Anita’s Blog -- Upstarts -- Friend or Foe?
As fun as it is to discover new species in the yard, some plants would certainly not be on my bucket list!
I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs what a weird year it’s been, what with the unusually free-blooming plants the first week of February, the Big Freeze the next week and then for us, the Resaca Flood the third week of July.
By the first week of September, the resaca was finally mostly back into its banks -- enough so that I could begin mowing the lawn. However, I didn’t weed eat along the muddy banks so that whatever was going to come back could be counted in the Texas Pollinator BioBlitz during the first 20 days of October and then the Native Plant Society of Texas’ Texas Wildflower BioBlitz the week following.
Bioblitz happenings via www.iNaturalist.org are fun times to check out nearly every square foot of our property and the track adjacent to the neighboring farm field to see what is there. This year, the edge of the bank, where the water had receded at the end of our yard, surprised me with four new plants.
Fragrant flatsedge (Cyperus odoratus) was the most obvious newby, tentatively identified via iNaturalist. As with other surprise plants, it began with just one. We’ve always had a short nut grass, but this resaca-edged upstart looked to be the grand pappy of all nut grasses. My first thought was how sturdy it looked. It was a vibrant green in the sun, but for those of us who grew up in the Midwest, the center mass was highly reminiscent of cockleburs.
Had there been only the one plant, it may have been more welcome. However, when I began cleaning up the yard at the end of October, these sedges had sprouted and matured all along the edge of the resaca. For those who have ever pulled up young Guinea grass after a rain, a relatively easy task, it was shocking to discover how impossible it was to pull up even the younger flatsedges. The plants must develop huge, tenacious roots before they shoot up their tough blades. The plant can grow to two feet tall. Eradication is time consuming. Suggestion: load weed-eater with heavy-duty string and be prepared to really work at whacking these wetland plants into oblivion.
As a matter of curiosity, I looked up the plant at https://texasinvasives.org/plant_database/; it is not listed, although C. entrerianus and C. rotundrus are on the Texas invasive list. My October 4 entry in iNaturalist has not yet been confirmed as C. odoratus, but I’ll keep a close eye on the bank.
On a positive note: C. odoratus seeds are an important food source for some ducks, like the American wigeon and green-winged teal. The sora, Virginia rail and Wilson’s snipe also eat the seeds.
In contrast to the daggerish growth of the sedge, not two feet away, I spied three tiny, soft pink flowers growing close to the ground.
Herb-of-grace (Bacopa monnieri). My first exclamation at spotting this tiny-flowered, succulent-looking surprise plant was, “Oh, how sweet.” I uploaded a photo for the pollinator bioblitz and found it even had a gentle name: herb-of-grace. Two weeks later, for the NPSOT bioblitz, it was far more abundant -- later still, I couldn’t help but call to mind the movie, “Little Shop of Horrors,” as it was so wide-spread -- and it was a creeper!
A long-lived perennial in the Plantaginaceae (plantain) family, it can be aggressive in the right conditions, enjoying a substrate of organic material -- translate that to muck. It likes disturbed sites; it forms extensive mats and is not fussy about soil, whether clay, loam or sand. It is semi-aquatic and even thrives in standing water. Native in warm wetlands on most continents, it’s fast-growing, long-lived and easy to propagate: just stick some cuttings in a glass of water -- right -- think: re-make of that 1960s movie!
There’s a positive note: B. monnieri is a larval host plant and nectar source for white peacock butterflies, and it attracts low-flying butterflies for nectar -- right, so now it’s in my good graces -- in moderation.
False Daisy (Eclipta prostrata), in the Asteraceae (aster or daisy) family, is a species of plant that is also widespread across much of the world, commonly in moist places in warm temperate to tropical areas worldwide.
The plant can grow with prostrate or ascending stems one to three feet tall and root at the stem nodes. Its habitat includes sand dunes, salt marshes, wetlands and mudflats -- we certainly had a mudflat as the water receded. False daisy is a summer-blooming annual; you know what that means: seeds produced yearly at a rate beyond exponential. Hand weeding large plants is difficult due to the extensive root growth and adventitious rooting of stems (as in response to stress conditions, such as flooding).
On a positive note: E. prostrata may be visited by hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies and other insects and small mammals in search of food, nectar or cover.
Erect spiderling (Boerhavia erecta), in the Nyctaginaceae (four-o’clock) family, was the fourth surprise plant; a clue is its purple-ish stem and attractive leaves. It can grow from one to three feet tall.
It has sweet little delicate pinkish-white clusters of flowers on spindly stems that bloom June to October. Habitat includes flats, disturbed soil, stream beds and riparian edges. It is found from Arizona east to North Carolina and south to Florida and south to South America and widely distributed in the tropics worldwide.
It is described as an adventive species, which botanically means it is not native and usually not yet well established, such as an exotic plant. It is not widely regarded as a serious weed or invasive threat; in fact, its physical and pharmacological attributes (in India and Africa) suggest that it is potentially useful. It is often found amongst crops, such as cotton where it is controlled by various chemical herbicides and repeated mechanical cultivation.
A well-developed plant in tropical Africa can form 20,000 to 30, 000 seeds per year.
On a positive note: It’s an attractive plant. In West Africa, it is known to be palatable to rabbits.
My over-arching question with these new-to-the-banks species is, where did they come from? Were the seeds in the marsh all along on unnoticeable and un-assessable plants? Did the flood waters redistribute seeds from elsewhere along the resaca? It’s a mystery.
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Useful Internet sources in writing this article were plantnetproject.org, aquaplant.tamu.edu, txmarshpecies.tamug.edu, duckdiet.com, thespruce.com and Wikipedia.org.