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 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!

As Linda Jo Says, Let’s Get Outside

by Donna Lewis

Yes, it is winter here, crazy Texas winter.

But it is nice today and there are some really neat things out there.  Just look for them.

I do have the little native bees out foraging.  It’s hard to catch a photo of them since they are quick.

I have some neat-looking mushrooms and moss also. In the sun they are very pretty and nice to touch.  Close your eyes as you gently touch and listen to Mother Earth.

Also, there are still too many fritillary chrysalis hanging everywhere, even on “Babe.”

So, before it gets down to sub-freezing weather again, go outside. Take your dogs with you and enjoy the weather.

By the way, if you happened to be outside late last night, the stars and dark blue sky can be wondrous. You can look up and imagine the millions of other beings looking up at us.

Our Texas song we have heard most of our lives, if we were born here, kept playing in my head.

Go ahead and sing it…

The stars at night are big and bright, boom boom boom, deep in the heart of Texas!!

Now get outside, like Linda Jo Conn tells us every week.

One Last Wildscape Trip for 2022

by Catherine Johnson

We made one last trip to the Milam Wildscape after the freeze.

Evergreens Wax Myrtle, Gardenia, Sumac, and Iceplant looked pretty with the Fall colors.  We accidentally trapped a cow in a fenced area but were able to free it without letting the sheep or Scruffy the donkey out! 

Kim planted blue Salvia and Rock Rose, and Rosie started a Bluebonnet patch. Mexican Plum and Arroya Sweetwood are the next additions. 

The Boy Scouts have installed bee houses and plan to construct a grape arbor. 

Come visit in the Spring when baby plants and Mason bees emerge and Nature’s cycle starts all over again.

A Fly Mystery

by Eric Neubauer, elaborated upon by Sue Ann Kendall

A long while back I observed about a half dozen flies of an unknown species, which baffled everyone on iNaturalist. The genus has finally been identified.

Visit the observation on iNaturalist if you want to learn how experts go about narrowing down what genus and species an observation might be. The users aispinsects (Arturo Santos) and tpape (Dr. Thomas Pape of the Natural History Museum of Denmark) worked together through the ID process under that observation, though most was done by Santos. Thank goodness the photos were so good, as details like veining are very helpful in identifying flies. It’s gratifying to see two true experts helping out with the identification of this unusual fly with very small eyes and an atypical head shape.

One thing we do know about these flies is that the fly maggots are parasitic on lizards. You can see an infected anole lizard on the iNat page for Lepidodexia if your stomach is strong (that’s from Sue Ann).

As often happens with the oddities I get fixated on, I’m immediately top observer. There are only ten observations of the Lepidodexia on iNat at present (one new one happened recently). No doubt there are others as yet unidentified.

I need to look at flies some more.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Pape’s comments. He thinks he knows the species for the fly, but is not sure:

“The large flesh fly genus Lepidodexia is mainly Neotropical and has several very tachinid-like species. There are a few Nearctic species, and the present certainly fits the genus and may very well be Lepidodexia hirculus, see: http://diptera.dk/sarco/Detail_s.php?RecordNumber=11734
Very little is known on the biology of species of Lepidodexia, but they include as varied breeding records as live frogs, lizards, snails and earthworms.”

Santos is a wonderful contributor to iNat and has helped identify many flies around the world. He’s a citizen scientist at its best!