A Solo Trio

A developing flower of Xyris ambigua

 

Having shown more abstract images of a yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ambigua), it seemed only right to offer a more detailed look at this lovely plant.

Yellow-eyed-grasses not only belong in their own genus — Xyris  — they also belong in their own family: the Xyridaceae. More closely aligned with grasses than with other flowering plants, they thrive in wet places, specializing in acid or sandy soils, moist pine or oak savannas, pine flatwoods, pond shores, ditches, and bogs. These photos, taken in the wetland pine savannah of the Big Thicket Solo Tract, might just as easily have come from surrounding bogs.

A relatively tall plant that often grows to a height of three feet, its conspicuous cone-like inflorescence can be more than an inch long; tightly wound green and brown bracts subtend the pretty yellow flower.

Double or even triple flowers occasionally appear simultaneously
From bud to flower to seed

I especially enjoy the opportunity to see various stages of plant life on a single day. The experience brings to mind this passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on self-reliance:

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones… There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

Comments always are welcome.

Tête-à-Tête

Two Gray Hairstreaks sipping nectar from antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula)
(click image for greater clarity and detail)

 

One of the most common butterflies on the North American continent, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) also ranges into Central and northern South America.

In their book Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, John and Gloria Tveten describe hairstreaks as “fast-flying butterflies that dart about so quickly and erratically that they are extremely difficult to follow.”  I’ve certainly been frustrated by that behavior, but this pair, intent on sips of nectar, were more than willing to tolerate my presence.

Found on a milkweed-covered  hillside along the west prong of the Medina River, very near The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve, these hairstreaks were accompanied by Buckeye, Sulphur, and American Painted Lady butterflies: all enjoying the abundance of late spring flowers, and perfect flying conditions.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Ball Moss in Bloom

This nondescript and messy little bundle of plant life is ball moss: Tillandsia recurvata. Not a true moss at all, this epiphytic member of the bromeliad family commonly clings to the limbs of trees, barbed wire fencing, and utility wires.

While its own wiry roots attach the plant to a host, they don’t draw nutrients from that host; the plant isn’t a parasite. Instead, it absorbs minerals and moisture from the air through scales on its leaves called trichomes: a characteristic of another epiphyte, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).

Not everyone loves ball moss, although spiders and other insects seem to enjoy taking up residence inside its tangled leaves. If the plant’s flowers were more obvious, they might get more respect, but most people never see the tiny blooms.

Ball moss in bloom

When I found this little ball of moss in the middle of a parking lot, I noticed its buds, and wondered what would happen if I brought it home and fussed over it a bit. I’d read that the plant enjoys high humidity, so I laid it in a pot next to a prickly pear cactus, and misted it when I thought about it. In about a week, some of the buds — from 3/8″ to 1/2″ long — had opened.

I was able to see the flowers without magnification, but only at close range. Even then they were difficult to discern, so it’s no wonder people looking at the plants from a distance never glimpse the flowers.

In a day or two, the petals began to droop, and a separation appeared as the seed head began to form.

As the seed head continued to dry, the split became more obvious.

Eventually, the seed pod opened and tiny seeds began to drop, ready to be dispersed by the wind. Those that find a congenial place to land, like crevices in tree bark, will begin developing roots almost immediately, and a new plant will form. Each flower can produce up to a hundred seeds, so it’s no wonder that, once established, ball moss becomes a recognizable part of the southern landscape.

Opened pod with dangling seeds

 

Comments always are welcome.