Buttoning Up Summer

Grassleaf Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia) bloom from late summer through early fall in the wet flatwoods and prairies, seeps, and bogs of east Texas’s Big Thicket. Here, the warm hues of a pitcher plant flower provide a glowing background for the emerging disk florets of this small, button-like flower.

A member of the Asteraceae, or sunflower family, the plant’s dome-shaped flower heads sway atop slender stems as much as sixteen inches tall. Like its family-mate the Basket-flower, Barbara’s Buttons have disk flowers but no rays: a characteristic that increases their resemblance to one another in shape, if not in size.

The genus name Marshallia honors Humphry Marshall (1722-1801) and his nephew Moses Marshall (1758-1813), American botanists active in and around Pennsylvania during the Colonial period. The specific epithet graminifolia refers to the plant’s grasslike leaves.

Although every species in the genus is known as Barbara’s Buttons, the identity of ‘Barbara’ remains unclear.  It seems the name first appeared in print in botanist John Kunkel Small’s 1933 book, Flora of the Southeastern United States.

Whatever the source of the flower’s common name, it’s quite attractive to late-season pollinators like butterflies, beetles, and bees, and a lovely bit of lingering color as the season begins to change.

 

Comments always are welcome.

It’s Time to Boogie Into Fall

Lumbering in East Texas

Mississippi may have birthed juke joints and the blues, but East Texas lays claim to boogie woogie: a musical form created in piney woods railroad and lumber camps of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Musicologist John Tennison describes the 360-mile stretch of US 59 between El Campo and Texarkana as the ‘Boogie Woogie Highway,’ and the sound certainly did travel; today, the hard-driving music is performed and enjoyed around the world.

Henri Herbert, an extraordinary musician who specializes in boogie woogie, will be playing one of my favorite Texas venues this fall: not locally, but close enough that a visit with friends and an evening of boogie already is being planned. Born in France and raised in England, Herbert calls Austin home for now, but he can show up anywhere, including public pianos at St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations in London.

Jon Aizlewood of the London Evening Standard once described Herbert as being “like Jools Holland possessed by Jerry Lee Lewis and the Devil himself.” Here’s a taste of what he offers, and what I’m looking forward to experiencing in person.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Stick-y Situation

Two paths diverged in the Nature Conservancy’s Sandyland Sanctuary; as I stood, deciding which to follow, I noticed some pretty, ruffled foliage. I didn’t recognize the plant, but I liked the way the twig lying across it had provided the third side of a natural triangle.

Then, I realized that the twig seemed to be looking at me. It wasn’t a twig at all, but an insect: a Giant Walkingstick (Megaphasma denticrus). If you enlarge the photo, you can see what I imagine to be an appraising look in its eye.

Officially the longest insect species in North America, the creatures can reach six inches or more in length; from toe to outstretched toe, this one measured about eight inches long. It may have been a female, since female walkingsticks typically are larger than the males.

Found in woods, forests, and grasslands of the Southern United States, Giant Walkingsticks are common in Texas, but can be found as far north as Indiana and Iowa. They prefer a moist environment,  and generally are found on trees or shrubs.

A wonderful example of mimicry in nature, walkingsticks closely resemble twigs of the plants where they choose to rest. When motionless, they’re far less obvious to predators; their nearly undetectable presence has led to their continued reproduction and expansion throughout the Southern United States.

Both male and female adults are wingless and slow moving. Adults tend to be greenish to reddish brown, sometimes with pale legs. Immature nymphs, though smaller, resemble adults;  they’re often green, and sometimes resemble juniper twigs.

Noturnal creatures, Giant Walkingsticks feed on leaves throughout the night. When I found this one at a relatively early hour of the morning, it may have just settled in for a post-dinner nap.

Comments always are welcome.

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.

A Beautiful — and Useful — Bean

Pink fuzzybean ~ Strophostyles umbellata

Only three species are included in the genus Strophostyles, and all three are found in Texas. Popularly known as fuzzybeans because of the texture of their seed pods, they can be difficult to distinguish from one another, particularly since their flowers are similar.

One  way is to note differences in their leaves and bracts. The amberique-bean, sometimes called the sand or trailing fuzzybean (S. helvola) and the slickseed or small-flower fuzzybean (S. leiosperma) have bracts at the base of the flowers that tend to be acute, while those of the pink, or trailing, fuzzybean (S. umbellata) are more blunt.

I found this pair of what I believe to be pink fuzzybeans near the entrance to the Big Thicket’s Solo Tract on September 6. Despite their small size, their shape and color attracted my attention. Only later did I learn that the Houma people of Louisiana made a decoction of the seeds to treat typhoid, and the Iroquois used the leaves to treat poison ivy rashes. I’m not worried about typhoid, but given my limited ability to spot poison ivy in the wild, a fuzzybean poultice might be as useful as the flower is beautiful.

 

Comments always are welcome.