Christmas Wishes from the Wetlands

So favored by Whooping Cranes it’s fruits sometimes are called ‘crane candy,’ the plant known as Carolina Wolfberry (Lycium carolinianum) also is known as Christmas Berry.  A member of the nightshade family, its rich purple flowers begin forming fruit in late fall — just in time to feed hungry cranes arriving from the north, and to fill wetlands and ditches with the vibrant red and green traditionally associated with Christmas.

When I found this unusually tall and well-formed plant, I couldn’t help but smile. It seemed joyful and festive: a perfect Christmas-berry ‘tree’ to mark the season. I hope it brings you a smile, too, just as I hope your own season is filled with peace and joy.

Comments always are welcome.

Our Glorious Grasses ~ Bushy Bluestem

A favorite photo of early blooming bushy bluestem at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

One of our most dramatic fall grasses, bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) thrives across the southern half of Texas. Unlike other species in the bluestem genus, A. glomeratus prefers sunny, moist locations; it often decorates ditches or fills low, damp fields with its unmistakable foliage.

During the growing season, the grass develops in pretty green bunches, sometimes tinged with tones of blue or copper. In autumn, its feathery plumes emerge — sometimes quickly and dramatically — showing why the grass also is known as ‘beardgrass.’ Eventually, it takes on an attractive rusty color that endures throughout the winter.

Like other bluestems, the grass is beneficial to a wide variety of wildlife, giving food, shelter, and nesting material to small mammals, insects, and birds.

A grasshopper gloms on to a sheaf of A. glomeraus stems at Bastrop State Park in October

Despite its bunched-up appearance and growth habits that sometimes make details hard to discern, its feathery seeds are extraordinarily pretty, especially when seen against a blue sky and still-green foliage.

A glimpse of autumn gold at the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge

 

Comments always are welcome.

Snug as a Spider in a Blossom

Two expressions bookmarked my childhood days. When it was time to rise after sleep, I often heard my father saying, “Good morning, Sunshine.” At night, as I was tucked into bed, my mother would say, “There. Now you’re snug as a bug in a rug.”

When I find a spider that’s tucked itself (or its eggs) into a flower or leaf, I always remember those snug bugs, and smile. In the photo above, strands of silk used by a spider to create a secure spot are just visible on either side of a Downy Lobelia flower (Lobelia puberula).

In mid-October, these relatives of the Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) were blooming prolifically in east Texas. The genus name honors Matthias de L’Obel, a Flemish herbalist; the specific epithet, puberula, comes from a word meaning ‘downy,’ and refers to the hairs on the plant.

Downy Lobelia’s preference for a combination of sun and moisture makes its autumn appearance in low-lying areas of the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary and the Big Thicket’s Solo Tract somewhat predictable. The creative spider making use of one of the plant’s flowers was, of course, lagniappe.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Floral Filigree

Not rain but dew gave this fading neighborhood rain lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) its unusual appearance.

I’ve often shown the brilliant white petals and sepals of these flowers in full bloom. While both can be tinged with pink, and while it isn’t unusual for the flowers to become a darker pink as they fade, in this instance the color suffused the entire flower in a way that seemed unusual.

Even more remarkably, the transparency created by the dewdrops and the patterns that emerged because of them reminded me of the finely-drawn gold filigree work that typifies much West African jewelry.

They also reminded me of this favorite poem from W.S. Merwin, who understood that not all jewels can be found in a shop.

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age
                                 “Dew Light” ~ W.S. Merwin

 

Comments always are welcome.

Barbara, Unbuttoned

A blooming Button in the Big Thicket’s Solo Tract

The pretty flower known as Grassleaf Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia) occurs naturally in flatwoods, bogs, seepage slopes, wet prairies, and savannas; it’s quite common in east Texas’s Big Thicket.

All species in the genus commonly are known as Barbara’s buttons, although the identity of ‘Barbara’ is unknown. The common name first appeared in John Kunkel Small’s Flora of the Southeastern United States; published in 1933. The genus name, Marshallia, honors American botanists Humphry Marshall (1722-1801) and his nephew Moses Marshall (1758-1813), while the species epithet refers to the plant’s grasslike leaves.

Although a member of the sunflower family, the flower heads are composed only of disc florets; ray florets, often sometimes called ‘petals,’ are absent. In bloom, the flower’s compact form makes a comparison with buttons understandable; as buds, they seem even more button-like.

An interesting aspect of the flower is the way it sometimes comes into bloom: asymmetrically, if not erratically. I’m often amused by the forms it takes. Here, Barbara looks less like a button and more like a pig-tailed bud that’s cute as a button.

I caught this flower presenting a tentative wave to the world. Perhaps it felt a bit buttoned-up, and sent one of its florets to determine if it was safe to bloom.

 

Comments always are welcome.