ECRTMN Wildscape Spreads Its Seeds Way Beyond Boundaries

(to my house)

by Carolyn Henderson

A Turks Cap with pink flowers was planted at the El Camino Real Master Naturalist
Wildscape last year. Due to its prolific growth, which was over six feet tall and wide, and it
being covered in many pink flowers, it was the wonder of the season, including with me.

I was determined to grow some myself! Catherine Johnson, site manager, felt
compelled to give me a “baby” plant that had sprouted up under the big plant just in
case my attempt to grow some from seeds didn’t pan out. I should point out that a few
“baby plants” of another species had not made it at my house.

One of the reasons I really liked this plant was that it likes shade. It can grow large even
if it’s in the shade most of the day. My front yard was covered in shade all day long due
to some very tall and old Live Oaks that run across my front yard. Notice I said “was.” It
is not quite as covered now. The freeze/ice of 2021 and freeze/lots of ice of 2023 has
severely pruned those trees to the point of blue sky now being visible when one looks

I have planted a few other things from the Wildscape that are alleged to be shade
tolerant, and they are to a degree, but they are stunted in growth by too much shade. A
Flame Acanthus reached about 12 inches tall and finally put on two blooms last year.
This pink-flowered Turks Cap was in shade for a good part of the day, and it grew like
crazy. It did get chicken poop fertilizer, so that probably helped.

So, I took about 10 of the small, red apple-looking seed pods late last fall. I did some
research on how to grow them from seeds and proceeded to try all versions. There
were basically three different methods suggested by different people.
First, it was suggested to stick the whole seed pod in the ground. I did two in that
manner. I put one in the ground and one in a small potting container. Neither has come
up yet.

Second, it was suggested to open the seed pods, remove the seeds and clean them of
any of the pod then dry them in the sun. After the drying, it was suggested to pot them
in very small containers and put them in the sun. I did eight in this manner. I started
them inside in a window that doesn’t get much sun. The weather was staying pretty
moderate, so I moved them outside. I watered them periodically, and left them out
during the freeze. Nothing has sprouted yet.

Third, follow the cleaning advice in the second version, then put them in an airtight bag
in the refrigerator for the duration of winter. I used a zip lock bag. Plant them in late
February or early March. Two weeks ago, I purchased a container made for starting
seeds that would fit on my kitchen window – the only window that is accessible and gets
several hours of sun in my house. I took some dirt from the empty flower bed where I
intend to plant them if they grow and planted them. I dropped several seeds into each
section of the container. I had seeds left, too. This window is in my kitchen, so I’m
paying close attention to them.

My first positive sign of growth was the “baby plant” that I put in a large flowerpot last
year. It is back! I should note that it is in a sunnier area.

My eureka moment came on Tuesday this week! One of the refrigerator seeds has
sprouted. I excitedly yelled “Yea!”, which caused my son to come into the room to see
what was wrong with me. He reminded me that I had not invented something new. But I
had grown it from a refrigerated seed.

I’m hoping it really will like all the tree shade in my front yard.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

by Donna Lewis

This little beauty was traveling fast across our back pasture. It took me about 45 minutes to catch up with him to get a photo.  I am not fast anymore.

This is a male Tiger Swallowtail. All the males in this species are yellow.  The females can be yellow or black.  his second color form is called dimorphic  coloration.

These guys are fast. If you sneak up behind them while they are on a flower you can get a photo.

Right now, there is nothing flowering in my garden. He was on a Hen-bit in the pasture. Not much nectar anywhere right now. One of the flowers they like that is easy to grow are Coneflowers. I think the ones in my garden are still underground. I hope this guy can survive until more flowers are up.

The Swallowtail is known to gather at mud puddles sipping the salts and minerals they need for reproduction. When the caterpillar first appears, it looks like bird droppings. Icky, but helpful in evading predators. We will probably not see their chrysalis because they lay their eggs in treetops. I am just not tall enough… 

This butterfly is so beautiful as it flows across the pasture.

Right now, the butterflies of all kinds are waking up, so keep an eye out for them.

Just when the caterpillar thought its world was over…it became a butterfly.

Training Class Update: Fun with Bugs

by Carolyn Henderson

The El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist training class was treated to a great program about bugs by Wizzie Brown, entomologist for TAMU AgriLife Extension in Travis County. Even the long-time members learned many new facts about Texas bugs. Ms. Brown’s favorite bug is a roach. That happens to be my least favorite. I’ve attached the ways to connect with her.

The Travis County AgriLife Extension office does blogs, programs, and YouTube posts about all things Texas nature. Many of these will give you AT hours while enthralling your interest in nature. If you email Ms. Brown, you can get on the email list that gets everyone notified of what is available. Kathy Lester, student trainer, emailed all the PowerPoint screens to everyone. The talk was even more informative. 

Meeting in progress

At our regular meeting, March 9, Debbi Harris will teach us how to compost with worms. 

Guess What Else Is Waking Up in This Spring Weather? Snakes.

by Donna Lewis

Yes, all kinds of native grasses, flowers, and animals are up and getting ready for the new year. Love is in the air. So, you need to be alert and watch where you put your hands and feet.

Animals do not understand boundaries. If you live in the country or the city, the entire earth is in their hood.

Yesterday, I was putting my truck up under the carport. I stepped out and put my foot down to see a snake about two inches from my foot.  I know to be still and look at the head to first ascertain if it is a poisonous snake.  But even so, the alarm button went off in my head as soon as my mind said SNAKE!  I think that is natural.

Luckily, during a talk for our Master Naturalist group, I knew this snake to be a non-poisonous Eastern Hognose snake.  A short but stocky very nonaggressive snake that eats mostly frogs.  Since I like frogs, I hate that part.

This snake has a neat way of self-preservation.  If it senses danger, it rolls over in a tight coil, hangs its tongue out and throws up.

The other thing it will do is hiss and spread its head up like a tiny Cobra. A very interesting small snake common in Central Texas.

I asked Dr. Paul Crump to correctly identify this snake for me.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature. –

Joseph Campbell

Phoebe on Our Porch

by Donna Lewis

So, we all know how warm it has been.  Maybe a little early for temperatures that cause both flora and fauna to be out thinking that it is Springtime already.  YEAH!

Many of you will be tempted to start planting things in your garden. You better think about it. I am sure at least one more freeze will visit us. My advice… wait a little longer!

Which brings us back to many birds who think it’s time to build nests and find their partners for the new generation.  They like Springtime too.

Every year since we have had this house, we have had Eastern Phoebes make a nest and raise about six little ones. Pretty muddy nests that make a messy porch for us.

We put plastic under their nest so it’s easier to clean up after they leave.

I love Phoebes.  They have such sweet faces.  Phoebes are flycatchers. They flick their tails upward when perched. They eat mostly flying insects.

The Barn Swallows try to run them off, because they like the porch also. They will swoop down after the Phoebes and me.  All I can do is let them work it out.

I too am happy about the warmer weather.

Remember all our nature friends and be considerate of their lives.