Not Warts, But Worts

 

Beautiful though the Maryland milkwort may be, that little “bouquet in a blossom” is far from the only milkwort in Texas. Several species bloom across different regions of the state, including this pretty Polygala alba, or white milkwort, found on a rocky slope near Willow City on July 1.

The genus name Polygala comes from the Greek for ‘much milk,’ as the plants were thought to increase milk yields in cattle. The ‘wort’ in ‘milkwort’ is simply an old word for ‘plant’ which appears in the names of many species; bladderwort, St. John’s wort, bellwort, and lungwort are some of the better-known.

Three hundred miles away and two weeks earlier, in the Big Thicket, the pinebarren milkwort (Polygala ramosa) was coming into its own. An uncommon plant that prefers wet pine savannas and bogs, it’s found primarily in far southeastern Texas.

Another half-dozen Polygala species can be found in southeastern or far eastern Texas, but most bloom in spring; finding them probably will have to wait until next year’s explorations.

 

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There is a plant known as thewart-wort‘, but, etymologically, ‘wart’ and ‘wort’ are unrelated. If you’re interested, you might enjoy this article from the Columbia Journalism Review.

 

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.

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A Flurry of Summer Snowiness

As with so many flowers, the snowy orchid, Platanthera nivea, rewards attention at every stage of life. From tightly clustered buds to bright white flowers, it shines in moist woodlands, bogs, and pine barrens, where it also is known as the  ‘bog torch.’ Common in Florida and other southeastern states, it’s considered rare in Texas, which lies at the western edge of its range.

As its buds develop, dark green flower stalks, perpendicular to the stem, become more obvious.

Soon, the flowers’ spurs emerge. These long, hollow tubes contain nectar; as butterflies and skippers probe for nectar, the pollinia — cohesive masses of pollen typical of orchids and milkweeds — attach to the proboscis and are transferred to other flowers.

As the plants develop, the combination of buds and fully opened flowers can be charming. Because they bloom from the bottom up, the familiar torch-like shape soon appears.

Each opened flower reveals a corolla of two petals and one modified petal called a labellum, or lip, which attracts pollinating insects. Unlike many orchids, the lip of the snowy orchid points upward, rather than twisting 180 degrees to point downward and serve as a ‘landing pad’ for pollinators. The botanical term for the process that results in a downward-pointing lip is resupination; because that twist doesn’t take place in either the snowy orchid or grass pinks, their blooms are described as ‘non-resupinate.’

While butterflies and skippers are the snowy orchid’s primary pollinators, spiders, ants, and other insects lurk among its flowers. Here, a katydid nymph hangs out, its white-banded antennae a nice complement to the emerging blooms.

As more flowers open, the raceme takes on an increasingly cylindrical shape and its fragrance — a light scent that some describe as citrusy — becomes detectable. Quite often, unopened buds and spent flowers are found together: the cycle of life demonstrated in a single plant.

I suspect these orchids still are blooming, along with the plants that often accompany them. Tomorrow, I’ll know whether that suspicion is warranted.

 

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