Rest Stop

Not far from the spot where I discovered salt marsh morning glories abloom, this dragonfly paused at the edge of a water-filled ditch while dozens more of its species continued to buzz over the water.

I’ve tentatively identified it as a black setwing (Dythemis nigrescens), a dragonfly native to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Mexico. Sometimes confused with the slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta), the black setwing is smaller, with a more slender abdomen.

According to Odonata Central, these setwings enjoy perching atop twigs near the water, generally in open areas. That fits the behavior of this dragonfly, except that it hadn’t chosen a twig for its perch. This expanded view shows its resting spot for what it is: the four-inch long seed pod of a slim milkweed plant (Asclepias linearis).

Though obscured in the photo above, the delicate flowers of this milkweed are eye-catching: perhaps to the eyes of a dragonfly, the pods are equally attractive, and even more useful.

Slim milkweed (Asclepias linearis) in bloom


Comments always are welcome.

A Part and Its Whole

A single flower of the longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia)

One of the less obvious delights of spring is the variety of milkweeds hidden away in grasslands and prairies. During a recent visit to my favorite nameless hayfield, I found green milkweed (A. viridis), slim milkweed (A. linearis), and an explosion of longleaf milkweeds, which look for all the world like vegetative fireworks.

Although quite different in structure from a daisy or rose, milkweed flowers provide a rich source of nectar and pollen for a variety of insects, especially native bees. For humans, they provide an unending source of visual delight.

The single flower shown above, in its larger context


Comments always are welcome.


A Flood Of Surprises

Aquatic milkweed ~ Asclepias perennis

On my first post-Harvey visit to the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I couldn’t help smiling at the profusion of water-loving plants I found in and along the ditches: Mexican primrose-willow (Ludwigia octovalvis), salt marsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), Texas spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme), and broadleaf arrowhead  (Sagittaria latifolia).

Equally eye-catching, though not at all familiar, was a small collection of milkweeds growing not far from one of the open roads on the refuge. I’d already seen large colonies of slim milkweed (Asclepias linearis) and green antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis) in bud or bloom, so the presence of another milkweed wasn’t so surprising. What did surprise me was the structure of the plant, and the beautiful white flowers.

When I consulted one of my favorite online guides to milkweed identification, published by Texas Parks and Wildlife, it showed an image similar to the plants I had found, and described its usual habitat as moist, bottomland hardwood forests of river deltas, marsh edges, sloughs, swamps, and coastal prairie potholes.

A note had been appended to the plant’s description: “This milkweed species has heavily declined in Texas. Please notify us via email if you document a population of this milkweed in Texas.”

Of course I sent an email, with a copy to Thomas Adams, a botanist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who works at the Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the Brazoria refuge.

He confirmed the identity of the plant, adding in an email that it isn’t common in the area of Brazoria  County where the refuge is located. In an interesting side note, he added:

The larger populations are in and around bottomland forests.  I consider this plant #1 for attracting monarchs, but the danger is the plant grows in standing water. Therefore, larvae can be trapped when they need to move on to pupate.

While I didn’t see any monarchs — or butterflies of any sort — around the milkweeds, I did find some interesting little creatures hidden among the flowers. Perhaps they were equally pleased to find such unusual plants blooming in an area that has tended to be — prior to Harvey — grassy and dry.

To paraphrase an old saying, a flood may taketh away, but sometimes a flood giveth as well.

Comments always are welcome.