Part 2 of 4 — A Texas wildflower adventure — Giant Crested Coralroot orchid — 2018-07-13 and 2018-07-14

The first full day of our trip took us across the big state of Texas from Dallas to Ft. Davis, gateway to the Davis Mountains. Did I mention that Texas is BIG? Well, it seemed like we were driving forever. If it hadn’t been for stopping at a couple of Matt’s favorite wildflower spots, it would have been a heavy haul. In Part 1, I said that I hoped to add a number of Milkweed species to my life list. In Part 3, I’ll discuss the Milkweeds we saw — all of which were ones I had never seen. Yes, it was turning out to be a very good trip.

We spent the night in Abilene, Texas, which is just about halfway between Dallas and Ft. Davis where we had arranged to stay at something like an Airbnb — an apartment building that had been converted to rental units. We arrived in Ft. Davis after lunch, unpacked the rental vehicle and formed a two-car caravan with Matt and Caro. It is monsoon season, so huge thunderstorms were surrounding us. It was inevitable that we would be getting wet. Matt and Caro knew a retired biology professor whose property borders the Nature Conservancy’s 33,000 acre (~13,500 hectare) Davis Mountain Preserve. The professor’s name is Gary Freeman, and he owns around 500 acres (~200 hectares) in a private community. One special item that is found on his property is the bubble-gum pink, Hexalectris grandiflora or Giant Crested Coralroot orchid. Odd thing about this orchid is that it is neither “giant” nor is it “crested”, so how it got its name is beyond my reasoning.

So, we headed west from Ft. Davis to Gary’s property. On the way, Matt spots a pair of Antilocapra americana or Pronghorn Antelopes near the road. We stopped and figured which camera gear was needed. While Matt and Walter busied themselves trying to get some wildlife shots (here is Walter’s shot),

Walter's shot of Antelope

Caro and I walked the roadside where we found two Asclepias or Milkweed species that were new to me. Lucky we stopped at that very spot! More about the Milkweeds in Part 3. We soon resumed our trek to Gary’s place, and about 30 minutes later, we turned off onto his “driveway”. His driveway is a dirt road that has to be about 10 miles long, leading to the secluded community.

A few minutes after entering the driveway, we rounded a curve and saw that Matt had slammed on the brakes. Well, that is usually a good sign. What happened is that Caro had seen an orchid in bloom between two large boulders. I would soon find out that the orchids prefer to grow very close to large boulders, and getting close enough to them for photography is sometimes quite the physical challenge. Here is a shot of the orchid flowers:

Giant Crested Coralroot orchid Giant Crested Coralroot orchid

While I was doing my best to photograph this one, my first for this species, Walter was busy laughing and taking pictures of me contorting my body to get my head behind the camera’s viewfinder:

Me doing my best to get the shot...

We finally made it to the mountain house where Gary was on the porch waiting for us. Such a neat and funny guy I’ve not met in a long while. We spent some time getting acquainted with him and his wife, Claire. After discussing the target species, Hexalectris grandiflora, we left the house and found a foot-trail that led off into the rocky, wooded grassland. This habitat is a perfect habitat for the orchid species we were looking for. He had just seen some of them popping up across the dry creek bed, and he thought that chances were very good for us to find some in bloom.

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Part 1 of 4 — A Texas wildflower adventure – Texas Purple Spike orchid — 2018-07-11 and 2018-07-12

A few months ago, I viewed some images on Flickr which is an online photostream repository. These images included a couple of orchid species that I have wanted to see and photograph for quite a while. The photographer is someone whom I have followed for quite a while. His name is Matt Buckingham, and he lives in Lufkin, Texas. He doesn’t photograph just wildflowers, he also loves to photograph birds, insects, snakes, and anything else provided by nature.

Not too long ago, I asked him if he would guide me on a trip to photograph some of the wildflowers he has seen in Texas. Much to my surprise, he agreed to do so! My target orchid species were two Hexalectris species: Hexalectris warnockii or Texas Purple Spike orchid aka Texas Crested Coralroot orchid, and Hexalectris grandiflora or Giant Crested Coralroot orchid. In addition, Texas has about 25 different Asclepias species or Milkweeds, and those are also high on any list of target species I could come up with. So Walter Ezell and I made arrangements to pay a visit to Texas on July 11 through July 16, hoping we could find at least one of the target orchid species in flower as well as a few Milkweeds.

Matt and a Flickr friend and master naturalist from Tyler, Texas, Sonnia Hill, had told me that a good place to start looking for H. warnockii is Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve just south of Dallas, Texas. Sonnia and her husband, Bob were spending a few days in Dallas, but she couldn’t make it to the Preserve with us. But, they did ask us out for a delicious meal in Dallas’ Galleria shopping center. I’ve known Sonnia on Flickr for a few years and had never met her, so this “face to face” was especially nice.

The Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve, managed by Audubon Dallas, is quite disjunct for the Texas Purple Spike orchid, but it is fairly reliable this time of year. H. warnockii was originally found at the Preserve in 1986 but nothing much was done with the information. Then, in 2003, a botanical inventory was done and around 40 H. warnockii plants were found. This orchid species was better known from much farther west, particularly in the Big Bend and Davis Mountains area of western Texas and in the Chiricahua Mountains of extreme southeastern Arizona. So our plan was to fly into Dallas, look for the orchids, then drive into west Texas to look for other species in the Davis Mountains. Matt and his wife, Carolina (Caro) Paez would be our guides. Matt and Caro would have a several-hour drive to meet us, so we agreed to meet at the Preserve on Thursday morning, look around, then head west.

Walter and I flew into Dallas early on Wednesday but could not check into our rented Airbnb accommodations until 3:00 pm, so we decided to drive directly to the Preserve and see if we could locate the orchids on our own. Turns out, the local chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists monitors this orchid species in the Preserve during June and July. Fortunately for us, they mark the location of every plant they find by orange survey tape, so it was quite easy for us to locate a few good subjects to photograph. Here is an example of this gorgeous orchid species:

Texas Purple Spike orchid Texas Purple Spike orchid

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