If You Burn It, They Will Come

As spring deepens into summer, I’m always eager for the appearance of basket flowers. They grow in a large swath across the state, so I’m as likely to see them in the hill country as along local fencelines, but I’ve never found them at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge — until this past July.

The pair shown above were some of the last buds in a colony overspreading a berm that separates a small, water-filled ditch from Olney Pond. The berm itself is only about twelve feet wide; the basket-flowers covered it from edge to edge, and extended along the length of the berm for perhaps fifteen or twenty feet.

When I stopped there last October, that same area was covered with balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum), a pan-tropical, introduced, and quite invasive plant that easily smothers more desirable natives. (Another species, the Chihuahuan balloonvine (C. dissectum) is native to Texas, but limited to Starr, Zapata, and Hildalgo counties along the Rio Grande.)

A month later, in mid-November, all that was left of the balloon vine was a collection of fire-scorched vines, seed pods, and seeds. Clearly, a prescribed burn had taken place: the smallest I’d ever seen.

It made perfect sense that fire had been used to clear the area, just as it’s used to manage much larger sections of refuges, prairies, and woodlands around the country.

Prescribed fires clear the way for native grasses and forbs to thrive, but they also allow for some surprises: acres of spider lily where none have been seen; blue star spreading across fire-blackened ditches; and American basket-flower, taking advantage of a newly opened neighborhood with surprising panache.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

 

Shedding Circumstance


There’s nothing particularly charming about flood waters. Muddy, debris-filled and insistent, they rage indiscriminately, sparing nothing in their path.

Nonetheless, once waters recede, tokens of their presence can be surprisingly delicate. Unbroken grasses bend beneath invisible flows; trees wear faint watermarks with pride.

Among the jumbled plants, a few leaves dangle. Their thin, crisp coating of sand has begun flaking away; their striated surface recalls a season of growth.

Given over to death, they echo life: stirring before the wind, they murmur and sigh, casting off remnants of a strange and fearsome time.

 

Comments always are welcome.