Friday, June 22, 2012

Stickers and Dad

While out in the yard a week ago, I was horrified to find . . . stickers. 

I think these are field or coastal sandspurs
(Cenchrus spinifex). According to the Wildflower Center
website, these prefer sandy soils, which explains
why we don't normally see a lot of them.

We have lots of plants that stick to you around here. Most can be avoided. But these terrible things lurk on the ground, waiting to be driven into the soles of unsuspecting children’s feet. There they stick, as children cry “Don’t touch it, don’t touch it!” when their parents endeavor to remove the pernicious seed without impaling their fingers.

I remember when I was that child crying in pain. And of course, I’ve heard the cries when removing stickers from my own children’s bare feet.

When I saw the hated plants, I knew it was time to take action. After retrieving tools, I advanced on the enemy wearing gloves, carrying a big white bucket and brandishing my trowel. Begone, foul beasts!

I carefully dug up the offending plants, trying not to knock the stickers off before they made it into the bucket, and then picking stray stickers off my gloves. There were actually quite a few plants in three areas – how did they become so many?  Inattention, that’s how.

As I dug, my thoughts were not only about how this was a weed I did not want in my yard, but also about protecting my little daughter’s bare feet.

This reminded me of one of my earliest memories. My family – parents and three girls - lived out in West Texas when I was very young. We had a large backyard, infested with stickers. My dad spent many hours sitting on a stool in that backyard digging up sticker plants and discarding them into a bucket. I’m sure it was a hot, thankless job – west Texas in the summer can be hellish.

Why did he work so hard at this? All these years I’ve thought it was so he would have a pretty lawn. But now that I’m the parent carefully removing the sticker plants, I think there was another explanation.

My dad was doing one of those thousands of things fathers do to protect their children. He was digging stickers so his pretty little girls wouldn’t be hurt as they played barefoot in the backyard. Perhaps that’s why the memory stuck in my mind – it was a picture of my father as protector.

Thanks, Dad, for digging all those stickers, and for all the other things you did to take care of us.

Favorite spot in the garden:

White heliotrope (Heliotropium tenellum) is my favorite plant today. It’s not in one spot, but scattered about my property (this photo was taken beside the driveway) in inhospitable locations, looking lovely. I’m sure it’s grown here before, but I’ve only just identified it this year. It is hardy, prolific, cheerful – what more can you ask from a wildflower?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Katydid Cotillion

Well, the Katydid Cotillion continues in Hays County.

We aren’t ones to interfere with a good time here in my neighborhood. And these bugs have been having a really good time for the last few months – all over the trees, the houses, etc. Good time. The party really gets going after dark. The mating sounds, in aggregate, drown out conversations, outdoor performances and television.

Last night a cool breeze blew in, so we tried to sleep with the windows open. We lasted about 20 minutes, then jumped up and slammed the windows shut. It’s that loud.

Last week, we sat at a party on a neighbor’s deck, shouting at each other over the racket. A neighbor who is a biologist suggested that the overpowering buzzing might be interfering with mating rituals of other night species – owls, chuck will’s widow, frogs.  Maybe their ears are better than ours, but the katydids are the only things we can hear at night. We agreed that they are louder than normal this year, and speculated it might be due to the mild winter.

These katydids are Central Texas leaf-katydids (Paracyrtophyllus robustus) (from These little jewels dine on oak foliage, and are usually heard but not seen - except in outbreak years. Guess what, folks:  It's an outbreak year in Hays (and a number of area counties). In outbreak years, they are seen everywhere. I am disturbed to learn that they sing from late May to mid-July - they are nowhere near finishing.

Click here to hear what we've been listening to.

Our critters have very long antenna and tall angular bodies that serve as excellent leaf camouflage. We see both bright green and reddish brown ones – many of each. One is hanging out in around my laundry room as we speak. 

My daughter and I collected a big jug full of them last week (this required lots of squealing, jumping and running – on my part), and then carried the lot down to the chicken yard for a chicken rodeo. Let me just say, chickens like katydids. Yum.

So settle in, neighbors. The katydids are here to party, and they will be carousing for at least another month.

Coneflowers backed by Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens).
Favorite spot in the garden:

The purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are blooming profusely right now. They are my daughter’s birthday flower, so we are always happy to see them blooming. I tried for several years to grow these, determined that they would live in my garden. After killing multiple plants, some finally survived, and have sowed offspring. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!