March-ing With Emily

One of our most well-known American poets, Emily Dickinson, also dedicated herself to the extensive gardens she tended alongside her mother and sister Lavinia.

A serious student of botany, the creator of an extensive herbarium, and an enthusiastic propagator of plants, Dickinson necessarily became attuned to the weather, the changing seasons, and the innumerable pollinators that frequented her plants; observations about her roses, lilacs, peonies, daisies, foxgloves, and zinnias fill her poems.

She also lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, where winter tends to linger; her longing for the transition from snow to spring blooms sometimes is palpable. Her poetic celebration of the changes wrought by March’s arrival pairs wonderfully well with this assortment of photos from my wanderings on the weekend of March 19-20 .

DEAR March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat—
You must have walked—
How out of breath you are!
Baby Blue Eyes ~ Nemophila phacelioides
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!
Pink Evening Primrose ~ Oenothera speciosa
I got your letter, and the bird’s;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,—I declare,
How red their faces grew!
Indian Paintbrush and Butterweed ~ Castilleja indivisa, Packera glabella
But, March, forgive me—
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.
Downy Phlox ~ Phlox pilosa
Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
Texas Dandelion ~ Pyrrhopappus pauciflorus
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Sleek, Silky, and Semi-Spiky

Canna glauca buds ~ Brazoria County

Water Canna (Canna glauca), sometimes known as Louisiana Canna, is native to only a few southern states: Brazoria and Matagorda counties in Texas, several Louisiana parishes, and single counties in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. Found primarily along the margins  of marshes, swamps, and ponds, it’s an impressive plant that can attain a height of six feet.

The genus name is rooted in the Greek word kanna, meaning reed. The specific epithet also comes from the Greek; glaukos gave rise to glauca, which refers to the grayish-blue color of the leaves. 

One of several September-blooming plants at the San Bernard Refuge ~ Brazoria County

Cannas commonly are propagated by dividing their underground rhizomes. Some gardening sites note that the rhizomes can be overwintered in the ground if the temperatures remain above 40F (or 50F, depending on the website). They’ve been described as temperamental, easily lost if not kept in perfect conditions, but these plants seem to have weathered last February’s freeze perfectly well.

The plants can be grown from seed. Once the flowers are spent, clusters of green, spiky pods that remind me of dog chew toys develop. The pods usually contain one to three large, black seeds which can be harvested after the pods become dry.

Fresh and dried Canna seed pods ~ Brazoria County

The transformation of the plant from one stage to another is remarkable and interesting to witness. In mid-September, I found buds galore still emerging; with luck, more photos of the flowers themselves will be possible before their season is ended.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Early Autumn Colors

 

While this rusty glow might suggest sycamore leaves floating atop a clear-flowing stream, the reality that caught my eye at the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge on Saturday was quite different.

Strong sunlight penetrating the tangled bankside growth illuminated the underlying creek bed; a combination of natural soil color and decaying vegetation probably contributed to the mixture of seasonal colors. The shifting reflections were delightful, and the colors served as a cheering reminder that everything pumpkin doesn’t require a barista.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Day It Rained Caterpillars

Live Oak Tussock Moth ~ Orgyia detrita

Inchworms move more quickly than you might think. Intent on trying to photograph patterns on an especially tiny one trucking along a boardwalk at the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, I assumed a twig had fallen into my hair, and brushed it off. Then, as I brushed away a second and third ‘twig,’ I realized they weren’t bits of a tree branch at all. They were caterpillars.

As the wind rose, the number of falling caterpillars increased, until the boardwalk was covered with them. In only a few hours, hundreds of them were crawling over plants, the decking — and me.

Eventually, I learned I’d encountered the Live Oak Tussock Moth (Orgyia detrita), a moth species whose life cycle coincides with the emergence of Coastal Live Oak leaves in spring. Quercus virginiana serves as their primary host plant, and emerging caterpillars may completely defoliate a tree, although wind-blown Tussock Moths may defoliate other small trees and shrubs; all of the oaks and other plants usually rebound without suffering permanent damage.

The caterpillars, named for the ‘tussocks,’ or tufts of hair on their back, are strikingly pretty. Those tufts are so striking that, when I spotted this caterpillar on Pete Hillman’s nature blog, I suspected his English caterpillar was related to the species I’d found in mid-April.

Vapourer or Rusty Tussock Moth ~ Orgyia antiqua

Indeed, it is. Known in the United Kingdom as the Vapourer, in the United States the non-native species is known as the Rusty Tussock Moth. Like our Live Oak Tussock Moth, the Vapourer feeds on a variety of broad-leaved trees and shrubs throughout woodlands, moorlands, valleys, and urban gardens from northern Scotland to the extreme southwest of Cornwall.

While the Vapourer shares the distinctive hair tufts of our Tussock Moth, its common name refers to the pheromones — the ‘vapours’ — that males follow to find females with which to mate.

The hairs of both species can be irritating to human skin, but there was nothing at all irritating about finding myself in the midst of a caterpillar ‘shower,’ or in the discovery that our native species has an equally attractive counterpart across the Atlantic.

Comments always are welcome.