Gaillardia, Too

Lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis)

One of our most widespread and beloved wildflowers, Gaillardia pulchella — commonly known as Indian blanket or firewheel — isn’t the only Gaillardia species abroad in the land.

During my recent visits to the Attwater Prairie, I found no firewheels, but Gaillardia aestivalis, the lanceleaf blanket flower, or prairie Gaillardia, was plentiful. Its distinct ray flowers surround a center that becomes even more striking as the plant matures, suggesting a floral version of a geodesic dome.

Seeing a lanceleaf blanket flower, it’s impossible to miss its resemblance to the rare Winkler’s blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri), a plant limited to the sandy soils of Tyler, Hardin, and Newton counties in the Big Thicket.

A purple version of Winkler’s blanket flower known as ‘Grape Sensation’ was developed by Dawn Stover at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center in Nacogdoches. It does resemble the color of grape soda, and has its fans, but for me these two natives far outshine the various cultivars.

A developing Winkler’s blanket flower seedhead

 

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Flowers, with a Friend

 

More than wildflowers caught my attention on my first visit to the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge. Here and there, signs of a different form of life appeared: a pond, a working windmill, a well-trod trail snaking through the landscape.

On my second visit, I met the creatures whose presence I suspected: some of the prettiest cows I’ve seen, and some very handsome steers. Grazing, along with fire and mowing, is a useful method for restoring and preserving prairies; these cattle were doing their part to help out, munching their way through some tasty-looking grasses and forbs.

Given the number of milk-heavy cows in the herd, there surely were calves around, but most remained hidden or away from the road. Fortunately, this one had chosen an especially photogenic spot to rest. When I stopped for a closer look, it raised its head as though posing, and graciously accepted my compliments.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more on grazing as a management tool, this post by Chris Helzer, the Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska, is a good one. For Chris’s entertaining post on the cattle vs. bison debate, click here.

No Building Permit Required

 

While visiting the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge, I found this bit of complexity at the intersection of two trails.

Lincoln Logs hadn’t come to mind in years, but that’s exactly what the construction resembled: an oddly designed but well-built home made of tiny logs. In fact, it is a home: one belonging to a member of the Psychidae, or bagworm family. 

Bagworm moth caterpillars weave silk cocoons around themselves, and then reinforce the silk with bits of twigs, leaves, or stems. The construction materials determine the final appearance of the houses, which also are called ‘cases.’

Bagworm moth cases can be attached nearly anywhere; this one dangled from a substantial sunflower stalk. Oddly, the cases more closely resemble RVs than suburban homes; the caterpillars are mobile, carrying the case with them as they hunt for food. They feed from a hole in the top of the case, and expel waste from a smaller hole in its bottom.

Growing bagworms expand their home by adding more twigs, leaves, or stems. Emerging from the top of the case to collect building material, they cut it to size before attaching it to the top of the case.

Both males and females spend most of their lives living inside their cases as caterpillars. After pupation, females remain in the case, while males leave to seek females with which to mate. After mating, females lay their eggs in the old bag. Once the larvae have hatched, they leave the case, seeking a suitable spot to build their own home.

Whether Einstein ever found himself contemplating a bagworm case, I can’t say, but his words ring true as I contemplate this one:

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

 

Comments always are welcome.