Walden West ~ November

By mid-to-late November, Walden West remained dry, and the butterflies that provided so much delight during October’s visit were gone: vanished as completely as the spiders that  preceded them in leave-taking. In their wake, a few flowers lingered, as well as a pretty mushroom that signaled our recent rains.

Blue Mistflower can spread aggressively, and large colonies of the plant exist within the San Bernard refuge; perhaps those plants had sent their seed to the edge of Walden West.  Closely related to white-flowered bonesets (Eupatorium spp.), mistflower can be distinguished by its colorful flowers, relatively short stature, and broad, heavily veined leaves. Like bonesets, its flowerheads contain only disk florets.

Blue mistflower ~ Conoclinium coelestinum

With eleven species of aster listed for our coastal counties, and even more for Texas as a whole, identification can pose a challenge. These belong to the genus Symphyotrichum, and probably are dumosum: the pretty ‘rice button,’ or bushy aster.

Rice Button Aster ~ Symphyotrichum dumosum

If rains come, can fungi be far behind? Despite a lack of standing water, the soft and sometimes muddy ground gave rise to this pretty pleated mushroom.

Possibly a brittlestem mushroom ~ a member of the Coprinaceae

Despite the delicate lavenders and whites displayed by fungi and flowers, Walden West’s November displayed a subtle golden glow: an unexpected wash of autumn color.

Poison ivy ~ Toxicodendron radicans
Goldenrod ~ Solidago altissima,with paper wasp
Hairy cowpea ~ Vigna luteola, with friend

By November, fruits were as common as flowers. The pretty Silverleaf Nightshade, a member of the same family as tomatoes (Solanaceae) produces fruits that resemble cherry tomatoes in shape, if not in color.

Silverleaf nightshade fruit

The berries of Possumhaw, a native holly, shine against the golden glow of Winged Elm leaves. Possumhaw is deciduous, and the loss of its leaves in autumn makes the berry-and-stem combination even more striking.

Possumhaw ~ Ilex decidua

A golden-leaved Honey Locust (Gleditsia spp.) caught my attention, but left me puzzled. Every characteristic of the tree, from leaves to bark, seemed typical of Honey Locusts, but the tree lacked thorns: a feature of the tree often described as “particularly nasty.”

In time, I learned that a natural hybrid between Gleditsia triacanthos and G. aquatica exists. First recorded in Brazoria County bottomlands in 1892, the tree was introduced to cultivation in 1900; the BONAP map shows the limits of its distribution. While its foliage is similar to G. triacanthos, the Honey Locust known as Gleditsia x Texana has no thorns.

Last February, I found a single leaf of a Winged Elm clinging to its branch.

This November, the full glory of the Winged Elms was impressive. Their golden leaves, draped with Spanish moss and glittering in the sunlight, seemed a fitting end to this penultimate visit to Walden West.

 

In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and head-lands.
If we go beyond our usual course, we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round, do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature.
                              Walden: or a Life in the Woods ~ Henry David Thoreau

Comments always are welcome.

The Importance of Names ~ The Trees

 

Neither my father nor my mother knew
the names of the trees
where I was born
what is that
I asked and my
father and mother did not
hear they did not look where I pointed
surfaces of furniture held
the attention of their fingers
and across the room they could watch
walls they had forgotten
where there were no questions
no voices and no shade
Were there trees where they were children
where I had not been
I asked
were there trees in those places
where my father and my mother were born
and in that time did
my father and my mother see them
and when they said yes it meant
they did not remember
What were they I asked what were they
but both my father and my mother
said they never knew
                                      “Native Trees” ~ W.S. Merwin

Comments always are welcome.
For more information on poet W.S. Merwin, please click here.

Awaiting Equinox

Early autumn color at Brazos Bend State Park ~ September 18

 

It is an old drama,
this disappearance of the leaves,
this seeming death
of the landscape.
In a later scene,
or earlier,
the trees like gnarled magicians
produce handkerchiefs
of leaves
out of empty branches.
And we watch.
We are like children
at this spectacle
of leaves,
as if one day we too
will open the wooden doors
of our coffins
and come out smiling
and bowing
all over again.
                 “November” ~ Linda Pastan

 

Comments always are welcome.
For more information on poet Linda Pastan, please
click here.

Like Dipping Water With a Sieve

Mesquite trees ~ Frio County, Texas

From 1845 to 1847,  German naturalist Dr. Ferdinand Roemer traveled across Texas observing, collecting, and detailing discoveries in a journal published in 1849, after his return to Germany.  The expansive title — Texas ~ with Particular Reference to German Immigration and the Flora, Fauna, Land, and Inhabitants — is justified, as Roemer was a curious, keen-eyed, and accurate observer.

After arriving in Galveston via steamship from New Orleans and traveling up Buffalo Bayou to Houston, Roemer departed for New Braunfels. Along the way, he stopped in Gonzales and Seguin, and spent time at the historic El Capote Ranch. Eventually, he explored the area around New Braunfels in the company of Ferdinand Lindheimer, another German who already had acquired some fame as a botanist; in time, Lindheimer would become known as the Father of Texas Botany.

During their time together, Roemer and Lindheimer followed the course of the Guadalupe River for several miles below New Braunfels.  Roemer’s description of the mesquite trees he encountered during that trip came to mind when I discovered a lovely stand of mesquite in ranch country south of Devine on May 9:

A natural prairie or meadow one-fourth mile wide extends between [the Guadalupe] and a gently rising chain of hills, on which mesquite trees (Pleopyrena glandulosa Engelmann) were scattered. These mesquite trees, which spread also over a great portion of northern Mexico, give to the prairie of Western Texas much of its peculiar character…
The trunk is gnarled and now and then bent, thus making it unfit for lumber. They seldom obtain a thickness of over one to one and one-half feet in Texas, nor a height of more than twenty to thirty feet…
The foliage resembles the so-called acacia, inasmuch as it is plumeous. The individual leaves, however, are much narrower and the whole foliage is more graceful and transparent.
To find shade under a mesquite tree is like dipping water with a sieve.

 

Comments always are welcome.
For an entertaining and informative article about mesquite trees in Texas, click here.
My copy of Roemer’s journal was published by Copano Bay Press, an independent Texas press dedicated to bringing back important works of Texas history.

Spring’s Sweet Tangle

Texas Redbud ~ Cercis canadensis var. texensis

Every spring, a variety of blooming redbud trees abounds in my town’s yards, at the edges of commercial parking lots, and in public gardens. Nicely shaped, well trimmed and well fed, they’re both a dependable sign of spring’s arrival and a colorful addition to the urban landscape.

In the woods, things aren’t always so tidy. This native Texas Redbud is no less colorful but, left to its own devices, it’s wandered a bit among the junipers and oaks. Still, the sight of a blooming tree in the midst of a thicket is enormously charming: presenting a good reason to get off the proverbial ‘beaten path.’

 

Comments always are welcome.