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Anita’s Blog – Who Doesn’t Love a BioBlitz?!


The Texas Pollinator BioBlitz, October 7 to 23, 2022, included observations of pollinators and plants that rely on pollination. Individuals throughout the state joined the project, wrapping up with the following counts:

67,574 observations – 7,363 more observations than the previous year

6,073 observers – 336 less observers than 2021

3,399 species – 252 more species than 2021

See more stats and photos at this link: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/2022-texas-pollinator-bioblitz


Last year’s tallies: Texas Pollinator BioBlitz stats (October 1 to 17, 2021)

60,211 observations

6,409 Observers

3,147 species

Happening concurrently, the Native Plant Society of Texas’ Wild Plants of Texas NPSOT Challenge BioBlitz 2022, October 16-22, 2022, recorded plants only. There were 119 more species uploaded to the iNaturalist data base this year despite having less observations and less observers than in 2021.


2022 Wild Plants of Texas NPSOT Challenge BioBlitz 2022, October 16-22, 2022

14,105 observations

2,240 observers observing

1,876 species of wild plants

More stats and photos here: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/wild-plants-of-texas-npsot-challenge-bioblitz-2022


Last year’s tallies: Wild Plants of Texas NPSOT (October 17-23, 2021)

15,059 observations,

2,882 observers

1,757 Species


My wildflower contributions to the NPSOT BioBlitz included 147 observations and 114 species.

For this year’s Texas Pollinator BioBlitz. I provided 455 observations and 235 species. I tried to keep it about equal – pollinators to plants. In the end, I’d observed 129 plants and 106 pollinators – a bit less than my previous year’s pollinator count of 118.


Among all the bugs, butterflies and moths, I had three surprise vines I’d not previously observed near our property. The vegetation between the resaca and the farm field at the back of our property is a bank of truly impregnable growth. Even with a telephoto lens, it’s difficult to distinguish one plant from another or determine the plant being photographed until I get them up on my desk top computer. The three vines were identified in iNaturalist.org as:

Serjania brachycarpa, Littlefruit Slipplejack.

Urvillea ulmacea, Mexican Urvillia or Apaac.

Anredera vesicaria, Texas Madeiravine.


Serjania brachycarpa, Littlefruit Slipplejack. I learned to call it serjania, from my time working as a volunteer in Harlingen’s Hugh Ramsey Nature Park with native plant expert and honorary Texas Master Naturalist Christina Mild. iNaturalist.org likes to call it littlefruit slipplejack, which threw me off when I’d tried to identify it in the field with the phone app. The name serjania honors a seventeenth-century French monk, Philippe Sergeant, who was known for his extensive knowledge of botany and medicine.


Serjania vine. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Western Honey Bee at Serjania flowers. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Often confused as blooms, Serjania vine's three-dimensional seed pods. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Serjania is a host plant to the silvered prominent moth, a moth that can be attracted to black light and moth sheet set up. The moths frequent Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy and Cameron Counties in the Valley. Their range is from Southern Texas to Costa Rica. The larvae also use Urvillea and Turk’s cap and the foliage of assorted trees like hackberry, ash and brasil, according to bugguide.net


Barry Nall, a local high school teacher, butterfly specialist and lecturer has documented life histories of many of the local exotic tropical butterflies on his website; the silvered prominent moth also is documented and is at this link:

http://leps.thenalls.net/content2.php?ref=Species/zNoctuidae/Dargentilinea/life/Dargentilinea_life.htm


Serjania is in the Sapindaceae family, as is Common balloon vine, another host plant to silvered prominent moths, an interesting and productive vine I recently highlighted in a McAllen Monitor column at this link:

https://www.stbctmn.org/post/that-s-what-october-is-made-of


As vines will do, a far-off serjania vine, photographed with a 300 mm lens, seemed to be devouring an invasive Brazilian peppertree. The Big Freeze of 2021 killed off many of the large Brazilian peppertrees around the water’s edge of the resaca. After nearly 20 months, unfortunately, the photograph sheds evidence that a sheltered tree may have survived and revived or that the seeds are still viable. The serjania will probably not smother and kill the invasive tree.


Serjania vine attempting to shroud an invasive Brazilian Peppertree. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)


The second new-vine-in-the-neighborhood also is in the Sapindaceae family. It is Urvillea ulmacea, also called Mexican Urvillea. I was thrilled to find both this and the serjania vines, although information isn’t much forthcoming with my Google research. Serjania and Urvillea are both described in the Dr. Al Richardson and Ken King book, “Plants of Deep South Texas,” page 381.


Little football shaped seed pods dangling from Mexican Urvillea vine. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Jim Conrad, “Backyard Nature” online newsletter author at https://backyardnature.net/mexnat/urvillea.htm, agrees about the lack of information, saying, “It (Urvillea) seems to be one of those quiet little species that seldom draws attention to itself until one day one of its stems falls across the face of a red roadcut, presenting its yellowish fruits as if on a platter awaiting recognition.” My observation of Urvillea was at eyelevel, where a strand was draped like a string of baubles across the branches of a brasil tree.


I called upon Christina Mild, hoping she'd have more insight into these interesting vines. She didn't let me down. In a February 2008, “Sabal,” the Native Plant Project newsletter authored by Christina Mild, she wrote: “The soapberry vines. Family Sapindaceae. From personal experience, I suspect that these cause contact dermatitis, probably induced by saponins on the leaf surface. (Wear long sleeves and gloves.) Cardiospermum spp. Balloon Vines. Serjania spp. Serjania Vines. Urvillea ulmacea. Apaac (vine).”


Serjania and Mexican urvillea are easy to confuse in the field. In a subsequent issue of the Sabal, November 2019, Christina wrote that fall is a good time for identification of the two vines. “Similar leaves make it difficult to distinguish them. When they bear fruits, especially mature ones, it’s easier to know what you’ve found.


“Mexican urvillea fruits are 3-sided (each side bears a seed) and shaped like a football. Serjania seeds have three centrally-fused wings; each bears a seed at the base. Mature seeds take on a reddish coloration and are often mistaken for flowers.


“These and other vines in the Soapberry family are important to wildlife, especially pollinators. Serjania, Mexican urvillea and Common balloon vine are excellent sources of nectar and pollen. In dry times, they are virtually absent in the wild, but reappear after rains.”


The vine, Urvillea ulmacea has hairy leaves with toothed margins that grow in leaflet triplets. The flowers are tiny and white. The fruit turns from green, turning a crisp reddish brown when the seeds are ready.


As an aside, the Sapindaceae Family is the soapberry family. Harlingen’s Hugh Ramsey Nature Park harbors a number of soapberry trees at the edge of Issy’s Garden on the Ebony Loop trail across from the photo blind between Owl Pond and The Laughing Garden. They are tall, thin, long-leaved trees that can grow 32 feet or taller. They have white flowers, fruits with one seed per pod that readily re-seed, creating a minor forest quite quickly.


Anredera vesicaria, Texas Madeiravine is one vine I never thought I’d see in the wild. I tried a couple of years to grow this, having got corms from Harlingen native nurseryman Mike Heep. I’d nursed a spindly one at the fence at our driveway entrance for two years, until it just simply gave up the ghost.


Texas Madeiravine. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

When I spied the above scene, way in the distance, through my 300 mm lens, I really didn’t know what to make of it. It looked like a candelabra, reminiscent of a long-ago white-blooming tree in Florida. iNaturalist hit on Texas Madeiravine. A couple of other nearby areas had similar growth in different stages. Native from the south of Texas to northern South America, it has been cultivated and introduced in many countries because of its intensely fragrant flowers. It is an introduced species in Florida.


Although not listed as invasive in any country, CABI.org, an invasive species compendium, says, “it has a tendency to proliferate and has a high dispersal capacity.” It reproduces vegetatively through underground tubers, flowers from late summer to fall and attracts insects as pollinators.


Interestingly, “It is functionally dioecious, with functionally staminate plants not producing pollen, but producing fruits and pistillate plants producing pollen but not fruits,” according to Flora of North America Editorial Committee, 2019. Fruit production is rare, but when seeds are produced, they are most likely wind dispersed.


It is a perennial vine with twining stems that can travel to 27 feet. It enjoys fencerows, thickets and apparently, climbing over anything in its path.


The racemes of the inflorescence can reach to 28 inches long. The leaves are somewhat heart- or pear-shaped and thin. A big clue in identifying this vine – other than the dramatically unique flowers – is the red stem of the vine.


Texas Madeiravine inflorescence beginning to fade; red vine stem noticeable. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Texas Madeiravine going to seed, woven through a Lote Bush. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

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