A Walk in Fern Bluff Park
February 18, 2001

Note: An earlier Walk in the Park may be accessed by clicking on the archive date below:

Archives of previous walks in the park: 12 May 2007 05 May 2007; 28 April 2007, 21 April 2007, 14 April 2007,  1 April 2007 Easter Egg Hunt; 24 March 2007,  17 March 2007; Nov. 03, 2001; April 04, 2001; March 25, 15, 10-11, 04, 2001; February 2418, 10, 2001

Here's the latest report concerning the new soccer field at Fern Bluff Elementary. More clearing has taken place, but there is still much to be done. The photo on the right shows the huge pile of trees and limbs that attests to the hard work of many, many people. Kids, when you find yourselves playing soccer on the new field this work will make possible, think once in a while about the sacrifices made in your honor. For all those who are committing that sacrifice, we thank you, sincerely.

On the way from the new soccer field to the park the first thing to catch the eye was this little flower by the side of the path. Mark Badgley mentioned this plant just last week. It is one of his favorites, although many people consider it a weed (and a noxious one at that). It is known as Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule, of the Mint Family (Lamiaceae). Its species, amplexicaule, comes from two Latin words: amplex(us), which means "to embrace", and caulis, "stem". If you look closely at the photo, you will notice that the leaf below the cluster of flowers nearly encircles the stem of the plant.

Henbit blooms can be found practically throughout the year. It is an annual or biennial, often sporting no flowers in the first year, then a profusion of tiny blooms in the second.

Henbit is too small to attract much attention, but the most visible flower present in Fern Bluff Park today was Anemone heterophylla, whose common name makes a long list: Basket Anemone, Windflower, Southern Anemone, Granny's nightcap, to name a few. Remember the Narrowleaf Bluet we looked at last week, and the many scientific names that had been assigned to the same species? Something like that has happened to this flower, too. And probably for the same reason. It, like the Narrowleaf Bluet, is highly variable- but in a different way. This one displays different colors. In one field, with plants almost certainly derived from seeds produced by

 Even on the same plant, the leaves at the base may differ considerably, as on this plant, which has one set (on the left) deeply toothed, and another (on the right) with only shallow cuts in the edges of the leaf blade. Several other species of Anemone are often found in Texas. One of the most common, the Two-Flower Anemone (A. edwardsiana), is found in this same area. It can be quickly distinguished from A. heterophylla by looking at the stem just below the flower head. A. heterophylla has a smooth stem, but A. edwardsiana is densly hairy in this region. As the photo on the right shows, the stems of the flower we are seeing in the park today have no hairs below the flower to speak of. Another point of difference has to do with the mid-stem leaves. These are technically involucral bracts, because they subtend a flower or a set of flowers.

One Robin was seen in the field next to Fern Bluff Elementary this afternoon. Later some geese flew by high overhead. But their honking was so loud and clear it made me look up to find them. At about that same moment, a small number of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) flew into the tree overhead. This bird does not nest around here, but stops to rest and eat on its way north or south while migrating.  This telephoto image was taken quickly, before they could fly away. It is probably a male, as the female is somewhat smaller. A bright yellow band on the tail feathers is distinctive. The waxy red markings on its secondary wing feathers are not visible, but they give it its common name. 

None of the Narrowleaf Bluets (Hedyotis nigricans) could be seen in the spot where they were so abundant on Feb. 10th. Deeper into the park, in one of the smaller meadows, was found a small bunch of Small Bluets (Hedyotis crassifolia). They are so small that most overlook them. That would have been my lot as well, except a small piece of discarded paper caught my eye and, while bent down to pick it up, this Bluet came into view. It differs from its Narrowleaf cousins in several respects, one of which is the shape of its leaves. The lowermost leaves are oblanceolate (i.e., inversely lanceolate, so that it is narrower at the base and remaining so for some distance, then rapidly broadening for a space before narrowing again toward the tip) to spatulate (shaped like a spatula, wide and rounded at the apex, but narrow at the base). The leaves nearest to the flower heads become smaller, and are elliptical or oval in shape. This plant is an annual, while its Narrowleaf cousin is said to be a perennial.


Our trip through the park has taken us almost full circle. A few feet from the point where the path through the park joins the jogging path that circles the playing fields, this tiny flower was found, nestled in a clump of vegetation off to the side. It had a single stem about 4 inches long, crowned with a dense cluster of miniscule white flowers. The leaves were mostly at the base of the stem, and were partially oval, partially wedge-shaped (obovate-cuneate) with a few coarse teeth on each margin. The leaves were small, and not conspicuous, but once found, they made the identity of this plant pretty clear. It is known as Whitlow Grass (in this area, Draba cuneifolia), of the Cruciferae (or Mustard) Family.


This concludes our walk through the park for February 18, 2001. Our next walk is scheduled for 1:00PM on Saturday afternoon, the 25th of February.. You are welcome to come along. If you have found a plant or insect that is particularly interesting in the park, be sure to let me know.

The stumps of trees whose limbs have been removed still stand in the field on the left. With tons of limestone rocks that will likely be cursed by those who move them for the tables that will take their place. W. H. Auden wrote "In Praise of Limestone", a poem on caves in the geological, then in a deeper, philosophical, sense. There are caves near here, too. Not surprising. This is limestone country and, as Auden says, limestone dissolves in water...It looks as though the work has only just begun. But it will all be worth it.

The flowers are 1/2 to 5/8ths inches long, purple and pale lavender with darker markings. They are hairy (as seen in the photo at left) with two lips. The upper lip is prominent, cupped and upright. It overhangs the lower lip, which has three lobes that actually look like four. Notice, in the photo, the flower in the lowest part of the image: Just under the cup of the upper lip are two lobes on each side, with a third lobe between them. The center lobe is deeply notched in its center, and creased along the axis of the notch. It looks like a tiny butterfly. There are usually 6-10 flowers in whorled clusters around the stem. The leaves are typical of the Mint Family, with conspicuous veins. Like many plants, the leaves differ depending on where they are on the plant. Those near the base are on long stalks, while the leaves nearest the flower clusters clasp the stem. Henbit is a native of Europe, but has become established throughout N. America. (About the fly below)

the same parent, flowers of markedly different colors may spring forth. Because each plant produces only one flower at a time, a casual observer may conclude that each represents a different species. The bluish pink flower on the left is the same species as the white flower above. Note the upwardly curved sepals (flowers of A. heterophylla do not have petals; the colored parts of this flower are the sepals that cover the petals, stamens and pistil of the typical flower). Note one other interesting thing: like the Henbit, the leaves nearest the flower are unlike those near the base. This photo shows a set of three narrow, fingerlike leaves about mid-stem, and another set of leaves with each blade divided into three leaflets at the base.

In A. heterophylla, only one flower is subtended from these bracts, but A. edwardsiana subtends more than one, by way of one or more side scapes that grow out of the axils of the involucral bracts. Each of the three axils could produce a side scape. Generally, however, only one side scape, and thus only two flowers, are ever produced on a given plant, which explains this flower's common name.

The species name, heterophylla, is derived from two Greek words: heteros, meaning "different", and phyllous, meaning "having leaves". The word heterophyllous is used by botanists to refer to all plants that have different kinds of leaves on the same plant.

Throughout the park, mostly in open meadows, can be found these and similar plants (photo at left). They are members of the Wood Sorrel Family (Oxalidaceae), and are either Violet (Oxalis violaceae), or Yellow Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis dillenii). We won't know for sure until flowers appear in March-October. The leaves and stems contain high concentrations of oxalic acid, making them taste agreeably tart. Consequently, this plant is often used as a salad herb. Most authorities caution against eating too much of it, as oxalic acid is toxic in high doses.

The old, discarded piece of rubber on the left is actually a fungus, a member of the Cup Fungi Family (Pezizaceae). This Family contains 19 known genera, and 145 known species, many of which have the general visual appearance of the specimen shown here. It was found just off the trail, under a tree, on what appeared to be bare soil. That was a clue to its identity, suggesting it to be the Boring Brown Cup Fungus (Peziza sylvestris). A close relative grows on dung (P. vesiculosa); another prefers rotted wood (P. repanda). 

The white flowers have true petals, protected in the bud by sepals, as shown in the green buds clustered in the center of the image at left, and later seen underneath each opened flower. The flower appears to be of the classic form (which is not as common as one might think, since many flowers do not have all the "typical" parts, and are often not arranged in the "typical" form), with (four) individual petals surrounding a central ovary which is, itself, surrounded by (five) stamens. Whitlow Grass has been considered an important medicinal herb in the past, and is said to aid in the development of strong nails (its medicinal name is Nail Wort) among other things. Because it blooms for such a short period, and much of its native habitat is being destroyed by the ravages of civilization, this plant is becoming relatively rare. In Illinois, for example, it has been placed on the list of endangered species.  


Archives of previous walks in the park: 12 May 2007 05 May 2007; 28 April 2007, 21 April 2007, 14 April 2007,  1 April 2007 Easter Egg Hunt; 24 March 2007,  17 March 2007; Nov. 03, 2001; April 04, 2001; March 25, 15, 10-11, 04, 2001; February 2418, 10, 2001