Monday, November 13, 2017

Madrone Canyon Hikes November 4 and 6

Last week we had two Madrone Canyon Trail hikes. On Saturday's hike, November 4th, a couple of brothers showed up at the trailhead, where Jean Love El Harim and I were waiting. One was in middle school and the other in high school. The elder brother was an entomology enthusiast and all-round naturalist. We learned so much from each other! And isn't that what it's all about?

Woolly bear caterpillar in a defensive posture
Dead Dung beetle or Scarab beetle

Our rare and beautiful native orchid, Lady's tresses, (Spiranthes cernua)
 On Monday, November 6th, a Brownie troop of 14 arrived for a scheduled hike, along with a half dozen chaperones. The girls were working on earning their hiking badge. Jean, once a Brownie herself, lead a Rainbow Hike, looking for the colors of the rainbow. The group pointed out the red of a Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera), the orange of Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), the yellow of Plateau Goldeneye (Viguiera dentata), the pink of the Palafoxia (Palafoxia callosa), and the blue of the Juniper berries (Juniperus ashei).

Plateau Goldeneye (center back), Poison Ivy (foreground, upper left & right)
Hike leader Ms. Love with the Brownies
The girls were encouraged to walk carefully and quietly and use their eyes, ears, nose and hands. They also saw young and old Texas Madrones (Arbutus xalapensis), and realized several characteristics of this tree, that it has smooth skin-like bark that peels at the end of the year, that it likes to grow among Juniper trees, and that its roots are very sensitive. They made sure to walk to the far side of the path to avoid stepping on the sensitive roots.

They saw the stone trail markers that their "brothers", the Boy Scouts had made to mark parts of the trail, and they realized that they would never be lost in the Canyon, even if the trail is hard to see, because they can always orient themselves to the sound of Bee Caves Road.

They felt the rough edges of Devil's Shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana), and skirted around the pointy tips of the Twist-Leaf Yucca (Yucca rupicola) that likes to grow right at the edge of the path.  We found some dry, black, crusty Blue-green algae (Nostoc) and the girls poured water on a piece of it in Jean's hand. By the end of the hike, it was beginning to rehydrate and turn into a rubbery greenish mass.
Witch's Butter (Nostoc) is a cyanobacteria

They smelled the musky scent of the crushed leaves of Damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), the sweet fragrance of our rare and beautiful native orchid, Ladies tresses (Spiranthes cernua), and the wintery smell of crushed Juniper berries.

At the end of the hike, sitting on the stairs that the Boy Scouts had built, the girls shared what they had noticed and thought during the hike. One said she wanted to learn more plant names. Another noted the importance of taking care of this sensitive environment and taking care of endangered species. Congratulations, Brownies, on achieving your hiking badge!

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Madrone Canyon Hike on October 7, 2017

Jean points out a Texas madrone among the Ashe junipers
Yesterday Jean and I lead four hikers down into the Madrone Canyon. It was a pleasant sunny morning, and the damp earth put a spring in our step. Wherever we saw Seep muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii), small clumps of curly grass resembling ball moss, we would see a flowing seep. This is referred to as an "indicator species."

At this time of year, along the roadsides, you may have noticed a willowy shrub covered with silvery-white flowers. Commonly called Poverty weed or Roosevelt weed (Baccharis neglecta) due to its hardiness to survive the Dust Bowl era. I think this deer resistant plant may be under utilized in our landscapes. The Wildflower Center's Native Plant Database offers this info:

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil Description: Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Calcareous, Saline tolerant
Conditions Comments: The species name  neglecta refers to the prevalence of this 
plant in neglected or disturbed areas. Although common, consider planting this  shrub 
for its showy profusion of silky silver/white flowers. Roosevelt  Weed is also a good  
nectar plant for many pollinators including some butterflies.  Simple to care for: Full 
sun and low water. 

I like it! and suggest a species name change do-over from neglecta to elegante!

Poverty weed (center) among Ashe juniper, Flame-leaf sumac and Plateau golden-eye.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Madrone Canyon Hike on September 2, 2017

Hurricane Harvey brought a generous amount of rain and cooler than average temperatures, making for a very pleasant hike last Saturday. Jean Love El-Harim lead the hike, and I followed behind our three enthusiastic hikers as co-leader.
The evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) was blooming.
What are they looking at? 
A wolf spider has built its web on top of the grass, poised to pounce.
 Look what we found on the trail...the skull (far right) and entire vertebrae of a snake! One hiker thought it was a string of beads.
When the Texas Madrone tree sheds its bark, branches smooth and creamy are revealed, hence the common name lady's leg.
Our next hike will be October 7, hope you can make it!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Madrone Canyon Hike on July 1, 2017

Mountain pink (Centaurium beyrichii) 
In spite of the hot, hazy, humid weather, a mom and child showed up at the trailhead for their first guided hike on the Madrone Canyon Trail. Jean Love El Harim lead the hike, and I shadowed. The showstopper bloomers were the Mountain pinks (Centaurium beyrichii), their petite bouquets of brilliant color spattered along the trail and on limestone outcroppings. Last reported, the Missouri Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpawere putting on seed pods that look like star fruit. They have dried completely into flutter mills encapsulating the tiny seeds.

Missouri primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) has gone to seed

Hello, my name is Paula Tuttle, and I'm excited to start leading hikes with Jean on the Madrone Canyon Trail. Jean and I are Capital Area Master Naturalists and are collaborating on a few projects together.

I'm also a docent at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, where I've become acquainted with the uncommon Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapenis Kunth) one of my favorite trees. They are rarely seen in our central Texas landscapes, more common to the mountains of west Texas, which may partly explain their mystique.

I look forward to exploring the mysteries of this beautiful native Texas tree and its unique ecosystem at our next outing on September 2nd.

I hope to meet you on the trail!


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.


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