In October, Walden West’s vernal pool looked almost exactly as it had in September. A few more leaves had fallen from the trees, and most of the surrounding growth showed insect damage, but no visible water had collected.
On the other hand, my feet could feel what remained invisible to my eyes. Enough rain had fallen that the ground had grown soft if not spongy, and the pleasant scent of rotting leaves hung in the air. An assortment of logs showed the effects of weathering, including the intricate patterns etched into this large log lying in the middle of the dry pool.
Deeper in the woods surrounding the pool, a different log displayed hard, brittle chunks where the wood had fractured and broken. This type of decomposition results when mycelial networks digest cellulose, leaving the wood’s lignin intact.
One of the oddest sights I encountered suggested that someone armed with a can of spray paint had been at work. Given the log’s location away from a trail, the absence of any other signs of human presence, and the perfectly even, glowing color that didn’t rub off, some sort of fungus seems the most likely explanation. If a graffitti artist with a quirky sense of humor had been at work, that artist deserves kudos for both patience and skill, since the ground on which the log lay and the surrounding vegetation showed no signs of color.
Other changes had taken place. A single orchard orb weaver (Leucauge venusta) lingered in the branches of a yaupon tree, but the huge webs of orb-weavers like Argiope aurantia no longer shimmered across every opening, and those large, dramatically patterned spiders seemed to have disappeared.
Many flowers I’d grown accustomed to seeing were gone as well, in part because of significant clearing done by refuge staff. Here, climbing hempvine continued to climb, despite losing some of its support.
The most brilliant color belonged to this standout in the midst of a patch of blooming dayflowers (Commelina erecta). The flowers are highly variable in color; this was the most deeply saturated blue I’ve encountered.
Perhaps encouraged by rain, a saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica) had put on a new bud.
Some distance away, another saltmarsh mallow, having bloomed, slowly faded away.
The pretty red Turk’s caps had nearly stopped blooming, but some fruits still were available. Many of their leaves, covered with small grasshoppers, showed signs of nibbling, but the fruits remained undamaged.
A few stems of Gulf vervain (Verbena xutha) lingered at the sun-dappled edge of the woods. The tallest I’d seen, I assumed their height was due to a stretch toward sunlight, but according to Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, they can grow to a height of six feet.
A common sight in our area, the hairypod cowpea (Vigna luteola) is the only native Vigna species in Texas. Depending on conditions, it can bloom nearly year-round; here, an early-opening flower is decorated with dew.
It’s said that nature leaves clues, but in the case of this Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), one clue wasn’t enough for me to solve the mystery of its appearance. Also known as Bois d’Arc or hedge apple, the trees usually produce a number of fruits, and yet only one lay on the ground. When a search of the area turned up not a single tree bearing Osage oranges, it seemed reasonable to assume that some creature — human or otherwise — picked it up elsewhere and dropped it at Walden West.
Speaking of creatures, I’ve split this October visit into two parts because of the wealth of creatures I encountered. The next post will show some of them, including my first encounter with a mammal.