Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cool plant #2: Escarpment black cherry

Shortly after we built our house, we noticed an interesting tree tucked into a live oak motte down by the shack – er, Men’s Institute of Higher Learning. We didn’t recognize it, and neither did our family plant expert, my mother-in-law Mary Anne Pickens. Ah well.

Several years ago we noticed it blooming in the spring, and as a result were able to make an identification:  Escarpment black cherry (Prunus serotina var.  eximia). So far as we know, it is the only one on our property. Our specimen is 30 feet tall and lovely.

Voila! I present the second in my occasional series on species endemic to my area!

According to the Wildflower Center website, the escarpment black cherry is a “distinct and isolated geographic variety of black cherry (Prunus serotina) found only in the calcareous soils of central Texas.” It is naturally occurring from Burnet and Williamson counties south to Comal and Medina counties, and west to Kimble and Kinney counties. We are in the middle of that area.

The escarpment black cherry is the white multi-trunked tree behind the live oak leaning across in the front.
 As you can see from the picture, it sports light green leaves with light-colored branches and an open structure. It has lovely blooms in April and May, fruit, and leaves that turn yellow in the fall. We get really excited about fall color here, where our most common trees are evergreen.

Its cherries are edible, but other parts of the tree are poisonous (possibly fatal) to humans and herbivorous animals. Birds and mammals like the fruit, and a number of moths and butterflies enjoy its nectar and use it as a larval host.

The Wildflower Center notes that furniture makers like its wood for its “lustrous, dark red tint.” We have two very dear friends who make furniture. We steer them away from this tree when they visit. They can’t have it.

Here's a closer shot, with the gray water drains
coming out of the shack behind the tree.

I’ve just figured out something else about this tree. The Wildflower Center says it needs moist, but well-drained soil. At first thought, this tree’s home would not seem to be moist. Ah, think again. The tree grows near the end of the gray water pipe from the shack. When we bought the property, renters lived in the shack, which had water but no septic, only a gray water drain from a kitchen sink. Also, they used an outdoor shower (no hot water!) located nearby and slightly uphill from the tree.

It’s a wonder the beauty didn’t perish after we booted the renters and the shack sat empty. I guess the tree was established enough that it could survive without those water sources. I did water it in the terribly dry summer of 2011. It is one of my prize botanical specimens, and I want it to live!

Click here to read about another plant native to my geographic area, the twist-leaf yucca.

Favorite spot in the garden:

While hanging laundry today I looked up and saw this phalanx of twist-leaf yucca bloom stalks. My young garden helper and I gathered rocks earlier this year to put around the base of the yuccas for a rock garden effect, which makes the group stand out. I don't remember so many blooming together before. Aren't they cool?

Now some folks would wait until they bloom before taking photos. However, savvy central Texas gardeners know that deer particularly enjoy yucca bloom stalks. I imagine they taste like asparagus. There is no guarantee these will make it to full bloom. If they do, I'll take another picture!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April showers bring . . . April flowers

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day has come and gone, but since so much is blooming at my house right now, I’m posting for it anyway! I took these pictures on April 16, on a beautiful, sunny spring morning. It’s a good thing, as today it is drizzling and much cooler after the passage of a late cold front.

Although we are in the middle of a drought, we have received just enough rain to fuel my garden and wildflowers. The grass is green, and not just over the septic tank. The oak trees have leafed out for the most part (though a green haze of oak pollen continues to build up on cars and inside surfaces). In summary, it is a beautiful spring in Central Texas!

This scene is just purty:  Nierembergia (Nierembergia gracilis "Starry Eyes") blooming in the pond bed. Do you see the tiny yellow flower in front? That is common groundcover called straggler daisy (Calyptocarpus vialis). In places, it is my lawn – and it does not need mowing.

It's spring in Texas so there must be bluebonnets (Lupinis texensis). Our best bluebonnet patch is out by the burn pile. It was looking puny until a good rain three weeks ago. Now, as you can see, the bluebonnets are happier. Blooming alongside them is our main resident wildflower, the prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida).

 On the left is some sort of wildly beautiful iris. My iris bed has donated and one-off purchased irises, so I’ve got no idea what this one is. That does not stop me from appreciating it. On the right:  columbines (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana, I think)!

I’ve posted a picture of this area recently, but since then these Texas stars (Lindheimera texana) have taken over their corner of the bed. You get to see them again. These grow in uncultivated areas of my yard, also, but do not get quite so large.

Last year I noticed this plant blooming in the wild area in front of my house. On closer inspection, I realized it was a damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana). It was the only one on my property, to my knowledge, and I did not plant it. This year a second one has appeared in the same area. Yay!

The anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) is lovely, as it is every year, with its spring blooms.

This little area is one of my favorites right now. In front, cedar sages (Salvia roemeriana) shoot up stalks of deep red, with yellow accents from the four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa, I believe) against a backdrop of white autumn sage (Salvia greggii cultivar).

Out in the rock bed (which looks rather grassy at the moment), a volunteer fragrant mimosa (Mimosa borealis) has put on its pink and white puffballs. This plant occurs naturally on my land. Yellow Dahlberg daisies (Thymophylla tenuiloba) are blooming all over my yard, as is prairie verbena. The daisies are not natives, but after I planted some one year, they have self-seeded all over the front yard. This is okay by me, as I like the wildflower meadow look.

Looking out my French doors yesterday, I noticed the sun shining through the fresh green leaves of the crape myrtle and ran for the camera. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), purple oxalis (Oxalis triangularis?) and wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida) live underneath. The red bloomer is tropical sage (Salvia coccinea). This and the following picture are really more foliage shots, so I will be posting on Digging's Foliage Follow-up, also.

Last but definitely not least, I present this grouping out by the parking area. The only plant blooming here is the Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa - not a native), but isn’t it pretty with the century plants (Agave americana), nolina (Nolina lindheimeriana), woolly butterfly bush (Buddleja marrubiifolia) and cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens)? 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

If you like cool maps . . .

I saw this cool map recently, shared on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Facebook page from the Biota of North America’s Facebook page.

Verbiage from that Facebook page explains the map as follows:

Relative distribution of species found primarily in the Great Plains/Prairie region. Blue areas have the highest number of species per 10000 km2, whereas the brown areas have very few. Contour interval of 10 species; Facebook does not allow the display of the full resolution of these maps.

A further description posted on the page by Chris Durden goes as follows:

The map is based on distribution of woody plant species that occur in this region but not in the other identified "hot spots". Most occur together in central Texas. Even more occur across the Rio Grande in Coahuila. The Balconian "hot spot" is located at the southern end because that is where the biota survived the last and previous glaciations. Leaf through the other maps in this series and you will see similar treatments for our other regional woody floras. An illustrative species is *Berberis (Mahonia) swaseyi* of Travis, Hays, Comal, Kerr, Bandera and Real Counties in Texas. A species with very similar morphology was described from 38 million-year-old Florissant (National Monument, Colorado) volcanic ash lake beds where it was part of the "Madro-tertiary Flora". There are many more species of animals (mostly invertebrate) with this distribution because they are adapted to life on and among these woody plants. The Barton Springs Salamander and the listed endangered cave arthropods are part of this set of relict communities.

I had to read this about six times, but as I understand it, this map illustrates the distribution of woody plant species that occur in this region (Great Plains/Prairie region), with the highest concentration occurring in Central Texas. (The other maps the passage refers to are on Biota of North America's Facebook page.)

You wouldn’t know it from my property, which is overrun with Ashe juniper and live oaks. But these seem to be really smart people, so I believe them!

I like maps; I hope you do, too.

Favorite spot in the garden today:

My favorite spot today is out in a wild area. My daughter and I were mining for rocks last week when we both noticed and admired this grouping of twist-leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola), prairie fleabane (Erigeron modestus) and prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida).