Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

I've been writing this column for a long time, and some weeks I think, "there's nothing to write about." Then I sit down, usually on Fridays, to put my nature observations down in a column format, and three pages later-well, nothing has become something.

So here goes. On Sundays I often accompany a friend who checks bluebird boxes for the Audubon Society. I only help with a small number of boxes she monitors. The one place we check consists primarily of pastures bordered by large live oaks. I noticed bright purple ironweed flowers beginning to bloom in the shade of the oaks. Also in this same habitat I saw redorange trumpet vine flowers and white patches of fleabane. On the lake, large yellow waterlilies bloomed.

Cattle leave behind evidence of their grazing on these pastures. On one juicy cow flop, several butterflies sipped or puddled at the cow's leavings. Apparently the butterflies found something attractive in the flop that I carefully avoided. We had to walk in and out of a gate near the puddling butterflies. Each time we passed by, the yellow tiger swallowtail, the smaller dusky brown and even smaller gray and white butterflies flew away, but they always came back. As far as they were concerned, this was good stuff.

Since the wood next door has become overrun with bugs-spiders, mosquitoes, flies-I decided to do the smart thing and walk along the edge of the trees. Because the wood is bordered on two sides by a paved and then a limerock road, it's possible to do just that. I didn't expect to see much. I didn't consider the difference more sunlight can make in the growing of wildflowers. I saw a lot of the usual stuff like gaura, piriqueta, fleabane, green-eyed daisy, false dandelion, capeweed, verbena and camphorweed. Camphorweed, that many-leaved wildflower, is beginning to show small yellow blooms. I haven't mentioned capeweed often. It's a low-growing very abundant plant with a tiny flower. It grows so low that it often escapes mowing.

I also saw white morning glories and violet ones. A type of bright yellow, brown-centered coreopsis called tickseed grew along one stretch of road shoulder and into a low grassy area. This colorful wildflower spreads like the phlox flowers that bloomed earlier. Sometimes both plants are used for natural looking wildflower displays. On a recent bike ride, I saw a meadow dotted with tickseed. I thought as I looked at the yellow tickseed that in other more northern places the yellow flowers would be buttercups.

I saw a number of the usual wildflowers, but a few others were more interesting. I didn't expect to see so many longleaf milkweeds along the wood and road edge. This plant, according to a wildflower guide, grows in all parts of Florida, and is also found in Texas and Virginia. The book calls longleaf milkweed "widespread but rare to frequent on moist pinelands and prairies..." That covers a lot of possibilities. Unlike the showy orange butterfly weed, which I also saw along the road, longleaf milkweed grows on spindly stems topped with unremarkable clusters of white to pinkish flowers and has narrow and often sparse leaves. Doesn't sound that exciting. The frequency of the plants in this place made it interesting.

I also studied a single flower that seems to match the guidebook picture of a large-flower polygala. This plant also grows throughout Florida, but the book does not mention rareness or frequency. I've seen this wildflower before, but not often and I only saw one on my walk. The flower is small (despite the name) and the stem and leaves are easy to overlook. That may be why I have not noticed it more often.

Well here I am, running out of space and I still haven't mentioned the black snake on my porch, the doe and fawn at Rainbow Springs or the new clutch of wren babies.

Until next time, good observing.