Buttercups and Berries

Celery-leaved buttercup

By late January, occasional patches of native buttercups begin appearing in city lots and rural pastures. One of our earliest spring blooms, two or more buttercup species flower in every region of Texas, although populations tend to be more dense in the eastern third of the state. Water-loving, they often can be found decorating seeps, mud flats, ditches, or standing shallow water.

This year, my first buttercup sighting involved a species new to me: Ranunculus sceleratus. Known as the celery-leaved buttercup, it also bears the names blister buttercup and cursed buttercup, thanks to the plant’s ability  to blister human skin and lead to illness or death in livestock.

While all buttercups are toxic due to the presence of a substance called protoanemonin, the ‘cursed’ buttercup contains the highest amount of the chemical, and should be treated with respect.

The appearance of buttercups serves as a reminder to begin looking for the so-called Indian Strawberry (Potentilla indica, formerly Duchesnea indica). Introduced from southern Asia as an ornamental, its name refers to the country of India rather than to Native Americans. Unlike the native wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), this ‘mock’ strawberry’s flowers are yellow, not white, and its fruit is edible but tasteless.

Despite being non-native, the flowers attract a variety of small bees and flower flies; hoverflies appear especially drawn to them.

As the drupes develop, they remains erect, enclosed by the flower’s sepals.

Despite their small size — about a half-inch across — the ripened drupes are attractive. Their resemblance to cultivated strawberries probably has led more than a few people to give them a try.

Despite their bland taste, this ‘mock strawberry’ serves another purpose. It’s a reminder that strawberry picking will have begun again at Froberg’s Farm. A long-standing local tradition, their strawberry season runs from mid-to-late January until early May. With Froberg’s berries already available to purchase or pick, there’s no need to resort to the Indian strawberry.


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A Surprising, but Seasonal, Survivor

On February 27, just one week after the last hard freeze warning was lifted for the Houston area and any remaining snow and ice had disappeared,  this hardy, ten-petal anemone (Anemone berlandieri) was blooming beside a Brazoria County road.

In normal years, the Anemone is one of our earliest signs of spring. Appearing in late January or early February, it blooms only through April or May. Despite its apparent delicacy and small size — an inch or inch-and-a-half in diameter —  it clearly can cope with sub-freezing temperatures and icy insults.

Like other anemones, this Texas native sometimes is called ‘windflower,’ although ‘thimble flower’ is equally common. The species epithet refers to Jean Louis Berlandier (c.1805-1851), a French botanist who studied plants in Mexico and Texas.

Berlandier joined the Mexican Boundary Commission in 1826 as a botanist and zoologist. In 1829, he settled in Matamoros, Mexico, where he served as a physician and pharmacist. Unfortunately, his life ended in 1851 when, while crossing the San Fernando River on horseback, unusually swift currents pulled him under, and he wasn’t able to survive.


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Here’s Looking at You, Kid

American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge
(Click image for greater detail)

When winter temperatures rise, so do American alligators: up and out of the muddy warmth that helps to keep them comfortable during the winter, and onto the bayou banks for a little mid-day sunshine. Still somewhat sluggish and still covered with a coating of sandy mud, this mostly-submerged gator rose into view so stealthily he failed to break his own reflection.

It’s hard to read an alligator’s expression, but I fancy he was as surprised to find me standing on the bank as I was to see him in the shallow water. We pondered one another briefly before he sank beneath the water’s surface: out of sight, but certainly not out of mind.


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