Nature’s Mud Room

The view from the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge boardwalk

Every drought is different. One leaves the earth cracked and barren; another, less obvious to the eye, stunts growth and ruins crops.

This year, mud prevailed. As their water receded, ponds began to resemble the spring mud of my childhood and youth: sticky, clumpy goo that filled the mud rooms of our homes and clogged country roads. Avoiding it was impossible; tractors and children alike sank down into it as surely as this Brazoria refuge alligator was sinking into his diminished pond.

On the other hand, there’s more to this pond mud than unattractive slop. A closer look reveals signs of life: a few emerging leaves, and a dragonfly making do amid the goo.

Eventually, rains developed, and signs of life increased. If the ponds weren’t filled, they at least tempted some of the larger alligators to come out and have a bask at the water’s edge.

Wading birds small and large began probing the edges of the ponds and sloughs for tidbits. While Dunlins nest in Arctic regions, they’re a common visitor to our coast. The Cornell site provides some etymology and a humorous interpretation of the bird’s name:

Dunlin comes from dunling, the earliest known English name of the species… a compound of the English word dun (meaning gray-brown) and the diminutive -ling. So the name Dunlin essentially means ‘little brown job.’
Dunlin ~ Calidris alpinaWhite Ibis ~ Eudocimus albus

Where water flows, reflections shimmer. In the case of these waterside cattails, ripples accentuated the plants’ frowziness: their delicate fluff transformed into sodden lumps by days of rain.

Of course, when nature adds water, not every plant that rises from the mud is welcome. Floating Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), an aquatic plant native to the Amazon basin and often seen at Brazos Bend State Park, is one of our most troublesome and fastest growing invasives. Able to double its population in just two weeks, it creates thick layers of vegetation which prevent light from reaching other aquatic plants and reduces dissolved oxygen in the water.

Currently, the only means of control are herbicides, shredding, and physical removal. The problems the plant presents are significant enough that it’s illegal in Texas to possess or transport it.

Water hyacinth

Along the edges of Brazos Bend’s Elm Lake, an equally pretty but perfectly acceptable native plant surrounded the remnants of a faded, mud-loving native lotus. Although smartweed flowers are only a quarter-inch across, their details reward a closer look.

American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) and Swamp Smartweed (Persicaria hydropiperoides)

People often comment that the world looks greener after a rain, but other colors intensify, as well. On Galveston Island, a field of Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata) turned distinctly pink.

Not far away, what might (or might not) have been the last milkweed of the season attracted a bevy of camera-shy insects.

Whorled milkweed ~ Asclepias verticillata

And everywhere — at the water’s edge or some distance away — the rain encouraged a variety of asters into bloom. With a full dozen species listed for this area, identification can be challenging, but they’re all lovely.

Heath aster ~ Symphyotrichum ericoides
Salt marsh aster ~ Symphyotrichum divaricatum

All asters attract a variety of bees, flies, and butterflies, but Tarnished Plant Bugs (Lygus lineolaris) feed on the plants themselves.  Lime green as nymphs, they take on a bronzed appearance as they age: hence, the common name.

A widespread true bug, they adore munching on anything green, including garden produce. With the arrival of the rains and new growth, they surely were as happy as the alligators and birds freed from a world of mud.

Tarnished Plant Bug nymph ~ Lygus lineolaris


Comments always are welcome.

This One’s for Florida


After hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and Harvey did their worst, workers and supplies poured into Louisiana and Texas from Florida. Once Ian has wreaked his havoc, the favor will be returned. Utility workers and search and rescue teams already have been deployed from both states, and no doubt from others. Civic and church groups are making their plans, as are individuals.

For now, there’s little to do but shelter, wait, and hope, until the time for work has come.


Comments always are welcome.

Swept Clean ~ Restoration


By early June of this year, it was hard to remember the hurricane-ravaged beaches of Galveston’s west end. At the Kelly Hamby Nature Trail, nature had done her work; the boardwalk once again was lined with a profusion of grasses and flowers, and Hurricane Laura was only a memory.

…and then

Behind the dunes, a combination of lazy daisies and firewheel proliferated.

Along the boardwalk itself, shifting and building sands had allowed dune flowers like beach evening primrose to reestablish themselves.

One of the sand-loving flowers, the so-called ‘lazy daisy,’ is a slugabed that prefers to put off opening until mid-morning or later. That tendency is reflected in an alternate name: the Arkansas doze-daisy. Both common names are easier to remember than the flower’s scientific name, Aphanostephus skirrhobasis.

Whether over the course of several hours or on multiple days, it’s great fun to watch this daisy’s opening. Its buds hint at a red flower, but as it opens the red fades or becomes hidden, and spreading white rays reveal its brilliant yellow disc flowers.

While the lazy daisy flourishes in sandy soils behind the dunes, the Amberique bean, a member of the pea family also known as the trailing wild bean, thrives even atop the dunes, in full sunlight. The flower, about 3/4″ long, consists of a large rounded banner, a pair of slender lateral petals, and a narrow, upwardly curved keel.

Amberique bean ~ Strophostyles helvola

Pollinated by a variety of bees, especially leaf-cutters and bumblebees, the plant’s foliage hosts caterpillars of the Southern Cloudywing, the Silver-Spotted Skipper, and the Long-Tailed Skipper; seeds are consumed by a variety of birds.

As the flowers age, they become an appealing soft yellow.

Developing fruits take on the bean-like appearance that gives the plant its common name.

Two flowers, and two beans

Currently, the pretty, salmon-colored coastal pea is putting on quite a show. Recent rains have revived it, and despite being low-growing, its color is obvious all along the barrier islands. While quite common in our area, I’ve found it as far inland as Goliad and Gonzales, where sandy soils occur.

Coastal pea ~ Indigofera miniata

I’ve already featured one of my favorite dune flowers in a separate post: the obviously adaptable wedgeleaf prairie clover.

Wedgeleaf prairie clover ~ Dalea emarginata

Another plant that enjoys life on the dunes, Gulf croton extends along the Atlantic coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia to Florida and the Gulf states.  Able to withstand intense sunlight, strong winds, and sand scouring, it helps both to capture sand for new dunes and to reduce erosion of established dunes.

Gulf croton, or beach tea  ~ Croton punctatus

Perhaps the most attractive and obvious of the dune flowers are the various morning glories and primroses.

Beach morning glory ~ Ipomoea imperati
Beach evening primrose ~ Oenothera drummondii
Beach evening primrose, fading

Not every primrose prefers pure sand. The largeflower primrose and cutleaf primrose are most often found on the backside of the dunes. At first glance, they appear identical, but the cutleaf primrose is smaller. Beyond that, the indented petals of the largeflower primrose resemble a heart, and the hairs on its stem and leaves are longer and more noticeable.

Like the beach evening primrose, both of these species tend toward orange as they fade.

Largeflower evening primrose ~ Oenothera grandis
Fading largeflower evening primrose

I’ve found the cut-leaf primrose, firewheel, and lazy daisy blooming together in Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries: a testament to the island’s generally sandy soil.

Cut-leaf primrose ~ Oenothera laciniata

Along the boardwalk edges a variety of different plants emerged, including limewater brookweed. Named for the alkaline soils it prefers, the plant can be found in Nevada and Arizona as well as in Florida and Texas; it thrives in either fresh or salt water, allowing it to appear around freshwater springs in desert areas as well as in coastal marshes. The delicate flowers, only a quarter-inch across, often are tinged with pink.

Limewater brookweed ~ Samolus ebracteatus

A familiar summer-to-fall flower, the salt-marsh mallow re-emerged as one of the area’s most widespread plants. I was particularly charmed by this opportunistic plant that had chosen to grow through the boardwalk rather than alongside.

Saltmarsh mallow ~ Kosteletzkya virginica

As the recovery process continued, I was intrigued to find plants growing behind the dunes that I’d never encountered before Hurricane Laura. How the germander, bluebell, and coral bean arrived in the area is hard to say. Birds are an easy answer, but it’s also true that all three of the plants are common on the other side of Christmas Bay, in the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. It’s entirely possible that Laura’s receding storm surge carried seeds from the refuge to the barrier island.

American germander ~ Teucrium canadense
Texas bluebell ~ Eustoma exaltatum
Coral bean ~ Erythrina herbacea

Recent rains and lowering temperatures no doubt will encourage even more flowering among the dunes. Texas’s ‘second spring’ is at hand: what it will bring awaits discovery.

(part three of three)


Comments always are welcome.

Galveston Saturday Night

Panoramic view of Galveston, Texas ~ Saturday evening, February 20
Photo by Galveston Chaser (Click to enlarge)


A week and a few days ago, winter came to the Texas coast.
Tonight, the snow is gone, the lights are on,
and from a distance Galveston seems to be shining in her accustomed way.
Days and weeks of work will be required to repair the damage,
but, tonight, glasses were raised in tribute to the smaller victories.
It’s the Texas Way.

Comments always are welcome.

At Last, There’s Joy In Mudville

Early morning dew collects on a bud of Mexican primrose-willow (Ludwigia octovalvis)

A water-loving plant, Mexican primrose-willow has exploded in the weeks since Hurricane Harvey. Its pretty yellow blossoms and red stems are unmistakable, but here one of its still-green buds serves as a setting for a gem of a dewdrop.

After so many weeks of muddy water and silt, even a single drop of clear, reflective water can bring joy.


Comments always are welcome.