Meanwhile, Back at My ‘Office’

Juvenile Green Heron ~ Butorides virescens

After reading that green herons nest in a variety of locations, including willow thickets, mangroves, dry woods, and open marsh, I smiled at the list-maker’s omission of ‘marinas.’

Some weeks ago, after noticing white splatters on the concrete around my preferred parking spot at work, I realized birds were roosting or nesting in the trees surrounding the marina. Eventually, I found three relatively small nests in the large oak overhanging my car. Given the nests’ size, and the nature of the squawks coming from birds hidden among the branches, I assumed they belonged to green herons.

Despite scanning the branches every day, it took a while to find the three juvenile herons exploring the world around their nest. Photographing young birds in a leafed-out live oak isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but their appealing expressions made the effort worthwhile.

According to the Audubon website, green heron chicks begin to roam near their nest by 16-17 days after hatching, and make their first flight by 21-23 days, so it won’t be long before these youngsters are testing their wings.

One day, I discovered the birds doing some scanning of their own: no doubt waiting for a parent to bring food. Eventually, one walked down a branch into a bit of a clearing; oblivious to my presence, it continued to watch and wait.

Before long, a parent arrived. Clearly more aware of my presence than the youngsters, it may have been waiting to feed them. Because green herons feed by regurgitation, the absence of a fish in its bill was no surprise.

Adult green heron

The second smallest heron nesting in the United States — only least bitterns are smaller — green herons are among the most widespread of the heron species. The oldest green heron on record, eight years and eleven months of age, was banded in Texas in 2013 and rediscovered here in 2021.

Two trees down from the wandering juveniles, I found this green heron nestling; perhaps in the future it will be the one to break that record.


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Rockport Texas in My Rear View Mirror


Spring arrives early in Texas, but circumstances — including my own inattention — meant my annual visit to the Rockport cemetery was late, and many of the flowers already had faded. Some were producing seed, although a lack of rain seemed to have diminished their numbers.

That said, many individual flowers were fresh and beautiful: ready to show off for someone who was a little late to the show.

Very little compares to a field of bluebonnets, but even a single flower can shine.

Texas bluebonnet ~ Lupinus texensis

Like yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), wolly globemallow has delightfully fuzzy buds, stems, and leaves. A true Texas endemic, it thrives in the sandy conditions of south Texas, especially near the coast. In the Rockport cemetery, it emerges in the same spot every year.

Wolly globemallow ~ Sphaeralcea lindheimeri

Another lover of sandy soil, Texas toadflax can be found from east Texas to Galveston Island; I’ve found it as far west as the area south of San Antonio. Because of the long ‘spur’ that extends from the flower, it’s sometimes confused with larkspur.

Texas toadflax ~ Nuttallanthus texanus

Every stage of the beautiful winecup, or purple poppy-mallow, is worth recording. It’s buds are especially pleasing, but who could resist this color?

Winecup ~ Callirhoe involucrata

A new flower always is a delight. This year at Rockport, it was a pretty, though non-native, species known as annual wall-rocket. Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, it may have arrived here in ships’ ballast. A member of the mustard family, this lover of disturbed ground is edible; its leaves are said to make a fine addition to a salad.

Annual wall-rocket ~ Diplotaxis muralis

The small flowers of Drummond’s skullcap attract a variety of pollinators, including small bees and butterflies. The polka-dotted ‘landing pad’ seems perfectly designed to attract a pollinator’s attention, and the plant’s drought resistance makes it a good choice for xeriscaping.

Drummond’s skullcap ~ Scutellaria drummondii

Assorted coreopsis filled the cemetery, their numbers rivaling those of the bluebonnets. By early March, some already were completing their life cycle, providing striking images like this single ray flower in the process of decline. Because it’s the practice at this cemetery to forgo mowing until after wildflower season, their seed also will help to guarantee next season’s blooms.

Plains coreopsis ~ Coreopsis tinctoria

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For those unfamiliar with the source of the title, give a listen here.

Uncurling Blues

Anyone coming upon the tightly clustered buds of Phacelia congesta for the first time could be forgiven for assuming its flowers would be white. Instead, they emerge as a beautiful purple to lavender-blue, giving the plant its common name of ‘blue curls.’

As the buds mature, they begin to separate and uncurl, providing a second common name for the plant: caterpillars. A favorite Texas garden flower because of its abundant nectar — and deer resistance — blue curls grow easily from seed, and often form large colonies.

Most references indicate a March to May bloom time for blue curls; as summer heat arrives, they fade from the scene. In fact, the first three photos showing plants in various stages of opening were taken in Goliad on March 5.

That said, only one day prior, in the Rockport cemetery, the process of uncurling was nearly complete; many of the flowers already were beginning to fade. Goliad and Rockport are only sixty miles apart; it was a good reminder that local conditions, including temperature, hours of sunlight, and rainfall can make quite a difference in a plant’s life cycle.


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Orchid ~ More Than a Color

Rose Pogonia ~ Pogonia ophioglossoides

Life is filled with surprises, and learning that Texas is populated with wild orchids certainly surprised me. I’d always associated orchids with jungles, or at least with the tropics, but Texas is home to fifty-four species of terrestrial orchids: plants that grow in soil rather than on trees, rocks, or other plants.

A majority of Texas orchids — thirty-six species– grow in the bogs and forests of east Texas. In past years, I’ve found examples of five. This past Sunday, while visiting the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, I added one more beauty to my list: the rose pogonia.  

Slender, usually with only one flower and a single leaf midway up its stem, rose pogonia often is found in pitcher plant bogs, and that’s where I found mine. Several of the orchids had grown up among the pitcher plants, but photographing them would have been impossible without damaging other plants or disturbing the mossy ground.

As luck would have it, one orchid was growing where it could be somewhat isolated from the cluttered background, although there was no way to move around seeking different perspectives or a sharper focus. No matter. One photo is better than none, and now I’ll know what I’m looking at if I come across them again.

Joe and Ann Liggio’s book Wild Orchids of Texas notes that rose pogonia sometimes is confused with the grass pink orchid, but they bloom at different times; rose pogonias fade away just as grass pinks begin to arrive. On Sunday, my discovery of one blooming grass pink suggests that I’d arrived at just the right time to witness the transition. Next year, I’ll search earlier in the year for the rose pogonia; now, I’m looking forward to a profusion of the beautiful grass pinks.

Grass Pink ~ Calopogon tuberosus

Robert Frost’s poem “Rose Pogonia” pays tribute to an orchid-filled meadow; the Watson Preserve endures as one answer to his prayer.

We raised a simple prayer
Before we left the spot,
That in the general mowing
That place might be forgot;
Or if not all is favoured
Obtain such grace of hours,
That none should mow the grass there
While so confused with flowers.


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Waiting for the Fog to Lift

On March 5, the fog enshrouding Goliad lifted slowly, allowing time to seek out and photograph flowers other than the white prickly poppies that first had claimed my attention. In the midst of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, assorted yellow and pink blossoms added interest to the fields, and fog condensing into droplets added interest to the flowers.

Since cutleaf evening primrose usually blooms at night, this one probably was closing; the small yellow blooms often show a wash of pink or orange as they age. Here, the heart-shaped petals had begun to fold; the droplets on their surface suggested hobnail glass.

Cutleaf Evening Primrose ~ Oenothera laciniata

Once included with the gauras, various beeblossoms now are members of the Oenothera genus. One clue to their identity is the deeply divided four-part stigma visible here. In a bit of an understatement, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes that “the genus is easily recognized, but the species are sometimes difficult, due partly to a great deal of hybridization.” That said, the leaves and stems of this one suggest Lindheimer’s beeblossom.

Lindheimer’s Beeblossom ~ Oenothera lindheimeri

Huisache daisy was named for its tendency to grow among huisache trees: a species of acacia abundant in Texas scrublands. Several unique features contributed to this plant being assigned its own genus, such as semitransparent, papery, square-topped scales that form the pappus, rather than hairs or spines. When in bloom, its domed disc flowers are especially attractive; when covered in dew, the fine hairs along its stem become visible.

Huisache Daisy ~ Amblyolepis setigera

The graceful curve of velvet weed has led to another common name: lizard-tail gaura. As the plant develops, it can become four to six feet tall, making it easy to spot in the landscape.

Velvetweed ~ Oenothera curtiflora

Like Maximilian sunflower, bush sunflower, and Illinois bundleflower, Engelmann’s daisy is one of Texas’s most recognizable perennial forbs. Named for George Engelmann, the German-American physician and botanist who helped to found the Missouri Botanic Garden, it begins to flower in early spring, and sometimes re-blooms in the fall.

Also known as cutleaf daisy because of its deeply lobed leaves, it often appears along roadsides in the company of green milkweed, phlox, and coreopsis. On the other hand, livestock, antelope, and deer find it highly palatable; over the years, foraging animals can graze it out of a pasture. Gardeners in deer-rich urban settings should be mindful that this beautiful and tasty combination might be difficult to sustain.

Engelmann’s Daisy ~ Engelmannia peristenia


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