A Salty Old Girl

  Female Seaside Dragonlet on  Marsh Bristlegrass ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

The Seaside Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax berenice) spends most of its time perched atop salt marsh plants; here, one rests on a stem of marsh bristlegrass (Setaria parviflora).

Perhaps ‘saltmarsh dragonlet’ would be a better name, since they’re often the only dragonfly in the marshes. Other dragonflies appear in coastal habitats, hunting insects over dunes and wetlands, but no other species is as tied to the coast as the dragonlet; they rarely appear inland, and are considered to be our only marine dragonfly.

The primary reason is their adaptation to salt. Like all dragonfly larvae, seaside dragonlet nymphs are aquatic, but their ability to regulate the concentration of salt within their bodies allows them to thrive in saltwater; researchers have found them tolerating water as much as three times the salinity of the ocean. In salt marshes, the seaside dragonlet often is the only medium-sized dragonfly — about an inch and a half long — that’s encountered.

Salt marshes are insect-rich, so dragonlets can afford to be a little lazy. They do less flying and more waiting than many species: launching themselves out to capture passing prey before returning to their perch.

Adult males are deep blue or black, with clear or nearly-clear wings; females show varying amounts of yellow atop the abdomen, and elaborate patterns of black-and-yellow striping on the sides of the thorax. As accomodating as they are attractive, they make fine subjects for a photographer.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Here Comes Summer!

 

It’s sometimes frustrating, but true: none of us can be in more than one place at a time. This past weekend I discovered that, while I was prowling our Piney Woods looking for orchids and other east Texas delights, the prairies have been busy exchanging spring for summer.

Heading west rather than east, I found sunflowers, bee balm, and prairie parsley in full flower, while bee blossom (Gaura lindheimeri), snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata), and an assortment of morning glories  and mallows are beginning to appear.

A few of our so-called Texas bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum) now are blooming in both the San Bernard and Brazoria Wildlife Refuges. Also known as prairie gentian, the flowers generally are purple or lavender, although small colonies of white ones exist both on Galveston Island and in the Brazoria refuge.

Masses of blooms appear to be a week or two down the road, but I’m more than willing to wait for the chance to enjoy this favorite flower.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Gathering of Ladies

Spring ladies’ tresses orchid (Spiranthes vernalis) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

On Saturday afternoon, this unusual sight greeted me at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. A spring ladies’ tresses orchid, taller than I’d ever seen, reached a full twenty-six inches into the air, swaying in the winds that were helping to form the clouds behind it.

Dark and wave-like, the clouds (Undulatus asperatus) were less dramatic at the refuge than in Houston proper, but they were noticeable all over the area. These ‘agitated or turbulent wave’ clouds form when rising air with some moisture content initiates widespread cloud cover, and wind shear blows across the rising air.

As for the orchids, a much smaller and differently-formed version growing nearby also seemed to be S. vernalis. Joe Liggio, an expert on our native species, writes in his Wild Orchids of Texas:

Several species of Spiranthes are so similar in appearance that either a hand lens or a microscope is sometimes required to distinguish one from another.

In truth, even with a hand lens these orchids can be immensely confusing. Still, between iNaturalist reports, various maps and descriptions, and others’ photos, I’m fairly certain these are the spring ladies’ tresses. There’s quite a history packed into this  single sentence from Liggio’s book:

The spring ladies tresses was first described in 1845 by George Engelmann and Asa Gray, based on a specimen collected on Galveston Island, Texas, by the German botanist Ferdinand J. Lindheimer.
S. vernalis seen against storm clouds ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

I’m less certain about this beauty, one of a pair found along the edge of a pine-hardwood mix at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve on Sunday. Obvious green lines inside the flowers suggest Spiranthes praecox: a spring orchid common to east Texas and distinguished from all other Spiranthes orchids by those same lines.

Spiranthes praecox

Finally, there’s this little oddity: a Spiranthes orchid without a spiral. It seems to meet all the qualifications for S. brevilabris var. floridana, a variety found in both Hardin County and Tyler County, where the Watson Preserve is located. According to Liggio:

[The Florida variety] is hairless, and its flowers scarcely spiral at all. [It] also lacks the pronounced fringed margin on the lip. It grows in wet, sandy soil in wetland pine savannahs, pine-hardwood forests, and prairies of East Texas.
This orchid, rare throughout its range, is represented by only five known herbarium collections from Texas.

Whatever its true identity, its one-sided flowering makes for a beautiful and eye-catching curve.

 

Comments always are welcome.