All Buttoned Up in the Bog

Bog Buttons along the Sundew Trail  ~  Big Thicket

Like the Baby’s Breath used by florists as a filler for cut-flower arrangements, Ten-Angled Pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare) fills a multitude of spaces in east Texas bogs, wet prairies, and wet pine flatwoods. In the United States, the species generally is found in southeastern states and along the Atlantic coastal plain, while Seven-Angled Pipewort is found in the northeastern states and Canada.

The genus name, Eriocaulon, is rooted in the  Greek words for ‘woolly’ (erion) and ‘stem’ or ‘stalk’ (kaulós). The species epithet decangulare (and the common name ‘ten-angle’) refers to the number of ribs generally found on the plant’s long scapes.

Other common names, such as ‘hat pin’ and ‘bog button,’ reflect the flower’s appearance; a small, firm cluster of densely packed white flowers sitting atop a stalk that averages two to three feet in height. While individual flowerheads are solitary, a plant may produce a dozen or more blooms simultaneously. Wind pollinated, the plant reproduces from seed.

This developing bud was only a quarter-inch in diameter.

Mature flowers range from one-half to three-quarters of an inch across; their miniscule white to grayish-white flowers develop into the form of a compact ball.

In time, the balls elongate a bit. As they do, black nectar glands become visible, and the button-like appearance lessens somewhat.

Some sources suggest a relatively short bloom time for the plant, but I’ve seen it flowering in the Big Thicket from March until November. Like so many flowers, it’s attractive in all its stages; the fluffiness that appears near its end — causing it to look more like a pompom than a button — is especially appealing.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Pipe Dreams

Indian Pipe ~ Monotropa uniflora

 

In his September 24 post featuring flowers from along Austin’s Bull Creek, Steve Schwartzman included this quotation from Jordan Ellenburg’s book How Not to Be Wrong: “Impossible things never happen. But improbable things happen a lot.”

Only three days later, as if to prove the point, a small collection of flowers known as Indian Pipe greeted me from beneath a large pine at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve. I’d seen photographs of them from locations as diverse as Montana and Massachusetts, but it never occurred to me that they might call Texas home. In fact, the plant prefers mature, moist, shaded forest, so the piney woods of east Texas provide a perfect environment.

Sometimes called the Ghost Plant because of its white, waxy appearance, the Indian Pipe has no chlorophyll and doesn’t depend on photosynthesis.

Once considered a saprophyte — an organism that feeds, absorbs, or grows on decaying organic matter — Indian Pipe today is understood as a parasite. Its roots extend in a web-like way through dead rotting leaves, extracting nutrients from the hyphae (fungal strands) of certain kinds of fungi.

Each stem bears a single flower which initially points down to the ground, helping to fend off rain. As the bud opens, it becomes parallel to the ground, making it more easily accessible for pollinating bees. After pollination, the flower becomes erect, and the seed capsule begins to mature; ripened seed is released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsule.  All three flower stages — pendant, perpendicular, and upright — are shown in the photo below.

Poet Emily Dickinson once called the Indian Pipe “the preferred flower of life.” In a letter to Mabel Todd, she recalled, “I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.”

So fond was she of the flower that she chose it for the cover of her first book of poems, published after her death.

Now that I’ve seen the flower, glowing like an apparition in deep forest shade, Emily’s poetic references seem especially appropriate:

White as an Indian Pipe
Red as a Cardinal Flower
Fabulous as a Moon at Noon
February Hour —

                    ***

Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
‘Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –

 

Comments always are welcome.

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.