Blooming gloriously just a couple of weeks ago, the parsley hawthorn, Crataegus marshallii was the centerpoint of the front flower bed. Positioned perfectly in front of our window on the stairwell, I’d peer out every time I went upstairs. A favorite of the pollinators for a short while, too.
Last week I took out the macro lens to get a different viewpoint on the world in the garden. I wasn’t expecting to take photos of wildlife but once out in the edible garden where the full-sun was during the lunch hour, I came across several interesting individuals who got their photos captured.
First, there was this Eastern Yellowjacket, Vespula maculifrons that someone on iNaturliast identifed as a queen. Pretty nifty! I’m not sure what she was searching for on the ground but that’s where she landed after buzzing a few flowers.
Over on the calendula I was stopped for several minutes as I watched this sweat bee roll around and cover itself with pollen. Must have been a delicious portion of calendula! I went back and forth trying to decide which kind of sweat bee this was and thought it was either a Green Metallic or a Pure Green sweat bee. I ended up leaving it at the family Halictidae and someone on iNaturalist came and sub-divided that to Tribe Augochlorini. I’m leaning towards it being a Green Metallic sweat bee but I’m not a bee expert—so, if you are a bee expert do tell what this one is!
I think this is one of the duskywings, Erynnis sp.. Since I was focused on taking photos of it nectaring I didn’t get a good shot from above in order to properly identify it and when I did try to stand up it flew off and I had no patience to sit around and wait again. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it/them again and get another photo at a later date.
I think I need to stalk that calendula again soon.
The potting bench is full of seedlings and other plants in various stages of grow-out but I’m going to showcase three plants on the bench simply because that’s the ones I took photos of!
Native to the eastern third of the US, poke milkweed is a shade loving milkweed growing in dry to mesic forests. I attempted to grow this milkweed last year and had a few seeds sprout where I directly planted them in the garden but the deer trampled them and they died. This year I bought four or five packs of seeds from Prairie Moon in an attempt to stratify and establish a lot of plants in the shadiest section of the garden, this time growing them out in pots first.
Many of our Texas native milkweeds require much drier and sunnier conditions, though there are some species like swamp (A. incarnata) and aquatic (A. perennis) which take wetter or mesic areas, and they can handle some shade. The aquatic milkweed is harder to come by in the nursery trade than swamp milkweed which is one of the more common species you’ll find outside of A. tuberosa or A. curassavica. I’d love to find redring milkweed (A. variegata) or clasping milkweed (A. amplexicaulis) but I’d probably have to find wild seeds which is also hard to come by.
I planted out all of the swamp and poke milkweed seedlings I had over the last week and hopefully they can get established and feed monarchs (and queens) for years to come.
The purple agastache we have growing in the garden is always a prolific bloomer and self sower that I thought diversifying the agastache in the garden sounded like a great idea. The pollinators are also all over the flowers when the plants are blooming so that sounded like another plus to adding in more agastache. This is also a plant that can handle some shade and mesic soils. I tried stratifying in the fridge and stratifying seeds outdoors this winter and I had much more germination with seeds in the fridge, though there was some germination with those left outdoors. We’ll see how this one does this season!
We’ve had these seeds for years after a botanist and fellow field biologist had given Chris a baggy of them on a project years ago. I think we’ve tried starting them a few times with no results but I didn’t think about cold stratifying them until this year. Some were sown outside in winter and I had weak germination but the ones I stratified in the fridge for about 60 days, I’ve had great germination with those! I was honestly surprised because I thought those seeds were too old by now. I think Chris has some in the fridge, too, and if not I’ll likely try to stratify the rest and germinate more because this isn’t a plant you commonly see.
There are many other plants on the potting bench and maybe I’ll showcase a few more of them soon!
I don’t get down to the pond shoreline nearly as often as I would like. The tug of the gardens is where I’m usually heading—weeds to pull, plants to sow, poking about needing to be done. I try to make a big tour of the yard a couple of times a month but sometimes it is less than that. However, this is the season for the iris and the Iris virginica are blooming along the far north east part of our portion of the pond shoreline. Chris saved these from a pipeline project years ago and they have continued to spread and stabilize the shoreline in an area he’s been steadily killing the invasive taro.
Last week I took a series of macro photos around the yard and instead of one giant post I’m going to share little pieces over the next week or so. Often I won’t have a lot to say but I enjoy just sharing the photos—I mean, habitual photographer here—gotta share my photos somewhere!
Yesterday we had intentions of driving over to the Lake Houston Wilderness Park to go for a hike after we had Tex-Mex for lunch. Unfortunately spring thunderstorms are starting to pick up and on the forecast this weekend was rain. As we were wrapping up lunch Chris checked the radar and it looked like the worst was moving to the north but there were some scattered showers popping up on the southwest side of town. The LHWP is on the NE side of greater Houston and we’re on the NW side. We decided that we didn’t want to make the rest of the drive over that direction in case we did get rained out, better to stick closer to home. So, we hit up Burroughs Park which is much closer to home.
The park itself is tucked away in what I what is remaining of northern Harris county’s ‘Horse Country’, where large acreage is interspersed between smaller subdivisions and older homes from the 60s-80s. At the front of the park are soccer and baseball fields, and as you drive further in there’s a large pond, a dog park, and the playgrounds. As we approached the parking area for the trail head we were talking to Forest about this park because it has probably been a year since we’ve been over to the park. He of course finally remembered being there and when he saw the playgrounds he said, “I looove playgrounds! Also, I love dinosaurs!” Chris and I got a great chuckle out of that because boy, does the kid love dinosaurs! I never would have thought he would have fallen so hard for them but here were are, about a year into dino obsession.
I’m not sure where the interest began, maybe it was a general interest that kids get when they are learning all new things but I will peg a lot of it to two shows on Amazon Prime called Dino Dan and Dino Dana. It’s a combination of live action kids interspersed with CGI dinosaurs or other prehistoric animals like mammoths and plesiosaurs. He must have picked up quite a bit from that because the obsession went on from there and now he likes dino documentaries. Last year when we went to the science museum, we were walking through the fossils and he pointed and shouted “That’s a quetzalcoatlus!” Wouldn’t you know that’s what the tag said?
Flash forward to the last few weeks and we’ve been accumulating piles of dinosaur drawings like you see above. I’m dispersing some of them out to family with his spring portraits but he has no problems being creative with his drawings. That T-Rex is quite scary up there, right? It looks like a cross between a T-Rex, an alligator, and a deep ocean angler fish! This morning I pulled out one of his dinosaur books so he could draw from the book.
If I had to add to the list of things Forest “loooves” it would be: chocolate bars aka: chocolate kids Cliff Bars, popcorn, leaf cutter ants (he could watch for hours!), and playing in the mud.
It’s hard to believe he will be 5 in September. I’m glad he gets another year at preschool instead of going to kindergarten this year. A few years ago I had thought he could easily go to kindergarten anyway, and he could, but just seeing how little he is still and how much better it will be to get another year of playing in before school—well, I’m glad it is going to be another year for him.
We’re having a cozy day here with more t-storms. I hope you are having a cozy weekend as well.
This is a longer post because I couldn’t refrain myself from taking all-the-photos! Write-up at the end!
Texas Nightshade, Solanum triquetrum — I saw the vegetation of this first, and the vine was really stumping me. It looked like a mix of clematis and mikania and I couldn’t figure it out. Then I saw the flowers and fruit and knew it was a nightshade. Very interesting plant!
The morning of our second day at the state park we got up intending to hike the Woodland Trail, located on the far south side of the state park across Park Road 4. The night before we’d driven into the town of Kingsland to track down a pan to cook on. I’d taken out our skillet pan from the camping bin because we were planning on taking the large electric griddle, only the griddle never made it into the truck. Dinner the previous night had been something we could use our sauce pan for, if I’m recalling correctly, but the next couple of days would require more than that. So, off to town we went and Chris emerged from the grocery store with a cheap baking pan that he intended to double as a skillet. Yeah, don’t buy one of those. It went into the trash when we left. I mean, it worked for the time being and we didn’t want to spent $20 on a new skillet when we already had one at home, sitting unused.
The night before on our drive we’d noted what we thought was the trail head on the other side of the road, so we had thought we could park along the side of the road at that trail head. That morning when I was investigating I noticed there wasn’t an indication on the map of a parking area over there. We popped into the park office just to make sure, and of course, no parking at that trail head. That meant walking further via another trail to get to that trail, and while I figured Forest could handle it we were also planning on being at camp for lunch. It wasn’t going to work out time wise. Instead we opted for the Pecan Flats Trail which we still had to connect to via another trail but it was a bit shorter and still on the other side of the road.
And it was fantastic! All it made me want is to see the rest of the trails on that side of the park!
We connected using part of the Lake Trail which had some of the rocks we hiked over at the beginning, and then flattened out into a bottomland type area adjacent to Hylton Branch. Over in this area in the woods were primitive camping sites and there was at least one or two tents set up over here. A decent looking privy was located at the far eastern end of the wooded area and it was curiosity of Forest, he had to poke his head in to see what it looked like!
As we emerged from the woods it was apparent there was an entire landscape we hadn’t seen from the woods and it looked amazing. I knew we would be stopping to inspect all of the plants and walk slowly looking for wildlife. A few people had climbed the first hill to get a look at the view and we climbed up as well. There was so much packed into every square inch and much of it I wasn’t familiar with. Again, iNaturalist to the rescue!
On first appearance the area almost looks like a moonscape, due to a wildfire last summer, but it was full of vegetation and low growing wildflowers. And there was a surprising amount of water around, too, in the form of springs and little creeks that developed from those springs. When you see the rocky outcrops from a distance you don’t expect to be finding wetlands all around. Really, we (I) could have crept along at a slower pace but at some point Forest gets annoyed and I become the slow person because I’m taking photo after photo.
I bet this place looked even better a few weeks after we visited with the wildflowers. I’m sure it will take quite a while for the tree and shrub layers to recover from such a harsh fire, but the wildflowers were probably happy to have a burn and with our wet winter it should have been great conditions for a spectacular spring bloom season.
If you are heading out to Inks Lake, make a point to get to the south side of the park. It is a unique area and full of wonderful niche plants tucked away into the rocks. You might want to bring a hat and sunscreen now that the tree layer is even more sparse than it was!
By far the most popular spot at Inks Lake State Park is the Devil’s Waterhole and Valley Spring Creek Trail. Located at the far northeast end of the park, the area is full of rocky boulders that lure both kids and adults into climbing up on them and when the season is right, swimming in the Devil’s Waterhole. It’s absolutely scenic, if not crowded, and would be a great taste of the park if you don’t have much time to spend or are driving through the Hill Country.
Chris and I came through Inks Lake back in the fall of 2011 when we did our Texas State Parks road trip. Unfortunately I don’t have many photos of this time because that hard drive I was using broke, and apparently I didn’t write about it either. But I do know that we did walk to the Devil’s Waterhole though I can’t remember us doing much else in the park!
The rocks were what drew Forest’s attention and we first climbed up a 4′ ledge to see what was on top, thinking that it was a way down to the waterhole. We found a great view but were stuck in that location without a safe way down and had to climb back down the ledge and walk a bit further down the trail. The waterfall area was busy but not as busy as I would expect it to be when the temperature heats up, and with the low water flow you could easily have waded or rock hopped to the other side of the creek and picked up the Devil’s Backbone Nature Trail on the other side. Instead we continued down the Valley Spring Creek Trail to the crossing at Park Road 4 and then looped our way back on the south part of the trail to get back to the parking lot. That section of trail was significantly quieter than the lower trail near the creek—I don’t think we can ran into anyone else. It doesn’t take much to lose the crowds when you get away from a super popular part of a park!
Let’s switch gears just a bit and return to mid-March and east Texas at Huntsville State Park. We took a three-day weekend and headed off an hour north of the house to this state park. It’s one of my favorites and so easily accessible off of I-45—and it’s huge, in addition to being adjacent to Sam Houston National Forest.
I’m lumping all of our hikes together into one post because I didn’t take a ton of photos. And I’m surprised I barely took any photos at our campsite. We were in the Raven Hill camping area at campsite 21 which backed up to a wooded area separating the other loop in the camping area from ours. It turned out to be a great exploration area for Forest and a nice cut-through to get to the bathroom which was up the hill by the other camping loop.
Oh boy, between Inks Lake and Huntsville SP, I did a lot of digging and looking at the Packera and Senecio genera because from a glance they look almost identical. Thankfully the most common ones of the genera (in Texas) are fairly easy to differentiate once you get passed the flowers and look at the rest of the plant, but now I feel a bit better about trying to figure out which is which.
Forest playing along the Loblolly Trail behind the Nature Center. It’s a short loop and as Chris stated when we were hiking there was actually a lot of short leaf pine on the trail and he thought it should have been named Short Leaf Trail instead!
When I came across this viburnum blooming I stopped and just oohed at it for a few minutes. It was a beautiful specimen!
Baptisia sp. I was also excited to see these baptisia that I completely missed on my first trip down this trail, at a trail junction. I happened to stop and tie my shoe as a group of hikers were passing and looked up and saw a cluster of them.
We have this growing in our yard and I’m always stumped as to what it is. I had come cross the name once before on someone’s Flickr page but the name has escaped me since then. But now I know! I see this plant from time to time when we’re hiking. It isn’t super common but enough that I’ve noticed it and always remember it’s the same thing I see in the yard. And now I’m super curious of black swallowtails will use it as a host plant since it is in the Apiaceae family.
On Saturday afternoon we made a loop of part of the Triple C Trail and the Chinquapin Trail because the day before Forest had really wanted to hike on the ‘green trail’. We’d hiked on part of the Triple C trail on the other side of the park once. It is really just a perimeter road around the a large portion of the boundary of the park. I was interested because we hadn’t hiked on that section before and I was curious what was back there—plus I was looking to get away from the crowds a bit. And I say ‘crowds’ loosely—it wasn’t packed but the trails closer in were busier than the ones further out.
We found solitude along the trail and several butterflies, including this one that I didn’t identify until later. It had been a cloudy day the previous day and that morning was a bit cloudy too so all of that sun had the butterflies out. We even saw a monarch, too.
But before we saw the duskywing we saw a zebra swallowtail! I shot a series of crappy photos with my camera because I had the wrong lens on and we meandered down the trail. Then we spotted it again when we took the service road to meet up with the Chinquapin Trail.
I actually took this photo, which you can make out the butterfly in the left third of the photo just above the middle. I zoomed and cropped it so you could even see it. We’re on the far western part of the range for them here and I can’t recall ever seeing one despite that they are prevalent in Florida. I’m sure I saw one there and just don’t recall it. I was pretty excited for this find!
Just before we left the service road for the trail and woods again I saw this butterfly land. This time I did have the long lens on but Forest was antsy to move on and so I didn’t get to move in closer for a better shot.
This was the only patch we found while on our hikes. I was kind of surprised.
May apple flower, Podophyllum peltatum
And I’m going to have to go back through my photos because I know I took photos of several patches of may apples. I guess I just didn’t edit them? Not sure what happened!
All in all it was a great camping trip. I loved our campsite location, though the site itself was a bit sloped so we we had some trouble finding a flat spot for the tent. There was a boy and a girl who happened to be staying in trailer with what I presumed to be their grandparents at the site next to us and Forest finally befriended the girl who was 3. She was enamored with the bubbles we’d brought and so they had became campsite friends. The girls’ poor brother was about 10 and I think he felt left out when he lost his sister to another playmate. They left Saturday late morning and Forest was upset he’d lost his friend. We told him he was going to have plenty of campsite friends over the coming years—especially when he learned to ride his bike!
We arrived to Inks Lake State Park in late February on an early Friday afternoon. Being as it was Friday, the park itself was rather quiet at first, before the Austin weekend crowd arrived. There were some folks already set up in their RVs, trailers, and tents but otherwise it was a quiet situation. Our campsite was tucked away on a quiet loop towards the back of the park next to a fishing pier and cleaning station—the first was exciting for Chris and the second was a source of fascination for Forest every time we walked by. He wanted to see the cleaning area even if there were no fish in it.
Camp was set up and that fishing pier was luring Chris too much and a playground we passed on the way in was luring Forest too much so Forest and I walked over to playground to play for a good chunk of time, enough time for Chris to get his fishing needs met (at least for the time being). After both boys got their fun in, we drove over to near the park entrance and parked at the trailhead to scope out a short hike before dinner. Immediately on trail I was oohing and ahhing at the wildflowers. Even though it was very early spring, we’d seen enough on the drive there to know that there would be plenty in bloom. And I was not disappointed! Wildflowers were everywhere!
The trail was filled with gneiss rock formations which was an instant lure to Forest. There was a short trail that he kept being enticed by that lead to a slight overlook where park housing was located and no matter how many times we walked down that trail he had to take the side trail to see, even though he knew what was on the other side.
This time around we stuck to the Upper Fisherman’s trail, leaving the lower trail for a few days later. It provided scenic views of the lake and dam in the distance, and of course plenty of wildflower opportunities for me! The Selaginella at the end there was so intriguing! Growing in such harsh conditions, I was just amazed to see it over the next few days. What an interesting plant!
And I really want to get my hands on some Texas toadflax seeds—must dig around online for some as I think they would be a great addition to our ROW plantings.
This was just the tip of the botanical wonder at the state park and I can’t imagine what it looks like now or just over the last few weeks. I’m sure so much different is in bloom!
Stay tuned, lots more coming your way!
It feels as if I’d read more than I have over the last two months because I’m in the middle of so many books or started and put some on hold. Here’s what I actually finished:
Royally Screwed & Royally Matched by Emma Chase: Both of these are absolute fluff romance novels that came by way of recommendation of Abby on the Friendlier Podcast. I listened to them as audiobooks and they were very easy listens and I finished in about two days each. I’m not a huge romance novel fan but these were perfect.
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson: One of the best hiking books I’ve read in a while. Heather broke the overall fastest known time on the PCT in 2013 with relatively little long distance FKT experience under her belt. I loved Heather’s writing and could empathize with many of her feelings on trail. I need to see what her speaking schedule is like and see if she’ll be in Texas at some point. Also, I don’t know what I was thinking a few months ago when I said I thought (or hoped) she was going to do the Florida Trail FKT this year—duh, she’s doing a book tour. I still hope she will tackle it at some point, though.
The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience by Jennifer Pharr Davis: I think the title is a bit misleading because one could think that this would be about many aspects of endurance athletes but it is specific to FKT hikers. Jennifer is an FKT record holder as well (though her record has now been broken a few times over) and has written two other memoirs of her AT hikes, but this book is different. It chronicles FKT hikers she knows personally as well as several she knew of but held some mystique or were personally private about their FKT records. You get to know each of the people she chronicles, including Anish above, in aspects that they themselves may not have opened up about. I did get the sense she was rather incredulous and maybe a little upset with how Scott Jurek handled crossing the Kennebec River. Add this one to your hiking book list!
Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations by Ken Druse
Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold (of Free Solo fame)
Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1) by Jacqueline Winspear (Really loving this!)
A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season by Margaret Roach
The Whole Okra by Chris Smith (a Net Galley preview, and OMG I am loving it!)
Legends and Lore of Texas Wildflowers by Elizabeth Silverthorne: I got this from the library but took so much time reading it that I had to return it. I really loved it and will check it out again soon.
What are you reading these days?