Wild Things of Deep East Texas

. The biological diversity of East Texas, home of the Big Thicket, is unparalleled in North America. Although the virgin Longleaf Pine forests began to be cleared over a hundred years ago, and have been replaced by pine plantations, there are still thousands of acres that are virtually untouched by human hands, where the wild things grow. These are the places that inspire me.

Laura returned to her childhood home in East Texas after spending many years in Beaumont, where she and her husband owned a nursery and landscaping business, and in Austin, where she worked for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. She was happy to get back  to the Pineywoods where her family settled in the 1850s, living off the land. Many of the native species that were abundant in the area as she was growing up have virtually disappeared and the once canopied forests have been transformed into pine plantations logged every decade or so, wiping out natural habitat. For the last several years, Laura has been documenting the flora and fauna of her own backyard, and other wild spots of East Texas, with an eye towards preservation of native species.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

ETSwallowtail
ETSSweetbay
ETSBlackCherry

In June of 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed a resolution designating Jasper, Texas as the Butterfly Capital of Texas. Although the resolution was passed because of the community’s efforts to help conserve the Monarch Butterfly, which passes through Jasper as one of the three major flyways for migration in the Fall, the resolution designated Jasper as the Butterfly Capital — not the Monarch Capital — of Texas. The Monarch is stunning, and important — it’s been designated as the State Insect of Texas. But since we are simply the Butterfly Capital, I think we should capitalize on some of the other gorgeous species that are indigenous to our Deep East Texas county.

By far the most stunning, in my opinion, is the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, scientifically known as Papilio glaucus. Black tiger stripes on its forewings makes the common name easy to remember when you see it gathering nectar Spring through Fall, with a preference for red and pink flowers.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail can be seen throughout Eastern North America, and utilizes a number of host plants. Two of those hosts are very common in Jasper County — Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina). They lay their eggs on the leaves of these host plants, and the caterpillar eats the leaves before that magical transformation into a butterfly. 

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Piney Woods Violets

Violets

One of the flowers I was very familiar with as a child in the 60’s was what we called Piney Woods Violets. My familiarity was not so much because they were by far the largest and prettiest violet in the area, but because they were so common. The woods behind my folks’ homestead in Jasper County were dotted with them all spring, and the handfuls that my sister and I gathered routinely made no noticeable dent in the population. Back then, the pines and oaks were old enough to form a large canopy that shaded out the dense undergrowth. We could wander freely and follow the creek forever without fighting tangles of blackberry, yaupon and wax myrtle.

After graduation from high school, I spent many years in other places of Texas — mostly Beaumont and then Austin. But I found that the city never gives as much as it takes from our lives, so when I had the opportunity to head back home in 1999 and settle in what used to be my grandparents’ pasture, I jumped at the chance. One of the first things I noticed was that you couldn’t walk in the woods anymore without a machete, and the Piney Woods Violets were nowhere to be found. I hacked quite a few paths through the underbrush before I ran across a few little colonies here and there.

One day when I wasn’t looking for violets, but traveling down a route that my great grandmother used to take in her wagon to visit her folks, I stopped at an old country graveyard and a familiar sight greeted my eyes. The entire back half was dotted with the beautiful blossoms underneath several large pines.  I was delighted to find that, given the right habitat, they still flourished.

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Recent Comments
Michael
Great start to your blogging on ETNs. It was very entertaining and brought back old memories of my own. Glad you are on here wit... Read More
Monday, 29 February 2016 12:31
Kristi Mears Thomas
I thoroughly enjoyed your first blog, Laura, and love the photo! Looking forward to learning what's going on in your neck of the ... Read More
Monday, 29 February 2016 14:16
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