Nature’s Ornament

 

While humans decorate their homes for Christmas, nature’s been busy decorating her world. On a recent trip around the Willow City Loop in Gillespie County, hints of the holiday season were everywhere.

Reddened by cold, this pad from a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) would look especially festive hanging from a live oak. Unfortunately, bringing it indoors to hang alongside more traditional ornaments on a fir or a spruce would be ill-advised. Some of those spines are two inches long, and believe me — they’re more Scrooge than Santa!

 

Comments always are welcome.

Caught Up in Her Work

Orchard Orb-Weaver (Leucauge venusta)

 

Even people who fear or dislike spiders often admire the beauty of their dew-covered webs. For the spiders themselves, the web’s purpose is more practical than aesthetic — a way of sensing predators, or catching dinner — but it’s fun to imagine them stopping to admire their handiwork from time to time. 

Finding a web isn’t difficult, but surprising a spider in the process of building or repairing a web is less common. On a late, cloudy afternoon, this colorful orb-weaver was putting her practical skills to use in an especially pleasing way.

 

Comments always are welcome.

All Buttoned Up in the Bog

Bog Buttons along the Sundew Trail  ~  Big Thicket

Like the Baby’s Breath used by florists as a filler for cut-flower arrangements, Ten-Angled Pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare) fills a multitude of spaces in east Texas bogs, wet prairies, and wet pine flatwoods. In the United States, the species generally is found in southeastern states and along the Atlantic coastal plain, while Seven-Angled Pipewort is found in the northeastern states and Canada.

The genus name, Eriocaulon, is rooted in the  Greek words for ‘woolly’ (erion) and ‘stem’ or ‘stalk’ (kaulós). The species epithet decangulare (and the common name ‘ten-angle’) refers to the number of ribs generally found on the plant’s long scapes.

Other common names, such as ‘hat pin’ and ‘bog button,’ reflect the flower’s appearance; a small, firm cluster of densely packed white flowers sitting atop a stalk that averages two to three feet in height. While individual flowerheads are solitary, a plant may produce a dozen or more blooms simultaneously. Wind pollinated, the plant reproduces from seed.

This developing bud was only a quarter-inch in diameter.

Mature flowers range from one-half to three-quarters of an inch across; their miniscule white to grayish-white flowers develop into the form of a compact ball.

In time, the balls elongate a bit. As they do, black nectar glands become visible, and the button-like appearance lessens somewhat.

Some sources suggest a relatively short bloom time for the plant, but I’ve seen it flowering in the Big Thicket from March until November. Like so many flowers, it’s attractive in all its stages; the fluffiness that appears near its end — causing it to look more like a pompom than a button — is especially appealing.

 

Comments always are welcome.