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.

Walden West ~ October Flora

In October, Walden West’s vernal pool looked almost exactly as it had in September. A few more leaves had fallen from the trees, and most of the surrounding growth showed insect damage, but no visible water had collected.

On the other hand, my feet could feel what remained invisible to my eyes. Enough rain had fallen that the ground had grown soft if not spongy, and the pleasant scent of rotting leaves hung in the air. An assortment of logs showed the effects of weathering, including the intricate patterns etched into this large log lying in the middle of the dry pool.

Deeper in the woods surrounding the pool, a different log displayed hard, brittle chunks where the wood had fractured and broken. This type of decomposition results when mycelial networks digest cellulose, leaving the wood’s lignin intact.

One of the oddest sights I encountered suggested that someone armed with a can of spray paint had been at work. Given the log’s location away from a trail, the absence of any other signs of human presence, and the perfectly even, glowing color that didn’t rub off, some sort of fungus seems the most likely explanation. If a graffitti artist with a quirky sense of humor had been at work, that artist deserves kudos for both patience and skill, since the ground on which the log lay and the surrounding vegetation showed no signs of color.

Other changes had taken place. A single orchard orb weaver (Leucauge venusta) lingered in the branches of a yaupon tree, but the huge webs of orb-weavers like Argiope aurantia no longer shimmered across every opening, and those large, dramatically patterned spiders seemed to have disappeared.

Many flowers I’d grown accustomed to seeing were gone as well, in part because of significant clearing done by refuge staff. Here, climbing hempvine continued to climb, despite losing some of its support.

The most brilliant color belonged to this standout in the midst of a patch of blooming dayflowers (Commelina erecta). The flowers are highly variable in color; this was the most deeply saturated blue I’ve encountered.

Perhaps encouraged by rain, a saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica) had put on a new bud.

Some distance away, another saltmarsh mallow, having bloomed, slowly faded away.

The pretty red Turk’s caps had nearly stopped blooming, but some fruits still were available. Many of their leaves, covered with small grasshoppers, showed signs of nibbling, but the fruits remained undamaged.

A few stems of Gulf vervain (Verbena xutha) lingered at the sun-dappled edge of the woods. The tallest I’d seen, I assumed their height was due to a stretch toward sunlight, but according to Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, they can grow to a height of six feet.

A common sight in our area, the hairypod cowpea (Vigna luteola) is the only native Vigna species in Texas. Depending on conditions, it can bloom nearly year-round; here, an early-opening flower is decorated with dew.

It’s said that nature leaves clues, but in the case of this Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), one clue wasn’t enough for me to solve the mystery of its appearance. Also known as Bois d’Arc or hedge apple, the trees usually produce a number of fruits, and yet only one lay on the ground. When a search of the area turned up not a single tree bearing Osage oranges, it seemed reasonable to assume that some creature — human or otherwise — picked it up elsewhere and dropped it at Walden West.

Speaking of creatures, I’ve split this October visit into two parts because of the wealth of creatures I encountered. The next post will show some of them, including my first encounter with a mammal.


Comments always are welcome.

The Sound of One Leaf Falling


With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

Although no frost occasioned the fall of this November leaf at Brazos Bend State Park, it seemed a fitting illustration for Adelaide Crapsey’s cinquain titled “November Night.”

Invented by Crapsey (1878–1914), her cinquain form relies on traditions seen in Japanese tanka and haiku, including compressed language and formal structure. The five unrhymed lines of a cinquain follow strict requirements; they consist of two, four, six, eight, and two syllables. In addition, Crapsey sought to create the sort of unexpected “break,” or juxtaposition of thoughts, typical of haiku.

Perhaps like Etheree Taylor Armstrong, who invented the poetic form known as the etheree, Crapsey was as interested in the technical problems of her form as in the poetic sentiments they included. As a reviewer in The Independent noted:

To her genuine poetic ability Miss Crapsey added a considerable technical knowledge of metrics. In the verse form which she invented and called the cinquain she has done some of her best work—clear cut ideas sharply focused: single impressions etched in a few significant lines.


Comments always are welcome.
For more about Adelaide Crapsey and her poetry, please click here.

Awaiting Equinox

Early autumn color at Brazos Bend State Park ~ September 18


It is an old drama,
this disappearance of the leaves,
this seeming death
of the landscape.
In a later scene,
or earlier,
the trees like gnarled magicians
produce handkerchiefs
of leaves
out of empty branches.
And we watch.
We are like children
at this spectacle
of leaves,
as if one day we too
will open the wooden doors
of our coffins
and come out smiling
and bowing
all over again.
                 “November” ~ Linda Pastan


Comments always are welcome.
For more information on poet Linda Pastan, please
click here.

Our Glorious Grasses ~ Bushy Bluestem

A favorite photo of early blooming bushy bluestem at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

One of our most dramatic fall grasses, bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) thrives across the southern half of Texas. Unlike other species in the bluestem genus, A. glomeratus prefers sunny, moist locations; it often decorates ditches or fills low, damp fields with its unmistakable foliage.

During the growing season, the grass develops in pretty green bunches, sometimes tinged with tones of blue or copper. In autumn, its feathery plumes emerge — sometimes quickly and dramatically — showing why the grass also is known as ‘beardgrass.’ Eventually, it takes on an attractive rusty color that endures throughout the winter.

Like other bluestems, the grass is beneficial to a wide variety of wildlife, giving food, shelter, and nesting material to small mammals, insects, and birds.

A grasshopper gloms on to a sheaf of A. glomeraus stems at Bastrop State Park in October

Despite its bunched-up appearance and growth habits that sometimes make details hard to discern, its feathery seeds are extraordinarily pretty, especially when seen against a blue sky and still-green foliage.

A glimpse of autumn gold at the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge


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