Walden West ~ November

By mid-to-late November, Walden West remained dry, and the butterflies that provided so much delight during October’s visit were gone: vanished as completely as the spiders that  preceded them in leave-taking. In their wake, a few flowers lingered, as well as a pretty mushroom that signaled our recent rains.

Blue Mistflower can spread aggressively, and large colonies of the plant exist within the San Bernard refuge; perhaps those plants had sent their seed to the edge of Walden West.  Closely related to white-flowered bonesets (Eupatorium spp.), mistflower can be distinguished by its colorful flowers, relatively short stature, and broad, heavily veined leaves. Like bonesets, its flowerheads contain only disk florets.

Blue mistflower ~ Conoclinium coelestinum

With eleven species of aster listed for our coastal counties, and even more for Texas as a whole, identification can pose a challenge. These belong to the genus Symphyotrichum, and probably are dumosum: the pretty ‘rice button,’ or bushy aster.

Rice Button Aster ~ Symphyotrichum dumosum

If rains come, can fungi be far behind? Despite a lack of standing water, the soft and sometimes muddy ground gave rise to this pretty pleated mushroom.

Possibly a brittlestem mushroom ~ a member of the Coprinaceae

Despite the delicate lavenders and whites displayed by fungi and flowers, Walden West’s November displayed a subtle golden glow: an unexpected wash of autumn color.

Poison ivy ~ Toxicodendron radicans
Goldenrod ~ Solidago altissima,with paper wasp
Hairy cowpea ~ Vigna luteola, with friend

By November, fruits were as common as flowers. The pretty Silverleaf Nightshade, a member of the same family as tomatoes (Solanaceae) produces fruits that resemble cherry tomatoes in shape, if not in color.

Silverleaf nightshade fruit

The berries of Possumhaw, a native holly, shine against the golden glow of Winged Elm leaves. Possumhaw is deciduous, and the loss of its leaves in autumn makes the berry-and-stem combination even more striking.

Possumhaw ~ Ilex decidua

A golden-leaved Honey Locust (Gleditsia spp.) caught my attention, but left me puzzled. Every characteristic of the tree, from leaves to bark, seemed typical of Honey Locusts, but the tree lacked thorns: a feature of the tree often described as “particularly nasty.”

In time, I learned that a natural hybrid between Gleditsia triacanthos and G. aquatica exists. First recorded in Brazoria County bottomlands in 1892, the tree was introduced to cultivation in 1900; the BONAP map shows the limits of its distribution. While its foliage is similar to G. triacanthos, the Honey Locust known as Gleditsia x Texana has no thorns.

Last February, I found a single leaf of a Winged Elm clinging to its branch.

This November, the full glory of the Winged Elms was impressive. Their golden leaves, draped with Spanish moss and glittering in the sunlight, seemed a fitting end to this penultimate visit to Walden West.


In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and head-lands.
If we go beyond our usual course, we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round, do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature.
                              Walden: or a Life in the Woods ~ Henry David Thoreau

Comments always are welcome.

63 thoughts on “Walden West ~ November

    1. I think those are some of the prettiest asters. I made a list of the eleven that grow in our area, with their primary characteristics. I’ll carry that with me next year; since there’s no field guide that lists all eleven, that may make it easier to sort them out. When the differences are so slight, after-the-fact IDs from photos are nearly impossible.

  1. That location has surely proved fruitful, both literally (silverleaf nightshade, possumhaw) and figuratively. I don’t remember ever coming across a fungus like the one you were fortunate to find. Corresponding to your fly on yellow, a tiny one of similar appearance landed on and politely stayed on the red of my Subaru last month long enough for close-ups from different angles. Pilot has become so associated in most people’s minds with airplanes that that was my first association when beginning to read the Thoreau quotation.

    1. When I think ‘pilot,’ I’m more likely to think of Mark Twain than Charles Lindbergh. Twain’s steamship is gone, but pilots remain an important part of maritime life. Every ship plying the Houston Ship Channel is required to have a professional pilot on board; we sometimes sailed around the anchorage off the Galveston jetties just to watch pilots boarding or leaving ships. Houston pilot Lou Vest, who’s a crack photographer, did this time lapse of a night run from the port toward the jetties. I can’t even imagine the skill involved.

      I do enjoy it when insects are willing to stay put for a photo session. Were reflections from the car a problem in the case of your fly? or was it a cloudy day? I suspect red made for an equally attractive background.

      1. I figured that with your maritime background pilot would bring up different primary associations. Regarding the fly on the Subaru, I see that I took five pictures, all with my ring flash so I could stop down to f/29 and f/32 for enhanced depth of field. Reflection was a problem in only one of those. It occurred in the upper right corner and is probably remediable via Photoshop. And yes, lustrous red makes for an eye-catching and fly-catching background.

        1. Now I’m laughing — at myself. Put any kind of boating reference in front of me, and I’m off and running.

          Are you going to share you eye-catching fly? It would be fun to see it.

          1. Yes, the tiny fly should put in an appearance in about a week. The last three months of 2022 were very productive, which means I’ve had way more pictures than I can show. My preference is one or maybe two photographs per post but you’ve noticed that I’ve recently often crammed in three or four. That’s my way of getting more stuff out there rather than having pictures sit unseen.

        1. The video begins at the port’s turning basin, and ends at Morgan’s Point, where the channel enters Galveston Bay. Colonel James Morgan, the businessman for whom the point is named, is connected to Emily West, a young mulatto woman who’s the source of many Texas tales. She’s said to have been ‘entertaining’ Santa Anna in his tent prior to the Battle of San Jacinto, helping the Texians to prevail over his forces.

          In any event, the battle took place at the edge of the channel. If you go to the video and pause it at 1:30, you’ll see the bow of the ship pointed straight at a tall, lighted structure. That’s the San Jacinto monument: a tribute to Texas independence. At 1:42 you get the best look at it, with the big Texas Lone Star at the top. At 2:11, you get a good view of the Fred Hartmann bridge; I pass over it whenever I’m headed to east Texas — or points north. After that, it’s away from industry and into the darkness of the bay.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Lavinia. I was surprised to see October’s butterflies, but I was even more surprised by the sudden autumnal glow that arrived in November. It certainly wasn’t mountain larches or New England style color, but it made me happy.

    1. That “aggressive spreading” is the sort of thing some gardeners say. Since it’s native, I prefer “enthusiastic grower,” and so do the bees, butterflies, flies, and so on that swarm around it when it’s in bloom. Since it’s a fall bloomer, it provides a lot of nourishment when other flowers are fading.

    1. I was pleased with that photo too, Eliza. The wind was strong enough to blow the moss into nice, diagonal lines, making the scene even more interesting. As for the gorgeous sky: that’s one benefit of our so-called “blue northers” — fronts strong enough to blow out the humidity, dust, and general grime that floats around.

  2. Wow. Those Winged Elms are beautiful. I don’t think we have any out this way. Off topic, we do have a Red Headed Woodpecker staying with us, along with another pair of Cardinals! Lots of Red Winged Blackbirds, too. There don’t seem to be as many Starlings though. Usually we have tons. Maybe because it’s been warmer this fall/winter? Thank you for your Walden posts. I always learn so much from you!

    1. Woodpeckers are fun. I’ve seen a downy woodpecker here, but so far no red-headed. Of course, cardinals always are welcome. I’ve not seen ‘mine’ in quite some time, but mating season isn’t so very far away, and that means that cardinal song will start again. I did hear a dove cooing on friday: but just once, as though it was making sure it still had a voice. I had exactly five starlings that were coming to my feeders for weeks, but they’re gone, too. Some people don’t like them, but I enjoy their chirping and singing — and they’re pretty, with that iridescence.

  3. I think the pair of Cardinals hangout here year round because we feed them in the winter, and we have a little pond -it’s not pretty- but the birds and turtles seem to like it! Like you, we like the starlings. They are fun to watch and listen to!

    1. Cardinals are year-round residents, and they certainly do brighten up the landscape. Ponds are great things to have. A source of water is good for a variety of creatures — how cool that you have turtles, too.

    1. One of these days I’ll post some of my late autumn photos of massed Mistflower. There are boardwalks at the San Bernard Refuge and Galveston’s Artist Boat where they really filled out; their color intensifies with greater numbers.

  4. I could make a funny about the Astors and the 400 being the number of species that would fit in the clade, but perhaps not? The mistflower is so delightfully”bed-heady” and such a lovely blue. The Silverleaf nightshade’s naked stems with its oddly orangy yellow fruit is a very alien looking thing. Martian.

    1. Ah, yes. Mr. “Make-a-Lister” engaged in some of the most interesting societal taxonomy that ever was. His argument with the bold asssertion that there were only 150 on The List reminds me of botanical and ornithological arguments I’ve run across.

      I’m not surprised that you like that blue. En masse, the flowers can resemble some of your variegated yards, moving from shade to shade without any discernible boundary.

    1. It’s not all cactus and sand, that’s for sure. Spring wildflowers may be the most famous example of our color, but it can be found in every month of the year — although it’s sometimes necessary to look very, very closely in January.

    1. People often say they prefer the Texas autumn to our state’s other seasons, and October and November certainly lived up to their reputation this year: even in places where the more dramatic colors weren’t present.

    1. I’d thought the fly might be Musca domestica, but I didn’t want to wait for a confirmation from BugGuide before posting. Thanks to you, I’m at least sure of the genus.
      This has been a rich environment for exploration. What’s been most surprising is the number of interesting things I found after the flowers began to fade. I’ve certainly learned a good bit about trees, spiders, and fungi through my visits.

  5. Ah, what a gorgeous set of photos. And wow, I did not know about the locust hybrid situation! I’ll keep my eye out when I’m in that area.

    1. My hunch is that the territory where that hybrid locust first was found is what’s called the Columbia Bottomlands now. It’s a beautiful tree, and its autumn color certainly rivals any of the other yellows that are around. It’s interesting that it shows up in Florida, too, although its range there is quite limited. Apparently it’s available commercially; if I had a yard and the right conditions, I’d plant one in a minute.

  6. Our virtual visitations to Walden West have been fascinating. Thanks to an expert tour guide, we have had the rare privilege to observe a single location transition through the seasons. Nature offers so much for the curious. Although it’s sad to think there will be only one more visit (in this series, at least), we know new adventures lurk around the bend.

    So many colors, textures and structures. November. In Texas. Amazing.

    I love the Blue Mistflower, and as you have mentioned to a couple of commenters, it’s pretty spectacular in a great mass. We have a similar-looking invasive to contend with here in Florida. Be on the lookout for Praxelis Clematidia, as it’s predicted to spread to most of the southeast. It’s a threat to native flora. Here’s a link to help in identification:

    Thoreau’s quote was certainly apt for the story of Walden West. I focused on his comment about being completely lost in order to appreciate nature. Gini often accuses me of becoming “lost on purpose”. Ego compels me to repeat something attributed to Daniel Boone when he was asked if had been lost. “”I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”

    That’s me exploring nature: Bewildered.

    1. That Daniel Boone quotation is wonderful. I’ve found myself bewildered a few times, and I can remember most of the places where bewilderment set upon me. A sudden insight sent me to the etymologists, who advise that ‘bewilder’ probably is a backformation from ‘wilderness.’ Personally, I like the message hidden in the word: be-wild-er. Or, as Steppenwolf advised: “Get your motor running…”

      I really enjoyed that article about the Praxelis clematidia, although it took a couple of readings, botanical dictionary in hand. I enjoy learning that way; context helps to make concepts more understandable. It was interesting to go to the BONAP map and find it only in your lovely state; no wonder people there are paying attention.

      I’ve been a little surprised that the thought of ending this series makes me a bit sad. I suppose that’s a measure of how well I’ve come to know the place. But! The venerable Joan Didion’s given me a way to wrap things up, and I had a sudden inspiration today for a new project. I need to get cracking. Time’s a-wasting!

  7. What a pretty mushroom! Looks like it’s wearing a ladies’ slip (remember those from long ago??) And how nice to hear some locusts don’t have thorns. I’m not terribly fond of plants with thorns (even roses can be difficult as they need to be pruned … and I don’t know how to dispose of the stickered mess!)

    1. I certainly do remember slips, although I thought first of the knife-pleated skirts that were all the rage during my middle school years. When I think of my mother actually making skirts like that for me, I just shake my head. Then, it was just what she did. Now, I realize how much work went into those things.

      I’m not fond of thorns, either, and we have several pretty well-defended trees down here — not to mention cacti with thorns half a foot long. At least you can see those; roses and such sometimes can do their damage before you see they’re armed.

      1. I’d completely forgotten those, but my parents had a pair of lamps with pleated shades. I still have both of the Cameo glass bases; they were vases originally. I wondered if I could find them online, and I sure did. I don’t know what my parents paid for the pair, but it surely wasn’t $450! The linked article says the vases were made c. 1926-1932. My folks were married in 1938, so I’d bet they purchased the vases when they were setting up household — or received them as a wedding present — and then Dad turned them into lamps.

        All this from a mushroom!

    1. Thanks so much. I got a kick out of the poison ivy and its little poof of leaves at the top. It will show up again in the final Walden West post; given its location, it was easy to spot again, with a few signs of age upon it.

  8. I see in the comments that a lot of folks like that blue mistflower and me too! The Winged Elm and Spanish moss picture is neat, too, you don’t see sights like that here in the north.

      1. I know that Linda Ronstadt song, it’s great. There’s another song about a hundred years older, “Silver Threads Among the Gold,” they still have the old sheet music at my parents’ house and a John McCormack record

    1. I think I’ll do a post dedicated to the Blue Mistflower; everyone seems to like them. The thought of Spanish moss on a guava tree is intriguing. I didn’t realize that guavas grow in Texas. I might have said ‘yes’ for far south Texas, but apparently they’re more widespread than I realized. They require a good bit of protection from the cold, but they will survive. I hope your Mom’s moss survives, too!

  9. These are beautiful photos, Linda. I think we might have one of Blue Mistflower’s cousins up north in abundance. Or maybe a different species altogether but similar in appearance. They’re beautiful. Here’s an odd one for you. Usually each fall, beginning in September, I will begin to see what amounts to loads of various fungi at the cottage. Tiny ones, big ones, clumps, solo ‘shrooms, dark ones, white ones, spotted and plain. This year — September and October (and I was there a LOT) I did not see ONE. Not one. It wasn’t THAT dry…. go figure.

    1. I couldn’t find a similar blue flower up there, but you do have a very similar white one: Boneset. Butterflies and such love them all.

      Isn’t it interesting how things can vary from one year to another? I suppose with fungi it’s the same as with flowers: a combination of factors can encourage or discourage their multiplication. The other thing I’ve learned is that timing is everything. Especially with mushrooms that can appear overnight and disappear equally quickly, the difference of only a few days can make a huge difference. The best example I can think of was a visit to east Texas woods a couple of years ago. I didn’t see a single mushroom. Four days later, someone who visited the same spot posted photos of a half-dozen species. So it goes!

  10. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen real Spanish moss in a natural real-world setting, just as filler in flower arrangements. And mushrooms are such amazing things, popping up so quickly and in so many places. I always marvel at them no matter how many times I see them.

    1. Mushrooms sure are the “now you see it, now you don’t” masters of nature. Or, to reverse it, first you don’t see them, and then you do. I don’t see many, but even so their variety amazes me. Identification can be relatively easy if one has a particular shape or vibrant color, but I’ve spent a good bit of time just scrolling through photos to find a starting point. It’s said that Texas has 10,000 species, give or take, so that’s a lot of scrolling!

      When I was a kid visiting a great aunt in Baton Rouge, I used to sleep on a Spanish moss mattress on her ‘sleeping porch.’ Later, I learned two important lessons from another Louisiana friend. If you want to use the stuff, say in a flower arrangment, select pieces that never have touched the ground (chiggers and such will climb into it) and microwave what you’re going to use, to kill whatever got into it anyway. How’s that for news you can use?

  11. What an inventory! Even in summer my walks rarely offer such a bounty as this of yours in autumn. As you might guess, I immediately thought of Boneset when see your Blue Mistflower but the color threw me. I think that most nightshades and holly fruits are poisonous. Is that true of these two you show us?
    I sometimes eavesdrop on the comments of others…a mattress of spanish moss. That’s cool.

    1. The berries of both are toxic. On the other hand, yaupon leaves can be used to make a very nice tea. I’ve tried it, and found it enjoyable. Yaupon’s the only naturally caffeinated plant that’s native to the U.S. I’ve ordered from this Texas company in the past, but it seems to be catching on, and now there are more sources available.

      My great-aunt Fannie was quite a woman. I loved visiting her. She lived outside Baton Rouge in the country, and there was a lot to explore around her place.

    1. Isn’t that honey locust something? I thought the gold of its leaves equalled anything a sycamore or elm could produce. We do have autumn color: it’s just that it runs on a different schedule and isn’t always gaudy enough for calendars.

    1. Aren’t they fun? When I first heard of winged elms, I thought the ‘wings’ were the parts of the seed that allowed them to twist and twirl when we threw them in the air. It was quite a revelation to finally see and understand the ‘wings’ on stems and branches: of elms, but of other plants, too.

  12. Linda, your photos and narrative fill up my desire to resume walking at two nearby nature parks. The weather here has been up and down (as usual) and my schedule has allowed only walks close to home.

    1. The weather does make a difference. We had an unusually warm November and December, despite one significant freeze. Now, we’re back in the cold, with rain, freezing fog, sleet, and for-real icing over a good part of the state. It’s not midwestern cold here, but forty degrees makes strolling a bit of a struggle sometimes! That’s all right. Spring’s coming!

        1. Cold but safe, here. All the icing is happening north of us, from the Austin area to Dallas/Ft. Worth. I’m sure Oklahoma and Arkansas are going to be affected, too. But so far, it’s only highway problems; the power grid is fine, and should stay so, unless increasing ice starts to drop lines.

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