Sunday, May 7, 2017

Madrone Canyon Hike on May 6, 2017

It was comfortably cool, bright, and dry for our hike on May 6. Lots of plants are blooming now: Engelmann’s Sage (Salvia engelmannii ), Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia caespitosa ), Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), and Devil’s Shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana), and  Green Lily (Schoenocaulon texanum).  The Missouri Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) on the east side of the Canyon is putting on seed pods that look like star fruit.

Devil's shoestring
Missouri Primrose seedpods

The visitors this morning raised questions that led to the telling of two stories related to the Canyon. The first question was about the old Nike missile site in the very near vicinity. During the cold war, Austin was considered a high priority target because of its two airports. To provide air defense of Bergstrom Air Force Base, United States Army Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile sites were constructed during 1959. One of two Nike missile sites in the Austin area, BG-80,was located on the hill just east of the Canyon. After the missile site was shut down, the property was given to the University of Texas System and is now the UT Bee Caves Research Center.

The other question arose when I pointed out the grapevine (Vitis cinerea, synonym Vitis berlandieri) growing on a small juniper near the Canyon rim, telling the visitors that “this was the Texas grapevine that saved the French wine industry.” In 1880, the phylloxera insect was destroying the vineyards of France. The French scientist Pierre Viala was named to find a way to save the vineyards. Viala came to Denison, Texas and met with Thomas Volney Munson. Because Munson knew the Texas rootstocks were resistant to phylloxera, he suggested that the only way to save the French vineyards was to graft the Texas rootstocks with the French vines. Viala agreed, and Munson organized the collection of thousands of bundles of dormant stem cuttings from native grapes in Central Texas and shipped them to France. The vines were the breeding stock for the rootstocks which saved the European wine industry. For this effort, the French government awarded Munson the Legion of Honor, Chevalier du Merite Agricole. The rootstocks used throughout the world today originated in Europe from the native grape material that Munson gathered in Texas.

All are welcome to come on a guided hike through the Madrone Canyon on the first Saturday of any month.  For more information, visit the Madrone Canyon page on the Laura's Library website.




Friday, November 11, 2016

Madrone Canyon Hike 11/5/2016

What a beautiful, cool, misty morning it was to meet at the head of the Madrone Canyon trail on Saturday November 4. We saw many Ladies tresses orchids (Spiranthes cernua) blooming, especially on the east wall of the Canyon. You can read more about them in the Native Plant Information Network

We saw the cyanobacteria Nostoc commune in several of its forms along the trail, from crusty black to gelatinous green.

Thank you, Alex Meyers, for moving the information plaque into the Canyon where visitors will see it and get more information about our wonderful Madrone trees.

Spiders had spun their webs, studded with dewdrops and clearly visible across the trail at several points. 

We even got an exciting show. A funnel-web spider had spun a web in the grass right by the side of the trail. As we leaned down to get a closer look at the web and to locate the funnel-shaped entrance to the spider's burrow in the ground, a very small cricket crawled on the web that extended several square inches flat on the grass like a blanket laid out for a picnic. As we watched, the spider jumped out of the burrow and grabbed the little cricket. Much to our surprise, the cricket got away! And the spider ran to hide under a rock. Our oohs, ahhs, and peering faces had probably disturbed her hunting technique.

Thank you, Juanita Juarez, for the photos!

Hope to see soon in the Canyon. Our next hike will be on December 3.

Jean

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Stamen Development Time Lapse

The stamens in a flower develop over time just like the plant growing. Here is an amazing time laps video of stamen development in a lily: Stamen Development You Tube


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lichens

We find lichens all over central Texas and especially on oaks and limestone... we have a bit of each of these exposed in the canyon. Here is an article on exactly how many species are out there. Florida lichen census


Sunday, July 5, 2015

Roadrunner and The August Hike info

One of the more common birds to see in the canyon this year are Roadrunners. This is a fairly large bird, and I surprised him as I rounded a corner while hiking.

I hope you can join us to conduct the monthly plant survey at the Madrone Canyon trail at The Laura Bush library on August 1. Bring your books and field guides and let's identify what's blooming in the Canyon. We will discuss the plants we find as well as some tips and pointers on botanical photography.

We will meet at the Trailhead (parking area) to wander and wonder for an hour or so. Dress comfortably for the weather; long pants and sturdy shoes with closed toes are always recommended. For your personal use, you may wish to bring a hat, water bottle, sunscreen, insect repellant, field guides, notebook and pen, camera, and / or binoculars.

If you plan to come, please let me know. As always, everyone is welcome and no special expertise is required though all expertise is appreciated! Patience, curiosity, and willingness to move slowly and look closely are essential. Our findings will be posted at the library.

We will be joined by Master Naturalists and others interested in the flora and fauna of
Madrone Canyon.

August 1st 8:30 AM at the Library

Jeff 
searust (at) gmail.com

Friday, June 19, 2015

Evax verna, a strange little flower

When we spend time looking at trees or wildflowers there is often a tunnel vision for the brightly colored flowers or shiny leaves, or large trees. This tunnel vision can sometimes prevent us from seeing what is right by our feet.

A plant in Austin and extremely prolific in the Madrone Canyon and throughout the Westlake area is called Evax verna. It is often right at your feet and is so small that you pass right over it. The flowers however if you lean down and look closely are the most amazing flowers.

Evax Verna is in the Asteraceae family-- it's a relative of plants like sunflowers and gaillardia. The entire plant is usually less than 3 inches high, and the flower head looks wooly or cotton coated.

Look for it in the area as the first plant you see right next to where you park. I often see it in the edges of parking lots and rocky areas just next to mowed areas.

Evax verna
Evax verna closeup


We will not have a Canyon hike in July, but will hike on August 1. Bring your cameras, binoculars and guidebooks for an interesting morning in the canyon of exploration and inquiry...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Why scientific names are important

I attended a class on native Texas plants the other day and struck up a conversation with another participant about some species of the genus verbena. She was using colloquial names and I was conversing using scientific names. She started referring to a plant called "vervain" and I must have said "verbena"..., "Oh no," she explained the name was vervain. I then proceeded to explain that I probably knew the plant she was talking about was Verbena halei and she could not seemingly understand that the scientific name could be Verbena halei if she knew the plant as vervain and that I must be wrong. Only after consulting her own field guide where it had a color picture of the plant next to the scientific name did she grudgingly admit that perhaps the scientific name might be that. (I still believe she thought that it must have been a misprint).

We (meaning plant people) use scientific names to denote specific species of plants, and to be able to talk about a plant so that everyone involved knows which specific plant is being discussed. What I didn't want to even attempt to explain was that the plant she knew as vervain has as a scientific name :Verbena halei, and that what she knew as verbena the name was Glandularia bipinnatifida. Some things were best left unsaid.

Another time I was at a Native plant society of texas meeting and several people were discussing "cow itch vine"-- within a minute or, so we discovered that we were each thinking of a different plant. There are at least four different plants in Texas that are referred to colloquially as cow itch vine... I never did figure out which one we SHOULD have been talking about.

Botanical scientific names are in a weird version of latin that for the past 250 years scientists have come to codify and use only for referring to plants. There are differences in scientific latin between Flora and Fauna, so everything I say here will refer to the floral side of the ledger.

In another post I will describe the where all these names come from and how you can learn them easily and utilize them in enjoyable botanizing. Oh, and here are a few pictures of Verbena halei and Glandularia bipinnatifida.

Have a good hike,  Jeff.