Investing in Gold

November, 2022

Given recent volatility in traditional markets, not to mention the goings-on in the crypto world, it probably was inevitable that purveyors of gold would make their own run at nervous investors; their advertisements are everywhere. While I don’t intend to start stashing gold coins in the closet as a hedge against inflation, I am a great fan of gold — especially the floral variety.

Year after year, the dependable Camphor Daisy (Rayjacksonia phyllocephala) brightens our coastal landscape in nearly every month, but especially from September through January. The plant is blooming now in even our most droughty areas, and its flowers are providing nourishment for a variety of insects. Just for fun, I thought I’d look through my archives to see what past years have offered.

January, 2019

Even in January, this Calligrapher Fly (Toxomerus marginatus) and a friend found flowers in bloom. This species of hoverfly benefits gardeners; it not only sips nectar, it feeds on aphids.

January, 2019

It’s not hard to spot a Spotted Cucumber Beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata). This one was nibbling on the plant’s ray flowers. You can see a bit of evidence at the far left.

December, 2020

Bees of every sort adore this flower. Here, an American Bumblebee (Bombus pensylvanicus) uses its long tongue to gain nourishment.

December, 2021

More than bumblebees visit the flowers. This Southern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa micans), still out and about in December, seems to be luxuriating in the floral wealth.

October, 2018

The soldier fly family name, Stratiomyidae, was derived from the Greek word stratiotes, or ‘soldier.’  The name refers to abdominal markings that resemble military uniform hash marks. In this species, Nemotelus kansensis, the pattern is especially clear.

January, 2019

There was a time when I believed this pretty white-striped insect was a bee; in fact, it’s a Yellow-shouldered Drone Fly (Eristalis stipator), a species of hoverfly that’s often mentioned as a bee mimic. It fooled me.

October, 2018

In the past week, all of the refuges have received from a half-inch to an inch of rain. That’s enough to coax even more gold blooms into existence, and to coax at least a few gold-lovers into investing more time with them.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Salt Marsh Surprise

Galveston State Park

Receding waters during this season of drought have made many of our salt marshes more accessible. On Sunday afternoon, as I explored the flats on the bay side of Galveston State Park in search of Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum), a favorite food of early-arriving Whooping Cranes, I noticed a flush of white rising above the familiar saltworts and seepweeds.

Making my way to the patch of fading blooms, I discovered a plant I’d never before encountered: a combination of tiny purple flowers and white bracts on plants a foot tall.

What I’d found is called Sea Lavender or Carolina Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum). It’s occasionally known as thrift, although it’s quite different from the Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) that’s found on our west coast and in Europe.

In season, it produces masses of flowers that create a lavender haze above the ground. Even after its blooms fade, the long-lasting white bracts are quite attractive. Although I missed the height of its bloom this year, next summer I’ll know where to look for this lovely perennial.

That said, even a few of its tiny flowers were enough to tempt a flurry of Beach Skippers (Panoquina panoquinoides) into a visit. Closely related to the Salt Marsh Skipper, Beach Skippers are quite small — about an inch long — and can be distinguished by three small white spots on their wings. After mentioning their presence in Brazoria and Matagorda counties in spring and Aransas County in September, the Tvetens’ book, Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, suggests that this skipper also might be found around Galveston Bay.

Clearly, the Tvetens’ suspicion has been confirmed.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Down By the Brazos

The Brazos in Flood ~ 2016

The longest river in Texas, the Brazos rises near the eastern boundary of Stonewall County, east and slightly south of the town of Lubbock. Flowing 840 miles across the state, it drains into the Gulf of Mexico roughly halfway between the Brazoria and San Bernard wildlife refuges.

Like any river, its course is far from straight. Communities that grew up along its banks testify to that by their names: Meeks Bend, Big Valley Bend, Horseshoe Bend.  Fort Bend, a blockhouse built to provide protection against Indian raids in the 1800s, eventually gave its name to Fort Bend County: the home of Brazos Bend State Park.

Brazos Bend provides everything that makes a park appealing: miles of trails, well-designed campgrounds, picnic spots galore, and a rich variety of plants and animals. Alligators are a primary claim to fame. Visitors often ask one another, “Have you seen any alligators today?” But there’s more to see than alligators. Here are a few sights that delighted me during a visit last Sunday.

An early arrival meant dew drops still could be found on this tiny leaf of a newly-energized grapevine (Vitis mustangensis).

Only feet from the parking lot, a diminuitive mushroom caught my eye. So tiny that the shadow on its left side was caused by mown lawn grass, it was just over an inch tall, with a half-inch wide cap.

For the inexperienced like myself, identifying mushrooms can be especially difficult. In this case, translucency offered a hint; this ice-like beauty may be a Marasmioid mushroom. My photo hardly does it justice, but you can see better examples here.

Fuzzier than the beach tea (Croton punctatus) found on our dunes, wooly Croton (Croton lindheimeri) lives up to its common name. According to Flora of North America, C. lindheimeri can be distinguished in part by the rusty/orange color on young growth, and sharp leaf tips. This plant certainly seems to fit the description.

An especially small morning glory, Ipomoea lacunosa has been described as “growing in low areas adjacent to creeks and rivers.” Proximity to the park’s 40 Acre Lake apparently suited these; their long vines twined over a substantial area. Sometimes called Whitestar, the diminuitive native blooms well into October.

Whitestar morning glory

Along a shaded trail, a Texas endemic I’d seen only once before was coming into bloom. Even smaller than the Whitestar morning glory, Texas pinkroot (Spigelia texana) is easy to miss. Other Spigelia species, like the woodland pinkroot, are more colorful, and often are used in garden plantings.

Spigelia texana at Brazos Bend
Spigelia texana bud and bloom at the San Bernard refuge

Butterflies, like this Queen nectaring at a species of Heliotrope, were common.

To my delight, native lotuses (Nelumbo lutea) still were blooming. A flower as much as twelve inches across can make it hard to include both the entire flower and a tiny damselfly in the same photo, but the pairing did bring a smile.

The most interesting find of the day involved this common garden spider, Argiope aurantia. When I first noticed it alongside the path, it didn’t seem to be doing anything other than what spiders often do: hang out in their webs awaiting prey.

Sometime later, once again passing the spider on the same path, I noticed something different. It seemed to be holding a ball of white silk unlike anything I’d seen before. Although the egg sacs of A. aurantia usually are larger, it’s possible that this was an egg sac in the making, especially since the spider clearly was ‘working’ the silk as I watched.

 
James Trager, a biologist/naturalist for the Missouri Botanical Gardens’ Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, Missouri described the process of Argiope egg sac creation in a comment on the Prairie Ecologist blog, edited here for length:

When the time comes for egg laying, the mother spider produces an uncompleted upper half of the egg sac’s papery outer layer, followed by an inverted basket of soft yellow silk, which will form a padded receptacle for the eggs.
Laid in a single mass, the eggs — held together by a slightly viscous fluid — are pushed up into the inverted basket by movements of the abdomen. Then, the layer of yellow padding around the egg mass is finished, followed by an outer, water-resistent but porous layer which protects the eggs and allows for gas exchange.
The whole process takes an hour or so.

In fact, it had been just over an hour between my sightings of this particular spider. Whether I found it creating a small egg sac may be debatable, but one thing is certain: whether coming or going along nature’s paths, the sights aren’t always the same.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Clover and Coreids

While pretty purple Wedgeleaf Prairie Clovers were busy overspreading the warm dunes of coastal Texas, their genus-mate, Golden Prairie Clover (Dalea aurea) was standing tall in the gravelly loam of the Texas hill country.

Spreading as far north as South Dakota and a bit west into Arizona and Colorado, this warm season perennial — a member of the pea family —  prefers the sandy soils of mesas, roadsides, and shortgrass prairies. Both livestock and white-tailed deer find Golden Prairie Clover to their liking, which helps to explain why it’s often seen along roadsides, or on land free of cattle.

When I found my first group of one to two foot tall bloom stalks, they were growing alongside Texas 187, north of the Lost Maples Natural Area. The two closeups of flowers were taken on Gillespie County’s Willow City loop, where they’d established themselves in a roadside patch of gravel near a ranch gate.

When in bloom, a spiral of yellow, pea-like flowers encircles a cone-like spike; the same silky, gray hairs that cover the leaves and stem are obvious on the spike.

The flower is especially attractive to a variety of bees, but no bees hovered around these blooms. Instead, a crab spider lurked beneath a petal of the flower pictured below, and a nymph of the common cactus bug, Chelinidea vittiger, had found its way onto the stem.

Cactus bugs, also known as Cactus Coreids, are shield-shaped insects with piercing mouth parts. While adults have wings, the nymphs are wingless; both feed in groups on prickly pear cactus.

The first indications of feeding are light, circular spots on the pads which show that the insects have been at work for some time. With continued feeding, the spots become larger and coalesce, and the entire pad becomes yellowish and pitted.

Secondary invasion by fungi sometimes causes large, black spots. When the infected areas drop out, a nearly circular opening through the joint may appear, or an entire pad may drop off.

After progressing through several stages, the still-wingless nymph becomes increasingly attractive. The brown, leathery appearance of this latter stage makes the insect easily recognizable, even when it leaves its preferred prickly pear to explore the world of a Golden Dalea.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Four Years and Counting

In the opening scene of the popular and long-running Music Man, critics of con man Professor Harold Hill agree: he doesn’t know the territory. 

Knowing the territory can be as important for a flower seeker as for a salesman. Four years ago, when I found a substantial number of white spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.) blooming in a vacant lot, I was surprised. The following year, I returned to that bit of neighborhood territory to find an equal number of pretty white blooms, and the next year brought even more white flowers.

This year, I expected to find the flowers again, and I wasn’t disappointed. But this time, I wasn’t their only visitor. A variety of small bees, beetles, and hoverflies had gathered around them: perhaps engaged in their own process of getting to know some new territory.

 

Comments always are welcome.