Tag Archives: Flower

Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com

Monarch Migration Plunges to Lowest Level in Decades – NYTimes.com.

But an equally alarming source of the decline, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Vidal said, is the explosive increase in American farmland planted in soybean and corn genetically modified to tolerate herbicides.

The American Midwest’s corn belt is a critical feeding ground for monarchs, which once found a ready source of milkweed growing between the rows of millions of acres of soybean and corn. But the ubiquitous use of herbicide-tolerant crops has enabled farmers to wipe out the milkweed, and with it much of the butterflies’ food supply.

“That habitat is virtually gone. We’ve lost well over 120 million acres, and probably closer to 150 million acres,” Mr. Taylor said.

A rapid expansion of farmland — more than 25 million new acres in the United States since 2007 — has eaten away grasslands and conservation reserves that supplied the monarchs with milkweed, he said.

The monarchs’ migration is seen as a natural marvel and, for Mexico, a huge tourist attraction. But naturalists regard the butterflies as a forward indicator of the health of the food chain. Fewer butterflies probably means there are fewer other insects that are food for birds, and fewer birds for larger predators.

Here on my ranchito I have seen no monarchs this year.  It is a little early for their migration through central Texas (at least here in north Erath County, Texas), and I will hold off making any conclusive statements about their pattern for several more weeks.

I have only a few sprouts of milkweed on my 53 acres.  I know precisely where the milkweed is and seek to keep it flourishing for the butterflies.

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Flora funeral: Silphium and Liatris

The pews shine with furniture polish as the funeral ceremony approaches all too soon, I am afraid.  We have read the obituary either on the internet or in the strange pulp we call newspaper.  There was an accident, no, that’s not quite correct.  There occurred an intentional erasure of a Silphium and Liatris beside a highway as the road expanded to carry cargo from Cathay to London and places in between.   They had to go, making way for trucks, cars and commerce.  In another county, these two species of wildflowers were literally mowed down to accommodate fields of bermuda grass for cattle grazing.  Man and his machines with an ideology of progress cut these plants from our world.

At the flora funeral, I settle in the pew, way at the back because I want to leave as soon as the sermonizing begins, for I know that in some corner of a county road, a cemetery, an abandoned field, there are survivors and I want to find them and stand guard against their enemies.  The parson begins, “We come here today to honor two beautiful friends, Silphium and Liatris, that unfortunately were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  He continues and I slip out the back….

I shall find Silphium’s relatives, the kin of Liatris, somewhere on the back roads of America.  I know I will discover them, for mankind cannot be so cruel as to grind under every beautiful blossom in the name of progress.  I will, and many others will, stand as sentinel, protecting their existence from unthinking blades of technology.

* * *

For several years, Aldo Leopold monitored a tract of Silphium near a Wisconsin graveyard as mowers came closer and closer, year by year, eventually cutting it down.

Silphium

Every July I watch eagerly a certain country graveyard that I pass in driving to and from my farm. It is time for a prairie birthday, and in one corner of this graveyard lives a surviving celebrant of that once important event.

It is an ordinary graveyard, bordered by the usual spruces, and studded with the usual pink granite or white marble headstones, each with the usual Sunday bouquet of red or pink geraniums. It is extraordinary only in being triangular instead of square, and in harboring, within the sharp angle of its fence, a pin-point remnant of the native prairie on which the graveyard was established in the 1840’s. Heretofore unreachable by sythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or cutleaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.

This year I found the Silphium in first bloom on 24 July, a week later than usual; during the last six years the average date was 15 July.

When I passed the graveyard again on 3 August, the fence had been removed by a road crew, and the Silphium cut. It is easy now to predict the future; for a few years my Silphium will try in vain to rise above the mowing machine, and then it will die. With it will die the prairie epoch.

The Highway Department says that 100,000 cars pass yearly over this route during the three summer months when the Silphium is in bloom. In them must ride at least 100,000 people who have ‘taken’ what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have ‘taken’ what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise. If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weeds, he would be amazed and uncomprehending. How could a weed be a book?

This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the floras of the world. Mechanized man, oblivious of floras, is proud of his progress in cleaning up the landscape on which, willy-nilly, he must live out his days. It might be wise to prohibit at once all teaching of real botany and real history, lest some future citizen suffer qualms about the floristic price of his good life.

 — Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac (1948).

* * *

Elaine Lee, a friend of mine, wrote me about Liatris, her narrative quite similar to Leopold’s Silphium, as you can read for yourself:

Purple Gayfeather, Liatris

Just this morning as I was driving to work I noticed about 150-100 yards west of the abandoned oil storage tank east of Putnam, there is a field full of purple flower spikes.  I think, just from seeing them while driving eastbound, that they may be purple Gayfeather, or Liatris.  The only other time I have seen Liatris in the wild, it was called to my attention by a Texas Master Gardener and she was doing her best to protect a very small stand in Clyde, near the cemetery.  According to her they are not extremely common in this area.  I had never seen them before, but I think the purple color of these plants, plus the fact that it was after many other wildflowers had bloomed that she made me aware of them and this particular field could be the same.  If so, it is a very large cluster in a good-sized field.  The habitat was very similar to that of the small cluster I saw in Clyde — an open field, not attended, and not plowed or mowed for probably many years.   Just the right amount of sunshine and rain coming at just the right time.

— E-mail of Elaine Lee to Jack Matthews, May 21, 2012.

I will seek out the Liatris as soon as possible, photograph it and write about its presence in west Texas.  I don’t like going to funerals and neither do my friends.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

Excerpt of Aldo Leopold from: http://gargravarr.cc.utexas.edu/chrisj/leopold-quotes.html

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Well, I declare!

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Well, I declare!

I open the valve on the far-field water trough and I nonchalantly look around the ground, thinking, There are no new wildflowers about.

I am wrong.  I see three new wild flowers.

Well, I declare, my Aunt Lennie used to say.

__________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

Mandala56 posted this comment: ‘What’s that blue one called? When I was a kid we called it “elephant’s ears”.’  I replied that I did not know — yet.  I was in the field when I published the post.

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Orange milkweed, not globemallow

Please note the change of identification from 7:00 a.m. to 3:11 p.m.  I thought you might like the changing process of classification.

Composed at ca. 7:00 a.m. this morning, before field trip

The hunt is on again for identifying a wildflower, but this time the plant in question falls outside the ranchito and does not fit into my project of cataloging wildflowers on my land.

Yesterday afternoon at about Mile Marker 352 on the south side of Interstate 20, I saw a bush-clump of brilliant orange-scarlet flowers.  I have never seen such brilliance.  Hurrying to the ranchito and my office, I combed page-by-page my wildflower identification books and at least five websites that classify flowers.  I may have found the answer, but I cannot with a lot of confidence conclude the flowers to be the Caliche globemallow or Scarlet globemallow and I have had to reverse my classifications before — I once identified the Wine Cup as a Desert Mariposa — so, I must go up the hills to my west tomorrow and find the flowers again.  Elaine Lee and her mother have recently seen ‘neon-orange flowers’ near Putnam, Texas, on Interstate 20.

In reflecting on the Scarlet globemallow (?), I may have seen a family’s roadside memorial marker with orange plastic flowers wrapped around a cross?

Composed at ca. 3:11 p.m. after field trip to photograph

I combined a trip to the First National Bank of Santo at Mingus, Texas, with a field excursion up on top of Ranger Hill (Mile Marker 352) to photograph this flower.  I thought I had it down as a Scarlet globemallow even though I flew by the plant at 70 m.p.h.  I made two trips by the flower before I turned into the grass along side Interstate 20.  There was no access road nearby so I turned on my emergency blinkers.  I discovered five clumps of the plant and its blossoms as trucks shot by. 

Of course, I am self-conscious at the side of an Interstate taking pictures of wildflowers:  What the hey am I doing here?  A few truckers blow their horn.

I admit I am so curious about this plant and flower that I spend $8.00 in diesel fuel going up the hill from where I live to get close to this flower and photograph.  That’s ‘What the hey am I doing there.’  Secondly, what the hey is that flower doing there?  Too many questions with not enough answers, so I drive back to the ranchito, eat a ham sandwich and upload the pics and begin to compare the blossoms with Scarlet globemallow.  Totally different blossoms, totally different plants.

This search, I think, is going to go on for a long, long time.  So, I pick up my first manual, and on page 16 of Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller’s Texas Wildflowers is the Orange milkweed also known as Butterflyweed, Butterfly milkweed, Orange milkweed or Pleurisy root.  That was fast.

I have Green milkweed on the ranchito, but no Orange milkweed.  I am curious as to the medicinal properties of the Orange milkweed.  And, what is pleurisy?  I remember hearing it as a boy:  I’ve got some pleurisy this morning, Little Jack.  I think it must be some sort of joint pain?  In any case, I am confident as to the classification and it is a brilliant, showy blossom known as Orange milkweed.

Many county roads meander about my area.  I think my next trip will be up the road for 15 miles or so where my mail carrier habitually sees a bobcat cross the road.  There be things to discover and photograph up the road, up the hill and into nature’s wonders.  I do believe it so.

 

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Wine Cup Clearing: Flowers of Flying Hat (25-31)

Wine Cup clearing

At 8:30 this morning, I walked and drove to the far field.  Smiling at wild mustang grapevines that yield monarch butterflies along the fence row, I hiked with camera in the grove along Salt Creek.  The creek runs water despite the lack of rain for over a month.  Squall lines last evening bypassed the ranchito, dumping hail and rain in Fort Worth, sixty-seven miles away to the east and in Cisco, forty-five miles to the west.  Wine Cup clearing, as I now call it, bears Wine Cups this Spring.  I saw none last year.  In the photograph above, the Wine Cups are on the right side of the clearing.  They have cool shade from the oak and elm and the creek runs nearby that brings the ambient temperature down a few degrees.

Names have been given, I am sure, to places on the ranchito before I came, but they have not been passed down.  (There has been only one owner previous to me besides the Venable family that settled larger sections of land in the surrounds.)  I give a name first by location:  near field, far field, arena pasture, barn pasture, etc., but then when an object or landform becomes prominent, like Pecan Tree or Wine Cup, I name the space, giving it animation and fixing the impression.  I have no crew to direct into the pastures, but when I refer to The Grove or Pecan Tree Pasture, friends and family know where that is, associating flora and fauna with location, and ambiguity disappears.

25. Wine Cup (Poppy Mallow)

Two-years ago, I discovered one or two Wine Cups in the grove, up from the creek, in a private place for this blossom.  Today, eight blossoms of Wine Cup or Poppy Mallow emerged from the same location.  Eight Wine Cups are not a bell weather of climate change, but rather, I suspect, a change due to fallowing, allowing the flowers to replenish.  Green grass and tall trees abound about the Wine Cup’s private place.  I find no Wine Cups at other locations on the ranchito although I continue to search.

26. Trailing krameria,Crameria, Prairie sandbur, Trailing Ratany

I find Trailing krameria or Prairie sandbur in only two places on the ranchito, both on the knoll where the house sits.  This is a delicate plant and can be missed and mowed under if one is not careful.  It lies along the fence line between the house and front pasture and, secondly, has emerged on a terrace  to the southeast.  I find archeological evidence of hearth and tool making about the ranchito and I wonder if earlier inhabitants or migrants  saw this plant.  I presume so and know it must have some medicinal properties?

27. Skeleton Plant, Purple Dandelion, Flowering Straw, Milk Pink

The stems of Skeleton Plant are rigid, attached at obtuse angles, like a skeletal frame.  The flower stalk and blossom are tall, some two feet.  These plants are more prolific this year than two years ago.  Here is a larger picture of the Purple Dandelion with yucca blossoms.  I cultivate neither.  Both emerge wild.

Purple Dandelions with yucca blossoms

28. Bull Nettle

In the far field I have Bull Nettle.  It has medicinal properties, but is quite painful to be brushed against.  As a boy, I got a painful lesson in ‘trying’ to pick its blossoms.  I have a collector in Wisconsin to whom I will send a few with warning labels this Spring.

29. Prickly Pear cactus

30. Coneflower

31. Common Yarrow

No. 31 is Common Yarrow.

The pastures are browning here and towards San Angelo and Mexico I am told by ranchers more desert appears.  Grass fires have been erupting this last week between here and Abilene.  Yet, the diversity of nature here on these 53 acres of my ranchito shows both browning pastures and a creek that runs water with moss growing on its banks.  Brown and green, primary colors of nature, intermingle and birds continue to sing despite the fear I have that a climate shift has come and the green will dwindle until next year’s Spring rains.  I may be right; I may be wrong.  As the ancients said, We shall see what we shall see.

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Ranchito blossoms: Flowers of Flying Hat (14-19)

In my continuing task of photographing all different species of blossoms for one year on Flying Hat Ranchito (less than 2560 acres in western America), I have six new pictures to post, only two have I identified.  I thought it better to start posting the ranchito blossoms even though identification is lacking because I don’t want to archive these beautiful plants and I think posting the unidentified will stimulate me to do further research, or possibly you-as-reader have a quick classification in mind.

This time last year, my posts focused on the wildfires and drought.  Today, pastures are green — there is some browning already — and county fire bans in my area are lifted.

14. Milkweed

15. Nightshade

16. Texas vervain (Verbena halei)

17. Unknown

18. Unknown

19. Annual Phlox, periwinkle

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Sparrow with Bluebell

The proper identification of this red-headed or rusty-headed bird continues to churn me, not only in my daylight hours, but also as I lie awake at night.  For the moment, the species identification includes: Rufous-winged Sparrow, Field Sparrow, immature White-crowned Sparrow.  (Probably another possibility looms in the Peterson’s.)  Factor analysis must wait, however, until I get some chores out of the way today. I will, however, cease all toil if I see these guys again so I can focus.  Thanks to Caralee, Rubia, Montucky and others that have further focused my attention on identification.

Here is a closeup of the Bluebell bell flower.  I discovered a patch thirty-by-twenty feet in size, east of the barn.  Walked right over the patch without noticing at first, saw this flower, bent down and looked around and there was the patch of bell flowers.  I wanted to get a closeup of the flower, so here it is.  I have seen field biologists on their hands and knees with a camera, snapping pictures.  Since I have this goal of taking pictures of every species of wildflower on the ranchito for one year, I best start kneeling with knee pads on?

Below is a wide shot of the Bluebell bell flower patch I discovered.  As you can see, the flowers are quite small, barely discernible in the photo as they are in the field.  You will have to click on the photograph to enlarge in order to see the flowers.  Looks like a lawn of sorts, but it is not.

I am off to the barn and field. I will be looking for the sparrow and flowers. The sun is shining and the temperatures are forecast in the upper 70s, lower 80s.  I shall pace myself.

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Flowers of Flying Hat (6-8): Sow thistle is not a weed.

Far field clouds, March 2012.

6. False Garlic, Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve), March 2012.

This False Garlic flowers early and there are several colonies clustered together throughout the ranchito.  This False Garlic is closed and due to the rains and cold yesterday and today, I do not have an open flower to illustrate — but, I shall.  This is found in the lane to County Road 114, and other colonies are about the gate between the arena and the grove pasture.

7. Sow Thistle (Sonchus asper), March 2012.

Sow Thistle appears to be a weed, but it is not.  Authorities claim the milk of this plant relieves eye ailments.  I wonder if I could apply this to my left eye?  I think not.  I’ll rely upon Dr. Callanan, but then again…. This appeared one afternoon and then its flowers have closed.  This Sow Thistle inhabits the disturbed soil underneath the live oak tree to the southeast of the house.  I have read much about the categorization of ‘weed’ versus ‘plant.’  The term ‘weed’ seems culture-specific, a term of dislike, marginal.  Goats, sheep and cattle eat this with relish.  To them, it seems, this is a plant, not an obnoxious weed.  One person’s plant is another person’s weed?

8. Unknown.

These little-bitty guys erupt on the top terrace and emerge as small, almost unnoticeable flowers. As of today, I have failed to find their name, and I also need a closeup to gain greater resolution of their attributes. Today it is raining and the blossoms are closed.

More Violet ruellia, violet wild petunia (Ruellia nudiflora).

This is a another photograph of violet wild petunia, previously identified.  It has erupted in large numbers along Interstate 20 from Mingus to Abilene.

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Flowers of Flying Hat (1-4): Late Winter blossoms

Human beings set goals, or at least I think they should.  On the other hand, doing what comes naturally has its attraction too.  I have set several objectives regarding nature observations on my 53 acres.  Here on the place — called variously, the ranchito, Flying Hat Ranch — I have sought to identify every tree on the place and have started a good list of American elm, cottonwood, mesquite, juniper, oak, and so on.  Identifying every tree continues to be a goal.  Tree identification was (still is) my first goal in field work on Flying Hat.  Other goals I have set up include:

observing another fox and taking its photograph,

identifying every bird I see,

identifying every bird I hear,

for one year, photographing every wild flower I observe on Flying Hat.

Achieving these goals, and the process of doing so, is personally satisfying and gives me narratives for this blog.  I have decided to start another goal-oriented project and demonstrate it on my blog.  I have begun taking pictures of the wild flowers on Flying Hat and my goal is to continue photographing and identifying flowers (all colorful blossoms) through a turn of seasons for one year – March 2012 – February 2013.  So, let’s see how far I can go with this project.  Here are my first photographs.  The No. 3 flower is disputable as a “Texas Star.”

(If I have made an error in typing, please comment or e-mail me your reasons for seeing the flower and plant differently.  I want to be right in my typing, but more than that I want the typing to be correct.  Note: All photographs are taken on the 53 acres of my ranchito; none are photographed off the place or off the ranchito grid.  For a precise location of Flying Hat, see location information in this blog footer.)

1. Verbena (Verbena bipinnatifida?). February 26, 2012, west slope of terrace, Fenster's field. See Wills and Irwin, p. 189.

2. Parralena (Dyssodia pentachaeta), of the Aster family. February 26, 2012, on back terrace and in Fenster's field east of the house. See Ajilvsgi, p. 148.

3. Bluebell bellflower (Campanula rotudifolia), February 26, 2012. See http://www.wildflower.org/gallery/result.php?id_image=3102; see notes below.

4. Violet ruellia, violet wild petunia (Ruellia nudiflora). February 26, 2012, Fenster's field, far field. See http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=RUNU; Ajilvsgi, p. 377.

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Notes, corrections and additions:

No. 3 flower and plant is probably as described in caption.  Thanks to Montucky of Montana Outdoors blog and Grethe of Thyra blog.  The issue seems to be resolved it you stand up the flower and look at the total plant.  The flower would droop like a bell and the leaves and stem favor the image in the citation in the caption: http://www.wildflower.org/gallery/result.php?id_image=3102.

Mary Wills and Howard Irwin, Roadside Flowers of Texas.

G. Ajilvsgi, Wildflowers of Texas.

Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller, Texas Wildflowers.

Steven Foster and Christopher Hobbs, Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs (A Peterson Field Guide).

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Prairie Sandbur and Bull Nettle

Two New Discoveries of Flowering Plants

In my regular field work here on Flying Hat, two new discoveries were made this morning of Texas flowering plants.  One discovery  was the Texas Skeleton Weed (Lygodesmia texana), also known as Purple Dandelion, Flowering Straw.  The other discovery, this one rather exciting, was the Prairie Sandbur (Krameria lanceolata), also known by the name of Crameria, Ratany or Trailing Ratany.  Before we go to the Prairie Sandbur (accurate spelling), let’s look at the Texas Skeleton Weed, shall we?  (I’m beginning to sound like Mr. Rogers here.)

Texas Skeleton Weed

Texas Skeleton Weed, May 2010

This beautiful lavender flower is the Texas Skeleton Weed (Lygodesmia texana), also referred to as the Purple Dandelion, Flowering Straw.  These flowers appeared rather suddenly in the last two or three days.  The term skeleton is applied because of the  leafless stems and the odd angles of the stems, analogous to skeletal assemblies.  According to Loughmiller, Texas Wildflowers, “When the stems are broken, they exude sap which coagulates into a gum.”  The medicinal qualities of this plant are presently unknown to me.  I am currently searching my bookselves for my medicinal plant book for North America.  I do have Richard Evans Schultes, Hallucinogenic Plants, New York: Golden Press, 1976, but this Texas Skeleton Weed is not in it.  I don’t like the term, “weed.”  This plant is far to beautiful to be designated, “weed.”  Perhaps the Bull Nettle is a weed, but I even have my doubts about the construct of the botanical term, “weed” applied to it.  Weed carries a cultural signification of unwanted, not desirable or bad.  I know we use the term, “weed,” a great deal and I understand the context, but I think it should be dropped from the lexicon.

Prairie Sandbur

Prairie Sandbur Cluster, May 2010

Prairie Sandbur Close-up, May 2010

The Prairie Sandbur is the reddish flower in the photographs above.  It is also known as the Trailing Krameria, Ratany, Crameria and Trailing Ratany.  This is not the sandbur of the grass family.  The leaves and flowers grow from prostrate branches.  According to Loughmiller, this plant and flower is neither conspicuous nor abundant.  They state that the Prairie Sandbur does occur in many parts of the Trans-Pecos River area of Texas.  Our ranch is in the West Cross Timbers region of Texas.  We are Trans-Brazos by about 50 miles westward.  This Prairie Sandbur was found on the east side of Poprock Hill in a well-drained slope area.  This plant may be the rarest find on our place.  I have looked carefully about Poprock Hill and this is the only cluster!

Texas Bull Nettle, Stinging Nettle, Tread-Softly, Spurge Nettle or STAY AWAY FROM THIS THING!

I went out to the Pecan Tree Pasture this morning and hoed or cut out by the hoe some 100 or so Bull Nettles (Cnidoscolus texanus).  I still have about one more acre to hoe.

Bull Nettle (White Blossoms) in Pecan Tree Pasture, May 2010

Here you see the white blossoms of the Bull Nettle in the field.  Actually, hoeing the plant is rather easy since the vascular main stems are soft at this stage of growth, plus with all the rain we have had, the soil is soft.  This photograph is looking southward, towards the Old Bryant Place, and you can see that the pecan tree, for whom this pasture is named has dark-green foliage.

Single Bull Nettle Plant in Pecan Tree Pasture, May 2010

The Bull Nettle is a plant to be avoided.  The plant has leaves that are prickly as well as the stem and if you brush up against it, the nettles will sting.  Loughmiller says the effect of the nettles will last 30-45 minutes.  The stems, if broken, will exude a sap that some people discover, too late, is an allergen.

Today, I brushed up against a Bull Nettle once and I was wearing denim jeans (Wranglers), but the nettle penetrated the denim and I felt a sharp sting.  It was a light brushing, just once, but still burned.  I have a quick recovery to Bull Nettle in my system and the stinging lasted for about one minute.   My initial contact with Bull Nettle occurred when I was three or four-years old and I was with my mother and grandmother at the Sand Cemetery in Bend, Texas.  They were on a cemetery clean-up for our ancestors’ graves when I grabbed a Bull Nettle (trying to help) in my right hand.  It had a lovely blossom.  I really, really experienced pain, especially in the palm of my hand, and for several years, the palm would erupt in a rash.  I think that early exposure to Bull Nettle gave me a bit of tolerance, but not immunity.

The Bull Nettle has a personal and family history that goes back sixty-four years, to a time when we cleaned up the cemetery for the Morris, Baxter and Brazil families at Bend, Texas.  With the 400 or so Bull Nettles I have scooped out of my pasture, every Bull Nettle or so, I think of my family and how I came to be doing precisely this hoeing, on this cloudy day in Texas.

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Notes:

A fine source for identifying Texas wildflowers is Campbell and Lynn Loughmiller, “Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide,” Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989.

I supplement my typing operations with cross-checking from other sources, particularly the online services listed under my page, “Native Shrub Identification Guide.”  The sources found online at the Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center are quite valuable.

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