gini remarked it looked like the sky was being reflected by the earth.

    Your photographs of October blooms are spectacular! So many textures and different colors. The second picture could be an image taken from the air showing some ancient lava flow.

    My first experience with Osage Orange was memorable. Our first camping trip in west Texas. We scrounged around for a bit of firewood. A few branches proved very difficult to cut with the camp saw. “Mesquite” says I, the seasoned outdoorsman who had yet to actually identify a Mesquite tree in our new environment. My Florida experiences soon proved to be explosively ignorant in this western habitat.

    The fire burned hot and bright. We warmed our hands. Pop! Pop! Pop-pop-pop-pop! Sparks began flying everywhere and it sounded like we were under attack from some enemy rifle squad! The fire was dispersed and smothered with dirt as we frantically chased down sparks landing in the surrounding dry weeds.

    Turns out we had discovered a unique property of Osage Orange wood. It burns hot and long, however, the very thick sticky sap within the wood explodes when it gets hot enough. Lesson learned.

    1. I’ve only once seen a thick spread of those dayflowers. They’d taken up residence along a county road and spread into a field; it was a magnificent sight. I liked your vision of a lava flow. It’s been interesting to watch the changes in that log over the past year.

      What a story! In all my reading about Osage Orange, I’ve never come across any reference to its less than desirable qualities as firewood. I did have to learn a couple of lessons about burning unseasoned Ashe Juniper in a cabin woodstove. It surely didn’t behave like the oak, maple, and birch I was accustomed to.

      Your comment about sparks in dry weeds reminded me of another early lesson from my first days in the Texas hill country: never park a hot car in tall, dry grass. I’ve heard a story or two about people who did that, and the consequences were predictable (albeit not tragic).

      Does a good long seasoning transform Osage Orange into decent fire material, or is it unacceptable even then?

      1. I have read that seasoning is supposed to diminish the severe sparks but most warn not to use it in a fireplace and to tend it carefully when burned anywhere else.

        For me – reliable old oak from now on!

  5. That supersaturated red of the Turk’s Cap fruit is a nice contrast to that gorgeous blue of the salt marshmallow. I like the picture of the weathered wood. So subtle of color and rich in texture.

    1. The Turk’s cap fruits are especially pretty when they’re only half-ripe, and have a nice, mottled yellow and red color. I couldn’t find a good one this year, but I’ll keep trying. It’s been interesting to follow the changes in the first log over the year. It hasn’t yet begun rotting away, but the grooves have become noticeably deeper with time.

    1. Aren’t they strange looking? Apparently they’ve been around for aeons; I read that mastodons enjoyed them as a snack, and there hasn’t been a mastodon in my neighborhood for quite some time! I need to do a little research about them; like the chicken and the egg,I wonder which came first — the Osage tribe, or the Osage orange.

    1. Sometimes the colors in photos don’t quite match what I see in front of me, but in the case of that blue, the camera caught it perfectly. The flower certainly did shine in the tangled brush — almost as though it was showing off.

    1. We’re finally thawing a bit. When I got up this morning, there was only a skim of ice on the birdbaths. For several days, they’ve been frozen solid. I’m going to have a chance to get out and about on Wednesday, to see how things are. I’d love to find another of these beautiful dayflowers.

  6. I’ve occasionally run into flowers here that look almost exactly like the dayflower, and perhaps they’re the same species. They stand out so much because of that strong color. It almost glows, as if lit up from a UV light. And they so often seem to grow in the darkest areas that I’ve yet to create any decent photos of them.

    My favorite of your photos from an aesthetic perspective is the vervain. So very beautiful, really nicely seen, composed, and photographed.

    And that hedge apple had me thinking of a little forest brain, walking around the underbrush.

    1. It’s interesting that yours seem to prefer shade. Ours will thrive in full sunlight, although each bloom lasts only a day, and if they are in full sun they begin to degrade quite quickly. This one was in dappled light at the edge of the woods — the best of all possible worlds! The vervain was easier than some to identify, since it’s our tallest species. It certainly is a pretty thing: and it branches.

      I laughed at your comment about the hedge apple. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t know where my mind is today.” Maybe we have a clue, now.

  7. Presented with just the picture alone I might have guessed the osage orange fruit was a withered ugli fruit, not that I’ve seen one. The ones in the market are of course fresh and I’ve never purchased one.

    We have dayflowers here in the yard but never has one been as deep blue as your C. erecta. I’ve seen an orange fungus similar to that you found although a bit “chunkier”. It was on a living tree and hosted another fungus, neither of which I’ve ever identified.
    Now on to “Walden West-Critter edition”.

    1. The Osage oranges, aka Bois d’Arc or hedge apple, are really cool. It’s probably a good thing we didn’t have them in our neighborhood as kids. We could have done far more damage with them than with the crab apples we used as ‘ammunition.’

      Most of the time, our dayflowers don’t achieve this sort of saturation. This is the deepest blue I’ve ever seen. They have quite a range of color, but most are a kind of medium blue that’s pretty enough, but not so attention grabbing. I’m going to go back in the medium future and check out that orange log again, just to see what’s happened to it.

      1. Here and here are shots of the orange fungus I found back in 2009. I was wrong. SO long ago I found out that I did id it. Orange Sponge Polypore. It will be interesting to see if yours is related.

        We threw a lot of rotten apples as a kid so I am sure those Osage Oranges would have been a temptation as well.

  8. Talking of Bois d’Arcs and their fruit: a few years ago a woman came by our property and on seeing a lot of those “horseapples” lying around she asked if we really intended to let all those wonderful oranges rot or if she could come by and pick them up.

    1. That’s really funny. Did you explain them to her, or did you just send her home with a bag of ‘fruit’? If she gave them a try, she probably thought you had some of the weirdest taste in food she’d ever come across.

  9. We did tell her, Linda. Talking of taste: one of our housekeepers once tried a seed and said it wasn’t too bad but nothing to do again.
    Oh, our deer sometimes eat them. But not this year, as there are plenty lying around rotting. The horseapples, not the deer!

    1. I’m glad it’s not the deer! I did find out which animal was involved in spreading the trees through the North American continent — and it wasn’t cattle or deer. More research is required!

  10. This must have been just before the freeze because my Turks Cap froze to the ground. Along with everything else that makes a flower. And I hate cow pea. It’s prolific here, right now covering the other half of the fence across the front of the shop yard.

    1. It actually was October. I’m getting ready to post the October fauna I came across, and you won’t believe the butterflies! I was down there on New Year’s Day, and it was exactly like you describe. There wasn’t a Turk’s Cap to be seen, or any other flowers for that matter. But grasses? My goodness, they were green. I think the water probably helped them out, and the fact that they were sheltered by the heavy woods.

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