Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bad flower. Very bad.

The lovely yellow flower decorating the roadsides this spring has been getting a lot of press recently.

“It’s so pretty,” you might say.  What’s not to like about masses of 3-foot tall plants, gently waving little yellow blooms all along the roadside?

Turns out this flower embodies the old saying:  “Beauty is only skin deep.” Or in this case, bloom deep. And it has a name to match its unpleasant nature: bastard cabbage (Rapistrum rugosum).

My friends, this invasive species is CROWDING OUT BLUEBONNETS (and other native plants).That will not do.

According to, bastard cabbage is native to southern Europe, northern Africa and western Asia.  It spreads here through grass seed mixes and mulches.

Once here, it settles right in. Its seeds germinate early in the fall, and then form a “blanket of leafy rosettes,” which keeps sunlight from reaching seedlings of other natives, including bluebonnets. A monoculture can develop. The site says these grow 1 to 5 feet tall, bloom spring into summer, and put down  “robust” taproots.

According to Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, bastard cabbage is found in multiple states, but is invasive only in Texas.

We noticed masses of yellow when returning from the coast a few weeks ago, and I saw lots near Blanco this week. In fact, fellow blogger Sheryl Smith Rogers wrote last week about attacking the bastard cabbage at Blanco State Park.

Field outside of Blanco.
But is it here? In Hays County?  YES!

We have seen it along FM 150 between Wimberley and Kyle.  There are a few isolated plants toward Wimberley and in my neighborhood; it is much thicker toward the east.

What can we do, what can we do? According to Texas Invasives, the best method of eradication is to yank the puppies up, and get those taproots. That should be easy. Not. 

The Wildflower Research Center is working on an organic way of dealing with this problem. Heavily seeded Indian blanket might be able to compete with the bastard cabbage, according to a KXAN Austin news report.

My husband has been a bastard cabbage warrior in his walks this week, yanking it up when he sees it along his path. Join him! If you see it on or near your property, show no mercy.

And if you want, mutter or shout, “Take that, you bastard cabbage!”

Favorite spot in the garden:

My first favorite:  At the corner of my porch, the anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) is simply stunning, covered in white blooms, with bees buzzing busily all around.  This is a very good little tree for Hays County. Just gouge out a hole in a rock somewhere, and stick it in. You will be rewarded.

Another favorite place is all the open, rocky areas on our property, where the stork’s bills (Erodium texanum) are having a banner year. Its name refers to the look of its seed pods. These have another charming name:  “fillaree.” Like buttercups, these open late in the day, and close in the morning.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Butterfly brigades

You all know about the no-good, very bad year – 2011.  Pitiful amounts of rain resulted in very few blooms. Very few blooms meant no food for traveling butterflies.

Over the winter months, however, we have had rain, and lots of it. The trees, grasses and wildflowers are rejoicing, and putting on a great show of life. And like old friends we haven’t seen in awhile, butterflies have come a-visiting.

Red admiral. The picture isn't upside down, the butterfly is!
In particular, we have an army (battalion? squadron? platoon?) of red admirals (Vanessa atalanta). These are regular visitors here, but this year their numbers are impressive. As I walk or drive on the driveway, they rise up in waves. They flutter around everywhere we walk.

According to Greta Ajjilvsgi in Butterfly Gardening for the South, “the Red Admiral is one of the best known and most widespread butterflies.” Its larval food plants are nettles. It spends time on the ground at moist places (hence its presence on my driveway), and rests on vertical surfaces with its head down. It feeds on sap, fruit and animal droppings, along with various flowers.

Yesterday, I went out to snap pictures, thinking these fellows were sipping nectar from a large patch of prairie verbenas. They were, but really they were more interested in the blooms of the nearby Texas persimmons (which have a heavenly scent, by the way).

Butterfly Central!
Checkered skipper
Painted lady

In the process of documenting the red admiral invasion, I discovered other butterflies visiting, also:  painted ladies, (Vanessa cardui) Checkered skipper (Pyrgus communis), and other unidentified ones. Oddly enough, butterflies don’t hold still for my camera like flowers will.

Most interesting was an eye-catching moth, black with large white patches on its wings. I’ve never seen this critter here before, but (thanks to Peterson First Guides Butterflies and Moths) it is an eight-spotted forester  (Alypia octomaculata).  This moth is diurnal (instead of nocturnal like most moths), with two pale yellow patches on each forewing, and two white patches on each hind wing. It has “tufts of orange hair-like scales” on its legs and yellow shoulders (who knew moths had shoulders?). Quite a few of these are fluttering around the persimmons. Larval food sources are grapes and Virginia creeper, both of which grow here.

Butterflies make me happy. Sounds sappy and cutesy, I know, but I can’t help it. They make me smile.

Welcome home, old and new friends. My outlook is sunnier for your presence!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March is blooming!

The big news this March Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is the incredible, lush greenery. Last March, the drought had already set in; not only were there few flowers, but not much green, either.

But this year I do have a few fabulous spots to report on, and here they are!

On our land, we have one big patch of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) blooming, and more scattered around that haven't come into bloom, yet. Bluebonnets are, of course, Texas' state flower.

 In my garden, the showiest blooms sit side by side:  bridal wreath (Spiraea prunifolia) and pink oxalis (Oxalis articulata f. crassipes). Oh my!

Other blooms in my bed are the autumn sage (Salvia greggii) out front and naturalizing four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris scaposa - pictured here with a white autumn sage).

In the wild, the Texas stars (Lindheimera texana) are blooming. They will get larger and continue blooming through the spring.

Prairie (or plains) fleabane (Erigeron modestus - at least I think that's what it is!) is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.  It's tough, it spreads, and it's showy. Love it!

Prairie verbenas (Glandularia bipinnatifida) are also beginning to make a show. These are our most prolific wildflower here on the hill, and will continue blooming into the fall.

One of our favorites this time of year are what we call buttercups, which bloom in the evening and wilt away the next morning. We are surprised every spring when we stumble upon the first blooms some spring evening. As near as I can tell, these are Missouri primroses (Oenothera macrocarpa), though ours do not bloom as long as the book says they do.

Head on over to May Dreams Gardens to see more reports on March blooms!

P.S. If you think I've misidentified something, let me know. I am an amateur botanist, and most likely make mistakes!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The palmetto plan

I’ve engaged in a spurt of gardening activity this week, in advance of forecasted rain.  Three beds that had lost plants for one reason or another  (including the ever-popular “dog excavations”) were repopulated with relocated residents.

The most ambitious undertaking involved importing a new plant into my garden;  if I had researched beforehand, I might have thought twice.

During the Wildflower Center excursion memorialized in my last post and as we enjoyed an al fresco lunch in the courtyard, over my companions’ shoulders I noticed some dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor) nodding in the breeze. They were growing in a circle bed beneath a live oak tree.

Like a bolt of lightning, inspiration struck. Shazzam! I could use palmettos under a group of trees outside my living room window, an area also surrounded by rock and mostly shaded! This would be perfect! My garden gurus, who both grow this plant, agreed that it might work for me.

Before: Proposed bed in the weeding stage.
A day later, my daughter and I made the trek to my in-laws for the weekend, where we dug up four little palmettos. Upon our return, I began the process of clearing out an area that had not been a formal bed, mixing in garden soil, tucking in the little darlings, and mulching. I’ve also transplanted two Texas betonies (Stachys coccinea) and six cedar sages (Salvia roemeriana). Tropical sage already volunteers here and a holly fern (the lone survivor of three planted last year) is coming out.

It shall be known henceforth as:  “the red bed.”

After: Palmetto young 'uns bedded and mulched.

After researching for this post, however, I’m less sanguine about the palmettos’ chances of survival. The dwarf palmetto is indeed native to Texas (and east through North Carolina), even up on the Edwards Plateau, where we are. It is the only palm native to the Texas Hill Country. Birds and mammals enjoy its hard, black fruit. Sounds good, right?

But, and it’s a big but, “It is not a xeric plant and grows only in moist places with rich alluvial soil,” according to Trees, Shrubs, and Vines of the Texas Hill Country by Jan Wrede. Oops. The only moist, rich, alluvial soil on my property is down on the north side where the water rushes through in floods. That’s not where I planted it.

The Wildflower Center offers a little more hope for my chances of growing this palm successfully. According to the listing for the palmetto, if you provide lots of water until it’s established, it will then be drought-tolerant. Serendipitously, and unbeknownst to me, the betony has similar water requirements.

Well, my gurus said it was worth a try, and the Wildflower Center gave me a plan of action, so I shall forge ahead.  Wish me luck.

Favorite spot in the garden:

Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) is in full bloom! Mountain laurels are native here and we have five or six in the woods. The only one blooming now grows beside the hippies’ swimming hole that was here when we bought the place. The bees and butterflies are swarming, needless to say. Besides looking stunning, it has a strong fragrance. Lovely!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wandering the Wildflower Center

Last week I had the privilege of spending a day with two of my favorite gardeners at one of my favorite gardens. These women have answered countless questions, stocked my garden with innumerable plants and offered inspiration through their wonderful gardens.

Who are these paragons? My mother-in-law, and my dear friend Lona. We met at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in south Austin to tour the grounds and have a “ladies’ lunch” at the on-site and aptly named Wildflower Café. The day was perfect:  sunny and unseasonably warm.

View as you enter the demonstration gardens area.

Listening to these gardeners converse about plants, while I trailed after pretending I knew what they were talking about, was simply wonderful.

None of us had been to the center in awhile, though we have visited extensively in the past. We were all interested to see changes since those last visits.

We first stopped to inspect a new garden area at the head of the Hill Country trails, freshly landscaped and just being planted with natives. Next, we noticed the Ashe juniper logs lining the trails. In the demonstration gardens area, we were impressed with the small beds planted using round metal watering troughs.

One of my main goals for this trip was to inspect a small rock garden that I remembered seeing, since I am working on a rock garden here on the hill. The one I remember did not offer much inspiration, but the center’s staff had installed a bed in the demonstration gardens with desert plants and décor that jumped right out at me.  Yes!

At the center, located on the southern edge of Austin, one is guaranteed to see wildlife. A friend (actually, my husband’s fourth grade teacher!) who volunteers at the center pointed out the great horned owl that had taken up residence a few days earlier in a pocket bed high on the entrance wall.  To the left of the entrance is a small pond, in which three turtles were basking on a rock. This area is guaranteed to fascinate any young child passing by.

Because we visited in February, before most growth has begun, we enjoyed seeing the bones of the gardens. Lona commented that it would be interesting to come back and see how the gardens evolve over the course of the year. She’s right.

If you haven’t visited this wonderful place, you should. It abounds with native plants and landscaping tips and ideas especially relevant for central Texas. 

Our ladies' lunch was delicious, too.

One can even find inspiration in the parking lot!