Along the Roadsides

Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson, Texas roadsides are filled with wildflowers in the spring.  She was the catalyst for changes to the highway department treatment of the land along highways.

First, the strips of land along the pavement were seeded with wildflowers in the autumn.  Then, mowing was delayed in the spring until after the wildflowers went to seed.

Now we Texans are known for our love of Bluebonnets, which bloom in early spring.  But I think the wildflowers that follow in later spring are just as spectacular.

The flowers that are seeded along the highway spread into the fields.

Love the fields of yellow.

There are lots of different yellow flowers that are seen in the fields.  But these are Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria).

This year a nice surprise was seeded.  Massive drifts of Basket Flower (Centaurea americana) were lovely.  This is the first time that I can remember that this wildflower has been used by the highway maintenance department in our area.

I suspect that the reason they haven’t been seeded before is because some people might mistake them for thistles, which are very invasive and are not desirable.

In fact, several different thistles thrive in our climate. Now sure if this one is Mexican Thistle, New Mexican Thistle or Texas Thistle.

Although it is quite pretty, beware, the foliage is prickly.  Tiny needles will cut into bare skin.  The smooth foliage of a Basket Flower is one way to distinguish it from a thistle.

Where one thistle grows this year, hundreds will grow next year.

Here, Basket Flowers are mixed in with thistle.

Another wildflower that has been more prevalent in our area this year is Horsemint (Monarda citriodora).  It’s one of my favorites.

Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera) usually has a brown splotch on the top of each petal.  These solid yellow petals are unusual.

And the central disc with the seeds is especially long.

Some of the more aggressive wildflowers are not seeded, such as these Beggar’s Lice (Torilis arvensis)  on our county road.  They look pretty from the car, but they are a menace in the yard.  They are also called hedge parsley or wild carrot.

As the flowers dry up, their seeds stick to anything like lice, so they can repopulate the world.  This year, we tried to pull them early, so that seeds wouldn’t fall to the ground.

The thing is, they first look like Queen Anne’s Lace, so it’s tempting not to get rid of them.  But I learned my lesson a few years ago.

Antelope Horns Milkweed (Asclepias asperula) is another native that spreads easily.  When the brown seed pods open up, hundreds of tiny puffs will float, like dandelions tufts, to germinate in other spots.

Since milkweed is the only plant where Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, it is essential for their survival.  When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars then consume the leaves of the milkweed.  Even though it isn’t the prettiest wild flower around, it vital to not destroy them.

Now that the highway mowers have been busy cutting everything down, it’s the end of spring wildflowers and the beginning of the long hot summer.

“Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart.”  Lady Bird Johnson

On the Wild Side

Out in the fields, it looks like color bombs have exploded scattering bright hues everywhere.

This field is between our house and barn.  Notice up front are three areas that have been mowed around.  Behind them is another perpendicular spot with red dots.

The three plots up front were planted with old fashioned irises about 12 years ago.  The first few years, I toiled to keep them weed free.  I even hired a guy to help me one year.  I noticed that he only pulled the top of the weeds off and did not get the roots.  So, eventually, I resorted to mowing around the rows.  When the irises are in bloom, they stick up above the weeds.

Here is a close up view of one clump of iris leaf blades. along with Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctorial) and wild native grasses.

Plains Coreopsis tends to grow in isolated small clumps, but can probably spread if the conditions are right.

The long plot behind the iris beds was seeded with native wildflowers three years ago.  The first year it produced most of the different seeds in the packets.  The next year, there were almost no wildflowers.

Because of the dry, hot summer last year and the wet fall and spring, this year there are masses of the hardy wildflowers.  Those are the ideal conditions for Texas wildflowers.

The Indian Blankets (Galillardia pulchella) are iconic all over Texas.

Their strong color really draws the eye.  Here, the one on the right has lost its petals and has dropped some of its seeds.

The white balls of Basket Flowers (Centaurea americana) have opened into beautiful white centers and lacy purple edges.

The first time I saw Basket Flowers was four years ago.  I fell in love with them immediately.  They are not common in many parts of Texas.

There are two main companies that sell Texas wildflower seeds – Wildflower Farm Seeds in Fredericksburg and Native American Seeds in Junction.  Both have online order services.

One of the flowers that I had hoped would reseed was Horsemint (Monarda citriodora), also call Purple Lemon Mint.  This year, I’ve enjoyed those stalked, ruffled layers of different shades of purple.

Every year we have these gorgeous flowers scattered across the field.  I haven’t be able to identify them.  They grow on a single stem all alone.  Anyone know what they are?

A reader has just identified this flower.  It’s Texas Skeleton Plant (lygodesmia texana).

Another wildflower favorite is Mexican Hat or Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera).  Small groups of them rise above the grass level.

The tall top part of their “hat” is covered with brown seeds.  When the seeds drop, they’re left with a white top hat.

Growing low to the ground is this cluster of tiny white flowers with a pink tint.  Wish I knew their name.

Another mystery plant are these tiny stalks.  It looks like they had purple flowers.

In the yard, patches of Texas Frog Fruit (Lippia nodiflora) pop up most years.  It’s a creeping perennial that many consider a nuisance.  I’m sort of neutral about them.

This is a great time to get out and enjoy whatever flowers nature provides for you.

“Wildflowers – I envy them.  They’re brave.  Seeds cast by the wind to land where they may, they stay and hold against most hot, most cold.  They persevere, roots shallow, yet fierce and free.  They epitomize to me all that I sometimes yearn to be.”               Julie Andrews

Walk on the Wild Side

Boerne offers the beauty of central Texas, caves, and nature al natural.

Cibolo Nature Center offers many different experiences.  At the beginning of the trailhead that wanders through the wild areas is a stone replica of tracks of a giant reptile.

The Acrocanthosaurus lived in the Crtaceous Period about 100 million years ago.  The original tracks were removed for safe keeping and replaced with an exact replica.

The Texas Native Prairie Trail reminds people how important the tall grass prairies are to the central plains, and that they are an endangered ecosystem.

Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) has popped up among the grasses.

Poverty Willow (Baccharis neglecta) sways in the wind.  Although it looks totally untouched, this prairie is actually managed with controlled burns and is used for research.

This looks like Common Wild Petunia (Ruellia nudiflora).  If that’s what it is, a couple of petals have sheared off of each flower.

Many types of grasses grow in this pocket prairie including big Bluestem, Indian grass, and Switch grass.
The Woodlands trail provides shade from large oaks.  This could be a Four O’Clock ( Mirabilis jalapa).
Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) is so named because a few degrees under freezing, the dead stems split at the base and exude a thin, curling shaving of ice.
The Cibolo Creek runs through the property and provides a Marshland trail.  As the shoes indicate, a young mother and her children crossed over to the marshland.  The crossing looked iffy for me with poor balance, so we skipped that part.  Plus, we were both overwhelmed by the heat and humidity.
This looks like Mealy Sage (Salvia farinacea) found growing in limestone soils.
Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera) is a bright flower that stands up tall on its stem (about 18 inches).  The tall dome is usually black/brown, but has already lost its seeds and now has a white top hat.
Closer to the Visitor Center is a small garden with hardy plants.  Rosemary has a few blooms left.
Blue Mistflowers (Conoclinium coelestinumare) are usually covered with butterflies.  These are smaller, probably because they don’t receive water, except from rain.
There are a couple of caves near Boerne.  We visited Cave Without a Name, which is on private property, but open to the public.  This picture shows the original entry that was discovered when a farm animal became stuck in it.
The cave is a U.S. National Natural Landmark.
Thankfully, it now has concrete stairs leading down into the cave.  A few Tricolored Bats
(Perimyotis  subflavus) inhabit the cave.  They are smaller than the more common Mexican Free Tails found in Texas and don’t live in colonies.
 
The cave went unnoticed until a couple of guys during prohibition thought it was a good spot to produce moonshine.
It was officially opened by the land owner in in 1939.  He held a state wide naming contest.  A young boy said that it was too beautiful to have a name and thus, won the $250 prize.
A constant temperature of 66 degrees makes it comfortable to visit.  Cavers have mapped out over 2.7 miles of caverns.
Six large rooms with many different formations are part of the guided tour.
The cave is subject to flooding when heavy rains occur.
An hour tour is the perfect length for most people.
If you’re looking for a get-away week-end and live in Texas, I recommend Boerne and its attractions.  The shopping is good and not nearly as crowded as some of the other Hill Country touristy towns.
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir

Cowboy Culture

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City preserves and honors the life and culture of the cowboys of the American west.

cowboymuseumnThe western art displayed outside and inside the building are of excellent quality.

cowboymuseumPlus, the grounds surrounding the museum are filled with native flowers.

The flowers in the above picture were labeled Beard Tongue (Penstemon digitalis), “Prairie Dust”, an Oklahoma native.

cowboymuseum3The driveway into the museum property had this attractive center divider.

cowboymuseum4Looking back towards the street.

cowboymuseum5There was time to walk around the front and side of the building before it opened.  These massive relief murals are probably not even seen by most visitors, unless the front parking lots are full.

cowboymuseum6The shapes appeared to be layered concrete creating a bas relief.

cowboymuseum1Mexican Hats and Indian Blankets are natives commonly seen in several southwestern states.

oklaCoryopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), I think.

cowboymuseum2Rose Moss is so bright and cheery.

cowboymuseum7Many larger than life cowboy bronzes were scattered throughout the grounds.  The strong morning sun made photography difficult.

cowboymuseum8Just ignore the cars in the parking lot and focus on their faces.  A personal encounter captured for all to enjoy.

cowboymuseum9The sun totally washed out the front of this cowboy, but the back also makes a statement with the cactus and saddle being dragged.  Lost his horse, maybe.

cowboymuseumaThis huge “End of the Trail” marble statue greets visitors as they walk through the front door.

cowboymuseumiThere are many different halls at the museum that require several hours to visit them all.  Besides the cowboy theme, there is a strong sense of patriotism.

cowboymuseumjSome areas are dedicated to western art, both by well know artists like Remington and Russell, and some rooms devoted to newer artists.  Of course, photographing paintings was not allowed.

One large section features western culture as told by Hollywood.  Many movie posters advertising different shows and portraits of famous actors and actresses are displayed as well as some artifacts from the movies.

Then, there are rodeo rooms honoring winners and the art, itself.  A small western town with all the requisite buildings provides visitors a chance to peek in windows and stroll through streets.

There is so much more to this museum.  Wow.

cowboymuseumbOut in the back park-like area, more bronze horses seem to thunder through the land.

cowboymuseumcMature trees provided cool shaded areas and picturesque garden cameos.  Flowers, like these Daylilies, sparkled with color and interest.

cowboymuseumd

cowboymuseume

cowboymuseumfSmall water features brought cooling serenity.

cowboymuseumgThis statue was many time larger than life size.

cowboymuseumhI think this was Wild Bill Hickok, but I don’t remember for sure.

cowboymuseumkAlmost a neon color, these Astillble (Astillbe chimensis), made me halt and admire them.

cowboymuseumlFrom the back grounds, there is a good view of that well known statue.

cowboymuseumoSo worth a visit if you are interested in the old west and the lives of those who survived the hot, dusty, hostile environment and the dangers of wild animals and tough, ruthless men.

“In the Southwest, boots and pearls go with any attire.  Add a cowboy hat and you have an ensemble.” unknown

G.W. Bush Library

First, before I discuss our visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, let me give thanks for recent rains.  Over the past two weeks, we have been blessed with six and a third inches.  Other people in the area received much more.  But we all have had showers of blessings including all of central Texas and even the Panhandle.  Desperately needed moisture has brought a sigh of relief because some cities were 90 days away from no water.

gwbush4Now to the museum on the SMU campus in Dallas.  The outside is simple in design, but note what looks like a small square building with windows and columns on top of the roof.

gwbushjThis cupola or whatever this is called is an interesting feature to the structure.  The Davis Mountains scene on all four walls is part of a changing scene screen.

gwbushmIt doesn’t look like a screen, and I know nothing about the technology.  The pictures slowly and constantly move around to the right on all four sides.

gwbushnThen the scene changes again.

gwbushlStepping outside from the above main foyer, there is a patio area in the center of the building.  This Desert Willow tree (Chilopsis linearis) provides nice color.

gwbushkAlso, in this patio were the statutes of both Bush presidents.

gwbush5Of course, one whole section was dedicated to 9/11 with sirens wailing, pictures and information.   This twisted metal from the towers served as a reminder of another “day that will live in infamy.”

Another section, where pictures were not allowed, was a gallery of paintings done by President Bush.  Those depicted were all world leaders during his presidency.  Beside each painting was information about where and when they met.  In a short video, he said that he was well aware that the signature on each was worth more than the painting.

gwbushhA few hands on exhibits were enjoyed by children and adults, like this one featuring their dog, Spot.

gwbushfOutside the Oval Office replica was the garden, which was similar to the famous White House Rose Garden, except this one was planted with Texas native plants.

gwbushgAnother view looking from just outside the Oval Office.

gwbusheThe Indian Blankets (Gaillardia pulchella) always wash out in midday photographs.

gwbushdWater Irises grew in a small pond area.

gwbusha

gwbushbThe plant database on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center lists all Foxgloves in Texas as False Foxgloves.  In our area, those are only white or pale ivory.

gwbushcI would love to find some of the pink or yellow ones.

gwbush9Nice combination of Agaves and small flowers in all the beds.

gwbushThe presidential library is on a corner.  This is the side street with a more formal planting of trees and grass.  To the left of this area, the ground slopes up beside the building and the front entrance is on the next level.

gwbush2I was impressed with these shutters that were permanent, attractive, and a  clever way to deal with the hot, direct sunlight.

gwbush3The architect included other smart shading techniques.

gwbushsAlong the side of the building, this was the only section that was planted in rows.

gwbush8All other plantings looked like a wildflower prairie.

gwbush7A few smaller areas of grass gave the whole area an ordered, rather then messy feeling.

gwbushtScattered among the native grasses were all sorts of wildflowers, like this Horse Mint (Monarda punctata).

gwbushuCould not get close enough to examine the red flowers, but maybe they are Penstemon.

gwbushrA few Mexican Hats (Ratibida columnaris), Thistles, and lots of different kinds of yellow flowers.

gwbushqThis might be American basket-flower (Centaurea americana).

gwbushpI was taken with them.

gwbushoThis Butterfly Weed’s (Asclepias tuberosa) bright orange screams for attention.

Worth a visit even though I didn’t feel as connected to the man as I did at his father’s library.  Maybe it was just me.  Another day might have brought a different reaction.

“Temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use.”  Washington Irving

Land and Traditions

Some scenes out here make it so tempting to wax poetic about the wild old West.  Novels and movies have romanticized that life so much that the reality of real ranchers and their harsh existence has been lost.

Living in West Texas was like standing in a wind tunnel with sand constantly swirling around you.  It still is in some rural areas.  Yet, the early Anglo settlers came with Stephen F. Austin seeking a plot of land.  Then boatloads of German immigrants were practically dumped into the waters along the Gulf coast.  The swamps and mosquitoes drove them inland to the parcels of land they had purchased sight unseen.  Many Chicanos already lived in areas closer to Mexico.  All these people stayed, or at least most did.

We like to consider ourselves part of the hill country.  But we would have to stretch a long ways to touch it.  We do have some small hills,  some of the same rocky soil, and some of the same vegetation.  But in reality, we’re more a part of the west and the cowboy traditions.

oleander4An Oleander bush (Nerium oleander) stands behind the remains of an old hitchin’ post.  Dead Cedar seems to last forever, so it’s been used for fence posts for about a couple hundred years.   Cedar posts standing upright with barb wire dangling are remnants of old fences on this property..

oleander2Oleander not only is hardy but is really pretty when it’s had some water.  The fact that all its parts are poisonous makes it undesirable where cattle and other livestock roam.  This is inside a fenced area.

oleanderRecent rains have given new life and bright red flowers to this Oleander.

mexican hatsThe Mexican Hats are common wildflowers in these parts.

mexican hats2Their names obviously come from the sombrero shape of the flower and the festive colors.  Many Texas wildflowers have names reminiscence of the Indian and Chicano cultures.

horsesEtched into the cowboy culture are ranches and horses.  These horses don’t belong to us and will probably be moved when the grass gives out later this summer.  But doesn’t this picture conjure up all sorts of images of cowboys?

claw2This may be a Devil’s Claw, but the leaves don’t look right or the shape of the pods.  So, for now, it’s a mystery plant.

clawIf it’s prickly, it seems to grow here.

What has drawn people to this land?  First, the vastness of flat land just west of us takes your breath away.  It’s history and the stamina of the people is humbling and fascinating.

“Just because you’re following a well-marked trail don’t mean that whoever made it knew where they was going.”  Texas Tex Bender