Lingering Autumn ~ Salt Cedars

Salt cedar in January ~ Follett’s Island, Brazoria County

Commonly known as salt cedar, several Tamarisk species (Tamarix spp.) flourish in the United States. Introduced from Eurasia in the 1800s as a means of erosion control, the tree-like shrubs became useful as windbreaks, and soon gained acceptance by horticulturalists as garden ornamentals. Filled with delicate pink flowers in spring, salt cedars occasionally take on rich, molten colors in autumn, adding considerable interest to a landscape or garden.

Unfortunately, salt cedars are aggressive: spreading into riparian areas of the American West as well as along the beaches, tidal marshes, and wetlands of coastal states. Able to survive the cold, they can be found around the Great Lakes, and even as far north as Toronto and Montreal.

Where conditions suit them they spread easily, consuming large amounts of water in the process. As they pull water from saline soils, excess salt accumulates in their leaves before being excreted through glands on the leaves’ underside: the source of the plant’s common name. Sometimes, leaves become encrusted with salt crystals before dropping to the ground. When that happens, high concentrations of salt accumulate in the soil; even two inches of salt-encrusted leaf litter beneath the trees can displace native plants, or prevent their establishment

Salt cedar leaves excreting water and salt

Despite their invasive status, and despite on-going attempts to control or eradicate them, there’s no denying the salt cedars’ attractiveness. Like other non-native plants introduced to please the eye, their presence may have resulted in some unintended consequences, but they certainly are pretty.

Salt cedar flowering in spring ~ Galveston Island

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Passion For Opuntia

Texas prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) ~ Galveston Island

The barrier islands of the Texas coast are well enough known for the beachcombing, fishing, and partying they offer. But behind the dunes, a world of flowering plants and grasses holds sway, including several species of cacti.

On my neighborhood islands — Galveston, Follett’s, and Brazos — at least three species of prickly pear can be found in addition to Opuntia engelmannii: O. humifusa (previously O. compressa), O. macrorhiza, and O. stricta, which is nearly spineless. Still, my favorite is the common Texas prickly pear.

Flowers range from a bright, clear yellow to orange, or even red. Sometimes, flowers of all three colors appear on the same plant. Many flowers combine colors and, as they age, even the brightest yellow fades toward the same delicate, peachy hue that characterizes the buds.

Yellow prickly pear flowers on Follett’s island

The petals of aging flowers sometimes seem to thin; in the right light, they can glow like paper lanterns.

A flower still blooms along the Blue Water highway at sunset

Regardless of color, prickly pear flowers contain an abundance of pollen. Bees, flies, beetles, and ants are common pollinators, with larger bees taking advantage of the easy access to pollen provided by the flowers.

Here, a bee pauses before taking the plunge, perhaps to appreciate the riches spread before it. When it comes to the prickly pear — the state plant of Texas — the bee and I are equally appreciative.

 

Comments always are welcome.
A note regarding taxonomy:  Some sites consider O. engelmannii and O. lindheimeri to be separate species. Others continue to list the Texas prickly pear as O. engelmannii var. lindheimeri. For  a comparison of the species, click here. (The site as a whole is an excellent resource.)