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  • Archive for October, 2013


    Last week I was in Austin for a conference and on Wednesday evening I tried to capture what was left of the daylight at the end of the day for a little exploration around town. I had contemplated driving out to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge but didn’t think I had enough time to get out there and do anything useful so I opted to head downtown to Barton Springs and Zilker Park. It was smooth sailing south down the Mo-Pac expressway until it wasn’t and then I found myself ducking off the highway and heading down the still congested Lamar Street that leads towards the west side of downtown. Oh Austin, you planned your highways poorly.

    I arrived at the park with about 45 minutes of daylight left and with an open mind just to walk around to see what I could find. There were groups of people playing soccer on the large grass areas near Barton Springs Road and a few people walking the trails on either side of the creek. I’d always wanted to see the Barton Springs Pool and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t nearly as glamarous as the photos online and in magazines make it out to be.

    The water along the creek was quite clear and very blue with the late evening sun producing some beautiful reflections.

    I could have turned around and headed towards the Colorado River to the north, but instead I went the other direction thinking I’d have a lot of creek to explore. Instead I found myself running into the pool not too far down the trail.


    Kayakers and SUPers are all over this area and on the Colorado during the warm months. I didn’t see anyone on the river when I drove over it but I’m betting there were folks there earlier in the day since the temperatures haven’t dropped enough to keep most peope from being on the water.



    And here’s the pool. There were a couple of people ankle deep in the water here on my side of the pool area but only a few lifeguards in the actual pool itself. There was evidence all around of the flooding a few weeks ago that swept through the Austin area, vegetation clumps and debris caught in fences and crevices of tree branches. Flash flooding in central Texas is a scary reality during a t-storm.

    I popped up top after I hit the fence at the pool down below and got a better look at the pool from above. It was there I found the much altered Eliza Spring, home to the rare Barton Springs salamanders.

    As you can see it was once open to the public with access down to the spring but it has since been closed off to the public due to the sensitive nature of the habitat. More information on the spring and its history.

    My explorations were short and since I was close to Chuy’s that’s where I headed for dinner. I’d like to get back to Austin this winter and see a few other natural areas such as the Balcones Canyonlands NWR that I haven’t been to.

    Clematis crispa

    clematis pod

    It wasn’t until we moved to Texas that I discovered the awesomeness of native clematis species. We encountered this species while working Big Thicket National Preserve two years ago and since then we’ve become enamoured with the plant, looking for them in nurseries we visit. Ours is growing well on a trellis in our garden having put on blooms multiple times this summer. The bottom photo is from a seed pod we found in the Big Thicket. In Texas the species is located in moist areas in the southeastern section of the state, while the similar appearing Clematis pitcherii is found in the central and western portion of the state in mostly upland areas. That should help with identification problems if out in wild habitat.

    Another interesting clematis in the state is Clematis texensis occurring in the Texas Hill Country. It can be easily found in Lost Maples State Park if you are looking in the right place and the Natives of Texas nursery has plants for sale, at least when we visited back in the spring, over in Kerrville.

    Most people who grow clematis tend to grow the more showy non-native and hybrid varieties, but there’s something to be said for the species that are native to the United States.

    Do you grow any clematis species?

    Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri

    Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri

    Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri


    I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of Gaillardia. Commonly it is known as Indian blanket or fire wheel however, I like to refer to it by its genus. This genus is relatively hands off in regards to fussiness; plant it and it thrives. You may see the more commong Gaillardia pulchella or aristata and even aestivalis, but other varieties such as this one are more rare. This particular species is endemic to southeast Texas—only. Here are a couple of interesting links in regards to its history.

    In our garden we, like always, had to fend off the deer and hope for the best. When the plants were finally established well they really took off, overtaking some of the adjacent vegetation. Blooms kept coming all summer long and it was a pollinator festival out there on the bloom—bees were all over it, especially mason bees!

    Calyptocarpus vialis

    Calyptocarpus vialis

    Calyptocarpus vialis

    Calyptocarpus vialis

    Calyptocarpus vialis

    Horseherb, aka: straggler daisy, is an interesting kinda-sorta native plant. You see, we have some *in* our flower garden from a pot that we bought, and where we bought it from called it native. It wasn’t long after we bought it that I actually paid attention to the grass around my yard and noticed that the same plant grew throughout the yard, intermingled with the grass and other weeds. It had been on my mind for awhile to check the plant out online and follow-up with digging more information on it, and finally a few weeks ago I actually looked it up. I had a suspicion that perhaps it wasn’t native afterall, especially since it was hanging out in the lawn.

    And like I said, it’s a kinda-sorta native plant. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center calls it a native as does the Native Plant Society of Texas, however the USDA considers it introduced. What a conundrum!

    A quick Google search yielded this this interesting paper discussing a bit more in depth the native status of the plant. My county isn’t listed as containing the plant though it is most definitely here. Likely if it is in my yard it is in other people’s yards, and who knows about natural areas.

    As for other people and their congeneality towards it, there’s a love/hate vibe that runs through gardeners. Some folks love it because it creates nearly evergreen mats that are shade tolerant. To be honest, I do like the look that is presented of it taking over a section of a yard; low growing, green—no need to mow. Now, the opposite of these folks are the haters, who think it’s an evil foe. And I see their point too—the pot I planted in my garden readily spreads and I have to trim it back frequently to keep it in the spot I want it in. In all honesty, I think it needs to move somewhere else where it can spread a little more and keep me from trimming it once a month.

    So, horseherb…a weed to some, and others an interesting native plant.

    What do you think? Do you grow horseherb?

    Lobelia cardinalis

    Lobelia cardinalis

    Lobelia cardinalis

    Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, is a showstopper in the garden. When it sends its flaming red stalk up to bloom, it’s hard to take your eyes off the plant! Ours is a very recent addition to the garden and has had its share of abuse from our feral cats using the stalks to lean up against, which in turn have left the plant leaning on the ground instead of in an upright position. Nonetheless, the plant continued to live and bloom, though now the blooms are fading into seed pods.

    Typically this plant is found in moist locations, such as stream edges, ponds, or moist bottomlands. It seemed to do just fine in our flower bed with every-other-day watering from our sprinkler system. The last photo in the set is actually from a wild plant that we saw along Juniper Springs, a canoe run in Ocala National Forest in Florida back in 2009. There’s nothing like turning a corner and seeing that to shock you out of any kind of relaxed daze on a canoe ride!

    L. cardinalis is widely distributed across North America and across Texas, making it something you would likely see if in the right habitat requirement. Being that the flowers are so strikingly red, it is given that hummingbirds are drawn to the plant which just adds to its value in your garden.

    If you’ve got the space, get this plant!

    Echinacea purpurea

    Echinacea purpurea

    Echinacea purpurea

    Echinacea purpurea

    Echinacea purpurea

    Echinacea purpurea


    Echinacea purpurea

    Echinacea purpurea

    The purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, has been a tricky plant to grow in my garden. The deer love it! I don’t know how many times it has been chowed down on by those feisty rascals, but it took all summer and just in the past few weeks have the bloom stalks survived being eaten long enough to actually produce a bloom. We started these plants from seeds that I received from my mom. Pass along seeds and plants are the best as they always have some sort of story or memory attached to them. It probably would have helped if we hadn’t planted the flowers front and center along the pathway, as if to entice the deer outright and instead had put them further back into one of the flower beds. Oh well!

    In Texas the plant is only native to extreme northeast Texas, and is more common in the eastern portion of the United States. There are other echinacea species I’d like to try to grow eventually, but I have a feeling they would be tasty to deer, too. If I can get this patch growing well, I’d like to add another patch or two in other locations in the garden as I think they would be prolific bloomers through the growing season.

    Do you grow any echinacea species in your garden?

    Bidens laevis

    Bidens laevis

    Bidens laevis

    Bidens laevis

    Bidens laevis

    Bidens laevis

    Bidens laevis

    Bidens laevis

    A couple of weeks ago I was on the Native Plant Society of Texas webpage and somehow came across Texas Native Plant Week. The Texas legislature signed the week into law in 2009 and this week for praising Texas native plants has been going on now for several years. I’m sure there are events associated with this week, however I thought it would be fun to cover native plants in my yard and garden currently growing over the next seven days. I’ve got a great list of them and this week we’re going to start with Bidens laevis.

    Last year was our first autumn in this house and that’s of course when I realized we had them growing down by our pond. An obligate wetland plant, a pond edge or wetland is where you will likely find this plant growing. Ours are growing amongst the non-native elephant ears, Colocasia esculenta, which line the pond where we live. The leaves of B. laevis, commonly known as smooth beggartick, have tricked me while weeding, seeming to resemble another wetland plant we have down there—that the name has escaped from me—but I had to be careful a few weekends ago when I was trying to clear out some of the vegetation along the pond in order not to remove the beautiful, sunny smooth beggartick.

    Having this plant around the edge of the pond is certainly something to look forward to each autumn, almost as exciting as waiting for the goldenrod to bloom. Yes, I am a plant nerd—excited about the seasonal blooms around the area! Autumn is almost as prolific at flower production as spring, the last bit of nectar for the pollinators before winter as well as to assist the migratory species on their way south.

    Another similar species in this niche is the swamp sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius.

    Do you garden with natives?


    It wasn’t actually raining when I took photos of these Lycoris radiata, aka: red spider lilies, a few days ago but this morning we’re receving a good, soaking rain. It actually poured heavily for an hour yesterday afternoon which helped in raising the water levels of the community pond we’re on. Not only that, I’m sure the trees and vegetation are happy with a lovely dose of rainwater, someting we’ve had a meager amount of these last few months.


    We were in Beaumont last year at a nursery just outside of town when we found a box of these bulbs sitting off on the side of the storeroom of the nursery. Curious on what they were, we asked the guys running the store what they were and how much they were. They informed us that a woman had brought them in after her husband had died thinking the nursery might want to use them or sell them. I can’t remember how many bulbs there were, maybe thirty, and they basically told us we could make an offer and they would sell the lot of them to us. I believe we offered $15 which is a bargain for these bulbs.


    After we came home with the bulbs we planted them around an oak tree that was later directly adjacent to the vegetable garden. Knowing they came up in early autumn, we’ve been waiting for them to sprout. It was only after a good rain a few weeks ago that a few began to send up the flower stalk and bloom. Definitely not all of them awoke from their slumber, probably because we didn’t put enough compost down around the tree and keep the grass from around the tree, but maybe if we take better care of them this coming year they will do better for us next autumn.


    Then again, maybe with the soaking we’re getting today more will sprout and bloom for us in the coming weeks.


    We’ll have to see.






    The purple tomatillos have decided to start fruiting which makes me happy. I’m hoping there is a lot of tomatillo salsa in my future! The purple variety is new to me and I haven’t grown tomatillos in many, many years, so this will be a relatively new experience for me.

    Have you grown tomatillos? Got a good tomatillo recipe?

    Done! Come see! I wish I could invite you to have a cup of coffee and sit on the bench. If you know me in real life this is definitely a possibility if you come by to visit.

    I’m sorry for the brain farts a few times—I seem to have trouble focusing on what I’m saying and recording at the same time. If you can take 5 minutes out of your afternoon, click play and let me know what you think.

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