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

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.

Autumn Reds

With temperatures holding at summertime levels, the autumnal colors being enjoyed elsewhere have yet to appear in my part of Texas: at least, when it comes to foliage.

Still, color can be found. The eye-catching reds of flowers, fungi, and berries may not be as obvious as a flaming maple or oak, but when seen against the dull gray of Spanish moss or on the dimness of the forest floor, they’re no less delightful.

The Turk’s Cap will linger well into December, while the berries already are being nibbled away, but for now their color counsels patience; their presence signals a turning season, and the colorful foliage yet to come.

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) ~ San Bernard Wildlife Refuge
Carolina Buckthorn  (Frangula caroliniana) ~ Watson Rare Plant Preserve
Scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata) ~ Big Thicket
Jack-in-the-pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) ~ Big Thicket
Scarlet waxcap (Hygrocybe coccinea) ~ Watson Rare Plant Preserve

 

Comments always are welcome.

Autumn Snow

Snow-on-the-Prairie

As summer begins to ease its grip on Texas, a lovely floral ‘snow’ suggests the coming of autumn. In the western two-thirds of the state, Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) covers much of the land. In the Eastern third (and north into Oklahoma), Snow-on-the-Prairie (E. bicolor) holds sway.

Snow-on-the-Prairie can grow to a height of three or four feet, and often forms dense colonies. Its long green and white bracts, open and airy, offer a pleasing counterpoint to surrounding grasses and forbs.

The plant’s long, slender bracts sometimes are mistaken for petals, but they’re actually  modified leaves. The flowers of Snow-on-the-Prairie are quite small, and exceptionally interesting.

Plants in the genus Euphorbia possess a unique structure called a cyathium (plural, cyathia) which contains both male and female flowers, as well as small structures known as bractioles, and nectar glands. Surrounding the flowers, bractioles, and glands, small bracts called cyathophylls — which superficially resemble the petals of a flower — provide additional color.

Here, the white cyathophylls of E. bicolor add to the plant’s ‘snowy’ appearance. Since the snow is only metaphorical, the sight is entirely pleasurable; it’s possible to admire this plant on the prairie without getting frostbite.

 

Comments always are welcome.