Rejuvenating Rain

 

Carolina Sea Lavender

In early October, when I first discovered Carolina Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum) blooming at the Galveston Island State Park, it already was fading away. Despite missing the height of its flowering, I consoled myself with the thought that when next year’s summer arrived I’d know where to find the plant.

On the day before Thanksgiving, while visiting the Island for other business, I stopped by the park to see if recent rains had perked things up a bit. Halfway around one of the hiking trails, sloshing through water deep enough for boots, I discovered that ‘summer’ had come early. Sea Lavender plants were blooming again, their pretty lavender flowers a nice contrast to the sere grasses surrounding them. 

Other bits of lavender also were appearing. The bright red fruits of the Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum) had disappeared from the landscape, no doubt consumed by the birds and other creatures who find them appealing, but warming temperatures and steady rains had encouraged new growth, and across the flats, half-inch long buds were forming.

Wolfberry bud

Scattered throughout the remnants of drought-diminished plants, their flowers seemed especially colorful. In time, their fruits will re-form: a lovely ‘second helping’ for the creatures who feed on them.

Wolfberry flower

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Salt Marsh Surprise

Galveston State Park

Receding waters during this season of drought have made many of our salt marshes more accessible. On Sunday afternoon, as I explored the flats on the bay side of Galveston State Park in search of Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum), a favorite food of early-arriving Whooping Cranes, I noticed a flush of white rising above the familiar saltworts and seepweeds.

Making my way to the patch of fading blooms, I discovered a plant I’d never before encountered: a combination of tiny purple flowers and white bracts on plants a foot tall.

What I’d found is called Sea Lavender or Carolina Sea Lavender (Limonium carolinianum). It’s occasionally known as thrift, although it’s quite different from the Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima) that’s found on our west coast and in Europe.

In season, it produces masses of flowers that create a lavender haze above the ground. Even after its blooms fade, the long-lasting white bracts are quite attractive. Although I missed the height of its bloom this year, next summer I’ll know where to look for this lovely perennial.

That said, even a few of its tiny flowers were enough to tempt a flurry of Beach Skippers (Panoquina panoquinoides) into a visit. Closely related to the Salt Marsh Skipper, Beach Skippers are quite small — about an inch long — and can be distinguished by three small white spots on their wings. After mentioning their presence in Brazoria and Matagorda counties in spring and Aransas County in September, the Tvetens’ book, Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas, suggests that this skipper also might be found around Galveston Bay.

Clearly, the Tvetens’ suspicion has been confirmed.

 

Comments always are welcome.

An Explosion of Eryngo

Early growth in the pasture ~ May 30

When I heard the name ‘sea holly’ applied to the plant I’d come to know as Eryngo, it surprised me; I’d only seen it inland, and relatively far from the sea. Eventually, I learned that several native Eryngo species exist in the United States, and while Eryngium aquaticum, a coarse, aquatic perennial found in coastal marshes and bogs from New Jersey to Florida received its scientific name because of its preference for a wet environment, the prickly nature of that seaside plant made ‘sea holly’ perfectly understandable.

Our most common local species is Eryngium hookeri, or Hooker’s Eryngo. Named for William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865), Director of Kew Gardens from 1841-1865 and founder and editor of the Journal of Botany,  it’s an interesting and attractive plant that’s common to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, as well as to the coastal prairies of Texas. For several years, large colonies could be found along Brazoria County roads, as well as in the refuges there.

This year, I’d been searching for the plant without success. Then, a friend called. “Guess what’s in the pasture?” she said. “The Eryngo is up.” Thanks to its prickly nature, it doesn’t appeal to her horses, and by May 30 it had achieved some height. The color change has come slowly, but by July 9 the pretty purple highlights were obvious, and innumerable spiders had begun using its prickly structure as the basis for their webs.

Beginning to color ~ July 9

While its flowers aren’t as large or as dramatically colored as those of the Leavenworth’s Eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii) found in central Texas, fully colored Hooker’s Eryngo are quite lovely. The plant’s primary flowering comes in July-September, so in a few weeks, its lavender glow should be even more pronounced.

Even as its blooms begin to decline, the structure of the plant catches the eye as surely as those prickly bracts and leaves can catch the finger of a gardener — or a photographer.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Pre-Freeze Pastels

Despite our current freezing temperatures, a new season is ready to spring forth across the Texas coast. On the last weekend of January, these delicate but familiar beauties already had appeared: a welcomed sign of things to come.

Along a Brazoria County road, one of several species of Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) was flowering in small patches. A member of the Iris family, its blooms eventually will fill ditches and cover roadsides.

Several Oxalis species are found in Texas. Some are native; others, like this Oxalis debilis blooming at a local nature center, have arrived from the tropics and made themselves at home. Often found at woodland edges, its flowers regularly host a variety of bees and flies.

Less toxic than the Celery-leaved Buttercup, Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) can appear seemingly overnight, filling pastures and vacant city lots with its pleasant glow. Favored by bees, a variety of flies, and butterflies, they bloom in numbers capable of attracting human attention as well.

While each of these may have been set back by ice and cold, a bit of sunshine and warming temperatures will be all that’s needed to encourage them back into bloom.

Comments always are welcome.

Our Glorious Grasses ~ Gulf Muhly on a Less Airy Day

In my previous post, I mentioned that two common names for Gulf Muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) are ‘hair grass’ and ‘hair-awn muhly.’ Both refer to the light and delicate appearance of the plant: especially its tendency to blow about in the breeze.

Everyone can have a bad hair day, of course, and this ‘hair grass’ is no exception. When it’s been awash in fog long enough for droplets of water to weigh down its apparent weightlessness, the plant becomes attractive in a different way.

Both photos were taken on the same October morning at the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge in Arkansas’s Ouachita Mountains. In the first image, near-zero visibility fog meant very little light, and another common name, ‘purple muhly,’ applied. In the second photo, the fog had begun to lift, and the grass took on its more usual color.

 

Comments always are welcome.