by Linda Jo Conn
Driving east on Hwy 79 toward the Brazos River Bridge at the Milam/Robertson county line, a convenient paved pull-off invites travelers to stop, stretch their legs, and perhaps read the inscribed granite markers telling the history of this area. The curious will learn that this was the site of the town of Nashville, founded by early Texas empresario, soldier and statesman Sterling Robertson and named after his former home in Tennessee. Nashville was also the first Texas home of George C. Childress, chairman of the committee that drafted the Texas Declaration of Independence.
Fellow TMN and iNaturalist Eric Neubauer and I met at the pull-off for a ‘socially-distanced’ investigation of the flora and fauna of the area. A grasshopper expert, Eric took his bug net up the slope of the right of way see what was willing to be netted.
Eric nabbed several species of grasshoppers with his net, including a ‘new for him’ species.
Being more of a plant person, I focused my attention on things with roots that tend to remain stationary (until the wind blows). I was pleased to find Texas grama (Bouteloua rigidiseta) in abundance as well as patches of other native grasses: silver bluestem (Bothriochloa laguroides, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and white tridens (Tridens albescent).
Texas grama lost out on the designation as the state grass of Texas to the larger species sideoats grama.
When the spring of 2021 arrives, this roadside area should be a go-to place to enjoy a solid blue slope of Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) in bloom on the ROW. Literally hundreds of bluebonnet rosettes dot the ground. Other plant species I was pleased to observe were Zizotes milkweeds (Asclepias oenotheroides), ‘new to me’ species Barrens silky aster (Symphyotrichum pretense), winecup mallows (Callirhoe involucrata), and turkey tangle frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora).
Lupinus texensis, one of the five bluebonnet species recognized as the state flower of Texas.
I was elated to observe another ‘new for me’ species blooming at the location: Willowleaf aster (Symphyotrichum praealtum). It is one of several species of aster-like flowers blooming along the roadsides during this time of year that can be challenging to ID without photos of diagnostic plant parts.
True to its common name, willowleaf aster sports leaves resembling a willow tree.
Eric shared his grasshopper finds with me, including a wrinkled grasshopper (Hippiscus ocelote). Eric also shared the scientific names of each species, which I, not surprisingly, promptly forgot. Another reason I appreciate the resources and users of the iNaturalist.org website.
A monochrome of brown, this wrinkled grasshopper (Hippiscus ocelote) is actually an intricately marked individual.
Eric and I traveled back down the highway to Milano to join Catherine Johnson at the Milano Wildscape for further observation and investigation. Next week, interested chapter members will participate in a ‘socially distanced’ stroll down CR 364 at the Sugarloaf Mountain bridge near Gause.