Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Greenbelt in October

Sunflowers ruled along the upper stretches of The Greenbelt last weekend.  Yellow was the dominant color filling open fields, brightening woodland openings, and dotting the shadier parts of the trail.  Most impressive of the sunflowers were the Maximilian Sunflowers, whose six-foot-tall flowering stalks holding multiple, bright-yellow flowers, towered above the fields of yellow.

Maximilian Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani)

Maximilian Sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) spend most of the summer as much shorter rosettes of leaves, storing energy until the fall, when they send up their impressively tall flowering stalks.  They bloom from September through November, and their leaves and seeds provide food for birds and mammals.  These perennial sunflowers tend to live in colonies, like the one at the upstream end of the The Greenbelt trail, where woodlands give way to open meadow.  Last weekend, at the height of bloom, bees buzzed from one yellow flower to another, enjoying the buffet of nectar provided by Maximilian Sunflower, Golden-Eye (described below), and Broomweed.

Lee and I entered The Greenbelt at the end-of-the-trail entrance, a.k.a. "The Hill," where the first section of trail was a long, rocky descent into the Barton Creek floodplain.  The vegetation along that upper section of trail differed from the stream-side vegetation below.  Tatalencho (Gymnosperma glutinosum), a perennial herb with woody stems, was growing out of the limestone at the edge of the trail, blooming bright yellow.  Tatalencho blooms June through November.

Tatalencho (Gymnosperma glutinosum)

Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens) shrubs lined the steeper sections of the descent, providing some shade.  Up close, I noticed that the shrubs were blooming in tiny, white flowers.  The leaves of the Evergreen Sumac are not truly evergreen, but remain on the plants through the winter, falling about a week before leaf-out in the spring.  Blooming July through October, Evergreen Sumac flowers provide nectar for butterflies.  In the winter, their fruits are food for birds and mammals, making Evergreen Sumac, which is also drought-tolerant, a useful landscaping shrub.

Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens)

A few Kidney Wood shrubs bloomed alongside the Evergreen Sumac, adding fragrance to the air.  Plateau Agalinis (Agalinis edwardsiana), a close relative of Prairie Agalinis, was also in bloom along the upper section of the trail.  Plateau Agalinis, which tends to grow in dry, limestone soils, can be distinguished from Prairie Agalinis by its long pedicels, or stalks that connect each flower to the main stem of the plant.  Both Agalinis species bloom in the fall, providing nectar for butterflies.

Plateau Agalinis (Agalinis edwardsiana)

A rocky outcrop most of the way down the hill was dotted with the pink flowers of Small Palafox (Palafoxia callosa), an annual herb that reseeds itself on rocky slopes.  Small Palafox blooms August through November and attracts butterflies.

Small Palafox (Palafoxia callosa)

At the bottom of the hill, we headed upstream through the fields of yellow sunflowers to reach the uppermost falls.  We crossed the creek above the falls, delighted to see that the creek was running clear but shocked at the chill of the water as we stepped into it.  We followed the narrow south-side trail downstream though dense woods.  We detoured to look at two mini falls along the creek.  Below one of the mini falls, where the water was waist-deep and clear, we took off our shirts and jumped in.  The water was too cold to linger, but I enjoyed one more float in the creek, possibly the last of the season.

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) was common along the trail, growing in small clearings.  I was surprised to see so much Frostweed because I thought that I had first seen Frostweed two weeks ago at Southeast Metro Park.  Apparently, I've walked by many Frostweed plants in the past without knowing their name.  I find it amazing how identifying a plant suddenly makes it visible in a known landscape.

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

A Cardinal Flower, bright red with striking three-part petals, grew alone in the shade.  Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) grow in moist soils along waterways or in stream beds and bloom from May through October.  Their tubular flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds.  Cardinal Flowers, which are perennial herbs, are becoming less common in our area due to over-picking.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) also grew in the shade of understory shrubs.  Blue Mistflower is a perennial herb that grows in moist soils and blooms from July to November, attracting bees and butterflies.

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Pink, white, red, and blue ... so many colors of wildflowers to see along the trail in October, a month known in temperate climates for the oranges and browns of autumn.  I also saw the pink of Wood-Sorrel flowers, the deep purples of Drummond's Wild Petunia, and many branches loaded with magenta berries of the American Beautyberry.

But, by far, yellow was the color of the day.  Yellow sunflowers dominated not only the open fields but also along the trails.  While I had to look for all of the other colors, yellow was around every corner, filling every clearing.  Most of the yellow along the trail was provided by colonies of Golden-Eye, an open, bushy, many-branched shrub that was covered in yellow blooms.  Golden-Eye (Viguiera dentata) is drought-tolerant and prefers part-shade, growing on limestone soils at the edges of woodlands and in pastures.  Golden-Eye blooms October and November, providing nectar for bees and butterflies.  Birds eat the seeds of Golden-Eye, which also provides cover for wildlife in woods and pastures.

Golden-Eye (Viguiera dentata)

In sunny openings between the trees, Golden-Eye grew thick and tall, filling the space with yellow.  In the part-shade of the woods, Golden-Eye was shorter and more-branched, but still covered in yellow.  As we neared our turn-around point, we rested in a shady spot, which, of course, was also filled with the yellow flowers of Golden-Eye.

Golden-Eye (Viguiera dentata) colony

At Sculpture Falls we crossed the creek, admiring the falls and noticing how much lower the water was than it had been a month ago.  We returned upstream along the main trail on the north side of the creek.

The north-side trail, which was wider, drier, and more elevated than the trail on the south side of the creek, was also lined with Frostweed and Golden-Eye.  A light-purple daisy, Texas Aster (Symphyotrichum drummondi var. texanum) grew in a few shady places along the trail.  Texas Aster is a perennial herb that blooms September through November.

Texas Aster (Symphyotrichum drummondi var. texanum)

Nearing the end of the trail, we took one last look at the creek and one more walk through the sunflower meadow before heading back up the hill.  With the midday sun overhead, I zigzaged from one side of the rocky trail to other, traveling between the small patches of shade provided by Evergreen Sumacs and Cedar trees.  The climb, as always, was longer than it had seemed on the way down, with the hill continuing up! around every corner, but was well worth the experience of running water and of the fields of yellow below.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to see that you, too, are promoting the native plants in our area. I've featured some of the same species as you, including tatalencho today:


    I'm glad you got to see a cardinal flower this year; in the appropriate season I went to a few places where I'd seen them before but didn't find a single plant, not even one without flowers.