Marie's Meanderings
A record of the natural beauty in our neighborhood as recorded by
resident J. Marie Bassett on her daily walks.

2004
03.14
05.23
09.04
 
 
 

14 March 2004

"Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the birdies is..."

No need to wonder any longer if you spend anytime outside on these balmy March days - it has "come in like a lamb." Will it go out like the proverbial lion?

I have noticed, while on my daily perambulation, the grackles are back. Hopefully, these pesky squawkers are temporary, as in the past couple of years. I think they are attracted by the oak leaf roller and related caterpillars that have invaded our area in the last couple of years, defoliating the trees and descending all around on their silken threads! Lets hope the grackles make a dent in their population this year. To learn more about the oak leaf roller, go to
http://insects.tamu.edu/extension/bulletins/us/uc-021.html

Still on the subject of birds, I spotted a road runner on Agarita a few days ago.

Spring blossoms are popping out everywhere - the windflowers (anemones) hidden in the grass, were the first. The purple mountain laurels, with their sweet perfume, reminiscent of grape-flavored KOOLAID, are particularly beautiful this year.

Delicate agarita flowers are spreading their perfume. These will later produce tiny berries that make delicious jelly. Sweet smells are also emanating from the Mexican plum trees at the mail station area. Beside them the red-bud trees have added their distinctive deep pink blossoms.

In the last few days, the cedar elms have acquired that freshly washed look with their new green leaves. The oaks are festooned with catkins which are the male flowers. They are responsible for the yellow coating of pollen on decks, patios, and cars.

This is a wonderful time of year to be out and about. Keep your eyes open, there is so much to see. Unfortunately, the number of wildflower species is decreasing as the deer population increases.

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23 May 2004

This has been an amazing year for wildflowers, thanks to the abundant rainfall. Unfortunately for the bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), the rain did not fall when they needed it most. They lasted longer than usual - I saw a lone one in my yard this morning.

Bluebonnets may have been in short supply, but glorious swathes of prairie verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida) and the silky pink inflorescence of the purple three-awn grasses have made up for them. We are now seeing stands of Mexican hats (Ratibida columnaris), as well as an abundance of “DYCs” (damn yellow composites), so named because the composite or sunflower family consists of so many species it is hard to identify them all – goldenwave (Coreopsis), greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium ), brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), to name a few. Indian Blankets (Galliardia pulchella) are not much in evidence at the moment, but I did come across a Pincushion daisy (Fragrant galliardia) (Galliardia suavis) while walking today.

Here are some of the other wildflowers I spotted on my walk this morning –

Green-flowered milkweed (Asclepias asperula) whose unusual seedpods give its common name of Antelope Horns. A favorite of the Monarch butterfly caterpillars, its sap gives them the bitter taste that makes them so unpalatable to birds.
White milkwort (Polygala alba)
Barbara buttons (Marshallia caesitosa)
Texas Bindweed (Convolvulus equitans)
White prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora) – exudes an irritating yellow sap.
Prairie Larkspur (Delphinium carolinanum)
Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) – semi- parasitic, attaches its roots to another plant to survive.
Frogfruit (Phyla incisa)
Slender-stem bitterweed (Hymenoxys scaposa)
Texas dandelion (Pyrrhopappus multicaulis)
Texas thistle (Circium texanum)
Bluets (Baby’s Breath) (Hedyotis nigricans)
Vervain (Verbena halei)
Skeleton plant (Lygodesmia texana)
Twist-leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) – deer love the flowers and tender stalk.
Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) – Texas’s state plant
Mountain pink (Centaurium beyrichii)
Prairie Sandburr (Ratany) (Krameria lanceolata)
Pink Sensitive Briar (Schrankia) – the leaves close when touched.
Silver-leaf nightshade Solanum elaeagnifolium
Texas lantana (Lantana horrida)
Dewberry (Rubus trivialis) – the berries make delicious jelly and pies.
Scarlet pea (Indigofero miniata)
Queen’s Delight (Stillingia texana)
Yellow flax (Linum rigidum)
Rabbit tobacco (Evax prolifera)

For anyone who is interested in identifying all the marvelous and abundant wildflowers in our neighborhood, I would recommend the following books –

Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi (who used to live in Dripping Springs) – this is a good beginner book as it is arranged in sections by the color of the flowers, has large photographs, and interesting information about each species.

Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country by Marshall Enquist

Texas Wildflowers by Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller

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September 2004

This has been an unusually mild and wet summer which has helped the oaks stripped by the oak-leaf-roller caterpillars return to normal. When I was in Scotland in June, there was a similar caterpillar munching its way through the hawthorn bushes. Instead of the normal parched landscape of the summer months, everything is pleasantly green, with a good showing of wildflowers. We do not have the brilliance of the spring, but there is a lot to see out there. Here is a sampling of what I saw last week:
Antelope-Horns (Ascelpias asperula) This green-flowered milkweed, with the horn-shaped seed pods which give the plant its name, plays host to the monarch butterfly caterpillars, giving them the bitter taste that is their defense against predators. The light fluffy seeds were used as a substitute for kapok during World War II in flotation devices.
Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) – this tall plant with its clusters of small white flowers is also used by the monarch butterflies as a nectar source on their way south to their winter quarters high in the mountains of Mexico. Its name derives from the plant’s spectacular reaction to the first frost. The stems split allowing the sap to ooze forth in frothy icicles.
Snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata) This plant, a close relative of the poinsettia, exudes a milky juice which can cause skin irritation.
White Prickly Poppy (Argemone albiflora) With its flower resembling an over-easy fried egg, this is another plant that is somewhat toxic, with its yellow juice. It is so prickly that even in severe droughts cattle will not touch it.
Lindheimer Senna (Cassia lindheimeriana) This is a pretty plant, with its yellow flowers and velvety soft leaves. Tea from its leaves has been used for a strong laxative.
Skeleton plant (Lygodesmia texana) Also known as purple daffodil, the plant gets its name from its bare stem.
Low ruellia (Ruellia humulis) Often referred to as wild petunia.
Texas Lantana (Lantana horrida) They say deer don’t like it, but they obviously haven’t met our deer!
White Heliotrope (Heliotropium tellum) Has tiny white flowers
Frog-Fruit (Phyla incisa) Low-growing along the roadside, with small white flowers, this plant is the main food source of the tiny phaon crescent butterfly.
Western Horse-Nettle (Solanum dimidiatum) This purple-flowered plant is in the nightshade family.
Silver-Leaf Nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) Very similar to the horse nettle, but with narrower silvery leaves.
Buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum) Yet another of the nightshade family, but with yellow flowers. The spiny fruits or burs would mat the hair of the buffalo when they wallowed in areas where they grew.
   
A couple of weeks ago, you may have read the article in The Austin-American Statesman Food Page on cactus pads. Nopalitos are indeed delicious – and freeze beautifully. The article made it seem deceptively easy to remove the spines. It failed to mention the hazards of the glochids, the tiny hair-like barbed spines that lurk at the base of the long ones. They can insinuate themselves through fabric and lodge painfully in one’s flesh. An good way to remove them is to spread Elmer’s Glue over them, allow to harden then peel off, or press duct tape over them. So, great care must be taken when preparing the cactus pads.
I learnt the hard way when I first attempted to harvest them. I ruined a pair of my husband’s good leather gardening gloves. Now I twist them off with metal tongs. Holding the pads with the tongs under water, it is quite easy to scrape all glochids off. Wipe the sink well with a paper towel to make sure none are left behind. I find freezing nopalitos gives an extra opportunity to inspect the pads for any glochids that may have been missed. They are excellent, raw or cooked, in salads, omelettes, etc.

Right now, the cacti are covered in bright red fruit, known as tunas.They can be boiled with sugar to make a syrup. Again, these are covered in glochids, so beware!

Another seasonal fruit that makes a tastier syrup is the persimmon. These small black fruits are great favorites of birds, deer, and foxes.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will be holding its Fall Plant Sale on October 9th and 10th. This is a great opportunity to buy native plants suited to this area, at great prices.
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