A Non-native Vine Beloved by Bees: Sweet Autumn Clematis

by Donna Lewis

Today it is cloudy and looks like rain. But in the secret garden there is a vine that is beautiful and blooming like crazy. When I get close to it, I can hear and almost feel the honeybees doing their thing on it. It’s a beautiful vine.

I cannot remember how I came to have it, because it is not a Texas native vine.

I try to buy native as much as I can.  I also try to plant things for the pollinators. This plant is common in India and other Asian countries. So, I guess you could call it naturalized because it does great here.

I have seen it in many magazines covering arbors and fences. It is lovely and the tiny white flowers blend well with any other colors. It climbs well.

It blooms at the end of the summer when normally you don’t have much going on. That is refreshing. 

It can get invasive, but the little beginner plants are easily removed.

I have this vine in a half-shaded area. When wet, the birds love to wiggle around in it getting a bath.  The tree frogs also like it because it is moist. The garden’s inhabitants really like it.

As you can see, it really has some good qualities, and it is very pretty.  No thorns. I like that.

You will have to decide for yourself if it’s for you.

As I always say…who are you gardening for?

Storks Visit Milam County

by Sue Ann Kendall

This morning there’s thunder everywhere, which means more welcome rain is on the way, so I went out early to feed the chickens. I’m glad I did, because when I looked into the pond (tank in Texan) behind the house, I saw something in addition to the usual great egret (Ardea alba) and great blue heron (Ardea Herodias): wood storks!

Busy!

They used to visit for a while periodically, back when the pond had a large dead tree they liked to hang out in, but lately they just drop by and move on. I’m so glad I got to catch them before they left. They are such gorgeous birds, with white bodies, black (actually dark gray) heads and black wing tips that make them easy to spot when they are flying.

There’s a wing.

You know they are big when you compare them to the resident great blue heron, who is HUGE thanks to all those catfish and minnows it ate while the ponds were drying up.

Comparison shot.

Wood storks (Mycteria americana) are the only American stork, and they move around with the seasons. They used to be known as wood ibises because their bills look like those of ibises. Interestingly, they must have shallow water to feed in because they feed by touch. You can see that in many of the photos. That’s why they breed when water levels are falling (in South America). They are predominantly subtropical birds, which is why they hang around here only when it’s warmer. They are listed as a threatened species in the Western hemisphere, because of predation (bad ole crested caracaras) and believe it or not, ecotourism disturbing their nesting colonies. (Source: Wikipedia via iNaturalist)

I’m extra happy to have gotten some videos. The one of them flying away is so lovely. I hope they visit again soon!

Quick one, but good image of wings.
Goodbye, friends! Come back some day!

PS: Yes, we had a good amount of rain yesterday, and it’s raining again now. Happy news for all the plants around here!

Pondering Plant Names and Old Adages

by Carolyn Henderson

Turkey Tangle Frogfruit – why was that name given to the little bitty flower that grows close to the ground and seems to be able to survive anything? Some fellow iNaturalist.org users in the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist tell me that it used to be just “Frogfruit” until it was recently changed. No one I know seems to know why that occurred either.

I often wonder how words originate. For example, I’d like to know who designated that tall naturally occurring thing with a lot of fluffy greenery on the top half a “tree.” I’m not asking why there are trees (I’m sure many scientists could tell me), I wonder who chose that combination of letters to identify it to other people.  I should point out that I have degrees in journalism and English, two subject which perpetuate a lot of word pondering.

I also have been curious about the adage about Texas Purple Sage “predicting” rain. It came to mind today because mine suddenly bloomed. I have frequently heard that Texas Sage blooms two weeks before it rains. Many people I know believe that to be a fact. My Texas Sage can cover itself in beautiful purple flowers very quickly and, often, many times a year. However, it always seemed to me, that mine blooms after it rains. It turns out that neither is exactly correct, but it’s not called the “Barometer Bush” for nothing.

The shrub is believed to be sensitive to barometric changes in the atmosphere. When humidity and pressure change to indicate rain favorability, the bush blooms – at least according to current study.

I went to the Google search site and typed in “Texas Purple Sage predicts rain.” I found that many people had pondered this adage, and some had researched it. Below are partial quotes from two articles I read on the topic.

Research was obviously needed, so I dug in. All the book and online references agreed nobody knows the answer for sure. I learned that while Texas sage does tend to bloom a day or two before rain, it can also bloom within days after a rain or just when conditions are optimal for rain to occur, even though rain may not happen. This curious response to weather probably is mostly due to the plant’s sensitivity and ability to detect humidity as well as change in barometric pressure.

So, what can you depend on? Only that Texas sage blooms sometime around a rain event — maybe. If you have a full-sun location that drains well, plant some and enjoy them. They are very pretty plants.

By Howard Garrett | Special Contributor, The Dallas Morning News

The detail behind the matter, however, is that while Texas sage tends to blossom a couple days before precipitation occurs, it really blooms when the conditions are optimal for rain. Actual rainfall may not occur, but the plant is sensitive to changes in barometric pressure and humidity, and therefore it blossoms.

By Spring Sault, Nature section, Hill Country News

Maybe it is predicting rain after all. Like all weather forecasts, it’s rarely spot-on accurate. What the Texas Purple Sage does do is bloom despite little rainfall and high temperatures, and it attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in mass sometimes. (I hope you can see the video here to actually see that.) My Texas Sage took a hit from the Freeze of 2021 which required severe pruning. It is really growing now and blooming. I hope the bees smell it and show up.

Texas Purple Sage Action!

Drought, Ugh

by Donna Lewis

First we have the Big Freeze, now we have the big heat wave and drought!!

I guess we need to be more careful about what we wish for. When it was cold, I wished for warm weather…

So I took a few photos around the house. It is bad. I didn’t even have the heart to take photos of my beautiful pollinator garden. I have tried to save it, but we also have to be smart.

Water for the birds, the big plants and trees. But we might just have to let the small stuff go.  Zinnias will come back from the dried seeds you can harvest now. That will save some water.

This is a good time to learn from this weather event. Put out a sprinkler in the evening, the birds love it.

And on a happy note, here is one of my neighbor’s horses watching me put out the sprinklers. He always gets a carrot for helping me!  

Take stock of WHAT is surviving instead of being so upset over the plants that do not make it. Next year we will know to plant more of the hardy things that made it.

We must always observe and revise our plans. Things change.

Mike McCormick Explains Purple Martins

by Carolyn Henderson

Mike McCormick, considered the largest houser of Purple Martins in the area, shared his wealth of knowledge with the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist on Saturday, June 18. McCormick lives south of Buckholts in Milam County with thousands of Purple Martins and a few family members. He has been housing the birds for more than 40 years and has grown the number of seasonal residents steadily every year.

Purple martin house with adults waiting for fledglings to fly

There are approximately 65 Purple Martin houses at his place – all made by him. He’s also helped many others get started with some extra houses. 

Up close of the three fledglings that haven’t decided to fly, yet.

ECRTMN visited at the optimum time. All the babies are starting to fledge. Members learned how to house them and keep them coming back. McCormick also clarified some untrue facts about the migrating birds. For example, a 6-foot-tall martin house works as well as a 12-foot-tall house.

Martins in flight

Thanks also go to Donna Lewis, organizer of the event, and Ms. McCormick, sister to Mike, who fed us and kept the cattle herded.