Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Unique, the Strange and the Downright Weird

Every spring we have three plants that pop up like clockwork here in east Texas. The three Musketeers if you please. They are Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia), May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum) and Bladderwort (Utricularia spp.).

The Red Buckeye is one of the first native plants to leaf out and bloom in the spring. Chances are you miss it in the woods unless you are looking for it. I am lucky because mine is at the edge of my driveway. Leafing out begins with large, bronze buds which morph into shiny, dark green, palmate, compound leaves. Red Buckeye can grow to 8’-10’ tall. But the best part is the bloom. In early April, showy, erect 4” long panicles of bright red tubular flowers, which are hermaphrodite, appear. Hummingbird scouts that come through our area in late March and April use the flowers as a nectar source during migration. In the fall, a smooth, light brown fruit appears. Don’t eat – it is highly poisonous. Red Buckeye typically grows as an understory tree in the moist, rich, slightly acidic soils of the Pineywoods, but it is found as well on the Post Oak Savannah. Positively unique in many ways, don’t you think?

Red Buckeye

Red Buckeye bloom

Red Buckeye fruit
The strange Mayapple or Mandrake, Devil's apple, hog apple, Indian apple or umbrella plant (you decide) is an herbaceous perennial plant native to deciduous forests. The stalk which is 5-7 inches long will be topped with 1, 2 or occasionally 3 leaves which are deeply divided into lobes on the reproductive plant, or one umbrella-like leaf on a sterile plant. A single white flower, which has 6 petals located at the axil (V where the two leaves meet), will produce a yellow-greenish fruit. The ripened fruit, which our feral hogs love, is edible in moderate amounts, though when consumed in large amounts the fruit is poisonous. Some folks make jelly out of the fruit but with a name like Devil’s apple, I think I will pass.


Field of Mayapples

Mayapple flower

Mayapple fruit
Floating on our local lakes right now are the free-floating bladderworts which are annuals. They resemble a small wagon wheel with a flower stem in the middle. Inflated stalks form the spokes of the wagon wheel which support masses of submerged leaves coated with small round bladders called utricles. These submerged parts of the bladderwort provide habitat for many micro and macro invertebrates which in turn are used for food by fish and other wildlife. Sweet yellow 3-lobed flowers with a ‘spur’ are above the water. These plants are carnivorous and capture small organisms with their underwater leaves. (Insert theme from Twighlight Zone.) Sensitive, hair-like projections surround the utricle's closed trapdoor. Water fleas, protozoa and other passing organisms that touch the hairs instantly trigger the flattened bladder to open. Like a suction bulb, the utricle inflates and inhales both water and prey. The trapdoor snaps shut, and the plant then secretes enzymes, which dissolve the organisms into nutrients. Weird! These plants can form dense mats but die off by July. The dead plants are decomposed by bacteria and fungi and provide food for many aquatic invertebrates. Bladderworts are one of Texas’ four flesh-eating plants.


Bladderwort - picture taken
while kayaking

Bladderwort down by the dam

There you go. Not necessarily the good, bad and ugly but the unique, strange and downright weird.


  1. Nice info. I don't believe that I mayapple nor buckeyes on our property. Thanks for sharing your findings.

  2. Very interesting information. I knew nothing about the bladderwort, but it really is weird! Who would have ever thought about a fresh-eating plant living in the water! It really is like the Twilight Zone!

  3. I love that bladderwort. I had never heard of it before but find it very interesting that it is carnivorous. Keeping my eye open for the red buckeye fruit. I haven't seen it either but maybe I just wasn't paying attention. Love the blog!!

  4. Thank you for sharing - I enjoy the little bits of humor you mix in with the information. It is amazing the unusual things we can find in nature when we look a little closer.

  5. Thanks for sharing. I really like the way you mix in some humor with your information. There is so much variety in nature when we take the time to look a little closer.