Field Trip to Native Texas Nursery

by Debbi Harris

Last week, members of our Chapter went on a field trip to the Native Texas Nursery in Manor. The trip was organized by Catherine Johnson, who uses them as a source for many of the plants in our Wildcape. The nursery has 40 acres of outdoor plantings and greenhouses, called casas by the team.


We had a great tour guide, Mandy Pixler, and learned a lot about how native plants are propagated from her.

More information on the trip is found in the captions on the photos below!

The area where they mix up bins of soil was very interesting. Here is where they put the soil into different sizes of pots.

Lots and lots of pots.

Henbit is a Hit!

by Sue Ann Kendall

It pays to pay attention to your Facebook groups, because you never know what treasures you will find hiding in there. Yesterday, I saw a post In Milam County Veggie and Plant Exchange by one of our group, Larry Kocian, that talked about one of the predominant blooming plants around my ranch this time of year, henbit deadnettle Lamium amplexicaule. I have to admit I knew little about this little purple bloomer, other than the fact that I can ID it on iNaturalist. Now, thanks to the fascinating article Larry linked to, I know a lot more, and think you should, too!

What a beauty!

This plant can be so abundant in fields that it turns them purple with its tiny orchid-like blooms. I was surprised to learn that it’s not a native plant but was brought over by European settlers as food for, you guessed it, hens (and roosters). Now you’ll never forget the name of this plant! I have taken lots of pictures of it, as you can see here, because there’s little to take pictures of this time of year.

Henbit festival

That’s right, it’s edible. The article told me it was quite good in salads and with eggs, so after feeding my hens some henbit, I picked some for myself and ate it with a fresh scrambled egg. It was quite good, as you’d expect from most members of the mint family (Lamiaceae). How did I know it was a mint? I felt its stem, which is quite square, like a member of its family.

Square stem

Although henbit is originally a plant from the Mediterranean and North Africa, it’s useful here, since it provides nectar to the honeybees and early butterflies at a time when little else is flowering (here at my house, its fellow bloomers are mostly dandelions and crow poison). My horses like it, too, judging from the lack of it in the pastures, and sure enough, the hens gobble it down.

Early spring field near my henhouse.

From what I read, it’s not dangerously invasive. Mowing can keep it under control, though I find it too pretty to mow and have noticed that when it’s done, the other plants have no trouble taking it over (sadly, that includes bur clover).

Here’s a pretty pale one.

As for me, I thought it tasted pretty good, for a green. It’s sort of like a peppery celery. It perked up my scrambled eggs quite well.

MMM, lunch.

So, go out and harvest yourself some free greens. You can cook them, too! Just be sure to harvest them in a place where it hasn’t had chemicals on it. I avoided my septic field, though I’m not sure that would have been a problem.

The Martins Are Close Now

by Donna Lewis

It is now time to have your Martin Housing ready to open.  If you noticed, I said ready, NOT open yet.  You do not want to open the cavities till you hear the Martins at your site.

If you do, you will have a House Sparrow hotel.  You cannot allow the House Sparrows to live in the Martin housing.  They will kill the Martins for the nest.

So, when you see or most likely hear your first Martins arrive, roll down your gourds or apartments and open only a few of the entrances. Open more as more Martins arrive.

It’s a delicate dance for sure. The more you do it, the better you get.

Putting everything back after the Martins have been gone for six months is hard on us senior folk. So, I was lucky this year to have some wonderful volunteers from our Master Naturalist Chapter come over and install the gourds and the Owl Guards for me. Cindy and Gene Rek came last week and did this for me.

The photo of my gourd rack shows the Reks installing the gourds.

As of 1-20-2023 the updated scout report has Martins arriving in Louisiana and Florida. So, they could arrive here in three to four weeks. 

The rack is in its down position for now.

I get asked why I would go to so much trouble for these birds.   Once you hear their beautiful songs, you will know why.  It’s truly a wonder you will not forget.

The Gourds with our friends in 2020.

I will run the houses up the first week in February and I will let everyone know when my first Martin arrives. Martins depend on human-supplied housing now, almost exclusively.

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world” 

–Anne Frank

ECRTMN Class of 2023 Kicks Off

By Carolyn Henderson

The El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist class of 2023 kicked off to a great start Thursday night. With the 13 new student trainees, trainers Kathy Lester and Alan Rudd, and plenty of “elder” members, it was a full house.

Mike Mitchell shares about the Texas Master Naturalist program.

Retired Game Warden Mike Mitchell presented the program giving students in-depth knowledge of how Texas Master Naturalist got its start and explained all the inner workings and why all the rules are there.  Mitchell was the first advisor of the chapter and instrumental, along with a few other members – some still active, in creating the chapter 15 years ago. Texas Master Naturalist is celebrating its 25th anniversary. 

Lester then touched on the schedule for the next few months. Rudd organized a break-out session putting three to four students and existing members together with a topic of discussion, so we can all get to know each other better. The break-out sessions are planned for each class session. 

Current members and non-class members tried to sit in the back.

And finally, the class members voted to have pot-luck meals each week, so they should fit right in to the chapter. When you have a Thursday free, come meet the new students. State Biologist Tim Siegmund is the presenter next week. 

Learning in progress.

The Robins Pass through in January

by Pamela Neeley

Yesterday morning, while watching Sunday Morning, I finally focused on the flutter and excitement happening in my front yard.

“Turns out that Robins also like to start their day with a little gossip around the water cooler.” By David Patrick Dunn, January 15, 2023, used with permission

The robins were passing through that morning!  They were everywhere. Weaving in and out of the trees on the fence line, flying to and fro – ground to tree to roof of the house, and kicking up the red oak leaf litter with childish abandon!  They were looking and listening for prey.

I checked them out in my copy of Birds of Texas and found they had passed through “in the hundreds” February 29, 2020, at 8:30 am.

Yesterday, there were many to watch, but not hundreds.

Pamela originally wrote “February” and our editor just took her word for it. It’s fixed now!