But by late spring, it's a lush place full of dappled sunlight and shifting shadows.
Sedge meadows form in bottomland floodplains of fairly sizable creeks. The periodic flooding keeps woody undergrowth to a minimum. This meadow is in the floodplain of Lick Creek. It's moist all year and downright squishy during rainy seasons.
The meadow is criss-crossed by dozens of water channels and small oxbow "lakes." These represent parts of the former paths of Lick Creek and its tributaries. In the dry season, they are mostly empty and paved with fallen leaves.
During the wet season, all of the meanders and oxbows hold water.
A few of the larger oxbows at the bottom of the sedge meadow hold water year round.
This is a good place to find duckweed, watermeal, knotweed, aquatic grasses...and snakes.
Due to the wetland nature of the sedge meadow, we have acquired a new set of canopy plants. The oaks are a bottomland variety of Post Oak. Winged Elm is replaced in lowland areas by this tree, Cedar Elm or Ulmus crassifolia, which prefers wetter conditions.
Cedar elm has very rough, round-tipped leaves in contrast to the smooth, pointed leaves of Winged Elm. This elm flowers and fruits in the fall, making it even easier to tell the two apart.
Most of the carpet here is made up of Cherokee Sedge, Carex cherokeensis. This is about as close to a monostand as you will find in nature. Separate male and female flowers are borne in nodding "spikelets." Most owners of sedge meadow land ruin it in a short time by overgrazing. Sedges don't have the nutritional content of grasses nor do they recover from grazing as well as grasses. This is one of the nicest sedge meadows in the Brazos Valley.
There are a few grasses mixed with the sedges. Inland Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium, has graceful arching panicles of wide, flat spikelets. We also find Canadian Wildrye and Autumn Bluegrass (which blooms in the spring.)
One of the most interesting plants in the sedge meadow is White Crown-beard or Frost- weed (Verbesina virginica.) The plant is not much to look at, and the flowers are sort of a dirty white. If, however, a sudden sharp freeze follows warmer weather, the plant shows how it gets its name. The sap freezes and ruptures the stem. It seeps out and freezes as it does, hardening into thin, fragile, transparent wings of ice that swirl around the plant. There is a lot of Frost-weed here, and when this happens, it looks as if the whole meadow has been swathed in cobweb or angel-hair. This rare sight is well worth a frigid hike.
Another resident of the sedge meadow is a summer-blooming thistle, Cirsium engelmannii, which looks somewhat like the spring blooming Cirsium texanum. Some of the plants are upwards of six feet tall.
There are also some interesting vines here. Trumpet Creeper, Campsis radicans, climbs to great heights in some of the trees.
The stems can grow to rival the trunks they grow on. It's a very aggressive plant that frequently escapes control in home landscape settings.
Here is a small Trumpet Creeper at the start of its career, hanging on with dozens of aerial rootlets.
The flowers are bright orange-red and trumpet shaped. Sadly, most of the blooms are high in the canopy; often all one sees is fallen corollas at the base of some tree.
Hummingbirds just love these flowers.
Something else readily found in the sedge meadow is Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica. The seedlings are easy to spot; the adults are sort of nondescript.
You can leave the sedge meadow in a slightly different direction and come out on the road to the creek. On the sandy roadside can be found Eryngo or Button Snakeroot (Eryngium yuccifolium). This is a member of the carrot family, but as the name implies, its leaves look like yucca leaves.
Chapter 10 - Porcupine Eggs
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