A Fifty Mile Difference

Hurricane Laura western eyewall damage south of Sulphur, Louisiana
Photo courtesy Houston meteorologist Jeff Lindner

Approximately fifty miles to the west-northwest of Sulphur, Louisiana lies Silsbee, Texas. Ten miles past Silsbee you’ll find the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary and, if you travel on to Kountze and Warren, you’ll enter the Big Thicket: home to an assortment of trails, the Solo tract, and the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve.

When it became apparent that Hurricane Laura would make landfall south of Sulphur, my concern extended beyond the people living along its path. East Texas wasn’t at risk from Laura’s significant surge, but wind damage to the area’s natural treasures could be extensive. The prediction for sustained tropical force winds in East Texas worried me, and I was eager to make a trip into the area to see what damage might have occurred.

When I finally made that trip on September 6, my sense of relief increased with each passing mile. There were no topped trees, no stripped bark, no missing limbs. At the Sandyland Sanctuary, the only evidence of Laura’s winds was an occasional leaning pine. The storm had tightened at landfall, passing far enough to the east for its northeast winds to leave a mark, but little serious damage.

One of Sandyland’s out-of-plumb pines

Wandering through Sandyland, I was pleased to find several of my favorites. This delicate palafox (Palafoxia reverchonii) was one of a few still in bloom.

Somewhat uncommon, the pencil-flower (Stylosanthes biflora) often appears in sandy soils; its membership in the Fabaceae — the pea family — is hinted at by its flower.

The deeply saturated red of the Louisiana catchfly (Silene subciliata) glows in the sunlight, and finding it always is a special treat. In Wildflowers of Texas, Michael Eason writes that the flower is “rare, but can be seen in the Big Thicket National Preserve, in sandy soils” — precisely where I found it.

In my absence, the smooth and silky buds of snake cotton (Froelichia floridana) had become more cottony, and the plants themselves had grown substantially taller.

Sandyland is one place to find the rare and beautiful Winkler’s blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri). Laura’s rains seem to have encouraged this flower, and I expect its season will extend into October.

I did manage a brief stop at the Solo Tract in the Big Thicket, and was rewarded with something I’d hoped to find: a newly-emerged flower of yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ambigua).

Of course, one visit never is enough. I returned to the area this past weekend to photograph other treats: some quite unexpected. Hurricanes will come and hurricanes will go, but nature continues to produce her treasures.

Comments always are welcome.

My Love is Like a Red, Red…

 

Milkweed!  Red milkweed, that is: Asclepias rubra. Despite its common name, the flowers usually are shades of pink, giving rise to a second common name: tall pink bog milkweed. On a recent visit to the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, most plants appeared pink rather than red, but these isolated examples of deeply saturated color seemed to meet Singhurst and Hutchins’s description of “dull red.”

Red Milkweed grows in pitcher plant bogs, seeps, and wet pine savannas from New Jersey south to Florida and west to Texas. As much as four feet tall, its terminal umbels are easily spotted above its companion plants.

Red milkweed ~ Asclepias rubra
Tall pink bog milkweed ~ also Asclepias rubra

Like other milkweed species, A. rubra already has been busy forming its attractive follicles, or seed pods. This sleek, smooth example, nearly four inches long, may have riped and released its seeds since my visit.

Comments always are welcome.

Big Thicket, Little Thicket

 

One of the most fascinating aspects of the area of Texas known as the Big Thicket is the manner in which longleaf pines, multiple species of ferns, carnivorous plants, and sun-loving wildflowers mix and mingle together, forming a marvelous backdrop for the variety of native orchids also found there.

Above, a grass pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus) contrasts with the trunk of an enormous long-leaf pine (Pinus palustris).  

Here, a grass pink is framed by ferns. While I’ve not yet learned to identify the several Big Thicket fern species with certainty, I believe these to be common bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum).

Finally, these beauties are framed within a cluster of branches that appear to have been burned. Fire is an important tool for maintaining longleaf pine uplands and wetland pine savannas, but pitcher plants and other orchid companions also respond well to periodic fires, growing back profusely from the nutrient-enhanced soil that remains after the flames have done their work.

Here, the orchids have taken advantage of those nutrients and increased sunlight to rise up in  a little thicket of their own: a perfect metaphor for Big Thicket life.

 

Comments always are welcome.