Welcome to my zone 9a habitat garden near Houston, Texas.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Enjoying Big Bend National Park by Gary Clark: A review

(Cross-posted from The Nature of Things.)

Gary Clark is a well-known naturalist and writer on Nature in my neck of the woods. He's also an educator who has taught "leisure-living" courses on birding at the local college, one of which I took several years ago. He is a very knowledgeable guide to all the birding hot spots in Texas, of which there are many since this is one of the birdiest states in the union. 

In Enjoying Big Bend National Park, Clark has not focused on the birds of the park but has given a general guide to the interesting geology and history, as well as the wildlife and flora of that wild and beautiful area. Big Bend, named for its placement at a big bend in the river that separates Mexico from the United States, is one of the wildest and largest of America's national parks. It covers more than 800,000 acres, making it slightly larger than Yosemite National Park. Moreover, it encompasses a vast variety of ecological systems that include the Chihuahuan Desert, the rocky Chisos Mountains that reach up to 8,000 feet, steamy riparian floodplains, and cool mountain forests. 

Sounds a bit daunting, doesn't it? But Clark has broken all of that down into bite-sized pieces that should lead the visitor to just the type of experience he or she is looking for. He has suggested adventures within the park that range from two-hour to half-day to full-day time frames and that can be had on foot or on a drive. He rates each trek on its degree of difficulty from easy to strenuous and includes sections for families and small children and for people with limited physical mobility. The message here is that anyone can find a way to experience and enjoy Big Bend.

Clark does not neglect the safety cautions in regard to being in the wild. He repeatedly warns about the dry air of this environment and the importance of keeping hydrated. His most urgent advice is to carry water at all times, even if you are only going on a short hike and even if you don't think you'll need it. Also, the sun is intense here and it is important to protect yourself from it with sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are not a bad idea either. And if you are going to get out of that car and go hiking, it is vitally important to have sturdy walking shoes or boots and to wear socks that will protect your feet. But if you forget every other warning, Clark begs you to remember this: "DRINK WATER! DRINK WATER! DRINK WATER!"

Big Bend has over four hundred species of birds that either live there or pass through at some time of the year and that's why I'll be heading that way in a few hours. The park also has a plethora of mammals from ground squirrels to striped skunks to gray foxes to the occasional black bear and mountain lion. One must always be on the alert when hiking or camping in this wilderness and respect these animals. 

Big Bend is also a Mecca for butterflies. Clark writes that there are "a mind-boggling variety of butterflies, many of which are still being cataloged." Yet another reason this butterfly-fancier wants to go there. 

Whether you are interested in butterflies or rocks, the Colima Warbler or the earless lizard, human culture of the past or preserving the environment for the future, Big Bend has something to offer and this guide will help you to find it.


So, I will be on the road for the next ten days, most of it spent at Big Bend, and I do not expect to have Internet access for much of the trip. If you should happen to notice my absence from this space, that will be the reason. I hope you miss me!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

This week in the garden - #36

Fall - and the muscadines are turning purple on their vines.

October is a month full of blooms in my garden. There was no way I could include all of them in my Bloom Day post earlier this week, so I thought I'd show you a few more today.

My fall asters were trampled into the ground by workmen repairing our fence in the late summer. I never expected them to recover enough to have any blooms this fall, but, surprisingly, they have managed to produce a few, proving once again that you can't keep a good plant down.

And speaking of plants that you can't keep down, orange bulbine may be the most indomitable plant in my garden. Here, it blooms in front of the shrimp plant.

My favorite clematis, 'Rouge Cardinal,' is blooming again by the back porch.

  Nearby, the tiny blossoms of Tradescantia 'Purple Heart' are ubiquitous.

The goldenrod by the back fence is finally in full bloom.

Antique rose 'Old Blush' enjoys autumn.

I'm still getting migrating Monarch butterflies in the garden. This one rests on a leaf in the afternoon sun.

I do love my gerberas. Happy little flowers!

Evolulus glomeratus 'Blue Daze' blooms in a front yard bed.

The purple trailing lantana is a magnet to butterflies like this White-striped Long-tailed Skipper.

Nearby, a Julia's Skipper also enjoys the lantana.

While two other varieties of skippers jostle over the blue plumbago.

Rosa 'Ducher' is in bloom again.

As is 'Belinda's Dream.'

And the canna 'Lucifer' brings light to a dark spot in the garden.

This is my first year to have 'Molineux' in my garden and I do love these luscious blossoms.

A Common Buckeye feeds on the mystery plant I showed you yesterday. I believe the plant is something in the "broom" family but I haven't entirely nailed it down yet.

Cape honeysuckle has bloomed gloriously this fall.

Over it all, a female Rufous Hummingbird keeps watch, ready to evict any trespassers.

Today, I bought a collection of plants for the veggie garden, things like red cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, and collards. With any luck, I hope to get them all in the ground tomorrow. Time to finish getting that fall garden planted!

I hope your gardening is going well this week. Happy weekend!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mystery plant

So, I have this mystery plant in my backyard. Here's how it came to be here.

I bought a blueberry at a local nursery last year and installed it in my garden. To say that it was a dry year would be a gross understatement. I did water my plants regularly, especially the ones that had recently been planted in the garden, and I have the ginormous water bills to prove it. As the horrible summer wore on, I noticed something strange. That blueberry bush seemed to be flourishing, while others in the area struggled. Several healthy trunks established themselves and it looked like this plant might be a winner.

Then, sometime last winter, I took a closer look at that shrub and realized that the blueberry had actually died! This flourishing shrub was something that had come from the pot that the blueberry was in and its leaves did resemble blueberry leaves, but it most definitely was not a blueberry!

I didn't know what it was. Perhaps the smart thing to have done would have been to dig it up and shred it then and there, but I hesitated. I was curious. It was a very healthy plant, but what was it? I decided to let it grow through a full cycle of seasons and see what happened. Perhaps its blooms - if it had them - would help identify it.

Around about the first of September, I noticed that the plant was full of tiny buds, so apparently it was going to bloom. I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Finally, early this week, as I walked out my back door, this is what I saw:

The shrub which is now about four feet tall and almost that wide was completely covered in tiny, pale yellow blossoms. Furthermore, as I got close to the plant, I discovered that those blossoms were covered in tiny butterflies, bees, and even flies. The pollinators loved this plant!

The butterflies that were visiting the plant all seemed to be hairstreaks.

Several of these very colorful flies, as well as many honeybees, were also sipping from the flowers.

I believe the butterflies were Red-banded Hairstreaks, really one of the prettiest of this family of small (one-inch wingspan) butterflies.

I've identified the butterflies, but I still haven't identified the plant. I've no idea yet if it is a native plant or if it is a noxious, invasive, exotic species. What I do know is that the pollinators love it, so, for now at least, it stays. If I find out it's a thug, there will be time to rip it out this winter.

Do you recognize this mystery plant? All help in identifying it will be gratefully accepted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Do you know me? (With update)

Last Friday we drove over to the Kleb Woods Nature Preserve to walk through the woods and try to see some birds. The birds, as it turned out, were not cooperative, but I was also interested in the plants growing there.

The woods themselves are in pretty much their natural state except for the walking trails through them, but around the visitors' center, extensive planting has been done. They are mostly native plants, many of which I have in my own yard; things like almond verbena, Hamelia, firespike, lantana (of course!), various salvias, etc. The plantings are meant to attract birds, butterflies, and bees, just like my own garden, but on this day they weren't getting much action. I could have seen more birds and butterflies in my own yard!

Walking one of the trails, I found lots of chili pequin (bird pepper) plants full of their tiny red fruits, again, just like the one in my garden.

This is actually the one in my garden. It's still full of fruits now but as autumn and winter wear on, the birds will strip them. Mockingbirds and cardinals are especially fond of them.

Their goldenrods were in full bloom. Mine are still at the bud stage. They should be blooming later this week.

But the most interesting plant I found on our walk was at the old Kleb farmhouse. There was a beautiful hibiscus in the front yard and it was full of buds and blooms.

This is what the buds look like as they are just about to open. They are a dark pink, almost fuchsia.

But once fully open, they fade to a pretty pale pink.

Here is another view of an older blossom, showing its double form.

I didn't see a label anywhere, so I don't know if this is an old heirloom plant or if it was planted more recently. It was a big shrub, easily as tall as me and as wide as it was tall, and, as I think you can see, just full of buds!

I know many of you out there are big hibiscus fans. Does anyone recognize this one?

UPDATE: Okay, I'm an idiot! Obviously, the hibiscus above is Confederate rose, sometimes called "cotton rose," and properly called Hibiscus mutabilis, as sharp-eyed reader Usha pointed out. Also, I got it backwards in that the blossom opens pale and get redder as the day goes along, so those blossoms that I referred to as buds are actually old, expired blooms. The spent blooms sometimes stay on the plant for several days. Sometimes I experience total brain cramps which leave me incredibly stupid and that's what happened here in that I didn't recognize a plant that I've known my whole life! Learn more about this wonderful plant here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2012

Welcome to Bloom Day, October edition, in my Southeast Texas, zone 9a, garden. Let's get right to it. Here are some of the blooms that are brightening my garden today.

I've featured this 'Big Momma' Turk's cap many times in my blog posts. It blooms twelve months of the year in our climate and is a haven for hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies especially during the colder months of the year when little else is blooming.

A close-up of one of 'Big Momma's' blossoms shows its structure which is so attractive to the pollinators.

Sweet-smelling almond verbena is at its best at this time of year.

'Senorita Rosalita' cleome has bloomed faithfully all summer long and now well into the fall.

And speaking of old faithfuls, my old species cannas will continue to bloom until first frost.

Floribunda rosa 'Monkey Business' is putting out its autumn flush of blooms.

Blooms have been notably lacking in my old miniature rose 'Red Cascade' this year, but now as the months dwindle down, it has relented and is giving me some of these tiny, perfect roses. I'm glad because I am quite fond of this plant.

The Knockout family of roses blooms most of the year, but the blooms get smaller as the year wears on. Still, I quite like these pretty little single pink blossoms.

And here is the yellow variety of Knockout called 'Radsunny.'

'Darcy Bussell' continues to crank out these lush, velvety roses on a regular basis.

The mislabeled "white" mistflower merrily produces a profusion of these lavender blossoms. Although it isn't what I was expecting, I find it is growing on me. I quite like it.

Nearby, the tropical milkweed is in full bloom, enticing passing butterflies, and offering its leaves as a nursery for Monarch and Queen butterflies.

Autumn sage is also a big winner with butterflies, as well as bees and hummingbirds - basically, all the pollinators like it.

Likewise the salvia 'Mystic Spires.' I think you can see one happy bee on the right "spire."

Another sage, the Salvia coccinea or "scarlet sage" that came up as a "volunteer" in one of my garden beds this summer has made many migrating hummingbirds happy this fall.

Autumn, of course, is the best time of year for the native lantana.

The 'Dallas Red' lantana was added to the garden this year and is just beginning to put on a show for me.

The Phlox paniculata, or summer phlox, has now become autumn phlox. (I think its name is 'Texas Pink'.)

The plant that we call "yellow bells" or Esperanza, more properly named Tecoma stans, will continue its glorious bloom at least until first frost. Last winter, which hardly even qualified for the name "winter," this plant that lives in the protected corner of the "L" of my house, never stopped blooming.  

The red firespike, Odontonema strictum, a resident in my garden for three years, is blooming for the first time this fall, a reminder that sometimes one has to have patience with a plant. 

And speaking of the need for patience, I was completely out of patience with these marigolds that I had planted to add some color in a drab spot of the garden. Then last week I walked by the bed and found them covered in tiny blooms. Mother Nature does love to mess with me!

Jatropha dies back to its roots in the winter here, but it comes back in the late spring and gives me a profusion of these blossoms all summer and fall.

The yellow cestrum, another butterfly favorite, never dies back and never quite stops blooming, although it does slow down in winter.

Autumn really is just about the best time of year in my garden. It is almost like a second spring but with less humidity and it is a time of a profusion of blooms. I've shown you just a few of them today. Thank you for visiting my garden and happy Bloom Day to you,

Thank you once again to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting this monthly meme.