Autumn Reds

With temperatures holding at summertime levels, the autumnal colors being enjoyed elsewhere have yet to appear in my part of Texas: at least, when it comes to foliage.

Still, color can be found. The eye-catching reds of flowers, fungi, and berries may not be as obvious as a flaming maple or oak, but when seen against the dull gray of Spanish moss or on the dimness of the forest floor, they’re no less delightful.

The Turk’s Cap will linger well into December, while the berries already are being nibbled away, but for now their color counsels patience; their presence signals a turning season, and the colorful foliage yet to come.

Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) ~ San Bernard Wildlife Refuge
Carolina Buckthorn  (Frangula caroliniana) ~ Watson Rare Plant Preserve
Scarlet catchfly (Silene subciliata) ~ Big Thicket
Jack-in-the-pulpit berries (Arisaema triphyllum) ~ Big Thicket
Scarlet waxcap (Hygrocybe coccinea) ~ Watson Rare Plant Preserve

 

Comments always are welcome.

Down By the Waterside

Climbing Hempvine ~ Mikania scandens

It’s not a river that runs through the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, but Cocklebur Slough. In drought or in flood, it’s an interesting place: a sweet tangle of growth buzzing with the sounds of insects and tiny tree frogs as well as the calling of well-hidden birds.

On September 26, the heart-shaped leaves and pretty white flowers of climbing hempvine were flourishing: even taking advantage of supple tree limbs to arc out over the water. Despite being a member of the Asteraceae, the family of sunflowers and daisies, this flower lacks the ray flowers commonly called petals; its disk flowers resemble those of plants like shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis).

At the water’s edge, I found my first cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). I was surprised to find the plant in standing water, but that was due only to my own ignorance; I’ve since learned that its preferred habitat includes ditches, woodland edges, stream banks, swamps, and areas near lakes or ponds.

Cardinal flower ~ Lobelia cardinalis

Another surprise was this pair of pretty white fungi. Having associated mushrooms with rotting wood and wet lawns for most of my life, I wondered: had these grown up around the tree before it fell into the water, or had the rising waters of the slough surrounded them?

Eventually, I learned that different marine habitats also support fungal communities. Fungi can be found in ocean depths and coastal waters as well as in mangrove swamps and estuaries with low salinity levels, like Cocklebur Slough. Whether this species prefers a watery environment I can’t say, but even without certain identification, it’s possible to enjoy their unexpected presence.

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Different Form of Cloudlessness

With Tropical Storm Nicholas wandering off to the northeast, rain turned to drizzle and the wind began to lay, but no more than a tiny patch of blue decorated our afternoon sky. Two hundred miles to the west, lovely blue after-storm skies were beginning to appear, but, in southeast Texas, clouds were the order of the day.

On the other hand, I had a different sort of cloudlessness to enjoy, having discovered this Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) near the beach on Sunday. I almost always see this butterfly in flight, but this one had chosen to pause and sip nectar from a deeply shaded Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), said to be one of its favorite flowers.

As autumn approaches, I sometimes see dozens of these butterflies in a single afternoon as they migrate back into the area. One of our most common butterflies, their colors range from an eye-catching lemon yellow to a darker yellow or white; in this instance, I suspect the wings may appear a bit green because of the foliage surrounding the insect.

They do make a nice substitute for an uncloudy day.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sometimes a Star, Sometimes a Supporting Character

Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, and Nueces Coreopsis near La Vernia, Texas

When spring arrives and blankets of blue wrap around the pastures and hills of rural Texas, “Let’s go look at the flowers” is a common invitation: one that generally means, “Let’s go look at the bluebonnets.” Still, as the season progresses, those blue beauties are joined by a multitude of other colors.

My own preference is for these fields of mixed flowers. When I see them, the red, yellow, and blue finger paints of my pre-school years come to mind, along with the little red, yellow, and blue chairs in my first grade reading circle. Discovering the same colors shining in the sunlight always brings a smile.

Here, Engelmann’s daisies (Engelmannia peristenia) stand out against a multi-colored background that also includes what I first took to be a variety of sneezeweed (Helenium spp.), but now know to be huisache daisy (Amblyolepis setigera).

Engelmann daisies and friends ~ Goliad, Texas

Sometimes, even a weed can add color, as when wind-blown dock (Rumex spp.) provides an impressionistic touch to a hidden parcel of flowers.

Curly Dock, Toadflax, and Groundsel on an unnumbered road outside Smiley

Far from any town, a pleasing winecup serves to accent fading bluebonnets and blue curls. At the right of the image, you can see the fuzzy bluebonnet seed pods already forming.

A fading but still bright collection of flowers at an intersection of two county roads

Despite drought and freeze, nature’s spring production is continuing its run, and there’s still time to catch the show.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Cheers for Our Christmas Cactus

No, not that Christmas cactus. While most people think of various species of Schlumbergera  as the traditional Christmas cactus, the plant variously known as Tasajillo, Christmas Cactus, Pencil Cactus, and Christmas Cholla (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) spreads its color across the Texas landscape well into the winter months.  

Growing at altitudes between 500 and 5000 feet, west of the Brazos River in South and West Texas grasslands, chaparral, and oak-juniper communities, the plant often escapes notice until other desert shrubs lose their foliage and its bright red fruits become apparent.

Leptocaulis means slender-stemmed, and those stems often twist together to form inpenetrable thickets. The thickets provide nesting sites for cactus wrens, while white-tail deer, bobwhite quail, wild turkey, and other birds and small mammals feed on the fruits.

Tasajillo has seemed especially abundant this year: a boon to the creatures depending on it for food and shelter, and a colorful addition to our season of celebration.

Comments always are welcome.