Something New, Something Familiar

Only one bird was swimming in the ponds at Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve yesterday: a winter resident — new to me — known as the Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola). According to the Audubon website, the bird’s common name is meant as a tribute to the buffalo, whose head it somewhat resembles.

The colorful male remained almost out of camera range on the other side of the pond, but I was able to capture a bit of the beautiful iridescence in its head and neck feathers.

Meanwhile, along Settegast Road, three early spring favorites were blooming. The blue-eyed grass, a member of the iris family, surprised me, although it appeared by mid-January last year.

Like Indian paintbrush, seaside goldenrod and crow poison can be found every month of the year, even after significant cold fronts. While no bees were visible, a bevy of tiny flies hovered around the blooms in the pleasant afternoon warmth.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)
Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) with hoverfly
Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve )

 

Comments always are welcome.

Bundled Flower, Bundled Seeds

The plant known as Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis) derives its common name from its densely packed, somewhat frowzy puffball-like heads. Like the so-called powderpuff plant (Mimosa strigillosa), another member of the Fabaceae (pea family) which blooms with pink, ball-shaped flowers, bundleflower foliage is sensitive, wilting temporarily to control temperature and moisture levels and folding together when touched.

A nitrogen-fixing legume with a high protein content, the plant performs a dual service, enriching soils even as it provides nutrition for the birds, deer, antelope, and rodents that favor its seeds. Quite common across a large swath of the country, it thrives in a variety of soils and growing conditions.

While its flowers aren’t exactly show-stoppers, I’ve always found its seed pods compelling. Initially sickle-shaped, they provide their own sort of bloom as they open to release their seeds, remain intact well into winter, and make a lovely addition to dried arrangements.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Rayless Among the Rocks

After my recent posting of Gaillardia aestivalis and the white variety known as Winkler’s Gaillardia (G. aestivalis var. Winkleri), several readers commented on the pleasing structure of the ball-like seed heads.

Another Gaillardia species, G. suavis, is ball-like from the beginning. Known for its sweet scent and generally missing the ray flowers that mark other members of the Asteraceae, the variously-named fragrant Gaillardia, pincushion daisy, or perfume balls, is common along roadsides in the Texas hill country.

The disk florets that form the pretty round flower tend toward a reddish brown, interspersed with numerous stiff bristles. All of these were found on open, dry hillsides in Medina and Kerr counties, thriving in the gravelly soils.

This especially vibrant example reminds me of the fruit of the buttonbush, another ball-shaped bloom.

I’ve yet to find any fully-developed, fluffy seedheads of these flowers, but perhaps this will be the year.

Comments always are welcome.