Writer’s Block: Butterflies and Blooms

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

It’s been a rainy summer so far, with last month’s heavy rains followed by intermittent showers here and there across the Rio Grande Valley. And now that the mosquitos are mostly under control, you may have had a chance to notice another consequence of all that water. I know I certainly have.

There have been clouds of a different kind hanging in the air lately. Filled not with rainwater, but with the flapping of thousands upon thousands of fragile wings. Scores of tiny butterflies have descended on the area. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, they’re American snouts — with a few other species mixed in, like various kinds of sulphurs.

It’s fun to watch them make their way along, flying in topsy-turvy, upsy-downsy zigzags more akin to the clumsy flight of bumblebees. It’s a rather whimsical migration.

And while, yes, you can thank the rains for the sudden abundance of the tiny creatures, there’s another factor that played into this year’s high numbers of snout. Apparently, the drought we experienced before the deluge has just as much to do with the bountiful butterflies as the rain did.

As explained by Ben Hutchins in a 2017 issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine, “if big rains follow big droughts, big snout populations may be on their way.” The thinking goes that drought helps kill off parasites that prey on the butterflies, while the subsequent rains lead to a proliferation of all the snouts’ favorite snacks, including hackberry bushes, Hutchins explains. Basically, it’s a butterfly double whammy.

And so here we are, in the midst of a days-long silent symphony of snouts!

Now, I can’t say for certain if snouts enjoy snacking on another beneficiary of the recent rains, mostly because I’m not an expert in snout butterflies. But, I do know that a great many other creatures do. Even people!

I’m talking about cenizo, or purple sage.

Purple sage can be found in the thorn scrub forests and ranchlands throughout South Texas. It’s a drought and heat tolerant native plant that does very well in our unforgiving Valley summers.

Its matte, silver-green leaves look beautiful whether or not the plant can spare the energy to produce flowers. But when it can afford to make flowers, boy are they pretty! They’re a delicate shade of pastel purple — warmer in hue than lavender, but cooler than mauve. With just a hint of fuchsia when the sun hits them just right. And somehow, just as delicate as the muted green of the sage bush itself.

Over the past couple of summers, our local sage bushes have produced small crops of those sweet five-petaled flowers. A nice, if occasional, visual treat. But, as with the butterflies this week, and the yuccas earlier this spring, this year’s crop of purple sage has been nothing short of astounding!

Driving along Highway 100 a few days ago, I happened to look off into the brush on the south side of the road and saw that dozens of purple sage bushes were in full and resplendent bloom —the bushes blushed purple in their entirety, as if they had been dipped in lavender frosting.

My jaw dropped and I whispered a silent “wow” as I drove past them. It was gorgeous.

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