Life Among the Rain Lilies

A centerpiece for nature’s table

Discovering one charming group of rain lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen) at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge was immensely satisfying, but nature had another surprise in store: a second bouquet so beautifully arranged it might have been created by a professional florist.

After admiring the second clump of flowers, I turned my attention to  individual lilies scattered along the roadside, and found them teeming with life.  Emerging rain lily buds, elegant as the flowers themselves, played host to a number of tiny grasshopper nymphs who hugged the slender stems.

Among the blooms,  a dozen or more Lesser Meadow Katydid nymphs (genus Conocephalus ) roamed and nibbled.

Tempted by pollen and nectar, hoverflies joined the party.

Some insects secreted themselves within the flowers’ depths, closing the door behind them. Here, a spider or caterpillar might have been at work. Despite my curiosity, I chose to imagine a ‘Do Not Disturb” sign and moved on.

One camera-shy crab spider retreated beneath the petals so quickly I missed a clear image, but she’d found a beautiful place to await her prey. Rather than spinning a web, many of these spiders engage in lurking: snatching up unwary visitors seeking nectar or seeds.

Even a few minutes of roadside observation confirms an important truth: as much as we enjoy decorating our homes with flowers, innumerable creatures consider the flowers themselves to be their homes: places of shelter and sustenance. We’re lucky they’re willing to invite us in.

 

Comments always are welcome. Click on any image for more detail.

Gaillardia, Too

Lanceleaf blanketflower (Gaillardia aestivalis)

One of our most widespread and beloved wildflowers, Gaillardia pulchella — commonly known as Indian blanket or firewheel — isn’t the only Gaillardia species abroad in the land.

During my recent visits to the Attwater Prairie, I found no firewheels, but Gaillardia aestivalis, the lanceleaf blanket flower, or prairie Gaillardia, was plentiful. Its distinct ray flowers surround a center that becomes even more striking as the plant matures, suggesting a floral version of a geodesic dome.

Seeing a lanceleaf blanket flower, it’s impossible to miss its resemblance to the rare Winkler’s blanket flower (Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri), a plant limited to the sandy soils of Tyler, Hardin, and Newton counties in the Big Thicket.

A purple version of Winkler’s blanket flower known as ‘Grape Sensation’ was developed by Dawn Stover at the Pineywoods Native Plant Center in Nacogdoches. It does resemble the color of grape soda, and has its fans, but for me these two natives far outshine the various cultivars.

A developing Winkler’s blanket flower seedhead

 

Comments always are welcome.

Pipe Dreams

Indian Pipe ~ Monotropa uniflora

 

In his September 24 post featuring flowers from along Austin’s Bull Creek, Steve Schwartzman included this quotation from Jordan Ellenburg’s book How Not to Be Wrong: “Impossible things never happen. But improbable things happen a lot.”

Only three days later, as if to prove the point, a small collection of flowers known as Indian Pipe greeted me from beneath a large pine at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve. I’d seen photographs of them from locations as diverse as Montana and Massachusetts, but it never occurred to me that they might call Texas home. In fact, the plant prefers mature, moist, shaded forest, so the piney woods of east Texas provide a perfect environment.

Sometimes called the Ghost Plant because of its white, waxy appearance, the Indian Pipe has no chlorophyll and doesn’t depend on photosynthesis.

Once considered a saprophyte — an organism that feeds, absorbs, or grows on decaying organic matter — Indian Pipe today is understood as a parasite. Its roots extend in a web-like way through dead rotting leaves, extracting nutrients from the hyphae (fungal strands) of certain kinds of fungi.

Each stem bears a single flower which initially points down to the ground, helping to fend off rain. As the bud opens, it becomes parallel to the ground, making it more easily accessible for pollinating bees. After pollination, the flower becomes erect, and the seed capsule begins to mature; ripened seed is released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsule.  All three flower stages — pendant, perpendicular, and upright — are shown in the photo below.

Poet Emily Dickinson once called the Indian Pipe “the preferred flower of life.” In a letter to Mabel Todd, she recalled, “I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.”

So fond was she of the flower that she chose it for the cover of her first book of poems, published after her death.

Now that I’ve seen the flower, glowing like an apparition in deep forest shade, Emily’s poetic references seem especially appropriate:

White as an Indian Pipe
Red as a Cardinal Flower
Fabulous as a Moon at Noon
February Hour —

                    ***

Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
‘Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –

 

Comments always are welcome.