A New Answer to an Old Question

Texas Dandelion ~ Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus

Each year, as shrubs begin to bud and a flush of nearly-green begins to overtake lawns and roadsides, I remember the teasing question from my childhood:

Spring has come, the grass is riz!
I wonder where the flowers iz?

Yesterday, the beginning of this year’s answer came when I discovered some of the first of my beloved spring flowers.

Texas dandelions, visually similar to the European dandelions but in a different genus, suddenly have appeared on small town residential streets and county roads; despite being few in number and a bit bedraggled, they are a welcome sight.

Because of a late, after-errands start, I easily could have missed them. Their showy flowers, composed entirely of ray florets, open early, but close in only a few hours. Somewhat later in the day, when I passed down the same road where I’d found the one shown above, no flowers were visible.

Ten-petal Anemone ~ Anemone berlandieri

Knowing that Ten-petal Anemones have appeared a bit to the north, I stopped by the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge to check a small, meadow-like area where I’ve found them in the past. Numerous flowers had emerged despite a relatively recent mowing; in time, they will overspread the area and host a variety of pollinators.

Texas Vervain ~ Verbena halei

The unexpected prize of the day was a scattering of Texas Vervain at the end of the Brazoria refuge’s auto tour route. Flowering beneath a sign near the Rogers Pond viewing platform, they obviously hadn’t consulted a calendar. March seems to be considered the beginning of their season, but at this spot a variety of flowers appear early or linger late into the fall. Prickly pear, verbena, Indian paintbrush, and firewheels mix with a variety of salt marsh plants, and even ladies’ tresses orchids have popped up in the past.

It’s time to begin looking.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Sweet & Sour Flower

Slender Yellow Woodsorrel ~ Oxalis dillenii

As I left Walden West, the last flower I encountered was the Violet Woodsorrel (Oxalis violacea). Not long after, I discovered a few Slender Yellow Woodsorrels at the Laffite’s Cove Nature Preserve on Galveston Island. One of several native pink and yellow Oxalis species that can be found in Texas, they’re among our earliest-blooming spring flowers.

Derived from the Greek word for ‘acid,’ Oxalis sometimes is translated as ‘sour.’ Both the leaves and flowers have a somewhat sour taste because of the oxalic acid they contain, but in small quantities they’re not toxic to humans, and often are included in salads.

On a sweeter note, the leaves surrounding the small, half-inch flowers are divided into three heart-shaped leaflets perfect for a Valentine’s Day bouquet, and various insects, like this hoverfly, clearly enjoy finding a sweet spring treat.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sometimes, It Is the Berries

Possumhaw ~ San Bernard Wildlife Refuge

Like other slang phrases from the 1920s — invoking such fancies as bees’ knees, or cats in pajamas — I grew up hearing my parents and their friends commend something they considered especially fine by saying, “It’s the berries.” 

The expression sounds dated today, but the colors adorning our late winter landscape truly are ‘the berries’ in every sense of the word. As leaves fall and berry-laden branches of Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) become increasingly visible, their variety makes the wait for spring wildflowers more enjoyable.

Red predominates in both of these members of the holly family, but where eye-catching yellow and orange appear, they demand attention.

Yaupon ~ Artist Boat, Galveston Island
Possumhaw ~ Brazoria County Road 203

 

Comments always are welcome.

Eleven Mile Blues

No, I wasn’t goin’ down the road feelin’ bad, and I certainly wasn’t singing the blues. As I lollygagged down 11 Mile road on the west end of Galveston Island, some blues caught my eyes rather than my ears, and I pulled over for a closer look.

Blue-eyed grass ~ Sisyrinchium spp.

To my complete delight, the bits of blue turned out to be wildflowers. Blue-eyed grass, a collection of species in the Iris family, are among our earliest wildflowers, and these were putting on a bit of a show. A recent mowing had left them shorter than usual, and their color wasn’t quite as vibrant as it will be later in the year, but on January 9, who could quibble over that?

It was enough to see the buds and the blooms: early tokens of a season only weeks away.

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.