Bud, Bloom, and Banquet

Purple leatherflower bud ~ Dudney Nature Center, League City

One of my favorite native vines, the Purple Leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri), typically climbs over and around woodland margins, road cuts, fence rows, and disturbed ground such as construction sites. While its stems can grow to a length of ten feet or more, its flowers usually are less than an inch long. Solitary and simply shaped, the sepals of the blue-to-purple flowers have recurved, slightly ruffled margins; the plant blooms from late spring through summer.

The genus name is derived from the Greek klematis: a word which designates climbing plants. The specific epithet pitcheri honors Dr. Zina Pitcher (1797-1872), a surgeon with the United States Army, Regent of the University of Michigan, and botanist in the Great Lakes region.

Purple leather flower in bloom ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Seeds begin to form even while the plant still is blooming. Held in clusters, they mature from light green to dark red or brown, with slightly hairy tails that some describe as spider-like.

The flowers are pollinated primarily by bumblebees, although other insects such as flower-feeding thrips and caterpillars of various Thyris moth species feed on the foliage. The vine is used as cover and nesting habitat by songbirds, and although no specific butterflies are associated with the plant, this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) seems to have found it a congenial resting place. Whether it was sipping a bit of leftover nectar or pondering its next stop on the vine, I can’t say.

Painted Lady on developing C. pitcheri seed head ~ Brazos River bank, East Columbia

 

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Seeing Double

Expansive fields of wildflowers can be breathtaking: so much so that the individual blooms which make up their grand sweep of color tend to disappear. Looking among the flowers to find some fresh and photogenic examples, I discovered a surprise: a doubled Nueces coreopsis, shining in the sun.

Nueces coreopsis ~ Coreopsis nuecensis

Both the scientific and common names offer a clue to this Texas endemic’s location. Flowing from its headwaters in Edwards and Real counties, the Nueces River was called Rio de las Nueces, or ‘River of Nuts’ by early Spanish explorers — an apparent reference to pecan trees growing along its banks. More than a flower bears the river’s name. Today, it ends in Nueces County and enters Nueces Bay at Corpus Christi.

 

Occasionally there are other ‘double’ surprises. Of course these swallowtail butterflies are individuals, but for a moment they ‘doubled up,’ and enjoyed the Floresville cemetery sunshine in their own way.

Black swallowtails  ~ Papilio polyxenes

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Fall’s Final Flutterings

Even in December, an assortment of butterflies graces the Texas landscape, taking advantage of our relative warmth and lingering nectar sources.

The Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) shown above can be distinguished from Monarchs and Viceroys by the white spots on its hindwings and darker color. I recently found a dozen of these beauties flocking around the remnants of Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii ) in a Kerrville garden.

On the other hand, this Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) found a congenial resting spot alongside the Willow City Loop in Gillespie County. Its family, the Nymphalidae, contains butterflies called ‘brushfooted,’ due to the reduced size of their front legs. Seventy-three species of this largest butterfly family are found in Texas, including fritillaries, checker spots, crescents, American Painted Ladies, and Red Admirals.

At the Lost Maples State Natural Area, I got my first look at a somewhat amusing butterfly known as the American Snout (Libytheana carinenta).There’s no question how its name arose. The pronounced elongation of its mouth parts look very much like a snout; they remind me of an anteater.

The Snout’s larvae, pupae, and adults are quite dull, resembling partially opened leaves. When adults rest on twigs with their wings folded and their antennae and snout aligned toward the twig, they often resemble a dead leaf.

Hackberry trees serve as hosts for the American Snout; adults feed on a wide variety of flowers, and often can be found sipping water and minerals from mud.

American Snouts do migrate, but not in a traditional north to south direction. Instead, they move locally among patches of suitable habitat, particularly after rains produce fresh hackberry leaves. A 1976 study discovered the butterflies moving in three different directions east of I-35, with one flight reversing directions between morning and afternoon. Their migrations are fascinating; this article provides more complete details.

 

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