Every part of Midgard has its own peculiarities. One of the wonkinesses of this particular bit is that unlike decent, rational regions, fall color happens—if it happens at all—early in December rather than in earlier months. Even then, the color is neither ubiquitous nor uniform, so one has to actively seek it out to enjoy the random tree or shrub that has decided to eschew traditional verdant attire and attempt something as outrageous as…yellow.
To this end, we have all donned our “outdoorsy clothes” and prepared ourselves for a possibly-muddy walk in Lick Creek Park. Rather than bore you with a transcript of the human female’s relentless stream of botano-babble, I shall merely note the colloquial names of the few plants which have decided to participate in a display of autumnal finery.
Slender Three-seed Mercury
Chinese Tallow Tree
One may confidently assume that everything else out here is either brown or still clinging tenaciously to green.
But have we found anything else of note? Stay tuned…
We certainly couldn’t ask for a nicer day. A cold front blew in last night, and it is actually JACKET WEATHER! The group is a nice size–enough people to be interested and ask good questions, but small enough to be able to pay attention to everyone.
We…are…moving…very…very…s l o w l y. The human female has a lot to say about a lot of things. The information just keeps coming! It’s like trying to drink from a fire hose.
Great Frigga’s Corset! One of the budding Master Naturalists has spotted a plant the human female has not recorded before in the park. It’s a great, tall grass with spikelets like nothing I have seen before.
Eastern Gama Grass. The male flowers are at the top of the spike (to the left, but not open yet.) The female flowers are lower down in the inflorescence (to the right) and have these fantastic, purple, fuzzy styles. The male flowers will fall away once their work is done, and the fruit of each female flower will be hard and cylindrical like a bead and eventually fall separately. Nice find!
Trees. More trees. More grass. Some shrubs. Things with berries. Things without berries. More trees. Stupid bench.
Sigyn, look! What’s that?
Ow! Squealing! Apparently it is ladies’ tresses orchid season and that is one of them. It’s not one of the Navasota ladies’ tresses–those are endangered and much less common–but it is still an orchid. Sigyn thinks the way the flowers are in two spirals up the stem is pretty cool. I like the way the plants blooom without their leaves (which are up only in the spring) and how none of the scientists has figured out yet what weather conditions make for a good orchid year. The human female is doing something complicated with her hand, showing how the shapes of the flowers of the common and rare ones are different. Everyone is looking at her blankly. And yet she is undeterred.
Oh, how my wrath shall grow and rage until I smite the human female with all that is in me! We finished the field trip and are home now. The human female is counting it as a success, as several people wanted to stay past the allotted time and explore with her. I count it as a disaster! You know how nature nerds always say, “Take only photos, leave only footprints”? Well, the human female left something in the park and I’m not sure I shall ever get it back.
We were down by the Great Desolation again, looking at all of the white-flowered, no-longer-a-mystery white Bidens. While everyone was oohing and ahhing over the silly thing, Sigyn and I sat down in the shade to rest a bit. I took off my helmet because the day was growing a little hot after all. I told the human female to be sure to carry it back to the car for me (it does get heavy), but she was too busy yakking and I guess she did not hear my instructions, because when we disembarked at home just now, my gorgeous horns were nowhere to be found! That hag LOST my helmet somewhere near the sedge meadow, probably in a patch of that stinky Pluchea! She swears it was an accident, but I’m fairly certain she did it on purpose. I’ve had to magic up a spare. Do you see now why whatever mischief I whip up for her is no more than she deserves?
She did manage to come back with this:
She says it is probablyCarolina laurel cherry. It has alternate, simple leaves, and the bark “looked Prunus-y”–whatever that means. It is, however, missing one of the diagnostic features of Prunus caroliniana, two tiny, dark glands on the underside of the leaf, one on each side of the leaf stalk. Do you see any glands, love?
She says she’ll have to go back in the spring and see what the flowers look like. If she can remember where it is…
The mystery plant sample is not all that followed us home today.
There is, she says, rather a lot of panicle-leaved tick-trefoil in the park this year. It has small, pink beany flowers and little legumes that break up into one-seeded segments just loaded with microscopic, hooked hairs. They really do cling like ticks.
This will teach her not to tie her jacket around her waist and then wade through the tall stuff! She is well and truly covered with these little clingers, and she’s going to have to sit and pick them off her pants, jacket, sweatshirt, and bootlaces one… by… one… by… one. (Serves her right!)
Ehehehe! That is a LOT of little velcro-y bits! And that’s not even counting the one ones she hasn’t found yet. She’ll be finding them in the laundry for weeks, if I have anything to say about it.
Augh! I can feel…. They’re on me, too, aren’t they Sigyn?
Get them off! Get them off! I was very careful not to get any at the park. These are just from her picking them off her clothes and flinging them every which way. She is just about as hapless as it is possible for a single mortal to be, and this day’s work will cost her another few years of grief from me—and she’s getting off lightly.
The human female has been kicking herself for dropping the ball on the mystery composite. So here we are all, back out at Lick Creek Park to see if we can locate the remains of the one she uprooted or, should the Norns send a miracle, another of its kind.
Botanical incompetence aside, it’s a lovely day, bright and somewhat cooler. The goldenrod is beginning to make a fine show.
I see you, Sigyn!
The camphorweed is just as enthusiastic and just as yellow.
The lobelia, in contrast, is a rather fetching shade of purplish blue.
What are you staring at so intently, my love? What is it that has you so enthralled?
Oh. The human female says the corollas are “fenestrate”. The petals are all fused together except for a slit or “window” along one side through which the stamens can be seen.
She remembered the word “fenestrate.” Maybe she’s not a total botanical failure.
Down here in the bottomlands, there is a lot of climbing hempvine. As in, A LOT, a lot.
There is also a truly staggering amount of sumpweed, ragweed, and cocklebur. All things sneezy and prickly.
Some of the southern wax myrtles are doing quite well. Sigyn loves its fragrant foliage
I really need to buy my sweetie some sunglasses.
In the really damp spots, there is knotweed and the repulsively stinky, pink-flowered camphorweed.
I know–I just said that yellow thing up there was camphorweed–and it is. This pink stuff:
is in a different genus, Pluchea. And it really does smell terrible! “Pluchea” is sort of the noise you make when you smell it. Probably meant to keep herbivores away. I know *I* wouldn’t munch on it!
Hold on! What is that?!
It’s the human female’s mystery composite! And look at how big this one is! The leaves at the top of the stem look completely different from the foliage she saw before. She has some good heads to look at, too.
And fruit! Lots of little, spikey fruit. She might actually be able to redeem herself with this!
She is reasonably certain that this is a Bidens. It all fits–compound leaves, likes wet spots, fruits each with two long awns, like antennae on a bug. It is might even be a native that just hasn’t been documented for the park before. Time to take a better-yet-not-destructive sample and go home and hit the books again.
That took forever, but the plant now has a name. It is, indeed, a Bidens.Hairy beggarticks. She thought that it would be fairly simple to figure out which one, since not all of them have rays, and of the ones that do, many have yellow rays rather than white. Of the ones with white flowers, not all have achenes with minutely barbed awns. It was keying out one way in her big, older book of Texas botany and a different way, Bidens pilosa, in the manuscript she just edited, and yet it looked just like the photos and specimens of Bidens alba she was seeing online. But the Flora of North America site doesn’t even have Bidens alba, though the USDA site does–though not for Texas. Eventually she actually read all of the material in the manuscript she edited and was reminded that newer treatments have placed plants formerly called Bidens albaintoBidens pilosa, which does grow in Texas. So, basically, she was trying to tell it from itself. It is known from East Texas and from West Texas but has not been recorded from this county before. Either no one has been poking about in the right places at the right time to find it here (less likely) or it has indeed been brought in with the construction (more likely.) The human female has never seen a live plant of it before, so I suppose she can be forgiven for not recognizing it immediately from written descriptions she worked on over a year ago.
But for the sloppy initial botany? She’s going to have to repent long and hard for that.
Sigyn! Guess where we’re going today? Lick Creek Park! We haven’t been there for ages. There was the plague, the blocked trails, the rampant destruction from the construction of the water treatment line that runs through the park, etc., etc.–the human female hasn’t dared go out there for months and months, for fear she’ll have her heart broken again.
But since she’s supposed to lead a field trip out there in a few days, she figures she should go out and relearn the trails and make sure she can speak intelligibly about the plants.
And here we are! Hmm. The plantings around the Nature Center don’t look very good. I don’t think the budget stretches to as much maintenance as they might need. Hold on–where’d Sigyn go? She was right here.
Idunn’s little green apples! I turned my back for one minute and where do I find her? Dangling from a tree! (She’s such an eager little thing.)
Hold on–that is a river birch. By the Nature Center. “Nature” didn’t put that there, I can tell you that much. The staff must be giving it all the water on the planet to keep it happy up here in the uplands. Still, having one so agreeably handy to show the field trip participants will be convenient. Otherwise, the human female would have to drag her field trippers through some pretty thick bottomland to point one out. Good, find, my love!
Now here’s a bit of garden that is looking much more lively. It’s maintained by the local chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists, and it is just full of plants that hummingbirds and butterflies like.
In September, this place just fizzes with hummers, but it’s a bit late for them now.
(a bit later)
We’ve been wending our way down to the bottomland. The usual fall plants are out. The female yaupon hollies are all decked out with shiny fruit, and the deciduous holly is coloring up nicely as well.
Sigyn loves them now when the fruits are yellow. She’ll love them even more when they are bright red later on.
The shining sumac is already red.
Sigyn, my love, is the sun in your eyes? Here, try this other branch down here where you can dangle in the shade and still appreciate the fall color.
SweetSif on a Cracker! Where the human female usually stops with a group to talk about the native grasses in a little grassy open area, the City has mowed the grasses down and put in an ornate concrete bench and a stone path. In the nature park. It sticks out like two sore thumbs.
Not only that, we have reached what used to be Deer Run Trail, which ran along the old inflow line to the water treatment plant. Last time we were here, they had cleared it out to a width of forty meters and it was completely devastated. Nothing but mud and trenches. I’m sorry to say it doesn’t look much better now. The new line is in and the trenches filled, but it’s still all bare and open, hundreds of trees are missing and, even though the City promised to do remediation, that seems to have consisted of planting a few trees and calling it a day. And most of those trees are live oaks, which do not occur naturally in the park. I think the human female is having a little stroke, or at least a spittle-flecked nutty.
And oh, what now? The human female has stopped dead in her tracks because she has seen A Flower. Here in the wasteland, where it is all cocklebur and croton, she has spotted something with an actual showy bloom. It looks like an escaped zinnia. Something Asteraceous, anyway. Probably some weird waif brought in on construction equipment. The foliage isn’t something she recognizes either. It is definitely something that should not be here. Snap! One weed, broken off at the ground. She’ll take one of the flower heads and this glorious photo:
And no doubt she’ll be able to hit the books and figure it out in no time. Then she can be good and outraged about yet another foreign weed in the park.
In any case, it’s getting HOT out here and the trails are more or less where the human female left them, so it’s time to head home.
Ehehehehe!!! The human female has now spent hours trying to figure out what that white flower is! It is nothing she’s seen in the Park before. It’s not a zinnia, and it’s nothing cultivated that she recognizes. It’s not even anything she recognizes as being from Texas! Oh, frustrated botanist, let me gloat about just how badly you’ve messed up.
Did you get a good photo? No, you did not. I’ll put the photo here again so no one has to scroll.
Just look at that! It’s the botanical equivalent of a Loch Ness Monster photo. Worse than useless.
Did you look around and see if there were other plants of the same sort so you could get some idea of the variation? No? Pitiful!
You KNOW composites are tricky–you spent the better part of two years editing a manuscript on them! You know you can’t get anywhere without having the tiny fruits to look at. Did you collect any? No, you did not! That is the sort of mistake you used to chew your undergrads out for.
Did you get a GPS point of where you collected this interloper? No? What’s that stupid fancy phone for, then? Do you think you could find the spot again? Oh, wait, that’s right, you broke the only plant you saw off at the ground.
Everything wrong. Everything. You will never figure that plant out now. Retirement has turned your brain into tapioca pudding. I think it’s time to turn in your credentials and maybe even offer to send your M.S. diploma back to the University.
Even Sigyn is disappointed in you. Let that sink in.
It is definitely autumn in this part of Midgard now. It’s about time! After six months of unrelenting summer, we can all use a break, even if the stupid trees won’t change color until next month, of at all.
The days are alternating mild and sunny with cold and windy. The local botany nerds have chosen one of the cold and windy ones for their annual training of the new nerds. The human female is going to lead the field trip, and she is bundled up in so many layers (turtleneck sweater, wool sweater, wood military uniform shirt, puffy coat, hat, gloves) that she resembles nothing so much as a cross between a walking laundry basket and a well-fed tick. This is all fine with me, as the more layers between the human female and my having to look at her, the better.
I, of course, am immune to cold and have put a protection spell around my beloved so that she is comfortably toasty no matter how the wind blows.
So here we are at the local wilderness park, site of many former adventures. Sigyn is admiring the fluffy pink muhly grass in front of the visitors’ center.
I think pink is a stupid color for grasses.
It is much too windy to try to get good photos of plants.
Hold. Still. You. Irritating. Little. Shrub. Grr. Enjoy your blurry St. Andrew’s cross, mortals.
This beautyberry has much lighter fruit than all of its cousins. More pink! Since when is pink a fall color?
It is only in focus because the human female is holding it still. Huh. I guess she’s good for something after all.
Sigyn has discovered that breezy days make for the best dangling.
She says this willow oak is better than anything at an amusement park. Watching her go uuuuup and dooooown, uuuup and doooown is making me a little queasy. Hold tight, my love! I would not want you to tumble from your precarious perch!
Longtime readers may recall that Sigyn and I have on more than one occasion accompanied the human female to the annual Nerds in the Woods gathering. This is a one- or two-day event, during which nerdy naturalists seek to catalog all of the various bloomy, flappy, squiggly, crawly and otherwise organic entities in the local Lick Creek Park.
In the Olden Days, the human female used to head up the plant team. She spared no efforts, traipsing to remote parts of the part to compile her long lists of herbiage, things with (no doubt made-up) names like “daisy fleabane,” pinweed,” “forked blue curls,” and “rosettegrass.” Several years ago, I tipped the organizers of the event off to just how hard she worked her fellow volunteers and how tedious she is with her constant bragging about how there are “more plants in the park than anything else, blah, blah, blah…” So they stopped inviting her. She volunteered to help out. They unvolunteered her. Cue moping, which was more tedious than the endless stream of botanical trivialities.
This year, much to my astonishment and dismay, the local chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas asked her to sit in at their table. Oh, foolish mortals. You will now never be free of this tiresome limpet! Remind me to point and laugh later, when you are ready to stuff socks in her mouth to shut her up, and remind you that you brought it on yourselves.
Come Sigyn, let us accompany her. I know that you are capable of strolling through the woods without nattering on, so for your sake, I will subject myself to a car ride with her. We can always sneak away from her when we get there.
We are now here. The NPSOT table is plunked down in the middle of a big patch of this:
Whatever “this” is… Do you recognize it, my love?
By Idunn’s little apples! Sigyn says it is heartwing sorrel, a useful plant to know because the leaves are edible. I would never have guessed. My sweetie always knows the best things! She even says she knows of a good recipe for potato-sorrel soup, something involving heavy cream, chicken stock, potatoes, and this little bit of the wild herbiness. (You know, once chopped up, one bit of greenery looks much like the next. I wonder if I could make the human female a pottage of lawn clippings and get her to eat it, telling her it was this? I bet she’d be half a bowl in before she suspected anything amiss…)
Now the human female is wandering away from the table, tallying up the various species in evidence today. She and Sigyn have zeroed in on this bright pink posy.
The human female says it’s a prairie gentian. It’s not very big, but Sigyn is even less big, so she needs a boost to see the yellow markings on the petals. There are at least seven species in that photo–it’s a good year for wildflowers!
Come my love, let us leave the human female to her clipboard and census-taking. While she’s peering at grasses and sedges, let us make our escape. See–over there? The electric blue of your favorite, spiderwort.
Sigyn is making happy squeaky noises at the minuscule yellow Sisyrinchium with the maroon eye-ring too. She likes the flowers that are “Sigyn-sized.” Be careful, though, dearest, as some dog-walkers have not heeded the injunction about cleaning up after their pets. There are fire ants about, as well.
Ah. No fire ants and no doggie “presents” up here in this juniper tree. No, nothing but shade and sunshine and a nice breeze and some curious blue-gray berries.
Yes, dearest, I know they’re not really berries. They’re “fleshy female cones, each with one to four seeds and a covering of grayish wax. They have traditionally been used to season meat, especially game, and some kinds provide the flavoring for gin.”
What? I’m not allowed to know botanical facts? You wound me! I am a man of many talents and much knowledge!
Also, the human female leaves her books lying about and sometimes I am really bored.
If my aching head is anything to go by, the humans have been having a fun visit with the female’s mother and sister, who were successfully fetched from the Big City to the West. They’ve done nothing but laugh screech and cackle, talking a thousand miles to the minute, sunup to the wee hours and then repeat.
And eating! Sleipnir’s fetlocks–the eating! The human female made bacon rolls and orange sweet rolls; her mother brought a big batch of braised beef and carrots, frozen, along with two long loaves of bread; and they’ve all waddled over to the trough where we had the french toast biscuits.
Today, however, we are trying to accomplish a little peace and quiet and some exercise to offset all the loafing and munching (and munching on loaves.) We’ve come out to the local woodland in Lick Creek Park in the hopes of dodging the showers and seeing some blossoms. It’s been such a cold and rainy spring that there isn’t much in flower. The birds are singing, though, so that’s something.
The human female and I were talking the other day, about how it’s been so long since we went out to the park in the woods. So today we’re going!
We have a little time before the tour group she’s leading shows up. Come on, Loki, let’s look at the flowers around the Nature Center. I can see from the parking lot that there are a lot of colorful things blooming!
This is the butterfly garden.
I really like this fluffy blue stuff.
I don’t think Loki is as impressed with it as I am.
Wow! All the pink behind me is a native grass, Pink Muhly. Isn’t it wonderful?
The human female planted some in our front flower bed. Sadly, Loki got to it, and it isn’t nearly this pretty.
Most people think Wooly Croton is a weed,
but it’s fuzzy, and actually a nice place to sit.
This plant is its relative–an they’re both relatives of Poinsettias!
If you mentally color some of these leaves bright red, you can see the resemblance.
Now these Pentas are good and red! They’re not native, so I sort of wish the city hadn’t planted them, but the butterflies do like them.
And, oh! I wish you could smell this one! It’s Mexican marigold and it smells like sweet licorice!
Even if we don’t find many wildflowers in the woods today, just seeing all of this near the Center has been a real treat!