A Little Spot of Sunshine

During a visit to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on September 29, 2019, I noticed a ditch filled with pretty yellow flowers. The colony was perhaps twenty feet long, and the low-growing plants held one bloom per stem. Less than an inch across, the combination of tiny ray flowers and conical disk flowers was cute as could be; the disk flowers reminded me of the radar domes found on boats.

As sometimes happens, it took time to identify the plant. It wasn’t until this fall that I recognized it as Opposite-leaf Spotflower. First named Anthemis repens by Walter Thomas in Flora Caroliniana in 1788, today it’s listed as Acmella oppositifolia (Lam.) R.K. Jansen var. repens or more simply as Acmella repens.

In the southern United States, Opposite-Leaf Spotflower grows on river banks, along pond edges, and in wet ditches. Its ability to survive occasional saltwater inundation no doubt helps it to thrive in Brazoria County, where I’ve now discovered it in every refuge, as well as in occasional country ditches.

As for identification, it was technology to the rescue. The only one of my field guides that mentions the plant is Ajilvsgi’s Wildflowers of Texas — where it’s called Creeping Spotflower — but I missed finding it there, and various keyword searches online didn’t turn it up. I tucked its photo into the “Unidentified Plants” file on my computer, where it lingered for months.

Then, after downloading the app called Picture This to my first iPhone, I decided to try taking a photo of the flower: not from its natural location, but from my computer file. Within seconds I had a name, and in only a minute or two more I’d found its image and details on a multitude of sites. It was a delicious irony. My pretty yellow phone — which I’ve named ‘Sunshine’ — had allowed me to spot the pretty yellow Spotflower at last.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Tree With the Lights In It

Loblolly and Light

After spending a few hours on the Big Thicket’s Pitcher Plant and Turkey Creek trails last Sunday,  I nearly had regained the trailhead when I looked up, searching for bits of autumn color in the still mostly green trees.

Instead of color, a vision of what I first imagined to be an enormous orb-weaver’s web stopped me in my tracks. There was no larger-than-life spider lurking, of course. There was only a loblolly pine, and the sun, and a phenomenon I’d never before seen. Despite their apparently random distribution, the pine needles had transformed the light into a beautifully circular pattern; it was nature, not my camera, that had created the effect.

At the time, I didn’t think anything at all; I only stood, and wondered at the sight. Later, I remembered a favorite passage from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and realized I’d been granted my own vision of a tree with the lights in it.

One day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. 
Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.  I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it.  The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

 

Comments always are welcome.
NOTE: I consulted Jim Ruebush, who taught physics for years, and here’s what he had to say about the effect: ““In the fully enlarged image, the pine needles radiate out in all directions. But, the only ones that reflect brightly to the camera direction are aligned circumfully (if that is not a word, it is now) to the sun. Their surfaces act like long narrow mirrors. Needles aligned any other way don’t reflect brightly to the camera.” Or, to the human eye!

A Last (Prim)rose of Summer

Mexican Primrose-willow buds

Our native Mexican Primrose-willow (Ludwigia octovalvis) is widely distributed: so much so that it’s as likely to be found in Samoa or Singapore as in the southern U.S.  Its flowers certainly recall other primrose species, while its slender leaves suggest the water-loving willows found along the banks of ponds and streams.

Primrose-willow begins flowering in June or early July and continues well into November: bearing buds, blooms, and seed capsules simultaneously. On October 31, new flowers were developing on a multitude of plants I found in wet areas of the Big Thicket, including the Watson Rare Plant Preserve.

A bud that suggests an especially prim rose

Once the flower is pollinated, its petals, style, and stamens fall away, leaving the four triangular sepals shown in the upper right of the photo below. As the plant ages and seeds develop, both sepals and stems develop a pleasing reddish color that contrasts nicely with the pretty yellow flowers.

Several Luwigia species serve as larval hosts for the Banded Sphinx Moth  (Eumorpha fasciatus) and the Primrose Flea Beetle(Altica litigata).   A variety of butterflies visit the plant, including this Gulf Fritillary that paused for a photo session alongside Village Creek near Kountze, Texas.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) ~ Hardin County

When Robert Frost wrote his wonderfully memorable poem titled “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” the ephemeral golds of spring — those first leaves that so quickly lose their luster — provided the inspiration.

That said, I often think of his words in fall, when the landscape is washed in waves of gold: seaside and fragrant goldenrod in coastal areas, tall goldenrod farther inland.  Occasional goldenrods bloom here in every month of the year, particularly along the coast, but autumn is its most glorious season. Having arrived, it already is ending: not even goldenrod can stay.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Tall goldenrod ~ Nacogdoches Native Plant Center

 

Comments always are welcome.

Snug as a Spider in a Blossom

Two expressions bookmarked my childhood days. When it was time to rise after sleep, I often heard my father saying, “Good morning, Sunshine.” At night, as I was tucked into bed, my mother would say, “There. Now you’re snug as a bug in a rug.”

When I find a spider that’s tucked itself (or its eggs) into a flower or leaf, I always remember those snug bugs, and smile. In the photo above, strands of silk used by a spider to create a secure spot are just visible on either side of a Downy Lobelia flower (Lobelia puberula).

In mid-October, these relatives of the Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) were blooming prolifically in east Texas. The genus name honors Matthias de L’Obel, a Flemish herbalist; the specific epithet, puberula, comes from a word meaning ‘downy,’ and refers to the hairs on the plant.

Downy Lobelia’s preference for a combination of sun and moisture makes its autumn appearance in low-lying areas of the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary and the Big Thicket’s Solo Tract somewhat predictable. The creative spider making use of one of the plant’s flowers was, of course, lagniappe.

 

Comments always are welcome.