A Salty Old Girl

  Female Seaside Dragonlet on  Marsh Bristlegrass ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

The Seaside Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax berenice) spends most of its time perched atop salt marsh plants; here, one rests on a stem of marsh bristlegrass (Setaria parviflora).

Perhaps ‘saltmarsh dragonlet’ would be a better name, since they’re often the only dragonfly in the marshes. Other dragonflies appear in coastal habitats, hunting insects over dunes and wetlands, but no other species is as tied to the coast as the dragonlet; they rarely appear inland, and are considered to be our only marine dragonfly.

The primary reason is their adaptation to salt. Like all dragonfly larvae, seaside dragonlet nymphs are aquatic, but their ability to regulate the concentration of salt within their bodies allows them to thrive in saltwater; researchers have found them tolerating water as much as three times the salinity of the ocean. In salt marshes, the seaside dragonlet often is the only medium-sized dragonfly — about an inch and a half long — that’s encountered.

Salt marshes are insect-rich, so dragonlets can afford to be a little lazy. They do less flying and more waiting than many species: launching themselves out to capture passing prey before returning to their perch.

Adult males are deep blue or black, with clear or nearly-clear wings; females show varying amounts of yellow atop the abdomen, and elaborate patterns of black-and-yellow striping on the sides of the thorax. As accomodating as they are attractive, they make fine subjects for a photographer.

 

Comments always are welcome.

An All-Season Favorite

 

Although less common during the winter, the plant commonly known as sea ox-eye (Borrichia frutescens) can be found throughout the year on coastal salt flats, beach dunes, salt marshes, and tidal flats along the upper Texas coast, where it grows with such other typical salt marsh plants as glasswort (Salicornia virginica), saltwort (Batis maritima),  saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), and seepweed (Suaeda linearis).

Ranging from south Texas to Virginia, it’s known by a variety of English names: sea ox-eye daisy, sea marigold,  seaside tansy, and bushy seaside ox-eye.  In Spanish-speaking countries, common names often compare the flower to other species, such as beach carnation (clavelón de playa) or sea purslane (verdolaga del mar) in Puerto Rico, and coastal rosemary (romero decosta)  or marine sage (salvia marina) in Cuba.

For many people, ‘ox-eye daisy’ brings to mind Leucanthemum vulgare, a pretty white flower with a yellow center brought here from Europe and now often considered a nuisance. In his book Florida Ethnobotany, Daniel F. Austin notes that the name ‘ox-eye’ had been added to Borrichia frutescens by 1866, perhaps because of its vague resemblance to the European daisy. The genus name honors the Danish botanist Ole Borch, while the specific epithet refers to the plant’s shrub-like character.

Tolerant of both drought and standing water, the plant can bloom prolifically, with flowers approximately one inch in diameter. The grayish-green, pubescent leaves give the foliage a silvery sheen which becomes more pronounced as the plant dries and begins to set seed.

Because the plant blooms in every season, it provides both food and cover for a variety of insects, birds, and other small wildlife. Texas butterflies which enjoy its nectar include the great southern white, the Gulf fritillary,  the large orange sulphur, and the southern broken-dash. I haven’t yet seen any of those butterflies this spring, but the sea ox-eye is putting on a fresh set of blooms, and I expect it to begin receiving visitors any day.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sparkle and Shine

 

No snowflakes drift through our skies, and we’re generally denied the sharp glitter of sunlight on ice during our winter season. Still, the delicate, snowflake-like blooms of perennial saltmarsh aster (Symphyotrichum tenuifolium) linger late into the year, decorating the edges of ponds and sloughs.

Not a choosy plant, they’ll grow wherever water collects. Here, reflections from a water-filled ditch along a Brazoria County road add elegance to a favorite winter flower.

 

Comments always are welcome.