September Scarlet

This beautiful scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata) is the only red-flowering catchfly in southeast Texas. According to Rare Plants of Texas (Poole, Carr, Price & Singhurst), three other scarlet Silene species are native to Texas, but two (S. laciniata and S. plankii) are found in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos, and S. virginica is a spring bloomer limited to far northeast Texas.

As much as four feet tall and somewhat twiggy, scarlet catchfly has thin stems and narrow, grass-like leaves; compared to other catchflies, its stems and leaves are relatively smooth.  A rare plant endemic to a small area of southeast Texas and adjacent southwest Louisiana, it’s most often found in open, disturbed habitats such as the deep, sandy soils of fire-maintained longleaf pine savannahs.

In the course of a wildflower walk at the Watson Rare Plant Preserve near Warren, Joe Liggio pointed out a few developing catchfly buds.

When I returned a week later, I found several buds in various stages of development, and a few already-blooming flowers that had been nibbled and gnawed to a significant degree.

At a different site, I was pleased to find a few fresher flowers that were as eye-catching as fly-catching.

Although named for sticky, insect-trapping bands that encircle its stem between the upper leaves, catchfly doesn’t feed on the insects it traps. Presumably, other predators take advantage of its catch, celebrating their find of an easy meal.

The catchfly’s bloom time probably depends upon its location. One source says that it flowers between August and mid-September; another places the bloom between July and October, occasionally extending into November.

These August and September photos come from Hardin and Tyler counties; the U.S. Forest Service suggests the flower also can be found at the Stark Tract and Fox Hunter’s Hill in the Sabine National Forest. There still may be time to find them there.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Ball Moss in Bloom

This nondescript and messy little bundle of plant life is ball moss: Tillandsia recurvata. Not a true moss at all, this epiphytic member of the bromeliad family commonly clings to the limbs of trees, barbed wire fencing, and utility wires.

While its own wiry roots attach the plant to a host, they don’t draw nutrients from that host; the plant isn’t a parasite. Instead, it absorbs minerals and moisture from the air through scales on its leaves called trichomes: a characteristic of another epiphyte, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides).

Not everyone loves ball moss, although spiders and other insects seem to enjoy taking up residence inside its tangled leaves. If the plant’s flowers were more obvious, they might get more respect, but most people never see the tiny blooms.

Ball moss in bloom

When I found this little ball of moss in the middle of a parking lot, I noticed its buds, and wondered what would happen if I brought it home and fussed over it a bit. I’d read that the plant enjoys high humidity, so I laid it in a pot next to a prickly pear cactus, and misted it when I thought about it. In about a week, some of the buds — from 3/8″ to 1/2″ long — had opened.

I was able to see the flowers without magnification, but only at close range. Even then they were difficult to discern, so it’s no wonder people looking at the plants from a distance never glimpse the flowers.

In a day or two, the petals began to droop, and a separation appeared as the seed head began to form.

As the seed head continued to dry, the split became more obvious.

Eventually, the seed pod opened and tiny seeds began to drop, ready to be dispersed by the wind. Those that find a congenial place to land, like crevices in tree bark, will begin developing roots almost immediately, and a new plant will form. Each flower can produce up to a hundred seeds, so it’s no wonder that, once established, ball moss becomes a recognizable part of the southern landscape.

Opened pod with dangling seeds

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Last Saturday’s ‘Something’

Evening rain lily (Cooperia drummondii, also known as Zephyranthes chlorosolen)

I’ve learned a number of lessons since beginning to roam the countryside in search of delights to photograph. Most have been of the practical sort: double-check the camera for the presence of its memory card before leaving home; always carry Benadryl; keep boots and extra water in the car; don’t put car keys in a shallow pocket.

Other lessons, less obvious, have been learned slowly, over time. After five years or so, I’ve yet to experience a single exception to a lesson best expressed as an aphorism: “There’s always something to see.” 

Last Saturday, my unexpected ‘something’ turned out to be five rain lilies. The flowers often emerge after rains, but despite a wet spring and early summer, I hadn’t yet seen one this year.

I certainly didn’t expect to find them clustered along a dry, dusty roadside during our typically hot and dry July, but there they were: one fading to pink, three somewhat nibbled and gnawed, and the one shown above still fresh, as nearly perfect as a flower could be.

I confess I sometimes talk to the flowers, and I talked to this one. “Look at you,” I said. “It’s barely past seven o’clock, and you’ve already given me my ‘something’ for the day.”

 

Comments always are welcome.
Evening rain-lily (Cooperia drummondii, or Zephyranthes chlorosolen) has been moved from the Lily family (Liliaceae) to the Amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). The specific epithet ‘drummondii’ recognizes Thomas Drummond, an 18th century Scottish naturalist.