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.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ditch

Wild irises along Brazoria County Road 306

After returning from my recent foray into the wilds of Bluebonnetland, I realized I was in danger of repeating a mistake I’ve made in the past. Despite knowing last year’s iris leaves had emerged in the ditches surrounding the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, I put off a return visit; by the time I saw the irises again, the flowers were gone.

Not wanting to miss them this year, I decided to make a quick trip to the refuge to see if a few irises might still be blooming. They were: another form of ditch diamond to enjoy.

A different sort of flag

Everyone seems to agree that at least three iris species are native to Texas. This Southern Blue Flag (Iris virginica) may be the best known. I first heard the phrase ‘flag pond’ after moving to Texas, and misinterpreted the phrase. I assumed it meant a pond with a flag pole next to it. A pond filled with irises never occurred to me.

Two to three feet tall, Blue Flags can vary in color from very light blue to purple, leading me to suspect that the next two photos also show Blue Flags.

The Zigzag iris (Iris brevicaulis) has different growth habits. Flowers are borne on sprawling stems which typically zig-zag to a height of no more than fives inches. The specific epithet brevicaulis means ‘short-stemmed,’ and the long, strap-like green leaves often hide the blooms.

A zigzag Iris blooming only inches above the ground

Color variations also exist among Zigzag Iris. While some sites describe the flower as lavender, others mention purple and yellow as possibilities. Given their short stature and the length of their sepals — substantially longer than their petals — I suspect this next pair might be Zigzag iris as well.

The colonies were pretty when seen from the road, but only a walk among them revealed their variety of color and form: except, of course, for the yellow iris, which demanded to be noticed.

Comments always are welcome.

A World Adrift

 

After a combination of wind and currents drove floating algae into one corner of a San Bernard Refuge pond, it smoothed the edges, creating a noticeable separation between the mass of algae and the clearer pond water. 

The sight reminded me of photos of Earth taken from space. In those images, the oceans’ blues predominate. Here, the green of an imaginary planet suggests the beauty of life and growth in a ‘world’ formed by unseen forces.

 

Comments always are welcome.