Tête-à-Tête

Two Gray Hairstreaks sipping nectar from antelope horn milkweed (Asclepias asperula)
(click image for greater clarity and detail)

 

One of the most common butterflies on the North American continent, the Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) also ranges into Central and northern South America.

In their book Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, John and Gloria Tveten describe hairstreaks as “fast-flying butterflies that dart about so quickly and erratically that they are extremely difficult to follow.”  I’ve certainly been frustrated by that behavior, but this pair, intent on sips of nectar, were more than willing to tolerate my presence.

Found on a milkweed-covered  hillside along the west prong of the Medina River, very near The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve, these hairstreaks were accompanied by Buckeye, Sulphur, and American Painted Lady butterflies: all enjoying the abundance of late spring flowers, and perfect flying conditions.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Winging It

Female Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Having packed, moved, and unpacked, I’m left with piles of stuff to sort and store as well as a realization that, not having been out in the world for nearly three weeks, I have no idea what nature’s been up to.

Lacking current photos, I decided to wing it, and begin posting again with a few backward glances: this one, to last summer’s splendor at Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries.

Each of the seven cemeteries is rich in history, filled with traditional statuary and markers designating the resting places of notable individuals, but in two or three, seasonal wildflowers are allowed to flourish until they go to seed:  a display that calls to humans as much as it pleases the pollinators. Which flowers appear can vary; last year, Coreopsis and Gaillardia predominated.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Each year, as wingèd creatures of various sorts gather around the angels, it’s easy to imagine those concrete wings twitching a little — who wouldn’t want to join the butterflies, bees, and birds in a flight among the flowers?

 

Comments always are welcome.

Stars on the Prairie, Stars in the Hills

It didn’t twinkle, but this delightful blue star caught my eye nonetheless. I’d seen the flower in the past, and recognized it as Amsonia tabernaemontana, a member of the Apocynaceae, or dogbane family.

The plant’s genus name honors 18th century Virginia physician Dr. Charles Amson, while its interesting specific epithet (tabernaemontana) recalls Jakob Theodor von Bergzabern (1525-1590), who Latinized his name as Tabernaemontanus, or ‘mountain tavern.’  Also a physician, botanist, and herbalist, Tabernaemontanus has been considered the father of German botany.

The native range of the blue star which bears his name lies well beyond Texas; it can be found as far north as Illinois, and as far east as North and South Carolina. Looking beyond my single star, I found plants bearing its extraordinary multi-colored buds, as well as a few scattered plants covered in blooms.

As I was admiring the flowers, an older man stopped his truck on the road and called to me. “You think those flowers are pretty? Go on down the road a couple of miles to where they’ve burned the prairie, and you’ll see hundreds of them.”

He wasn’t wrong. In the past, I’d witnessed the emergence of thousands of spider lilies after a prescribed burn, but I wasn’t prepared for acres of blue stars, on both sides of the road.

In places, the contrast between the scorched land and the resurgent flowers was breathtaking.

Blue star nectar attracts ruby-throated hummingbirds, carpenter bees, and hummingbird moths, but on that day it was the least skippers (Ancyloxypha numitor) that fluttered by the dozens through the flowers.

The blue stars I found on the coastal prairie aren’t the only Amsonia species in Texas. Amsonia ciliata, sometimes known as fringed bluestar, thrives in dry, open woods or chalky hills; these were photographed between Medina and Vanderpool along Farm-to-Market road 337. The distinctively narrow leaves, as well as slightly shorter and more rounded petals, make identifying the species relatively easy.

Like Amsonia tabernaemontana, the fringed bluestar seems to draw clouds of butterflies. Here, a Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its long, narrow wings over one of our prettiest Texas wildflowers: the perfect way to spend a spring afternoon.

 

Comments always are welcome.