A Brazos Bend Surprise

Red Buckeye  flower ~ Aesculus pavia

I’d meant to spend an early April day roaming the wildflower and prairie trails at Brazos Bend State Park, but when I asked a ranger if there might be wildflowers blooming in other areas of the park, she grinned and said, “The buckeyes still are blooming. If you walk the Red Buckeye trail, you should find them.” And so I did.

I’d never heard of Red Buckeyes, and assumed they’d be akin to most wildflowers, growing low to the ground. Eventually, I realized the clusters of red and yellow blooms rising above the lush green leaves of shrubs were the flowers I was seeking.

Aesculus pavia, commonly called red buckeye, is named for smooth, shiny seeds that ripen in the fall; some compare them to the eye of a buck. The genus name refers to a kind of oak bearing edible acorns, while the Specific epithet honors 17th century Dutch botanist Peter Paaw.

Unlike many acorns, Red Buckeye seeds are poisonous and avoided by most wildlife. Like other Aesculus species, the seeds’ toxins are capable of causing muscle weakness and paralysis. Native Americans used crushed buckeye seeds and branches to slow the movements of fish, making them easier to catch.

On the other hand, the flowers attract hummingbirds, and their relatively early bloom makes them an important food source during the birds’ migration. Other nectar feeders that visit the flowers include eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies, bumblebees, and carpenter bees.

A variety of red buckeye, Aesculus pavia var. flavescens, occurs naturally only on the limestone soils of the western Edwards Plateau. Smaller than A. pavia, its flowers are yellow; where the species appear together, hybridization may produce yellow and red flowers.

By August, this deciduous shrub will begin to lose its leaves, but next spring I’ll look forward to finding its flowers again; perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to find both red and yellow blooms.

 

Comments always are welcome.

From Roadsides to Woodlands

Fleabane in a clearing near Walden West

While the Deer-pea Vetch I featured in my previous post spreads its purple glow closer to the ground, a common spring companion plant rises above it, catching the eyes of motorists passing on the road.

Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus), our most common Fleabane species, received its common name because of a presumed — though unproven — ability to repel fleas. Its thread-like ray flowers, numbering in the hundreds, are the most slender among the Erigeron species.

Common as the flower is in open areas, particularly along roadsides, it also appears in woodland clearings. Each of these photos was taken in locations where I wouldn’t have expected to find these sun-loving flowers, but it’s obvious that full sun isn’t necessary for them to bloom.

Along the Red Buckeye Trail, Brazos Bend State Park

I’ve been puzzled for some time about field guides and websites that describe Philadelphia Fleabane’s ray florets as being either pink or white. I’d never seen a hint of pink on fleabane until I found several blushing buds at Brazos Bend State Park, and remembered; when it comes to nature, ‘expect the unexpected’ is good advice.

 

Comments always are welcome.

No Crocus? No Problem!

Spring’s spiderwort

Oddly, perhaps, I can’t remember ever seeing crocuses in bloom. Years ago in Iowa, tulips were the preferred spring flower. Today, Gulf coast garden gurus advise that growing crocuses is fraught with so many difficulties — especially our heat and humidity — that failure is almost guaranteed, and that probably explains why I’ve never seen one here.

No matter. Even as more northerly gardeners begin posting photos of their glorious crocuses, several species of our native spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.) have begun to shine. On March 6, I found these newly emerged plants at Brazos Bend State Park, blooming in the midst of a dewberry thicket. The mixture of pink, blue, and lavender flowers was lovely.

After deciding that I’d found T. ohiensis, the so-called Ohio spiderwort, I learned an interesting detail about that species: “When touched in the heat of the day, the flowers shrivel to a fluid jelly.” That helps to explain why the edges of the pink pair shown above seemed to be liquifying in the noontime sun.

With their open structure and obvious pollen, the flowers were drawing a substantial number of hoverflies and metallic bees. The insects were able to navigate easily through the dewberry vines encasing the still-short flowers. In time, taller plants will make it easier for a photographer.

Still, even at ground level it was possible to record one of the most appealing features of spiderworts: their feathery stamens. Color-coordinated with the petals, they’re one of the prettiest sights of spring.

Comments always are welcome.

An Especially Black-Eyed Susan

As summer deepens, many plants are completing their life cycles; this Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) on the Brazos Bend State Park prairie was well along in the process when I found it on the morning of July 11.

Despite being surrounded by still-blooming companions, it not only had dried and formed seeds, it also was providing support for a tendril from an unidentified plant. The combination of brown, red, and black, as well as the intricacy of the tendril’s growth, pleased me as much as the bright yellow flowers surrounding it.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

It’s the Early Bird, With Its Catch

This Great Egret (Ardea alba) probably wouldn’t have rejected the proverbial early bird’s worm as a snack, but it was morning at Brazos Bend, and time to search for something a little more substantial.

After scanning the skies for several minutes, the egret began scrutinizing the surrounding water with that wonderful intensity common to wading birds.

Predictably, its strike was fast and unpredictable: so much so that I nearly missed it.  Egrets prefer fish, but within the thick foliage a frog, snake, crawfish, or shrimp might have been its target.

Given the strength of its bill and the speed of its attack, the bird’s success was understandable, although the prey it pulled from the water wasn’t easy to identify.

No matter. The bird seemed pleased with its catch, and I was more than pleased to have caught its image in the early morning light.

 

Comments always are welcome.