Walden West ~ May 2

The first Turk’s Cap bloom of the season

When I visited Walden West on February 1, only a few Turk’s Cap leaves had managed to sprout. At the time, I predicted their vibrant flowers would begin appearing at the pond edges in a few weeks, and it seems my prediction was right.

On May 2, although only the single flower shown above had emerged, buds were forming everywhere. When I make my June visit, I suspect many more Turks’ Caps (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) will be shining in the woods.

American Germander

By early May, as fields of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush began to fill the roadsides and fields, less noticeable but equally attractive flowers were emerging at Walden West.

American Germander (Teucrium canadense), a member of the mint family often found at the edges of ponds and marshes, clearly had been blooming for some time. Like Coastal Germander (T. cubense), a smaller plant with pure white flowers, American Germander flowers have a greatly reduced upper lip and a long lower lip. That long lip doesn’t mean the flower is pouting; it’s simply providing a landing pad for insect visitors.

Water Hyssop, or Herb-of-Grace

The solitary, bell-shaped flowers of Water Hyssop (Bacopa monnieri)  were new to me. According to Shinners & Mahler’s Flora of North Central Texas, the genus may carry a South American aboriginal name; the specific epithet honors Louis-Guillaume Le Monnier (1717–1799), a French natural scientist.

A mat-forming aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial, its small, white flowers sometimes are tinged with pink or blue. Also known as Herb-of-grace, the plant is a larval host for the White Peacock butterfly.

Now considered a member of the Plantain family, Water Hyssop formerly was included in the Figwort Family, and still is listed there in many sources. At Walden West, I found only a few plants, but it may be that as the summer progresses they will multiply.

Small Venus’s Looking Glass ~ Triodanis perfoliata

I’ve never found more than three or four stems of Venus’s Looking Glass in one location, but they do appear in every refuge I visit and at several locations on Galveston Island. Two were blooming at Walden West in early May; this one, and a second, shabby example that had been nearly nibbled to extinction by some insect.

Two other bits of lavender — Texas Vervain and Slender (or Rigid) Vervain also put in an appearance. Neither was abundant, but it may be that these were among the first to bloom.

Texas Vervain ~ Verbena halei
Slender vervain  ~ Verbena rigida (an introduced species)

As I looked past the vervains, a flash of white led me to a small stand of Whitetop Sedge.Their brilliant white bracts sometimes are confused with petals; they certainly are as attractive as any white flower. A somewhat showier species, Rhynchospora latifolia, is taller, with wider bracts; in Texas, it appears in the far eastern portions of the state.

Whitetop sedge ~ Rhynchospora colorata

Sedges tolerate shade, grow in a wide variety of soils, and occasionally can be found submerged in shallow waters. When they fill roadside ditches, the effect is remarkable.

Despite a relative absence of birds, increasing insect activity was obvious. This web, constructed only inches from the ground, indicated the presence of a very busy, if invisible, spider.

Say hello to the WWW ~ a Walden West Web

High above the ground, a Spiny-backed Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis) went about her work. The six abdominal projections resembling spines give the spider its common name. It’s colors can be quite variable; I’ve seen orange spiders with black spines, white ones with red spines, and now this lovely yellow creature with black spines.

Spiny-backed orb weaver 

Conspicuous tufts of silk scattered about on this orb-weaver’s web are especially interesting.  They appear primarily on the foundation lines; it’s been suggested that the tufts make their webs more visible to birds that might otherwise destroy them.

Perhaps this bee didn’t notice those tufts of silk; he certainly didn’t notice them in time to avoid becoming entangled. While I couldn’t find the spider responsible for the web-work, the tufts do suggest a spiny-backed orb weaver had caught iself a meal.

Even dragonflies aren’t immune to capture. This one may have surprised the spider lurking below one of its wings at the bottom of the frame. If that tiny spider set out the web, it may have gotten more than it bargained for.

Come into my parlor, said the spider to the dragonfly

Other, luckier dragonflies flitted over and around the water,  including a female four-spotted pennant and the easily recognizable Halloween Pennant.

Four-spotted Pennant ~ Brachymesia gravida
Halloween Pennant ~ Celithemis eponina

While the dragonflies flitted and perched, a pretty snail paused on a convenient branch. Whatever its identity, it provides a fine model for moving through nature: slow and steady is the way to go.


And so the seasons went rolling on into summer, as one rambles into higher and higher grass.
Henry David Thoreau ~ Walden


Comments always are welcome.

Walden West ~ April 2

By the first week of April, much of Texas was abloom with vibrantly colored bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and coreopsis, but in the deeply shaded woods surrounding Walden West, no dramatic sweeps of color had emerged. There, more subtle changes were marking the turn of the season.

For the first time since January, the sound of birds filled the air. The clatter of woodpeckers at work and the delicate chirps of chickadees were everywhere, although only the cardinals were singing and calling. Most of the birds remained hidden, but it’s hard for a cardinal to hide; even the swing of an unfocused macro lens can catch a flash of its color.

Other bits of red roamed the woods in the form of spotless lady beetles (Cycloneda spp.) I’d never seen so many: there might have been hundreds of them flying, crawling on plants, and landing in my hair. Perhaps I’d encountered a ladybug bloom: an aggregation of insects so large it sometimes shows up on National Weather Service radar.

For the first time, the woods were filled with the froth of spittlebugs. Spittlebug nymphs — small, yellowish-green, wingless insects resembling leafhoppers — create the bubbly mass as protection from predators and harsh weather.

To create the bubbles, air is mixed with a substance secreted by the insect’s epidermal glands. As the mixture is forced out of the abdomen through the anus, the bubbles form: sometimes as many as 80 bubbles per minute. Then, the insect reaches back with its legs, pulls the bubbles forward, and surrounds itself with its own protection.

Other insects roamed the grass, like this katydid, and a tiny grasshopper nymph perched on a pink evening primrose petal.

A rise in the water table had led to even more crawfish chimneys, although, in one instance, I paused to note different moisture levels in the mud surrounding the hole.The lightest mud was entirely dry; the bit in the center still was malleable;and the darkest mud at the top left seemed quite recent.

I imagined several explanations for the phenomenon: most of them quite fanciful. Could this have been the work of a young crawfish-in-training who hadn’t quite mastered the technique?

At the edge of the pond, a number of moisture-loving plants were flowering: particularly Allium canadense, variously known as wild garlic, wild onion, Canada onion, and meadow garlic. Its combination of flowers and bulblets is unusual; while it spreads readily through offsets and bulblets, it often fails to produce viable seeds.

While not in the pond itself, a few wild iris grew along the edge of the road leading to the pond; their buds were as pleasing as the blooms.

When I photographed one of the flowers, no filters or processing techniques created the gray background. A few months earlier, the tall, slender stems behind the iris had supported a mass of tiny white asters. As the flowers aged and faded away, the stems turned to gray, providing an interesting contrast to the emerging spring flowers.

Closer to the pond, an unusually colored vetch caught my eye with its pure white accents.

In more sunlit areas, a pretty pink flower known as Lady Bird’s Centaury (Zeltnera texensis, previously Centaurium texense) had grown up. While similar in appearance to mountain pinks found on the Edwards Plateau, this centaury has a more open appearance than the bouquet-like mountain pinks. The flowers are less than a half-inch wide; their early buds are especially small and delicate.

Other new growth edging the pond included Cherokee sedge (Carex cherokeensis). An important cover plant for waterfowl, this clumping sedge does well in the sandy loam soils found in east, southeast, and north central Texas. A southern species, it also ranges through the Gulf states to Georgia and north to Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri.

Cherokee sedge

In January, I showed some of the purple leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri) seed pods dangling from trees and shrubs.

Clematis pitcheri seed pods

By April, their cycle was beginning again and their first tendrils were beginning to climb. I’d never seen their early growth; now, I’m looking forward to the appearance of the flowers.

Clematis pitcheri vine

The biggest mystery of my April visit appeared just as you see it here: a single, unidentified object I assumed to be a flower lying on a leaf that had fallen onto palmetto fronds. It was so artfully arranged, I wondered if someone had placed it there.

Looking around, I found a similar flower, caught by spider webbing and suspended in midair.

After finding more floral remains hanging from a tree that I recognized as yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), things began to fall into place.

I usually notice yaupon in the fall, when its bright red or orange berries adorn the woods, but I’d never seen it blooming until that day. Its lush display of flowers didn’t seem particularly fragrant, but they were exceedingly lovely.

Yaupon in bloom

Eventually, the rest of its blooms will fall; berries will begin to form, birds will come, and the cycle will have been completed for another year. This time, I will have seen it all.

Yaupon berries


Comments always are welcome.