Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.

Christmas Cactus, Opuntia christmaslightii.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Save the Prairie at Oak Point - Part 2

This is my second post on the prairie remnant at Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve in Plano. Preservationists have been working with the city to save the prairie and as much of the surrounding wildlife habitat as possible because starting next year, Oak Point will host the Suburbia Music Festival on the grounds adjacent to the prairie and the plan is to add additional stages in subsequent years. My understanding is that the city has been very responsive to the concerns of the native plant enthusiasts and the main prairie area will be enclosed with a split rail fence. Interpretive signs will be added to educate the public on this bit of natural history.

My first visit to this prairie remnant and the surrounding area was on 11-2-13 when Carol Clark, the president of the Collin County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, showed me around. I came back on my own on 11-16-13 to see how the prairie had changed after our first freeze of the season and to see if I could locate any plants I did not notice the first time around. I also wanted to collect a few False Boneset, Brickellia eupatoroides, seeds to distribute in my garden.

This is part of the main prairie area. Even though there are no flower blooming, I really like the look of the different shades of brown of the prairie plants, the light reflecting off the fuzzy seedheads of the Liatris, the green Arkansas Yucca, and the greens and yellows of the trees in the background.

A closer look at some of the Arkansas Yucca.

A closer look at the Liatris.

Looking in the opposite direction there are more shades of brown, tan, gray, and green.

The bright yellow fruits of this plant in the Solanum family were hard to miss. The plant is in the same family as tomatoes, but not recommended for consumption because it is said to be poisonous.

The leaves of Elbow Bush, Forestiera pubescens, are turning yellow before the fall. In late winter, this will be one of the first plants to bloom and, soon after, the plant will be covered with dark purple fruits until the birds eat them.

Roughleaf Dogwood, Cornus drummondii, has white fruits at the end of red stems. I was a little surprised to see the fruit still on the small trees because they are said to be favored by many species of birds.

Most of the leaves have fallen from the larger Roughleaf Dogwoods. These shorter sucker stems were still covered in red leaves.

Looking across Los Rios Blvd, (you can't see it, but it is a two lane road situated between the two fence lines in the photo above) the brightly colored leaves of the trees in the distance caught my eye. This is the western edge of the park. In the distance is a water tower for the city of Parker.

After crossing the fences and road, I came upon this small bushy tree with leaves in shades of red, orange, and yellow. I am pretty sure this is Common Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. Area coyotes eat the fruit.

Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra.

Eastern Red Cedar, Juniperus virginiana.

By Texas standards, this was a great year for fall color. I approached this group of trees for closer inspection.

Just inside the tree line, I found this Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum rufidulum

Here is a closer look at the blue black fruits. I brought a few home to see if I could get them to sprout.

Many of the trees in this area were oaks. I am not sure if they are native to this area or if birds or other animals transported acorns to the area. Either way, they are quite colorful.

I did not venture into the woods on this visit, but I will on another occasion. There is a creek not too far into these woods that I would like to see.

Shelf fungus growing on a tree trunk.

Looking up into the tree canopy.

One last look at the colorful trees.

As mentioned in the prior post, much of the grass in the preserve is the exotic invasive King Ranch Bluestem. However, there are some natives trying to reestablish the prairie such as this Silver Bluestem of the Bothriochloa species. I have always liked the look of this grass and would not mind if it grew in my garden.

As I begin heading back to the car, I turn back in the opposite direction for one last look. An Arkansas Yucca is in the foreground and several red leafed Smooth Sumacs are in the background.

Just then, a Field Sparrow flew by and landed on a tree branch. It held still long enough for me to get a poorly focused photo.

Heading back to the car again, a white flower caught my eye and then another and another. Five in all. These are Spiranthes orchids. Three of them are visible in this picture at 1, 7, and 9 o'clock.

Here is a close up of one of the Spiranthes orchids.
Carol told me that the orchids would be easy to spot once I knew what to look for and she was right. I think it is probably much the same with the prairie remnants at Oak Point. Many people may just see a field, but once you know what to look for, there is so much more to see and discover. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ice Ice Baby

I know. I should not have done it and I am sure I am not the only person to make this reference today, but I could not help referring to a song that made Dallas native Robert Van Winkle (better known as Vanilla Ice) famous. The year was 1990 and the song was Ice Ice Baby. Why would I make a reference to this one-hit wonder? Not because I like the song (which I don't) but because when I look out the window or turn on the TV, all I see is ice, ice, baby.

Just Wednesday, the high temperature was 77 degrees. And then, an arctic cold front blew through and temperature dropped below freezing by Thursday afternoon. Rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow began falling Thursday night and now everything is coated in a layer of ice. The ice should stick around for a while because the temperature is not expected to rise above freezing until, possibly, Sunday afternoon.

Four Nerve Daisy blooms almost all year, even when coated in ice.

The Horsetail Reed in the stock tank is frozen solid.

Skeleton-leaf Goldeneye still has flowers and is now frozen in time.

Little Bluestem and Pine Muhly grassicles in the front garden.

The ice is weighing down the limbs of several woody plants like the Flameleaf Sumac behind the Agave. The leaves of the Flameleaf began turning orange last week. The were not flaming enough to keep the ice away.

The leaves of the Possumhaw Holly have not dropped yet which provides additional attachment points for the ice and increases the weight on the limbs.

Even the thorns on the Hercules Club tree are coated in ice.

Looking across the front garden in the opposite direction.

A close up of a Pine Muhly 

Soapweed Yucca.

It is hard to tell that this is Mexican Feathergrassicle.

I have noticed that my Pale-leaf Yucca and Spineless Prickly Pear Cactus lose some of their normal blue tint when they are frozen.


A closer look at Little Bluestem grassicle.

The Weeping Yaupon Holly looks like it was frozen in mid-weep.

I am six and a half feet tall and I used to be able to walk under the red oak in my backyard. Now several of the limbs touch the ground.

When the wind blows, the ice covered leaves clink together like the crystal on a chandelier.  But the ice storm came at a bad time because so many trees are still full of leaves.

As I mentioned before, the ice coated leaves and branches creates extra weight and sometimes the weight becomes too much and the branches snap. I saw two broken branches on my red oak. The wind picks up occasionally and it could will cause more broken limbs before this is all over. I changed "could" to "will" because I just watched another branch bend and break under the weight of the ice.

Both my Desert Willows are weeping severely.

So much so that both have major splits and will need to be cut to the ground. I have been expecting this to happen. I always loose my Desert Willows when they reach this size. They either split or the wind causes them to lean too much. After I cut them down, they will probably resprout from the stump.

Even with the numbing effects of the Toothache Tree, this broken branch was painful to see. I considered removing this branch over the summer because I thought it could improve the shape of tree. I decided to leave it and now there is a nasty wound almost halfway through the trunk. This tree had not shed its leaves either.

I removed a few Desert Willow limbs so they would not crush any other plants. I was a little surprised at how heavy the ice coated limbs were.

Next door, my neighbor's pecan tree was blocking the alley.

And their driveway. I have a feeling that arborists and opportunists that do not know anything about proper tree pruning techniques will be busy hacking at trees over the next few weeks.

Since several of my trees are breaking from the weight of the ice, it is good timing that I received two trees in the mail today. I received a Texas Redbud and a Bur Oak through a partnership between my electric delivery provider, Oncor, and the Arbor Day Foundation. The best part is that the trees were free. You may qualify for free trees too. The Arbor Day Foundation partnered with other utilities to help customers reduce utility costs by planting shade trees around their homes. Here is the link to the website. http://energysavingtrees.arborday.org