Wildscape WOW Factors!

by Carolyn Henderson

Abundant flowers attracting many pollinators leave one in awe at the El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist Wildscape out at the Bird and Bee Farm. I read Catherine Johnson’s blog and noticed the severely overgrown Malabar Spinach awning that is being overtaken by Cypress Vines. I went out to try to tame it.

Before

It took electric pruners to get it under control. It draped over the entrances and spread out to the picket fence and flower bed behind it. And the Cypress vine had overgrown it and was attaching itself to cannas and other bushes nearby. I have made the awning walkthrough accessible. If you want to grow either of those at your place, it’s prime time to take cuttings or pick the berries. Or take some to eat – the Malabar. I don’t know that the Cypress vine is edible by humans, but hummingbirds were sure enjoying the nectar in the flowers. 

After

It was hard to stay focused on the vines while several species of butterflies and bees were all over the wildscape. Many Gulf Fritillaries, Common Buckeyes, Grey Hairstreaks and Pipevine Swallowtails were there. The Zinnias and Turk’s Caps were the favorite food of the butterflies. Carpenter bees and honeybees were also abundant. Cindy Rek said she has seen a few Monarchs and they laid eggs which have developed into caterpillars already. She has photos to prove it. 

If you are participating in the the iNaturalist Pollinators BioBlitz beginning Oct. 7, the wildscape has plenty to photograph. If you don’t do bioblitzes, you can just sit among the many blooming flowers and all the pollinators buzzing around them. Pull a weed or two while you’re there. 

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!

Rain Revives the Park

by Carolyn Henderson

The amounts of rain received over the last few days varies, but a stroll around Wilson Ledbetter Park on Sunday shows just how much a little rain can do.  

It’s green!

The 0.40 inches I received at my house was enough to elicit excitement because I had none for so long. The 2.5 inches friends a few miles down the road received also inflicted envy. Based on the location of Wilson Ledbetter Park and rain reports, I would estimate 0.50 inches there so far this week has really “greened” up the place. 

I was there a month ago and all grass was brown, almost no flowers bloomed, and trees were turning brown, too. Today, grass is green, several types of flowers are blooming and most of the trees look perkier

The bright yellow Rio Grande Copper Lily was popping up in many areas. Also blooming in the yellow category were Bitterweed, Spreading Fanpetals, and Texas Snakeweed. To be honest, Bitterweed never went into hibernation. Drought and 108 degrees didn’t faze it.

In the pink/purple category, Shaggy Portulaca, Tievine, and Texas Vervain were in bloom.  Violet Rueilla  and Purple Nightshade were abundant, but they never completely died off. The Whitemouth Dayflower, a vivid blue flower, was in abundant bloom both near and far away from the little lake. 

Texas Bull Nettle was really starting to put on medium sized white flowers. Try hard not to touch that one because all those nettles will really make your skin itch. Other whites were the Santa Maria Feverfew and Turkey Tangle Frogfruit. I would bet that Turkey Tangle Frogfruit could survive anything. It totally ignored the 8 days of below freezing temperatures and ice and the drought with excessively high temperatures.

All that color was popping out at me in a short stroll around the park. If the amount of rain forecast for this week materializes, I hope you’ll go out to Wilson Ledbetter and take it all in, too.

Peppervine fruit

What’s a Banana Cockroach?

Story by Sue Ann Kendall, photos by Carolyn Henderson

Carolyn Henderson, our Chapter President, spotted an unusual insect in her house last week. Being a Master Naturalist, she didn’t squish it. Of course, she photographed it. Neither she nor any of her friends had ever seen one of these little green creatures before.

Not your usual cockroach.

She looked it up on iNaturalist, and even though none of us had seen one before, sure enough, it’s common around here; it just doesn’t usually visit our houses, a trait we all appreciate. Here’s what she read about the unusual green banana or Cuban cockroach (originally from Wikipedia):


Panchlora nivea, the Cuban cockroach or green banana cockroach,[2] is a small species of cockroach found in Cuba and the Caribbean, and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, and has been observed as far north as Summerville, South Carolina. It is found in subtropical or tropical climates.

“The females can grow up to 24 mm and the smaller males are 12 to 15 mm long. It is winged and a strong flier, pale green to yellowish green in color, with a yellow line running up the sides. The nymphs are brown or black in color and are burrowers.

“It is usually an outdoor species and is rarely found indoors, so is not considered a pest. The adults can often be found in shrubbery, trees, and plants. The young can be found under logs and other debris. It is often attracted to both indoor and outdoor lights and it is mainly a nocturnal species.

It is often a popular pet roach due to its relatively pleasant green color, and because it is not an invasive indoor species. It is also used as food for other pets. [emphasis mine]”


Cute?

That last part is interesting. I guess Carolyn had a new pet! The color is “relatively pleasant.” I think I’ll let them live outside, but it sure is interesting to know they live here! Let us know if you run across any in your nocturnal excursions.

Tree Girdling and Photographing

by Carolyn Henderson

Last Saturday morning was a busy one for a small group of El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalists. The intrepid seven started out attending some previously girdled trees and finished by photographing everything they could find for the “Hotter than Hell BioBlitz” at Wilson-Ledbetter Park in Cameron.

Liz Lewis inspects girdled Privet.

Original girdlers of the invasive Glossy Privet Liz Lewis, Marian Buegeler, and I did some follow-up work on the trees we originally performed girdling on back in March. Marian was armed with a hatchet and I had a tree trimmer device to remove any new growth below the girdles. Liz directed.

Marian Buegeler prepares to take hatchet to Privet.

I was surprised to find the trees dying because an inspection a month ago didn’t really show any significant dying off. They are showing plentiful evidence of their demise now. In case you’re new to this subject, tree girdling is a method to kill trees without herbicides or chain saws. You can find directions on how to do it from the March blog if interested. 

Privet dying

The drought and excessive heat may be hastening the death, but it’s all occurring above the girdle line, so the process works. We are now a little excited to see where they stand in late fall. 

The only green grass was close to the water.

We then proceeded to photograph what was still alive in the drought/heat wave at Wilson-Ledbetter. We managed to get 208 photos of nature surviving the weather. “Birdladymilam” Ann Collins posted the most photos on the project page on iNaturalist. Eric Neubuer found the most of one species (Wolf spiders in case you weren’t sure). Organizer Linda Jo Conn, Marian, Victoria St John, Liz and I also contributed. Blooming flowers were sparse, but there were a lot of trees, vines and grasses along with spiders, and birds. 

Pipevine Swallowtail looks for blooms in some very dry grass.

And it wasn’t hot that early in the morning. 

Silver leaf nightshade was one of two blooms I found there.