Indian Creek Ranch

Flower

Plants of Indian Creek: Whitlow-grass

Whitlow-grass is not a grass at all; it is a small plant with tiny white flowers, in the mustard family.   And it is not named after some botanist who discovered it – it was thought to cure a whitlow, which is a word (that goes back to the 14th century!) for a deep inflammation on a finger or toe.   As the plant only blooms from February to May, and its flowers are only a quarter inch across, you may have a hard time spotting it if you need it for it for its healing abilities, so I guess you should be extra careful with your fingers and toes during the rest of the year.

Whitlow-grass, Draba cuneifolia.  Picture by Jo Roberts.

Whitlow-grass, Draba cuneifolia. Picture by Jo Roberts.

It is in the Draba genus which has many species in it.  The USDA Plant Database shows about 130 species, but they only have pictures for about 33 of those!  Based on my research, I believe the one we have is Draba cuneifolia.  Another common name for it is wedgeleaf draba.

According to the Southwest Desert Flora website, it is common in Arizona, but in the East it is on several states’ lists of threatened or endangered plants.

Wildflower Center page for Draba cuneifolia.  This picture was taken near Rockwall and looks just like the one we have growing on the ranch.

USDA page for Draba cuneifolia.  You can see the characteristic hairs on the leaves if you click to enlarge the pictures.

Here are some samples from the Digital Herbarium, if you would like to compare one of your plants with a preserved specimen.

 

Plants of Indian Creek: Prairie Verbena

Prairie Verbena.  Picture by Jo Roberts.

Prairie Verbena. Picture by Jo Roberts.

Latin names: Glandularia bipinnatifida
                          Verbena ambrosifolia

Spanish name (much prettier!): moradilla (little purple one)

Other common names: Dakota mock vervain

There is not a lot of information on the internet about this plant.  No legends or associations with famous historical characters.  But if you want more details, you can go to these websites:
Lady Bird Johnson page
Uvalde office of Texas AgriLife Extension page

This plant does not appear in Toxic Plants of Texas.

Plants of Indian Creek: Antelope Horns Milkweed

This plant grows in all ten vegetational areas of Texas!

Antelope Horn Milkweed. Picture by Jo Roberts.

Antelope Horns Milkweed. Picture by Jo Roberts.

The name comes from the way that its seedpods grow and curve.

Antelope Horns seed pod.  Picture by Gwen Lanning.

Antelope Horns seed pod. Picture by Gwen Lanning.

Other common names are green-flowered milkweed, and spider antelope horns (in case one animal in the common name is not enough, I guess).  If I got to name it, I would have called it Texas snowball.

Its Latin name is Asclepias asperula.  It is listed in Toxic Plants of Texas, because it can be toxic to livestock.  Fortunately, it tastes bad to them, and they will only eat it if they are penned up in an area with lots of milkweed and not much else.

While it may not be good for livestock or humans, being a milkweed, it is very important to monarch butterflies!  It is also attractive to native bees, which, we are learning, are very important to the environment as a whole.

Here is its page at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and here is its page at the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Resources for Assessing Habitat

by Gwen Lanning

Managing for wildlife is a vast subject, and one that many of us are unfamiliar with when we first purchase our dream property.  You look at your land and you don’t even know where to start — how can you tell if it is healthy?  How can you identify areas that need help?

Here are two resources to help you evaluate habitat.  The first one is a handout I picked up at a yearly wildlife management workshop in Houston.  The author is Diana Foss, a TPWD biologist, and I am using it with her permission.  She is headquartered at Sheldon Lake near Beaumont, so obviously some of these questions won’t apply to us in Edwards County (like most of the water questions), but still, I think this checklist can help remind you of important aspects of habitat management.

Some factors to consider in habitat  assessment.

Some factors to consider in habitat assessment.

Page two of assessment factors.

Page two of assessment factors.

The next one is a blog post by a prairie restoration biologist in the Platte River area of Nebraska.  Again, not all of his information will apply to us, but I think his criteria offer us good ideas.

Water Guzzler

One of our neighbors, Bob Pauken, has shared this information about building a water guzzler.  Bob says that this design may not be easy to copy exactly, because he had access to some recycled materials, and some strong and skilled labor, but we think the information will be useful.  If you do a similar project, please let us know!

And now, here is Bob’s description.

The idea for construction of a guzzler came from discussions with Randy Wood, someone else talking about his at the fall meeting, and seeing the one Gilbert Carmona built on his land. I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about the project so I was discussing the mechanics of it with a friend from Colorado, Rory Birdsey who is a ranch manager for Ernie Cockerl, owner of a ranch on the Taylor River there. One of the guests at the ranch last summer was Andrew Sansom, research professor at Texas State University and author of the book Water in Texas, an Introduction, from the Texas Natural History Guide series. He and Rory had in-length discussions about guzzlers. Rory then went to the internet and designed what he thought would be a working guzzler. He then set about collecting recyclable cabin metal roofing materials from around the ranch. One of his sons who works in the oil fields of western Colorado gained access to discarded drilling pipe. The materials were cut in Colorado to fit a 19ft. long and 16ft. wide structure to be hauled to Indian Creek ranch on a 16ft. trailer.

The materials used for the guzzler.

The materials used for the guzzler.

 The drill pipe was trimmed for welding on our property. Each piece weighed 165lbs. Rory brought both of his sons and the husbands of both of his daughters along with him to handle the weight of the resulting monster. The two-250 gallon water tanks were washed-out and discarded oil field chemical tanks. The roofing materials were riveted and screwed into place to form an inverted roof which drained into a collection trough in the middle. A hose was then connected from the trough to drain into the closest tank and the two were connected together with PVC tubing. From the base of one of the tanks was attached a 75 foot garden hose which ran downhill to a 50 gallon open, metal water tank with a float valve to maintain a full level.
Moving the guzzler into place.

Moving the guzzler into place.

The large structure is designed to collect rain water. However, inside of the inverted metal roof is an upright smaller structure made mostly of plastic, for collecting dew at night when the air cools-off. Metal sides were attached to the main structure to retain daytime heat, thereby enhancing nighttime condensation. A larger metal water tank for providing a source of drinking-water for the wildlife will be brought down on our next trip. Our calculations of rainwater collection based on 26.5 inches of average annual rainfall for a guzzler of this size is 418 gallons per month.
The guzzler in place.

The guzzler in place.

Storage tanks.

Storage tanks.

It does work as I had Randy go by and check it following the first 1.5 inches of rain and we had collected about 300 gallons of water.

Plants of Indian Creek: Gum Bumelia

This ordinary-looking small tree is burdened with a plethora of names.

Gum bumelia, also known as gum bully and about 10 other names.  Photo by Jo Roberts.

Gum bumelia, also known as gum bully and about 10 other names. Photo by Jo Roberts.

I can find two Latin names for this plant.  Texas A & M University and University of Florida call it Bumelia lanuginosa.  Texas A & M has it on the Texas Native Plants Database , which would imply that it is a native, but University of Florida says it is not native to the US.   At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center , Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the USDA, the Latin name is given as Sideroxylon lanuginosum.  There are many common names, including Ironwood, Chittimwood, and False Buckthorn.

To make it even more confusing, one of its common names is Coma, but there is another plant in the same family, also called Coma.  TPWD’s brochure on deer browse rates the other Coma (Sideroxylon celastrinum) as a first choice browse for deer, but this one, as only a second choice. And they use the common name of Wooly Bucket Bumelia.

I think the lesson here is that we should not feel bad when we are uncertain about identifying a plant!

For such a nondescript tree, there are lots of interesting facts about it!  Here is an interesting article about it and the beautiful beetle that lives on it, at the Native Plant Society of Texas, Boerne Chapter.  And for more about its plant relatives, and its relative usefulness (or not) on the range, here is another article at Ranch and Rural Living magazine.

It is not mentioned in Toxic Plants of Texas or Brush and Weeds of the Texas Rangeland.

Plants of Indian Creek: Southwest Bernardia

Southwest Bernardia.  Photo by Jo Roberts.

Southwest Bernardia. Photo by Jo Roberts.

This plant, with its unusual wavy-edged leaves, is a first choice for deer, as seen in this very helpful brochure Common Woody Browse Plants for Deer in South Texas.

It is in the spurge family, and its Latin name is Bernardia myricafolia.  Other common names are mouse ear, mouse eyes, oreja de raton, brush myrtlecroton.

Full plant.  Photo by Jo Roberts.

Full plant. Photo by Jo Roberts.

This plant does not appear in the AgriLIFE Extension books Toxic Plants of Texas or Brush and Weeds of Texas Rangelands.  More information about it can be found at Texas Native Plants Database.

Plants of Indian Creek – Texas Bluebonnet

It’s early April, so all over Texas, people are following a grand tradition – pulling over to the side of the road and exiting for their yearly photo op in nature.  The bluebonnets are blooming!

Everybody knows that bluebonnets are the state flower of Texas — but did you know that there are actually five species in that category?*  In 1901, when the bluebonnet was made the official state flower, the species chosen was the Sandyland bluebonnet  (Lupinus subcarnosus), which grows better in East Texas and is less showy.  People preferred the fuller blooms of the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texenis), so the Legislature decreed that all flowers of the Lupinus taxa would be considered the state flower.

Texas Bluebonnets.  Photo by Jo Roberts.

Texas Bluebonnets. Photo by Jo Roberts.

The other three species are Lupinus havardii, which is the very tall and thin Big Bend bluebonnet; Lupinus plattensis, which is the Dune bluebonnet found in the Panhandle, and Lupinus concinnus, the small Annual lupine,which is found near El Paso.  It has hairy leaves and small purple blooms.

Taking a closer look at the Texas bluebonnet, you can tell if one of the individual flowers on the stem has been pollinated, because the white spot on the flower will turn to dark red or purple.

Pollinated and unpollinated flowers on the same stem.

Pollinated and unpollinated flowers on the same stem. If you look closely, you can see some tiny insects too.  Photo by Jo Roberts.

And speaking of colors, what do you call one of these flowers if it is white?  A whitebonnet?

Ha ha, no, of course not!  We love our bluebonnets (and the proper flower name is one word), and don’t want to go confusing people with new-fangled terms, so it is a white bluebonnet.

And sometimes there are even pink bluebonnets, but as legend has it, only south of the Alamo.

You can read a lot more about bluebonnet history, how bluebonnets beneficially fix nitrogen in the soil, and even the breeding of maroon bluebonnets here.

*The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says six species, but they don’t give details about the sixth, and my other sources say five.  If you can tell us about the mysterious sixth species, we would love to hear about it!

Plants of Indian Creek: Sotol

We are working on putting together a plant guide specific to Indian Creek.  This is one of a series designed to help us all become familiar with our plants.

sotolSotol is one of the plants that is easy to recognize, with its saw-toothed leaves and 10-foot-tall flower stalks.  However botanists are still not in agreement as to which plant family it belongs in – some place it with the agaves, and some with the nolinas (bear grass), and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center puts sotol in the lily family.

Sotol leaves close-up.

Sotol leaves close-up.

Last year's seed head.

Last year’s seed head.

Some of my research sources said that it blooms every year, and others said it blooms every 2 to 3 years.  However, there are 20 sub-species in northern Mexico and southwest Texas, so maybe that contributes to the conflicting information on the plant.  An article from Texas Highways magazine says that the Hill Country subspecies is Dasylirion texanum.  It would be interesting for us to watch for blooming patterns, and see if all the plants here bloom on the same schedule.

Regardless of differences between sub-species, sotol was an important plant for Native Americans, with useful leaves and edible hearts.  You can read more about its uses in history here.

And today, it is used to make a liquor similar to tequila!

leaning sotol

Elk in Texas

By David Heft

Photos by Gwen Lanning, taken at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in March 2013

(This article ran in a slightly different form in the newsletter, third quarter of 2014.)

Elk are large members of the deer family which exhibit very different behavior than our whitetail deer. Elk are physically adapted to more open environments and the males gather and defend groups of females during the rut. Female elk may vary in weight from 400-500 pounds with bulls weighing 600-800. Some larger bulls may approach 900-1000 pounds in weight. These weights are for the Rocky Mountain subspecies which is the elk we have on the ranch.

Elk bull.

Elk bull.

Elk may live to be 10-15 years of age in the wild. One research study on the Vermejo Ranch in northeastern New Mexico reported that maximum antler growth wasn’t achieved until bulls were 10 years of age on average.

The best data available for Texas indicates that 2 “subspecies” of elk occurred in Texas historically. Merriam’s elk occurred in the Trans-Pecos region extending into northern and central Mexico. This population was contiguous with elk populations in New Mexico and Arizona.

The Manitoba elk occurred in the northern Texas Panhandle and along the Red River area. These populations constituted the plains elk which also roamed Oklahoma and Kansas into Canada. Eastern elk occurred in Arkansas but no definite records exist for their occurrence in Texas. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on their website state, “Historical evidence indicates that elk may have been present over much of Texas.” Elk were considered extirpated in Texas by the late 1800s. All elk in Texas today are of the Rocky Mountain subspecies from transplant stock tracing back to Yellowstone National Park.

Elk at the National Elk Refuge, Jackson Hole, WY

Elk at the National Elk Refuge, Jackson Hole, WY

Biologists have debated back and forth for decades whether elk and red deer are the same species. I was always trained that they were since they freely interbreed and produce fertile offspring. However, about 7 years ago they were once again reclassified as separate species.

Legally elk are considered to be livestock in Texas at the present time. This is strictly a political designation as they have also been classified as native big game (which they biologically are) and exotics at various times. Currently the neighboring states of New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arkansas have free roaming wild herds which are managed and hunted as native big game animals.

Elk are primarily grazers but will use browse extensively when grass is not available. This is in contrast to our whitetails which are primarily dependent on browse. A good ratio for calculating range carrying capacities would be that 1 elk equals 3 deer.

The elk rut occurs in September and October with single calves being born in May and June. Elk are best known for the bugling of the males during the rut. Fights during the rut can be extremely violent with broken antlers and even death often occurring.

Engaging antlers.

Engaging antlers.

Most people are unaware that the cows also bugle but it is much less pronounced than the bulls.

Both sexes have the remnants of tusks in their upper jaws also referred to as the “ivories”. Sika deer which also trace their lineage back to a common ancestor with elk also have these remnant tusks. In some cases sika deer and elk may interbreed but the offspring are sterile. These offspring are referred to as “Silk”. Some game ranches have deliberately interbred them to produce a larger antlered variant of the sika for hunting.

Elk are a fairly easy animal to manage. Given sufficient space with some security cover, grass, and ample water they will usually flourish. The only common primary predator they have in our area is man.