Another clueless, airhead model

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Waiting and waiting....

I was not too keen on a fire assignment in East Texas because I would be a dozer swamper. Nothing glamorous about it; walk alongside a bulldozer as it plows a line around a wildfire to prevent it from spreading. Ideally, I would prefer the tortuous firefighting of the mountain west, even west Texas but a job is a job. Because of recent rains the fire prospects are low but give it time because temperatures are hot and getting hotter. Today was a heat index of 105 degrees. I am working out of Kirbyville, TX at a Texas Forest Service office. Nestled among long leaf pines (Pinus palustris), the understory is maintained by prescribe burning as is evident by burnt and stunted yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) as well as oaks (Quercus viginiana, Q. nigra, Q. falcata) and sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). As a result the ground layer is dominated by royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis )or a mix of forbs and grasses; the dominants of which are sharp blazing star (Liatris acidota) and big bluestem (Andropogon geradii).

Where the ground is not maintained the habitat returns to its pre-disturbance floral climax on the forested perimeters. I see a zebra swallowtail alighting on a blazingstar for nectar and attempt to move in further for a better photo op. It is a skittish beauty; moving away from my advances until I stop to wait for it to circle back to me. It gets no closer than ten feet. The black swallowtail is more accommodating.

Moving further down slope I encounter a wetland nearly void of water. Here the floral community changes to represent freshwater emergent and submergents. Some of which are familiar to those back home – spike rushes (Eleocharis spp.), centella (centella erecta), and my favorites, umbrella sedge (fuirena spp.), meadow beauty (Rhexia virginica), blue waterleaf (Hydrolea ovata) and water willow (Justicia lanceolata). I notice a significant present of Japanese climbing fern (Lygodium japonicum) on the ground. It has the capacity to creep up trees and when dry can act as a "ladder fuel" to draw fire up in the canopy. Moving along I encounter the water and seeing as how it is still present in this drought the flora changes also to reflect plants that can withstand permanent inundation. Here I notice the yellow surface flowers of bladderwort (Utricularia gibba) and pick it up to reveal the tiny submerged "trap door" nodules which capture microscopic invertebrates. I was hoping to see other carnivorous plants such as pitcher plants and butterworts but the soils here are not acidic enough. Water tolerant tupelo (Nyssa spp.) towered over mid-story buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and titi (Cyrilla racemiflora). I may not have sighted the other carnivores but almost as special at my feet was a plant I’ve only seen after it senescence – yellow eye-grass. More than likely Xyris louisianica. My photo did not do it justice as only a few flowers were emerging. Xyris is the only genera of the family Xyridaceae represented in North America.