A Beautiful — and Useful — Bean

Pink fuzzybean ~ Strophostyles umbellata

Only three species are included in the genus Strophostyles, and all three are found in Texas. Popularly known as fuzzybeans because of the texture of their seed pods, they can be difficult to distinguish from one another, particularly since their flowers are similar.

One  way is to note differences in their leaves and bracts. The amberique-bean, sometimes called the sand or trailing fuzzybean (S. helvola) and the slickseed or small-flower fuzzybean (S. leiosperma) have bracts at the base of the flowers that tend to be acute, while those of the pink, or trailing, fuzzybean (S. umbellata) are more blunt.

I found this pair of what I believe to be pink fuzzybeans near the entrance to the Big Thicket’s Solo Tract on September 6. Despite their small size, their shape and color attracted my attention. Only later did I learn that the Houma people of Louisiana made a decoction of the seeds to treat typhoid, and the Iroquois used the leaves to treat poison ivy rashes. I’m not worried about typhoid, but given my limited ability to spot poison ivy in the wild, a fuzzybean poultice might be as useful as the flower is beautiful.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Snug as a Spider in a Blossom

Two expressions bookmarked my childhood days. When it was time to rise after sleep, I often heard my father saying, “Good morning, Sunshine.” At night, as I was tucked into bed, my mother would say, “There. Now you’re snug as a bug in a rug.”

When I find a spider that’s tucked itself (or its eggs) into a flower or leaf, I always remember those snug bugs, and smile. In the photo above, strands of silk used by a spider to create a secure spot are just visible on either side of a Downy Lobelia flower (Lobelia puberula).

In mid-October, these relatives of the Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) were blooming prolifically in east Texas. The genus name honors Matthias de L’Obel, a Flemish herbalist; the specific epithet, puberula, comes from a word meaning ‘downy,’ and refers to the hairs on the plant.

Downy Lobelia’s preference for a combination of sun and moisture makes its autumn appearance in low-lying areas of the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary and the Big Thicket’s Solo Tract somewhat predictable. The creative spider making use of one of the plant’s flowers was, of course, lagniappe.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Barbara, Unbuttoned

A blooming Button in the Big Thicket’s Solo Tract

The pretty flower known as Grassleaf Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia) occurs naturally in flatwoods, bogs, seepage slopes, wet prairies, and savannas; it’s quite common in east Texas’s Big Thicket.

All species in the genus commonly are known as Barbara’s buttons, although the identity of ‘Barbara’ is unknown. The common name first appeared in John Kunkel Small’s Flora of the Southeastern United States; published in 1933. The genus name, Marshallia, honors American botanists Humphry Marshall (1722-1801) and his nephew Moses Marshall (1758-1813), while the species epithet refers to the plant’s grasslike leaves.

Although a member of the sunflower family, the flower heads are composed only of disc florets; ray florets, often sometimes called ‘petals,’ are absent. In bloom, the flower’s compact form makes a comparison with buttons understandable; as buds, they seem even more button-like.

An interesting aspect of the flower is the way it sometimes comes into bloom: asymmetrically, if not erratically. I’m often amused by the forms it takes. Here, Barbara looks less like a button and more like a pig-tailed bud that’s cute as a button.

I caught this flower presenting a tentative wave to the world. Perhaps it felt a bit buttoned-up, and sent one of its florets to determine if it was safe to bloom.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Whispering Goodbye

Clustered flowers of the Pinewoods Rose Gentian ~ The Big Thicket
Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for
the birds that will come—six, a dozen—to sleep

inside their bodies?
And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.
                        Song for Autumn  ~  Mary Oliver

 

Comments always are welcome.
For some views of  this flower in its prime, see my previous post.

A Fifty Mile Difference

Hurricane Laura western eyewall damage south of Sulphur, Louisiana
Photo courtesy Houston meteorologist Jeff Lindner

Approximately fifty miles to the west-northwest of Sulphur, Louisiana lies Silsbee, Texas. Ten miles past Silsbee you’ll find the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary and, if you travel on to Kountze and Warren, you’ll enter the Big Thicket: home to an assortment of trails, the Solo tract, and the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve.

When it became apparent that Hurricane Laura would make landfall south of Sulphur, my concern extended beyond the people living along its path. East Texas wasn’t at risk from Laura’s significant surge, but wind damage to the area’s natural treasures could be extensive. The prediction for sustained tropical force winds in East Texas worried me, and I was eager to make a trip into the area to see what damage might have occurred.

When I finally made that trip on September 6, my sense of relief increased with each passing mile. There were no topped trees, no stripped bark, no missing limbs. At the Sandyland Sanctuary, the only evidence of Laura’s winds was an occasional leaning pine. The storm had tightened at landfall, passing far enough to the east for its northeast winds to leave a mark, but little serious damage.

One of Sandyland’s out-of-plumb pines

Wandering through Sandyland, I was pleased to find several of my favorites. This delicate palafox (Palafoxia reverchonii) was one of a few still in bloom.

Somewhat uncommon, the pencil-flower (Stylosanthes biflora) often appears in sandy soils; its membership in the Fabaceae — the pea family — is hinted at by its flower.

The deeply saturated red of the Louisiana catchfly (Silene subciliata) glows in the sunlight, and finding it always is a special treat. In Wildflowers of Texas, Michael Eason writes that the flower is “rare, but can be seen in the Big Thicket National Preserve, in sandy soils” — precisely where I found it.

In my absence, the smooth and silky buds of snake cotton (Froelichia floridana) had become more cottony, and the plants themselves had grown substantially taller.

Sandyland is one place to find the rare and beautiful Winkler’s blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri). Laura’s rains seem to have encouraged this flower, and I expect its season will extend into October.

I did manage a brief stop at the Solo Tract in the Big Thicket, and was rewarded with something I’d hoped to find: a newly-emerged flower of yellow-eyed grass (Xyris ambigua).

Of course, one visit never is enough. I returned to the area this past weekend to photograph other treats: some quite unexpected. Hurricanes will come and hurricanes will go, but nature continues to produce her treasures.

Comments always are welcome.