Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Early spring wildflowers part 1: Marion Sansom

Yucca and mexican buckeye on a limestone slope
Fredericksburg Division limestone
exposed, north end below dam
Most of Texas is afflicted with spring fever lately, its sweetness tempered by urgency because we know it cannot last. Any moment inside feels like a prison sentence. It is with this sentiment that I set about exploring Marion Sansom Park last weekend.

Marion Sansom Park is owned by the city of Fort Worth but has been adopted by the Fort Worth Mountain Bikers Association (FWMBA). These cyclists build and maintain the trails and signage. They are an enthusiastic presence on the trail, but I tend to move at a much slower pace. Especially when there's so much new stuff to see. The park itself borders the Lake Worth Dam, interesting because it looms near a limestone exposure in the Fredericksburg Division [1].

Lake Worth Dam, north side.
honey bee, mexican buckeye
The park is situated near the juncture of the western cross timbers and the grand prairie. This site, underlain by shallow limestone on a south-facing hillside, has a somewhat peculiar flora.
honey bee, redbud

I was most surprised to see mexican buckeye in abundance, which I had thought to be a more southern species. Mexican buckeye has pretty pink flowers and unique, pendulous tri-lobed fruits. The seeds, once released from their capsules, resemble rich brown marbles. I also saw blooming new jersey tea, redbud, plum, ten-petal anemone, prairie verbena, prairie parsley,  fringed puccoon, and coral honeysuckle.  The coral honeysuckle has emerged just in time for our returning hummingbirds, and it is one of their preferred nectar flowers.

A few coral honeysuckle flowers are already open
Mexican buckeye fruits
More butterflies are out too. Checkerspots, southern dogfaces, and swallowtails are now fanning about in addition to the familiar sulphurs and commas. I am almost certain I caught a glimpse of an early monarch gliding over my back garden.

The vertebrates were also out enjoying the weather. A coy green snake stuck his head out of a hollow tree to watch me walk down the trail, but retreated when I turned to take his picture. I had to wonder: how did he raise and lower himself so easily within his tree trunk? Is he braced against the walls, or does he have an interior shelf on which to rest?

It already felt warm on this southern exposure in the sunshine, and I was glad to wander the slopes of Marion Sansom in early spring. Last year we came close to 100 F by late April, and we are already projected to break into the 90s this week. Spring in Texas, like much of the rest of the world, is fleeting. I intend to get out in it as much as I can.

Cute green snake, peeping out of his front door.

1. http://northtexasfossils.com/geologytarrant24-39.htm


  1. You were wondering about the range of the buckeye, I've wondered why they and some other trees, the Texas walnut and a hickory, grow here also, but the Texas madrone does not, or at least I've never seen one. Mother nature is a curious lady.

    Thanks for the geology reference, I retired here from DC 2 years ago and walk along the Trinity a lot and have found some fossils that I might be able to id now.


    1. Glad to help! I found what looks like an ammonite fossil while out taking the pictures for this post. I didn't include a picture of it because I was writing about the flowers, but maybe I'll include it in a later essay.

      By the way- I have a geologist's rock hammer that I keep in the trunk of my car. You never know when you'll spy an interesting road cut!

    2. Hi AWS, If you are looking for a photogenic fossil, the ones I was referring to are sea urchin fossils about as big as a large grape. I found two mixed in with a bunch of bivalves. They are on the Trinity east of Bryant Irving Rd. Google map 32.706482, -97.401818 to see the spot. I'd be happy to look with you if you want to team up at the Oakmont creek bridge on Bellaire S just west of Hulen someday. Gary McBryde

    3. I've been meaning to get together with some folks for a little naturalist walk. Maybe we can plan a group excursion in a few weeks...

      Are you on facebook?

    4. No, was not smart enough to figure it out, most humbling.