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.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Where I live we have 5 seasons - Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter
and Green Stuff.

Yes, we have an entire season of Green Stuff.

 The pollen from all the "new" is everywhere and it seems it never ends. 

But it does - just about the time the heat sets in.

So, if you don't like the cold, can't take the heat and have allergies to pollen, you are pretty much doomed here in the piney woods of east Texas.

And, then there is the lovely green stuff.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

What's With the Cold???

For the second day in a row, I got up to dreary damp cold weather. What's with that? Doesn't Mother Nature know the average date for our last freeze here in the piney woods of east Texas is March 15 and the average date for last frost is March 21-31?

We have already experienced a slight freeze that ruined tomatoes (if you were silly enough to have them planted already) the flowers of the Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense) 

Loropetalum after the freeze
Before the freeze

Ground Orchid
After the freeze
and the ground orchids (Spathoglottis Plicata).


Did you know that the old timers refer to this cold snap in late spring as a Blackberry winter? This cold snap usually happens when the blackberries are in bloom and may help the blackberry canes to grow. In other areas of the country, it is referred to as Dogwood winter, Whippoorwill winter, Locust winter and Redbud winter. Some of these terms originate from what is blooming in a particular area during a cold snap.

 Another resource calls this time of year Linsey-Woolsey Britches winter which refers to a type of winter long johns that could be put away after the last cold snap. Linsey-woolsey is a combination of the words linen and woolen. It is a coarse fabric, most common in the United States during the Colonial era.

Makes me itch just to think about it. And cold.