Thursday, August 17, 2017

Hey Ma! Is that Snow?



It must be late summer when you see Snow-on-the-Prairie! Driving along the roads to  Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, this plant with cool appearing green and white leaves actually does look like a light dusting of snow where it is growing en masse. This white flowering plant can blanket a prairie in no time at all, hence the name. Because livestock stay away from the poisonous sap that the plant emits, it doesn't take much for it to cover a field. 


Snow-on-the-Prairie, by Brenda Loveless
There are actually two plants, Euphorbia bicolor Engelm. and A. Gray, and Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata Pursh; NPIN, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Native Plant Database, notes that the two are often confused.

As members of the Spurge Family, both plants have a milky sap that is irritating to humans with sensitive skin, as well as to the eyes and is toxic to cattle.  A volunteer at the Refuge told us that beekeepers try to keep bees away from the plant, as it makes the honey "hot".

Poinsettias are members of the same family. Growing 1 - 4 feet tall, in poor soils, the plants multiply by throwing seed, described by Dorothy Thetford in Wildflowers-of-Texas. Thetford says, “This ballistic dispersal of seeds explains the scattered arrangement of plants on the prairie.”

Both plants are annuals in the spurge family. The actual flowers are tiny white blossoms, surrounded by the green and white bracts. The bract of bicolor (in photos) is narrower than that of marginata.  The National Resources Conservation Service shows a range for Snow-on-the-Prairie including Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The bloom time is July – October. Anything that helps us think "cool" at this time of year in Texas is welcome!


NOTE: This is becoming an annual post!  Various versions posted in August 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden – August, 2017

Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. Although it seems the heat will never end, the blooming of Snow-on-the-Prairie signals a change. Thistle still blooms and Frostweed is a popular nectar plant on roadside edges.

Some butterflies can be found throughout the United States, while others are only seen in a localized area. A few stray into a different geographic area to feed but not to deposit eggs. While climate is a key factor in where a species is found, more important is the presence of a preferred food source for caterpillars and adults.

In Grayson County, butterfly watchers have documented 87 different species and most of those have been found on the refuge. The Painted Lady, at right, 
is a frequent visitor to all parts of the refuge because the adults are willing to nectar from a wide variety of blooms. They lay eggs on Thistle, Mallow, and many other plants. As you might imagine, this makes them one of the most common butterflies found, not only in the U.S. but around the world!





The American Lady, at left, looks very similar but it has a smaller range because of its nectaring habits and larval food sources.  You might find both feeding in the same location, especially if there is thistle in the area. The two primary ways to tell them apart are the number and size of the spots on the hindwing (Painted Lady has four equally sized spots) and the presence of a white dot in the orange area near the forewing’s edge on the American Lady. Look for “ladies” wherever you see flowers.



The Southern Broken-dash, shown at right,  is an uncommon butterfly in Grayson County. As its name implies, it is found in southern states and only in the east. It is one of the many skippers found on the refuge but may be difficult to identify without a photo. The adults feed on low flowers and their caterpillars feed on grasses. Look for them in the Sandy Point unit where grasses are not mowed and fall flowers grow undisturbed.



The Skipper family is widely varied in color and characteristics. The Common Checkered-skipper, shown at left,  is the most widespread because it adapts well to any environment. These are found in nearly all habitats but their larval food source is Mallow. Look for them in disturbed areas along roadsides, especially on any of the pad roads off of Oil Field Road. 





Reakirt’s Blue, at right,  is common throughout Texas and northward into Oklahoma and Kansas. Its range extends somewhat westward but is primarily found in the center of the country. It is in the family of Gossamer-winged butterflies and is easily identified by the four dark spots on its forewing. As with many hairstreaks and blues, look for these anywhere Frog Fruit and other low flowers grow, including along the Auto Tour. 




Another western blue is the Marine Blue, at right. These are found from Texas to California, but
since Hagerman NWR is near the eastern edge of their range, they are not always seen. However, they are far from rare and it’s worth a close look at every small grayish butterfly to see how many varieties you can find. As with most hairstreaks and blues, the pad roads are good places to look, where low flowers are abundant.






The strikingly colored Great Purple Hairstreak, shown at left, is also a Gossamer-winged butterfly, although it could never be mistaken for its gray cousins. It is only found in the south, from coast to coast, because its larval host is Mistletoe. Look up in the trees to catch a glimpse of one laying her eggs. 






Laurie Sheppard is a Texas Master Naturalist and regular blogger for Friends of Hagerman.

Please note:  Butterfly Garden Walks are set for August 19, September 2, 16, and 30 -  AND  - October 14 is Butterfly Day at Hagerman NWR, a full day of butterfly themed activities, talks and more!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Coral Honeysuckle, August Plant of the Month

By Nancy Cushion


Visitors to the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge can relax in the shady small pergola at the back of the garden. The shade is provided by a native vine, Lonicera sempervirens, or Coral Honeysuckle. Other common names for L. sempervirens are woodbine, trumpet honeysuckle, red honeysuckle, and evergreen honeysuckle.

Coral honeysuckle is a smooth, twining evergreen vine bearing dark, shiny green leaves which are white on the lower surface. The upper pair of leaves are fused together, just below the flower cluster. The tubular or trumpet shaped corolla occurs in whorls of four to six blossoms. They are usually red outside and orange inside, or rarely, all orange or yellow. Red to green twining stems fade to gray with a shreddy texture when mature. Clusters of red berries mature in September to October. Ornamentally, coral honeysuckle is well suited to climb on a fence or trellis, it is evergreen through most of Texas, and often blooms in January and sporadically throughout the growing season March to June to attract pollinators.



Coral honeysuckle is a native of  East Texas and much of the eastern U.S.; the plant apparently tolerates a wide variety of soils, and once established, it requires very little, if any, watering.  It is wide ranging from Connecticut to Florida, west through the south and midwest to Nebraska.   For those wanting to incorporate this attractive native into their home landscape, this vine is widely available at local nurseries.

Snowberry Clearwing caterpillar

Snowberry Clearwing
(Hemaris diffinis)
Coral honeysuckle is a larval host for the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (shown above) and Spring Azure butterfly (shown below) and is also a nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds.

Spring Azure Butterfly (Celastrina "ladon")


References

Native Plant Society of Texas

Texas Native Plant Database

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Butterflies and moths.org

Note: Nancy Cushion is a member of the Blackland Prairie Chapter, Texas Master Naturalists.