What a Difference a Week Makes

Fewflower milkweed, April 26

Nestled among the ferns lining the boardwalk at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, this pretty orange milkweed fairly glowed. Initially, its color tempted me to think I’d found butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), but the purplish cast to the flower’s center, the single stem, and thin leaves suggested otherwise.

In fact, I’d come across fewflower milkweed, Asclepias lanceolata. A species native to coastal plains of the United States from New Jersey to Florida to southeastern Texas, its bright, reddish-orange flowers frequently appear in marshes, or wet pine barrens characterized by well-draining sandy or loamy soil. A host plant for monarch, queen, and soldier butterfly larvae, A. lanceolata also provides nectar for adult butterflies and insects.

Tall, with lance-shaped leaves opposite one another on the stem, the plant  branches near the top into one to three umbels.  Each contains an average of only seven flowers, giving the milkweed its common name: fewflower. When I returned to the preserve a week after finding the plant with partially opened flowers, nearly all in its three umbels had opened, making its few flowers very impressive, indeed.

The same fewflower milkweed on May 3

 

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Extra credit if you already know which song gave rise to the title.

 

Rest Stop

Not far from the spot where I discovered salt marsh morning glories abloom, this dragonfly paused at the edge of a water-filled ditch while dozens more of its species continued to buzz over the water.

I’ve tentatively identified it as a black setwing (Dythemis nigrescens), a dragonfly native to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Mexico. Sometimes confused with the slaty skimmer (Libellula incesta), the black setwing is smaller, with a more slender abdomen.

According to Odonata Central, these setwings enjoy perching atop twigs near the water, generally in open areas. That fits the behavior of this dragonfly, except that it hadn’t chosen a twig for its perch. This expanded view shows its resting spot for what it is: the four-inch long seed pod of a slim milkweed plant (Asclepias linearis).

Though obscured in the photo above, the delicate flowers of this milkweed are eye-catching: perhaps to the eyes of a dragonfly, the pods are equally attractive, and even more useful.

Slim milkweed (Asclepias linearis) in bloom

 

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Peek-a-boo!

 

I wasn’t expecting to see a black swallowtail caterpillar at East Texas’s Sandylands Sanctuary during a recent visit, but there it was: perhaps having a bit of a post-dinner nap on the same stem which had provided dinner.

The two-inch long creature had hidden itself nearly at ground level within a cluster of leafy plants. Had I not been attracted to the spot by some blue-eyed grass, I never would have seen it.

The slight green tint in the photos is a fair representation of how things appeared that afternoon. As the low, slanted sunlight filtered through the grasses and plants, even the air seemed green.

 

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