by Sue Ann Kendall
Over here in northern Milam County, we’ve had some rain three days in a row, which has been a welcome relief after pretty much nothing since May. Today there was even a little bit of rain in our front pond (tank in Texan), which had dried up completely as of last week. This was too late for all the fish, who made all the egrets and herons happy as they all died. I assume more will show up.
Today I went out around our ranch, the Hermits’ Rest, to see what had made it through the drought. Was anything blooming? What insects are still there?
I can tell you that the bees survived just fine, and you can thank some humble plants for that. The turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) has not stopped blooming and has formed mats where the grass once was. Bees and wasps are all over it. The other plant that’s attracting so many bees you can hear it from a distance is the scarlet toothcup (Ammannia coccinea). Now, the latter is a bog plant, as is its friend the floating primrose-willow (Ludwigia peploides). We seem to have some kind of springy area that has supported them all summer, to the delight of the flying insects.
Other plants have been thriving. Of course, the silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) is fine. It’s like iron. In fact, some of them have fruit large enough that they look like cherry tomatoes! I wouldn’t eat them, though. I don’t trust anything named “nightshade.” The lesser balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum), which just loves our ranch, is also plugging along happily. There are so many of the vines in the dried-up bed of Walker’s Creek that it smells like a Bed, Bath and Beyond store! I had no idea how fragrant those tiny flowers were until I encountered thousands of them in a confined space! The other thriving plant is the violet ruellia (Ruellia nudiflora), which is having a great year, according to Linda Jo Conn, our iNaturalist approval maven. One of our rental houses seems to have a purple carpet in the yard. Way to go, little flowers!
One more happy vine is the sorrelvine (Cissus trifolioata), which is more numerous than the smilax this year. It has some healthy-looking fruit, which I learned just this year is related to the grapes (none of which fruited here this year).
A few of our usual summer stalwarts are barely hanging on, though. There are many passion vines, but the flowers were looking pretty straggly until after the rain. They finally look normal. I have found one sad little Texas bindweed (Concolvulus equitans), a couple of prairie coneflowers/Mexican hats (Ratbida columnfera) (my photo is too blurry to share), a few velvetweed (Oenothera curtiflora), and sparse Lindheier’s doveweed (Croton lindheimeri) (it’s usually everywhere – in fact, my chickens had a tree version last year by the time it got cold). And there’s vervain (Verbena halei) and green poinsettia (the native one Euphorbia dentata).
Two plants are here in large numbers, but I didn’t recognize them at first. The asters (Synphyotrichum sp.) and the broomweed (Amphiachris dracunculoides) have had all their foliage eaten by the eight gazillion grasshoppers of the season, so it wasn’t until I found a few sad little blossoms that I realized what they were. Yes, it was a fine year for differential grasshoppers, obscure bird grasshoppers, and prairie boopies (look them up, I’m tired of typing in Latin).
Speaking of insects, in addition to the grasshoppers, we’ve had lots of dragonflies and damselflies this summer, and a variety of small crickets (not the usual giant annoying ones). The chickens love them all. The cicadas Donna wrote about recently are few and far between, but I’ve heard them.
One way I’m hoping we are attracting insects is the number of milkweed plants on the ranch. I’m happy to see lots and lots of zyzotes milkweed (Asclepias oenotheroides) and a good number of green antelope horn (Asclepias viridis) out in the fields. Even better, I’ve seen many dispersed seeds. Come on over, monarchs!
I’m glad some of our plants and animals have made it through the summer. I will be interested to see how many trees we lose in this drought. The previous one was very hard on the older trees on our property, which slowly keeled over from 2012-2015. I hope you got rain where you are, but not too much. Some of our chapter members had a hard time in the past couple of days. We are due for more rain, but I won’t complain. I miss the ponds and my horses miss the grass!