CHAPTER VI - Mesic Woods

Eventually, the path begins to dip downward. Here the water table is a little higher and we begin to see trees that enjoy having a more constant supply of water. One such is the Blackjack Oak, Quercus marilandica.

The leaves of Blackjack Oak are large, narrow at the base, and with three shallow lobes at the tip. Like Post Oaks, Blackjacks tend to have irregular canopies and crooked branches, but they never grow as large as Post Oaks.

Another tree that likes moist conditions is the Honey Locust, Gleditsia triacanthos. Large, branched thorns grow from the trunk and branches, making it something of a hazard in the home landscape. The fruits are flat, black, and banana- shaped. The pulp around the seeds is sweet, so that the fruits are quickly torn apart and eaten by animals after they fall.

Lick Creek Park is home to many woodland wildflowers. This is Lyre-leaf Sage, a member of the mint family (Salvia lyrata). It is quite common in our area and in some years puts on quite a show. It is not a fussy plant, equally at home in the woods as in a vacant lot or someone's front yard.

Daisy Fleabane, (Erigeron sp.) has daisy-like heads with many narrow white rays. The local species are very difficult to tell apart. Some people call these Marguerites.

White Penstemon (Penstemon laxiflorus or australis, depending on whom you ask...) is an unexpected treat in late spring. A modified fifth stamen makes a bearded yellow "tongue" poking out of the flower, hence its other common name-- Beardtongue.

Because this is Texas and the woods are drier than those "back east," we have some plants that some people would never associate with the forest. Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia lindheimeri?, is one of these. All it asks for is well-drained, sandy soil and an opening in the canopy to provide sunlight.

The flowers of Prickly Pear are often a rich, bright yellow, though some can be maroon or wine-colored. This is probably O. lindheimeri.

In sharp contrast to cacti, Lick Creek Park is also home to some plants more typical of boggy areas. In moss cushions along the path are Sundews, Drosera annua. Using droplets of sticky fluid, these little plants (each about as broad as a dime or penny) trap insects and digest them. This supplements their nitrogen intake. One of the drainages in the park is called Sundew Creek.

The park is also home to several species of orchid. Spiranthes parksii, the Navasota Ladies' Tresses, is found in only a few counties in Texas and is on the endangered species list. Part of the reason the park was established was to set aside habitat for this plant. October and November are the only months you'll see them in flower.

This is Spiranthes cernua, a close relative of the Navasota Ladies' Tresses. It is a fall bloomer too, and can be found in the same type of habitat--Post Oak Woods along natural drainages and woodland paths. Both are fairly inconspicuous even in flowering time--a single stalk to about 1 foot high with white to cream or slightly greenish flowers.

Telling the two apart requires practice and careful field observation because you may also encounter forms that appear somewhat intermediate like this example of Spiranthes cernua.

Ladies' Tresses flowers appear without leaves. The leaves come up in the spring to make food for the plant. They wither and disappear long before fall. It is common for many temperate orchids to produce leaves and flowers at different times.

There are spring-and summer-flowering species of Spiranthes too. This is Spiranthes vernalis, which puts in an appearance in the spring. No confusing this one with the S. parksii!

Occasionally we spot other orchids in the park. Grass Pink, Calopogon oklahomensis, is rare along Sundew Creek. Until recently, this plant was thought to be C. tuberosus, but it is in fact a separate species.

At this point in the trip, we have begun crossing small drainages, moving slightly downhill all the time. Water Oak (Quercus nigra) begins to be part of the canopy. These are large trees with a more rounded, regular canopy and straighter branches than the Post or Blackjack Oak. The trunks often have horizontal bands of white lichen. These stripes make the tree recognizable even in the leafless state.

Water oak leaves are usually somewhat spatulate: narrow at the base, broader at the tip, and smaller than Post Oak or Blackjack leaves. Leaves of young plants or of water sprouts, however, may have all sorts of different shapes, many with teeth or lobes. New leaves in spring are a bright, "poisonous" acid green.

Chapter 7 - Epiphytes and Vines

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