If You Burn It, They Will Come

As spring deepens into summer, I’m always eager for the appearance of basket flowers. They grow in a large swath across the state, so I’m as likely to see them in the hill country as along local fencelines, but I’ve never found them at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge — until this past July.

The pair shown above were some of the last buds in a colony overspreading a berm that separates a small, water-filled ditch from Olney Pond. The berm itself is only about twelve feet wide; the basket-flowers covered it from edge to edge, and extended along the length of the berm for perhaps fifteen or twenty feet.

When I stopped there last October, that same area was covered with balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum), a pan-tropical, introduced, and quite invasive plant that easily smothers more desirable natives. (Another species, the Chihuahuan balloonvine (C. dissectum) is native to Texas, but limited to Starr, Zapata, and Hildalgo counties along the Rio Grande.)

A month later, in mid-November, all that was left of the balloon vine was a collection of fire-scorched vines, seed pods, and seeds. Clearly, a prescribed burn had taken place: the smallest I’d ever seen.

It made perfect sense that fire had been used to clear the area, just as it’s used to manage much larger sections of refuges, prairies, and woodlands around the country.

Prescribed fires clear the way for native grasses and forbs to thrive, but they also allow for some surprises: acres of spider lily where none have been seen; blue star spreading across fire-blackened ditches; and American basket-flower, taking advantage of a newly opened neighborhood with surprising panache.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

 

September Scarlet

This beautiful scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata) is the only red-flowering catchfly in southeast Texas. According to Rare Plants of Texas (Poole, Carr, Price & Singhurst), three other scarlet Silene species are native to Texas, but two (S. laciniata and S. plankii) are found in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos, and S. virginica is a spring bloomer limited to far northeast Texas.

As much as four feet tall and somewhat twiggy, scarlet catchfly has thin stems and narrow, grass-like leaves; compared to other catchflies, its stems and leaves are relatively smooth.  A rare plant endemic to a small area of southeast Texas and adjacent southwest Louisiana, it’s most often found in open, disturbed habitats such as the deep, sandy soils of fire-maintained longleaf pine savannahs.

In the course of a wildflower walk at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve near Warren, Joe Liggio pointed out a few developing catchfly buds.

When I returned a week later, I found several buds in various stages of development, and a few already-blooming flowers that had been nibbled and gnawed to a significant degree.

At a different site, I was pleased to find a few fresher flowers that were as eye-catching as fly-catching.

Although named for sticky, insect-trapping bands that encircle its stem between the upper leaves, catchfly doesn’t feed on the insects it traps. Presumably, other predators take advantage of its catch, celebrating their find of an easy meal.

The catchfly’s bloom time probably depends upon its location. One source says that it flowers between August and mid-September; another places the bloom between July and October, occasionally extending into November.

These August and September photos come from Hardin and Tyler counties; the U.S. Forest Service suggests the flower also can be found at the Stark Tract and Fox Hunter’s Hill in the Sabine National Forest. There still may be time to find them there.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Once More, With Fragrance

An unusual evening rain lily

Last month, finding my first rain lilies of the year — a group of five flowers that included this little gem — satisfied me. They were there; they were lovely; and that was enough.

It never occurred to me that I’d find more rain lilies, and I certainly didn’t expect them to appear almost literally on my doorstep, adding their beauty to a vacant lot across the street.

As I arrived home for lunch yesterday, at least a hundred flowers greeted me. Too widely spaced for a satisfying group portrait, they were numerous enough for their fragrance to spread across the field, lingering in the still air.

Walking among the flowers, I noticed one in particular. Instead of the usual three white petals and three almost identical sepals, the flower was sporting nine. Was it six sepals and three petals? Or three sepals with an extra three petals thrown in as lagniappe? I’m still not sure, but the arrangement was as lovely as it was unusual.

 

Comments always are welcome.
Evening rain-lily (Cooperia drummondii, or Zephyranthes chlorosolen) has been moved from the Lily family (Liliaceae) to the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). The specific epithet ‘drummondii’ recognizes Thomas Drummond, an 18th century Scottish naturalist.