Curls of Christmas Color

Green fir and pine boughs; red holly berries; green and red yaupon and poinsettia: all display the traditional colors of Christmas. Since red and green abound in nature, plants bearing them often become part of human decorations. In east Texas, pale pitcher plants (Sarracenia alata) probably don’t adorn any dining tables, but they decorate their bogs with an interesting variation on seasonal colors.

One of four carnivorous species found in East Texas, pitcher plants prefer hillside seepage bogs in longleaf pine savannas. Named for the covered pitchers they resemble, they first collect water, then combine that water with enzymes designed to digest any curious insects which become trapped within the plant.

There’s more than water to tempt those insects to explore. Nectar droplets form from glands inside the leaf’s hood, and the brightly colored pitcher lip can be as inviting as a flower. The combination of nectar and color often lead unsuspecting insects to explore the tube, which is easy to descend but nearly impossible to escape because of downward-pointing hairs. Below the hairs, the tube is slick and covered with glands that exude digestive fluids instead of nectar; any insect that lands in that pool is about to have a very bad day.

That said, the colorful transformation of the plants is quite attractive. Some turn a uniform red, as shown in the first photo, while others remain somewhat mottled, like the single plant below.

Especially interesting is the tendency of some pitcher plants to curl as they age. In the summer of 2019, I found this one: a sweet green curve in the midst of a Big Thicket bog.

Last month, this red-and-green curl caught my eye. With luck, one day I’ll find a perfectly red version to complete my set.

 

Comments always are welcome.

All Buttoned Up in the Bog

Bog Buttons along the Sundew Trail  ~  Big Thicket

Like the Baby’s Breath used by florists as a filler for cut-flower arrangements, Ten-Angled Pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare) fills a multitude of spaces in east Texas bogs, wet prairies, and wet pine flatwoods. In the United States, the species generally is found in southeastern states and along the Atlantic coastal plain, while Seven-Angled Pipewort is found in the northeastern states and Canada.

The genus name, Eriocaulon, is rooted in the  Greek words for ‘woolly’ (erion) and ‘stem’ or ‘stalk’ (kaulós). The species epithet decangulare (and the common name ‘ten-angle’) refers to the number of ribs generally found on the plant’s long scapes.

Other common names, such as ‘hat pin’ and ‘bog button,’ reflect the flower’s appearance; a small, firm cluster of densely packed white flowers sitting atop a stalk that averages two to three feet in height. While individual flowerheads are solitary, a plant may produce a dozen or more blooms simultaneously. Wind pollinated, the plant reproduces from seed.

This developing bud was only a quarter-inch in diameter.

Mature flowers range from one-half to three-quarters of an inch across; their miniscule white to grayish-white flowers develop into the form of a compact ball.

In time, the balls elongate a bit. As they do, black nectar glands become visible, and the button-like appearance lessens somewhat.

Some sources suggest a relatively short bloom time for the plant, but I’ve seen it flowering in the Big Thicket from March until November. Like so many flowers, it’s attractive in all its stages; the fluffiness that appears near its end — causing it to look more like a pompom than a button — is especially appealing.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Solo Trio

A developing flower of Xyris ambigua

 

Having shown more abstract images of a yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ambigua), it seemed only right to offer a more detailed look at this lovely plant.

Yellow-eyed-grasses not only belong in their own genus — Xyris  — they also belong in their own family: the Xyridaceae. More closely aligned with grasses than with other flowering plants, they thrive in wet places, specializing in acid or sandy soils, moist pine or oak savannas, pine flatwoods, pond shores, ditches, and bogs. These photos, taken in the wetland pine savannah of the Big Thicket Solo Tract, might just as easily have come from surrounding bogs.

A relatively tall plant that often grows to a height of three feet, its conspicuous cone-like inflorescence can be more than an inch long; tightly wound green and brown bracts subtend the pretty yellow flower.

Double or even triple flowers occasionally appear simultaneously
From bud to flower to seed

I especially enjoy the opportunity to see various stages of plant life on a single day. The experience brings to mind this passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on self-reliance:

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones… There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.

Comments always are welcome.