September Scarlet

This beautiful scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata) is the only red-flowering catchfly in southeast Texas. According to Rare Plants of Texas (Poole, Carr, Price & Singhurst), three other scarlet Silene species are native to Texas, but two (S. laciniata and S. plankii) are found in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos, and S. virginica is a spring bloomer limited to far northeast Texas.

As much as four feet tall and somewhat twiggy, scarlet catchfly has thin stems and narrow, grass-like leaves; compared to other catchflies, its stems and leaves are relatively smooth.  A rare plant endemic to a small area of southeast Texas and adjacent southwest Louisiana, it’s most often found in open, disturbed habitats such as the deep, sandy soils of fire-maintained longleaf pine savannahs.

In the course of a wildflower walk at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve near Warren, Joe Liggio pointed out a few developing catchfly buds.

When I returned a week later, I found several buds in various stages of development, and a few already-blooming flowers that had been nibbled and gnawed to a significant degree.

At a different site, I was pleased to find a few fresher flowers that were as eye-catching as fly-catching.

Although named for sticky, insect-trapping bands that encircle its stem between the upper leaves, catchfly doesn’t feed on the insects it traps. Presumably, other predators take advantage of its catch, celebrating their find of an easy meal.

The catchfly’s bloom time probably depends upon its location. One source says that it flowers between August and mid-September; another places the bloom between July and October, occasionally extending into November.

These August and September photos come from Hardin and Tyler counties; the U.S. Forest Service suggests the flower also can be found at the Stark Tract and Fox Hunter’s Hill in the Sabine National Forest. There still may be time to find them there.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Carolina on My Mind

 

In the process of exploring East Texas, I’ve become intrigued by the number of plants in the region that bear ‘Carolina’ in their name. Carolina larkspur; Carolina buckthorn; Carolina elephant’s foot; Carolina crane’s-bill: I’ve seen and photographed them all.

One of the most delightful Carolina namesakes is the Carolina lily (Lilium michauxii), the official state wildflower of North Carolina.  Found in the oak-pine woodlands and forests of deep east Texas, it’s an uncommon Texas native, and uncommonly beautiful.

The plant bears one to six blooms at the top of each stem. Its six tepals (three petals and three sepals) are strongly reflexed, or bent backward; six slender filaments with brown anthers protrude from the center of the flower, as does a long style with a three-lobed stigma. 

While similar to the Turk’s Cap lily (Lilium superbum), there’s quite a difference in size. Carolina lily usually is two to three feet tall, while the Turk’s Cap lily is much taller, and bears more than twice as many flowers.

 

Named by fellow botanist and explorer Jean Louis Marie Poiret (1755-1834) for French botanist Andre Michaux, who traveled widely in the southeastern United States, the lily did some traveling of its own, expanding its range all the way to Texas. Finding it at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve was an unexpected treat.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Forest and the Trees

A first encounter with Sandyland Sanctuary

It’s an old saying, and a familiar experience. “I couldn’t see the forest for the trees,” someone declares, and everyone smiles knowingly. We’ve all been there.

On the other hand, the opposite can be equally true. At first glance the pineywoods of east Texas — crowded, dim if not dark, deeply unfamiliar — can seem impenetrable: a pile of sticks leaning against a wall of green. Even the Big Thicket’s name seems off-putting. People who’ve never picked dewberries or read the journals of early Texas settlers still have a vague understanding of thickets. They’re difficult to pass through, possibly dangerous, and best avoided.

But thickets can be more than obstacles on the way to somewhere else, and the Big Thicket offers proof. Step inside the forest, and it’s easy to see the trees in a new way.

Longleaf pine upland forest ~ Big Thicket

Look more closely, and enchanting details begin to emerge.

Some especially appealing longleaf bark
An unidentified vine secures itself as it climbs
Shadows of neighboring shrubs play against the trees’ rough surfaces
One face of the forest peers out from among the leaves

Here and there, young longleafs bide their time, developing their root systems. For periods as long as several years, they resemble clumps of grass: their buds protected beneath a bundle of needles. Should fire sweep through, the needles may burn but the bud will remain protected and virtually immune to fire.  

Longleaf pine grass stage ~ Sandyland Sanctuary

When the root collar (a transitional zone between the roots and the trunk of a tree) becomes about an inch in diameter, the longleaf begins to grow. A single white tip called a ‘candle’ emerges from the protective sheath of needles, new needles develop, and, in time, bark begins to form.

Rapid growth allows the seedling’s growing tip to rise above potential fires, and after a year or two the bark has thickened enough to withstand most fires. No branches form during this so-called ‘bottlebrush’ stage, when all of the tree’s energy is focused on ‘up’ rather than ‘out.’

Longleaf pine bottlebrush stage ~ Sandyland Sanctuary (Sandhill Loop Trail)
Longleaf needles-in-waiting ~Sandyland Sanctuary (Sandhill Loop Trail)

After passing through the bottlebrush stage and the aptly-named candelabra stage so obvious in my photo of dawn in the Big Thicket, the longleaf moves on to maturity.

Longleaf pine showing off new needles and cones ~ Big Thicket (Solo Tract)

In time, cones will fall and seeds will disperse, preparing the way for more trees. But more than fallen needles are there to receive the cones. In the Big Thicket, pine trees of various sorts coexist with everything from cacti to ferns, and any fallen cone becomes an invitation to further exploration.

Pine cone and needles with eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa) ~ Sandyland
Pine cone with ferns ~ Big Thicket (Sundew Trail)

 

Comments always are welcome.