Sunnyflowers

 

Specifically established and managed to provide native coastal prairie habitat for the endangered Attwater’s prairie-chicken, the 10,541 acre Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge is home to a wealth of other birds and plant species.

Driven away from the coast by a wealth of newly hatched and unbearable mosquitoes, I decided on Saturday to make a first visit to the refuge. Yesterday’s relatively long drive was worth it; the entire refuge was aglow with a variety of sunflowers, partridge pea, bitterweed, and a yellow ‘something’ that I’ve not yet identified.

From my vantage point on one side of the refuge’s lake, this flower-covered bank — no doubt a combination of species — shimmered in the high noon sunlight; its reflection in the water was lagniappe.

 

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As always, you can click on the image for a larger and more detailed image.

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.

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Sad Leaf, Happy Leaf

Only two living species of the Lotus family, the Nelumbonaceae, are recognized today.  The Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is widespread in Asia; both Buddha and various Hindu deities often are depicted sitting on its pink or white flowers. Associated with purity and beauty because of the contrast between its flower and the muddy source of its life, this lotus is far more than a symbol: parts of the flower are used for offerings at shrines, as decoration, and in cooking.

The North American lotus, Nelumbo lutea, produces yellow flowers rather than pink or white, but it shares large, striking leaves with its Asian counterpart. As much as two to three feet in diameter, they lie flat upon the water, or rise several feet into the air.

In truth, the leaves interest me as much as the flower. As they fade away, they bend toward the water, assuming shapes as individual as the clouds floating above them. When I discovered this one, I couldn’t help but think of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, and the various Arthurian legends.

The Lady of the Lake

Not all lotus leaves are so poetic, but as a group they are interesting. While lacking the slits that allow water lily leaves to drain, lotus leaves are covered with nanostructures coated with a hydrophobic wax, allowing water droplets that fall onto them to bead up and roll off the leaf. As they roll, the droplets pick up bits of dirt and debris, making the leaves essentially self-cleaning.

Of course, water can collect even on lotus leaves: often in ways that evoke human associations. When I found this ‘smiley face’ floating in Brazos Bend’s Elm Lake, I wished I could introduce it to the Lady of the Lake. It might have cheered her up.

The Optimist


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