A Truckload of Poppies


If you happened to be traveling from Smiley to Gonzales on Farm to Market Road 108, and took a turn onto FM 3234, it wouldn’t be long before you’d see the half-hidden sign for County Road 208: a dirt road barely a lane-and-a-half wide. After a couple of curves and one ninety-degee turn, the road dead-ends at a ranch entrance: one of the few places where turning around is possible.

I’ve never seen another vehicle on the road, although the occasional pickup or cattle trailer tucked behind an outbuilding suggests human activity.  Old and obviously unused trucks are more common. Some, like this abandoned, rusting hulk I found surrounded by white prickly poppies, seemed almost charming, like a bit of whimsical yard art.

Farther down the road, a field of these opportunistic poppies (Argemone albiflora) was framed by newly-leafing trees.

Assorted phlox, Indian paintbrush, ragwort and blue curls provided a colorful background on a property where, whether by accident or intent, other wildflowers had overspread the land.

Even this old house had its share of poppies and ragwort.

Exploring its perimeter, I found the perfect setting for a surprisingly elegant image of the poppies: proof enough that beauty is where you find it.


Comments always are welcome.

A Resonant Easter Greeting


Although we tend to associate George Frideric Handel’s Messiah with the Christmas season, the oratorio debuted in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and its earliest performances often coincided with Easter.

For the Dublin premiere, approximately thirty cathedral-trained singers made up the choir, accompanied by an equally-sized orchestra of strings, winds, trumpets, and timpani. Over the years, Handel himself revised the score innumerable times, customizing it to suit the number of available musicians.

Eventually, larger-scale productions became the norm, sometimes utilizing as many as four thousand singers with orchestras to match. Today, tastes have changed; intimate performances presenting Messiah with baroque chamber ensembles are more common.

Still, certain passages such as the famed “Hallelujah Chorus” seem to demand a grander presentation. Especially for the Australians and New Zealanders among my readers, and for music lovers of every sort, I offer this version: the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs joined with the Sydney Philharmonia Orchestra, performing live at the magnificent Sydney Opera House.

Happy Easter!

Comments always are welcome.

The Awakening Prairie ~ Late March

Nash Prairie, a pimple mound, and later spring flowers


In time, spring brings changes to Nash Prairie beyond the appearance of its first, delicate flowers. Taller and more dramatic blooms grow up among the monochromatic grasses, and the so-called ‘pimple mounds’ characteristic of many undisturbed prairies emerge as spots of eye-catching green.

Pimple mounds, scattered upraised ridges or hillocks usually one or two feet tall, are typical of prairies like Nash. Past theories ascribed their development to Indians, gophers, or ants; today, some suggest they’re modified relics of ancient rivers and bayous. Whatever their genesis, their distinct soil chemistry allows a unique set of plants to colonize the mounds. In this video from the Nash Prairie, botanist Bill Carr offers additional details about their interesting features.

In the photo above, the soft rise of a pimple mound is obvious; the greening of plants colonizing its soil help to distinguish it. A few rough-stemmed rosinweeds and coreopsis surround it, while one of two Baptisia species common on the prairie stands at attention in the foreground. 

Both the buds and flowers of the Baptisia genus reveal their relationship to other members of the pea family in Texas: particularly, Texas mountain laurel and wisteria.

Baptisia sphaerocarpa

The graceful stems of False Yellow Indigo — Baptisia sphaerocarpa — rise as much as three feet above its foliage; its pea-like flowers open from the bottom.

Mature plants become somewhat shrubby, making a striking addition to the landscape.

While False Yellow Indigo is strongly vertical, Longbract Wild Indigo, Baptisia bracteata, tends toward the horizontal. Rather than rising skyward, its branches often sag under the weight of its sometimes foot-long, creamy flower spikes. In autumn, B. bracteata is equally easy to spot on the prairie; its leaves and seed pods turn dark gray or black.

Baptisia bracteata

By late March, other bits of yellow and gold are emerging: tokens of the summer richness to come. Black-eyed Susan, usually admired for its flowers, is equally interesting in bud.

Black-eyed Susan ~ Rudbeckia hirta

Common throughout our area, the Plains Coreopsis can cover entire fields with its colorful flowers and attractive buds. Also known as Tickseed, it’s often found along roadsides.

Plains Coreopsis ~ Coreopsis Tinctoria

The smooth spirals of this emerging coneflower are especially pleasing.

Clasping-leaved coneflower ~ Dracopis amplexicaulis

Sometimes mistaken for a sunflower, the Rough-stemmed Rosinweed has been blooming sporadically for weeks in ditches around along highway Alt90. Its hairy stems and compact buds are relatively easy to spot, and it seems to be a favorite of emerging pollinators.

Rough-stemmed rosinweed ~ Silphium radula

While we tend to think of bees, flies, and butterflies as insects that profit from these early blooms, nibbled ray flowers are proof that other ‘diners’ have been enjoying the plants: katydid nymphs, small caterpillars, and young grasshoppers already are out and about.

Rough-stemmed rosinweed hosting a Ligated Furrow Bee ~ Halictus ligatus

Apart from bumblebees, which seem to adore both species of Baptisia, this small sweat bee — Halictus ligatus — is a common sight now. A native ground-nesting bee, it’s yet another sign of our annual renewal.


Comments always are welcome.
To read about my first visit to the Nash Prairie, please click here.

The Awakening Prairie ~ Early March

Nash Prairie ~ early March

Vibrant bluebonnets and glowing fields of Indian paintbrush have come to define spring in Texas: so much so that anyone passing Nash Prairie while searching for early wildflowers might think it little more than an abandoned field, or an overgrown collection of weeds.

In truth, the first time I set off to visit Nash I wasn’t able to find the place, even though I’d been given directions and a map. It took a friendly neighbor — and a goat — to help me find the great swath of unbroken land I’d passed several times without recognizing it as ‘prairie.’

The story of that initial search still amuses me, and since it also provides an introduction to the history of Nash Prairie, I’ve republished it on The Task at Hand as a companion piece for this pair of posts showing a different aspect of a delightful season.

In early spring, prairie flowers often are small or low growing; even easily-spotted blooms can require a hands-and-knees approach to photography. Blue-eyed grass, a member of the Iris family, appears as early as January. Recently, its numbers have been increasing dramatically, creating a blue haze over the land that’s as pleasing as fields of bluebonnets.

Blue-eyed grass ~ Sisyrinchium spp.

By early March, beaked corn salad appears. Multiple explanations have been offered for the plant’s odd name. Some say it’s rooted in the plant’s tendency to invade wheat fields; others suggest it arose from use as a salad green. Julian Steyermark, the distinguised botanist and author of Flora of Missouri, once noted that basal rosettes of the plant “make an excellent salad, especially when prepared with olive oil and vinegar.”

Beaked Corn Salad ~ Valerianella radiata

Bluets are among our tiniest flowers. Two to six inches tall, with flowers only a quarter to a third of an inch across, they were scattered across more open portions of the prairie by early March. Initially, I assumed the white bluets were variants of H. pusilla, but their greater height and significant numbers suggested a different species; H. micrantha seems a reasonable possibility.

Tiny bluet ~ Houstonia pusilla
Southern bluet ~  Houstonia micrantha

A flower that stymied me turned out to be introduced rather than native; I found a few Caley (or singletary) peas at the edge of a service road leading into the prairie. Introduced into the United States from Mediterranean areas of Europe to serve as forage, it naturalized; now it appears in areas along roadsides and railroads, and at edges of fields — precisely where I found it.

Caley pea ~ Lathyrus hirsutus
Caley pea ~ Lathyrus hirsutus

Venus’s Looking-glasses belongs to the Campanulaceae, or bellflower family. According to a North Carolina Extension site, their common name reflects early botanical descriptions of a similar European plant (Legousia speculum) whose seeds were said to be as shiny as looking glasses. In addition to the species shown here, Triodanis lamprosperma, the Prairie Venus’s Looking-glass, also has been documented at Nash Prairie

Clasping Venus’s looking glass ~ Triodanis perfoliataSmall Venus’s looking glass ~ Triodanis perfoliata subsp. biflora

That same North Carolina site happened to have a photo of a small Venus’s Looking-glass bud. In 2019, I took a photo of a bud at the Broadway cemeteries in Galveston, but wasn’t able to identify it. The photo lingered in my files, and now it can be shown for what it is — a Venus’s Looking-glass hosting a tiny fruit fly, Dioxyna picciola.

Triodanus spp. with a very attractive fruit fly

I first found yellow star grass at the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge, and was pleased to encounter it again at Nash. Although widespread in the eastern half of the U.S., it doesn’t form large colonies, and usually is somewhat scattered where it appears. A member of the lily family, the plant arises from a small corm before producing flowers approximately an inch across. Rarely more than six inches tall, its vibrant color shines even in the midst of new grasses and detritus from a past season.

Online sources differ considerably when it comes to the genus name. Some say that Hypoxis refers to the plant’s sour leaves. Others suggest beaked seed capsules, or the pointed base of an inferior ovary. Since another genus name, Oxalis, refers to those plants’ bitter, sour, or acid taste, I suspect Hypoxis does the same.

On the other hand, there’s little mystery about this flower’s specific epithet. Even the most casual glance at its leaves, stems, or buds reveals a wealth of little hairs;  hirsuta is the Latin word for “rough, shaggy, hairy, bristly, or prickly.”

Yellow star grass ~ Hypoxis hirsuta
Yellow star grass turned golden in the light

When I returned to the prairie at the end of March, it occurred to me that, as the days grow longer, many plants grow taller. The yellow star grass had new yellow and gold companions, and they weren’t at all shy about being seen. But that’s the next chapter in this story of spring-into-summer.


Comments always are welcome.
To read about my first visit to the Nash Prairie, please click here.

Opening Day

Downy Phlox (Phlox pilosa) ~ Rockport Cemetery
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful
than the risk it took to blossom.
      ~ Anaïs Nin
Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa) ~ Highway west of Midfield, Texas
Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) ~ Fannin Monument, Goliad, Texas
Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) ~ La Bahia Cemetery, Goliad, Texas


Comments always are welcome.