The Glories of a Vacant Lot

Deer pea vetch surrounding green milkweed ~ Asclepias viridis

One of my favorite places to roam lies along a short Brazoria County road. Dead-ending at a fish camp on Hall’s Bayou, it has a ditch and a small, triangular piece of land on one side, and a small private hay meadow on the other. Sunflowers, ladies tresses orchids, a variety of milkweeds, and some lovely blue sage all have been found on the land, but it’s generally impossible to predict what I’ll find.

On April 6, I decided to visit the spot to see what might have appeared. It was a trip well worth making.

Browne’s savory ~ Clinopodium brownei

I’ve seen this pretty ground cover for years. With the help of Michael Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, I finally identified the tiny, complex flowers.

Closeup of Browne’s savory
Lady Bird’s centaury ~ Zeltnera texensis

Once known as Centaurium texense, Lady Bird’s centaury became Zeltnera texensis after genetic analysis split the genus Centaurium and limited Centaurium to Eurasian species, placing Lady Bird’s centaury in Zeltnera.

Named after the former First Lady, the flower resembles mountain pinks, but the isolation of individual blooms helps with identification. Most guides place the flower in the rocky soil of the hill country, but Eason notes that it has spread southeast, into the Houston area.

Spring obedient plant ~ Physostegia intermedia

Three years ago, a nearby field was filled with hundreds of these flowers. Named for their stems’ willingness to remain in place once bent, they’re not so obedient when it comes to staying in place in the garden. They can spread enthusiastically, and I hope to find more as the season goes on.

Blue-eyed grass ~ Sisyrinchium angustifolium

Like the Herbertia blooming at the Varner-Hogg plantation, this lovely plant is a member of the iris family. It’s quite common, and always appealing.

Roughstem rosinweed ~ Silphium radula

Rosinweeds have been blooming for weeks, and their sunflower-like faces always appeal. I’m equally fond of their buds and seedheads, but for now, this flower will do.

Curly dock ~ Rumax crispus

An introduced plant that has naturalized nearly everywhere in the world, curly dock often is mentioned by foragers. The flowers appear in whorls encircling the stem; here, the separation of the clusters of fruits makes the pattern visible.

Carolina Geranium ~ Geranium carolinianum

With flowers only about a third of an inch wide, this common native lawn flower is easy to overlook. After identifying it, I began to see it everywhere, even in the grassy areas of the marinas in which I work.

Slim milkweed – Asclepias linearis

Surprised as I was to find both green and slim milkweed spread across the hay meadow, they clearly had been blooming for some time. A few plants had pods developing already, and a multitude of pollinators were visiting the flowers.

Bur clover, bur medick  ~ Medicago polymorpha

Another introduced plant, bur clover reminds me of a favorite member of the pea family: Vigna luteola, or hairy cowpea, the only native species of Vigna in Texas. Small-flowered, bur clover’s blooms are about a quarter-inch wide, but its vibrant yellow makes it noticeable.

Butterweed ~ Packera tampicana

This was the year I finally began to sort out the various Packera species. Some are obvious, like the prairie grounsel (Packera plattensis) I found in the hill country, but others required deep contemplation of stems and leaves, since the flowers appear quite similar. Also called yellowtop or Great Plains ragwort, this lover of disturbed ground was growing at the edges of the ditch that had been deepened and mowed.

Sand rose gentian ~ Sabatia arenicola

Smaller and differently-leaved than the meadow pinks (Sabatia campestris) that are so common here, this pretty flower prefers sandy soil, and often can be found on the inland side of dunes. Like Lady Bird’s centaury, it was new to me, and a delight to discover.

 Delta arrowhead ~ Sagittaria platyphylla

Just add water — even in an inland ditch — and the Delta arrowhead will be happy to make itself at home. One of my favorite ‘ditch diamonds,’ I’m always happy to see its unusual and pleasing flowers.

Horrid thistle ~ Cirsium horridulum

There are a number of names for this thistle, including some that sound more like a curse than a name. Still, despite the miserable, prickly, damaging thorns, the flower is entirely approachable, and on this particular afternoon the bees were everywhere: a good reminder that the flowers we find so pleasing visually also have a purpose.

As for those vacant lots? The next time you come across one, you might want to stop, and have a look.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Beauty, Times Two

 

Week after week, I watched this pair of yellowlegs as they foraged back and forth across a shallow, grassy mudflat that developed after weeks of unusually heavy rains. I never saw them fly, and I never heard them call; they were too busy plucking indeterminate creatures from the sandy mud.

While they fed, I amused myself by trying to decide if they were greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) or lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). There are ways for an experienced birder to distinguish between them — body size, the length of the bill, the nature of their call — but I never was certain which species I was seeing until the day something startled them. Calling to one another, they flew up and away from their buffet table.  A later comparison of yellowlegs calls convinced me they were Lesser, not Greater — but no matter which species, I found them a great delight.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Remnants

 

Yucca treculeana, known variously as Spanish dagger, Spanish Bayonet, Don Quixote’s Lance, or Palmito, is a familiar sight in Texas. It begins life as a small, sharp-leaved shrub (see some examples here) but can grow to several feet in height while producing the large clusters of impressive, cream-colored flowers that draw people’s attention.

As the plant grows, dead leaves collect and hang beneath the living. Occasionally, the weight of those leaves, combined with the death of the plant, will topple the yucca to the ground, where it offers shelter to nesting birds, refuge to various other creatures, and opportunities to a photographer.

This one, on the Willow City Loop north of Fredericksburg, Texas, pleased me especially.