My Favorite Tree, Anacua

I love trees. I love listening to the rustling of the leaves as the wind blows through them. I love the way sunlight gleams through the branches as you look up into the canopy. I love watching birds chirp down at me from above and seeing the amazing grip that squirrels use to dart up a tree trunk. I love the different textures of bark and the way insects climb trunks like they are on a little pedestrian highway. And I love the green, green leaves of trees and the way the veins and shapes make each leaf unique. But of all trees, at least those in Texas, I have a very favorite one. Meet Anacua, or Ehretia anacua.

anacuac10-29-10.jpgAnacua has another name. It’s often called Sandpaper Tree, because the leaves of this gorgeous plant are very, very rough. It’s actually a very pleasing roughness, if that makes sense — those who are tactile-oriented will know what I mean. This plant is FUN to touch. You can see the little bumps on the leaves that contribute to the sandpaper-feel.

anacuaa10-29-10.jpgAnacua is native to Mexico and Texas, and its northern range is central Texas. Farther north, the tree freezes back in the winter. But if you ever have a chance to come visit this area, seek out an Anacua — it is so worth it just to touch the leaves. That’s how much I love this plant. In the meantime, go get a bit of medium-grit sandpaper, close your eyes, and give it a rub — that’s pretty close to how these leaves feel.

anacuab10-29-10.jpgMy trees (I have two now) are only about 3-4 feet high, so it will be awhile before I can show them at full size, up to 50 feet tall. But the leaf color is gorgeous. The tree is considered semi-evergreen, replacing its leaves briefly in the spring. During the year it will produce white flowers that are a bee favorite, and later it will produce orange-colored berry-like fruit that birds enjoy. In fact, the berries are the reason the tree has yet another common name, Sugarberry. Right now my trees are at least resting spots for butterflies like this Silver-Spotted Skipper.


Anacuas thrive in limestone soil, by the way. Good thing I have plenty of that! Grow, little trees, grow!

anacuad10-29-10.jpgWhat’s your favorite tree? 

Busy, Busy, Busy

photinias10-23-10.jpgWell, haven’t I been the slacker, not posting anything on Great Stems for a few days? I’ve missed my blog. But I have an excuse. This past week I:

  • Took care of friends’ kids at a school carnival
  • Planted many plants in our fall garden
  • Organized two major habitat events at my son’s school, which also meant picking up loads of compost, plants, and other supplies, sending a gazillion e-mails, and putting out signs
  • Held a Kindergarten Seed Stomp for the school’s wildflower meadow
  • Led a volunteer workday at the school to remove photinias and nandinas and get native plants in the ground

Oh yeah, and I was sick with a cold in the middle of the week, too. Somehow I survived, recovering just in time for the big events. Phew! Thankfully, my garden does well on its own, but I must get out and water my veggie seedlings and new plants today. And this upcoming weekend, remarkably enough, we’re having another habitat workday at the school. Round 2!

So the picture above shows the results of some serious work by strong and determined volunteers. The pile shows why one should skip planting Red-Tip Photinia, because once you come to your senses, you’ll have a beast of a plant to deal with (or plants as the case may be, given that Photinias are typically planted in groups for screening purposes). Not only did it take lots of adult and kid volunteers, lots of muscles, and lots of tools — we still had to tie the monster plants to a trailer hitch just to yank them out of the ground. Ten of them. Whoever planted them years ago also stuck them right up against the foundation. That made it extra fun for the volunteers, let me tell you.

photiniasb10-23-10.jpgI didn’t get a picture of our Nandina crew, but about 30 of those plants were removed as well, by volunteers with Weed Wrenches — best tool ever, other than the power of a two-ton vehicle against a Photinia.

By the end of the workday, we had many native plants in the ground, with more still to be planted. Already the school looks so much better. Hurray for our volunteers!


Back on the home front, the Fall Asters are busy blooming like mad.

fallasterb10-26-10.jpgAnd my long-awaited bloom explosion of the Exotic Love Vine has finally arrived, making me just as passionate about the flowers as ever.


It’s easy to see why this pretty vine is also called Firecracker Vine and Spanish Flag.

lovevineb10-26-10.jpgAnd I’m excited to discover a new native in the yard. Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) — it just popped up in the butterfly garden.

tallgoldenroda10-26-10.jpgI’d seen the plant elsewhere in the yard but didn’t know what it was, so often I yanked it when I got nervous. This one managed to reach bloom stage, and now I happily know that it’s a keeper. I’d rather it be over by the cactus, though, than in the middle of my Lantana. Hmmm, what to do, what to do.


I’m off to the garden to hunt for caterpillars. I went to an Austin Butterflies Forum meeting last night and brought home caterpillars in need of plants to munch on. It was too dark to set up a caterpillar hotel, so I just let them climb onto their respective host plants, hoping that I’d be able to find them again in the morning. One species in particular is new to me — Gold Rim (Polydamas) Swallowtail — so I want to keep them safe to adulthood. The others were Fritillaries, of which I already had plenty of caterpillars, but also plenty of Passionflower to support more. Wish me luck!

Romancing the Stone

I know we have a bad deer population here in Austin, but when a buck turns to a deer statue for affection, I find myself wishing he had a real girlfriend.

deerb10-19-10.jpgPoor guy was with my neighbor’s deer statue all day, giving it all sorts of… attention. The buck is probably wondering why his companion won’t follow him to a safer spot. Even though we don’t need any fawns around, I do hope a real doe shows up to keep him company.

Two Years and Growing

Wow, is our garden really only two years old? What a difference time has made. But you know, photos really don’t show all the physical effort that went into a garden, do they? Like giving birth, I think I’ve managed to block out all the pain and labor it took to get here.

In 2008, this is what our pitiful, sun-baked yard looked like when we started to plan our garden.

reflections2009ab.jpgAnd just two years later, it looks like this:


It’s been an incredibly busy year for us, and believe it or not, we really didn’t get to garden as much as we’d hoped. But I promise you, we were very productive all the same.

To see more of how our garden and house have changed this past year, visit our two-year reflections page (now on the sidebar, as well).

The best thing about garden blogging is that I can go back in time and see how far we’ve come. LOVE IT. And if you are thinking about starting your first garden, be sure to take Before pictures! It’s so worth it.

Rock Star

My oldest son made this statue for our front bed garden. I absolutely love it, and I love watching my kids get inspired to create things for and from nature. Statue Man will be our new garden guardian!

rockstatue10-14-10.jpgWhat’s neat is that he also provides cover for little lizards and toads. Just perfect for this wildlife habitat.

I’ve been working on our two-year garden update, now a few days overdue. It’s prompted some necessary clean-up around the yard. And all the plants we bought this last weekend have to go in the ground first, too. But I can’t wait to get it all done. Our garden has grown, and I can’t wait to show it off!

I invite you to check out my other post today at Beautiful Wildlife Garden — all about personalizing your haven by recreating what you enjoy out in a natural habitat.

Upping Diversity

This past weekend I attended one of my favorite events of the year, the fall plant sale at the Wildflower Center. I look forward to this sale all year long. I knew I’d try to be budget-wise going in, but I also knew there was a good chance I’d blow it. I blew it. I was having too much fun. Plus, there were so many plants that I felt belonged on the NEED list.


My goal was to increase the native diversity here at Great Stems — I get such pleasure out of adding to “the list.” Besides, the more diversity, the more wildlife I attract. Win-win, for all of us… and the world! My treasured finds this time?

Soapbush, Guaiacum angustifolium — this plant is even cooler in person than the info one can read about it. It’s native to south Texas and the Edwards Plateau, and when it blooms it will have beautiful, fragrant purple flowers. Unfortunately, deer apparently like it, so here’s yet another plant that will get planted in the backyard. It’s the larval host for Gray Hairstreak and Lyside Sulphur butterflies, though the latter are found more in south Texas.

soapbush10-10-10.jpgDwarf Palmetto — I kept delaying buying one because they are such slow growers, but they’ll never grow in my yard if I don’t plant them. I’ve got an area that gets saturated when it rains, so I’m hoping they’ll like it there.

dwarfpalmetto10-10-10.jpgAmerican Smoke Tree, such a beautiful tree. Apparently its blooms look like puffs of smoke when viewed from a distance.

americansmoketree10-10-10.jpgCheck out the pink on this Pink Gaura. I couldn’t resist, nor could my neighbor. People followed us around wanting this plant.

pinkgaura10-10-10.jpgOther plants I’m thrilled to have:

White Leadwort
Twist-Leaf Yucca
Crag Lily
Purple Leatherflower (Purple Clematis)
Scarlet Leatherflower (Texas Clematis)
Lindheimer’s Senna
Shrubby Boneset

I did pick up a few extras of plants I already had but wanted more of — with my big yard, it is an ongoing process trying to fill it in. And I picked up a variety of plants for the school — Sandpaper Tree and Lindheimer’s Senna, included — both great plants the tactile-oriented can appreciate.

The boys and I have been tackling the front bed, a shady area that has just needed a lot of work for a long time now. A few plants have done well, but other major ones all died. I did some transplanting of the ones that were struggling and replaced the ones that didn’t make it. I left room for the new plants to grow, and we’re sprinkling Pigeonberry and some shade-tolerant wildflower seeds to eventually fill in the gaps.

frontbed10-10-10.jpgWas I clever enough to take a before picture? Not even vaguely. It will take a couple of years to see this area start to fill in, but at least the plants are in the ground and already on their way!


While working in the veggie garden, trying to figure out how best to pair up my veggies with good companion plants, I noticed two other little companions not too far away. And of course, I just had to snap a picture to share with my blogging companions.

frogs10-10-10.jpgI also noticed that it’s apparently time to add a little more water to the pond! Ok, weather, clearly it’s time you sent us some rain.  

Join Me at Beautiful Wildlife Garden

This week I received a special invitation to join the Beautiful Wildlife Garden garden blog team as a southern representative — Texas being my home region. I feel very honored to join such a great team so dedicated to wildlife gardening! Please visit this wonderful group blog that works to redefine beauty in the garden and to encourage the welcoming of wildlife of all sorts. 


I’ll be posting every Thursday. Do drop by and say hi, and be sure to check out all the latest entries from our team for some great wildlife gardening tips, photos, and info.

You Get My Point

What does it say about my personality that I love thorns? Thorns, spines, prickles, bumps, sharp-pointed leaves, and even little velcro-hairs — I am utterly fascinated by them all.

fragrantmim10-05-10.jpgMy husband might say that I’ve been a loving thorn in his side for some 15 years now (well, he wouldn’t say that to my face). My parents and sisters might say that I’ve been a thorn for much longer than that, given that I’m in my fourth decade now! My kids probably consider me to be a big thorn in their plans to conquer the world one video game at a time.

mfspq12-24-09.jpgBut truth is, thorns and other sharp things have a much greater purpose than just to snag your clothing, irritate you, and make you bleed. We’re back to talking about plants, mind you.


In terms of botany, they are a supreme defense.


And in terms of wildlife value, they provide tremendous protection. Birds nest safely in their midst.


The leaves of the Agarita bush might be sharp, but the plant is called the Babysitter Bush for a reason. Deer and other animals hide their young under the bush while they forage for food.


Lizards are well protected from predators in briar patches and brambles.


See? Good stuff, those thorns.

I can’t say that I love all thorns. I’ve been stabbed by some that made me cry. We removed a small tree from against our house when we first started gardening, because the 2-inch long spines on that tree were going to put an eye out (it spreads by roots, it turns out — years later we are still trying to keep that tree from coming back).

And Greenbrier is one frustrating vine. It has all sorts of prickles, including ones on its leaves, and it is the very example of a plant version of a Hydra — cut off its head and it will grow two more.

greenbrier.jpgBut no matter. I still love thorns and the like. And if I can be a bit of a thorn myself, I’m okay with that. I tell my kids that it’s a mother’s job to be a protective thorn — keeping her kids safe and guiding them along the pathways of life (and keeping them in line!).

Just my thorny opinion, as it were. 


Quinquefoliolate — Say It Five Times Fast

I had such fun working with 4th-graders in their language arts class today. They are studying words with the root foli-, which means “leaf.” So we headed outside to look for real-life examples of foli- words. But first we reviewed several prefixes, including:

Uni-  (one)
Bi- (two)
Tri(three)  (also Tre-)
Quatre- (four)
Quinque- (five)
Multi- (many)
Per- (through)
De- (from, of)
Ex- (out of, from)


With that, see how many of these words you already know…  (EDIT: I’m not sure why the boldfaced type got so messed in the text that follows — my entry looked fine, but it’s showing up differently.)

Foliage (leaves, leafage; cluster, especially as in tree or forest or shrub)



Foliole (a leaflet, as of a compound leaf)   A simple leaf is a single blade attached to a leaf stem, called a petiole. A compound leaf has multiple blades or blade units attached to the petiole. These blades are called leaflets, or folioles. Here are the leaflets of Eve’s Necklace.


Foil (a leaf; a thin sheet of metal)    Sure you know what foil is, like aluminum foil. But did you know it came from the latin root meaning “leaf”?


Exfoliate (to peel off in layers or flakes, as the bark of certain trees)    Golden-cheeked warblers use the exfoliated strips of the Ashe Juniper to build their nests.



Texas Persimmon’s exfoliating bark is remarkably beautiful.



Defoliate, or Defoil (to deprive of leaves; to cut or pick off leaves prematurely)  Insects and caterpillars can strip a plant of its leaves, but bonsai gardeners sometimes purposely defoliate their trees, too, to force the growth of a new set of leaves.



Folium (leaf, especially a thin leaf)   Thin enough to let the light shine through!



A folium is also a specific algebraic curve, such as the Folium of Descartes.


Foliation (process of forming into a leaf or leaves; the way leaves are arranged in the bud).  Here’s a budding Mexican Redbud from last spring.


budh03-14-10.jpgTrifoliate (having three leaves)  Wood sorrel is a fine example of a plant with three leaves.



Trifoliolate (divided into three leaflets)  There are many well-known trifoliolates, including Columbine…


Wafer Ash, or Hop Tree (even its scientific name shows that it’s 3-leaved: Ptelea trifoliata)…


And of course, Poison Ivy.


Trifolium, or Trefoil (Clover, a plant with 3 leaflets)   Good ol’ Clover. Of course, clover is also technically a trifoliolate. 

clover10-01-10.jpgQuinquefoliolate (having five leaflets)   The Texas Star Hibiscus is one such quinquefoliolate. Just look at those 5 long fingers…


txhibiscus10-01-10.jpgVirginia creeper typically has 5 leaflets, too, though it sometimes has 7.



Multifoliate/Multifoliolate (having many leaves or leaflets) — Really, any of the above can be considered multis, as can the Goldenball Leadtree below. It’s crazy multifoliolate.



Some plants can be 3-foliolate, 5-foliolate, 7-foliolate, or just plain multifoliolate. Dewberry is one of those plants — 3- or 5-leaflet sets all on the same vine.



FYI, sometimes people use “foliate” and “foliolate” (with their prefixes) interchangeably, but technically “foliolate” refers to leaflets. There just aren’t many plants that have a single leaf or two leaves total — there are some orchids, though, that do qualify. But “foliolate” is more accurate for plants with leaflets. It’s just annoying to say.

Here are a few more foli- words:


Bifoliate (having two leaves) 

Bifoliolate (having two leaflets)

Defoliant (a chemical substance that causes leaves to fall from plants, such as Agent Orange)

Foliaceous (belonging to or having the texture or nature of a leaf; having leaves intermixed with flowers; leaflike; consisting of thin layers)

Foliar (consisting of or pertaining to leaves)  Many gardeners use compost tea as a foliar spray to give nutrients directly to leaves.

Foliate (adj. of or relating to leaves; leaf-like;  v. to hammer or cut into thin leaf or foil; to produce foliage)

Foliated (having leaves or leaflike projections)

Foliate papilla (areas of the tongue with taste buds)

Folic acid; Folate  (form of Vitamin B9, found in leafy vegetables)

Folio (leaves or pages of a book formed from the folding of a larger sheet)

Foliolate (having or relating to leaflets) 

Foliose (leafy; having many leaves)

Folious (like a leaf; thin; unsubstantial)

Perfoliate leaf (a leaf with the base united around and apparently pierced by the stem)

Portfolio (case for carrying loose sheets of paper, manuscripts, and drawings)Quadrifoliate (four-leafed) Four-leaf clover

Quatrefoil (four-lobed)  Four-leaf clover

Unifoliate (having only one leaf)

Unifoliolate (compound in structure yet having only one leaflet, as the orange)


After awhile, some of those foli- words start to sound the same, don’t they? But my favorite is quinquefoliolate. My granddaddy, always a fan of long words, would have loved that one.