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lindheimermm04-04-12.jpg In April I had the pleasure of speaking to the Comal Master Gardeners 2012 trainees about wildlife gardening, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to include a visit to the Lindheimer Home and gardens in New Braunfels. Ferdinand Lindheimer, an extraordinary naturalist and the first permanent-resident botanist of Texas, is particularly notable in part for his vast contributions in the collecting and categorizing of thousands of Texas native plants but also for his unique role in other aspects of Texas history. In fact, his skilled passion for Texas flora earned Lindheimer an honorary title, the "Father of Texas Botany."

lindheimergg04-04-12.jpg In preparation for writing this article, I drove downtown to the Austin History Center, which includes in its collection of archived books and documents one copy of the translated letters of Lindheimer to renowned botanist George Engelmann, enclosed in the book A Life Among the Texas Flora, by Minetta Altgelt Goyne (note: this is book is still in print and available for purchase). My goal was not to read the entire book that day but merely to get a feel for the passion behind Lindheimer's plant collecting, as well as to take a closer look at his personal and family history.


lindheimers04-04-12.jpgFerdinand Jacob Lindheimer was born on May 21, 1802 (some sources say 1801), in Frankfurt, Germany. Immigrating to the United States in 1834 during a time of political unrest in Germany, Lindheimer traveled first to Illinois and then to Mexico by way of New Orleans. For a short while, he worked on a couple of plantations in Mexico, collecting plants and insects in his spare time. Upon hearing about the Texas Revolution, however, he returned north to enlist in the army, missing the Battle of San Jacinto by a day. After completing his time in the army, Lindheimer farmed for a short while in the Houston area, all the while studying Texas plants and insects.



Silk Tassel, named after Lindheimer (Garrya ovata ssp. Lindheimeri), growing wild


Beginning in 1839, Lindheimer spent some time with George Engelmann, botanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, and Harvard botanist Asa Gray, eventually working out an arrangement to collect and send thousands of Texas floral specimens for categorization. This arrangement would last about nine years. Along with the specimens, Lindheimer wrote long detailed letters to Englemann, and much can be learned about Lindheimer, life and culture in the early settlement of Texas, and Texas' valuable ecology and geography just by reading the translated letters.

lindheimeraa04-04-12.jpgThrough Lindheimer's letters, we learn of his fondness for sweet native grapes and how pecans and persimmons were regular food sources. We learn of different wildlife he encountered, his attention to physical fitness and health, his understanding of local Native American tribes, and just how many species of cacti and yucca there really are in Texas. Often Lindheimer gave detailed accounts of the trials of travel or difficult bouts with illness, and finances were always a necessary topic to discuss with Engelmann, who paid Lindheimer for his plant collections. But sometimes, Lindheimer would add in the most interesting of comments, such as, "Dr. Koester's medical treatments here are mostly unfortunate, often ghastly. Do let me know [through your contacts in] Frankfurt whether he is competent at all to practice even as a last resort." [p. 117]


Texas Star (Lindheimera texana), growing wild


Sometimes Lindheimer's descriptions of the Texas landscape were so poetic that I longed to have been a witness to the Texas that once was. In reference to the area that would become New Braunfels, Lindheimer wrote: "It is sufficient that we are at least here, where the streams flow crystal clear over the rocky beds. The fluid element gleams emerald green, and in its greater depths the fish rush back and forth visibly. Powerful springs cascade down from the rocky hills. They are probably subterranean brooks that have gathered in the caves of the limestone boulders and suddenly come to the surface. Forest, grazing land, and land for cultivated fields of the best quality are available. But what does that matter to me? Palmate yuccas, cactus, and mimosas and the fragrance and blossoms of them all, that's for me. Here I have seen for the first time the total splendor of the prairies. Flower upon flower, richer than the richest Persian carpet....[p.112] If you are interested in Texas' natural and cultural history, Goyne's A Life Among the Texas Flora: Ferdinand Lindheimer's Letters to George Engelmann is an excellent source of enlightenment.



When Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels purchased Texas land for a German colony in 1844, Lindheimer served as a guide for the immigrants. He was deeded land in the new German settlement of New Braunfels and built his home on land overlooking the blue Comal River, and from there he continued his plant collecting, got married, and began his family. It is estimated that during his entire lifetime, Lindheimer collected between 80,000 and 100,000 specimens, many of which were discoveries of new species or sub-species.


santantaRW04-04-12.jpgLindheimer was known for his mild voice but strong opinions. He was an active supporter of freedom and justice. As a botanist, he was respected by many Native Americans, and in fact the fierce Kiowa chief Santanta was a regular visitor to Lindheimer's home. (Note: On the wall in the front room of Lindheimer's home one can see the painting above of Chief Santana by Ralph Wall; it was added to the home in 1980.)


lindheimeree04-04-12.jpgFor 20 years, Lindheimer served as the first editor of the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung, a bilingual German-English newspaper that lasted more than a century. He published the newspaper from his house and included his own sometimes controversial writings. He was involved in local education and served as the county's first Justice of the Peace. After his retirement, Lindheimer returned to his passion for Texas plants, until his death on December 2, 1879.


lindheimerq04-04-12.jpgToday the Lindheimer Home is under the care of the New Braunfels Conservation Society. It has been restored to look much as it did during Lindheimer's lifetime.  John Turner, who gave us a tour of the Lindheimer home, was greatly involved in the restoration, which was completed in 1995.


lindheimerkk04-04-12.jpgStucco covers three sides of the main building, with the remaining surface exposing the fachwerk, or half-timbering, technique employed by German settlers, with rocks or brick filling space between the timbers.

lindheimerl04-04-12.jpgThe house has a second-story loft, as well as a cellar, and a second building sits where the former outhouse had been.

lindheimerc04-04-12.jpgInside, one sees much of the original furniture used by Lindheimer and his family.

lindheimeref04-04-12.jpgOriginal newspapers and plant specimens, as well as photographs and other items, are out on display. The image above is Lindheimer's granddaughter Sida and her husband.

lindheimeroo04-04-12.jpglindheimerh04-04-12.jpgThe Comal Master Gardeners do an exquisite job of maintaining pristine colorful gardens around the quaint Lindheimer house. The gardens are a combination of assorted Texas natives, popular favorites, and a selection of plants specifically named after Lindheimer.

lindheimervinea04-04-12.jpgLindheimer Morning Glory (Ipomoea lindheimeri)

The most notable perhaps was the dainty but beautiful Lindheimer's Morning Glory, freshly blooming just in time for my visit.

lindheimerp04-04-12.jpgThe Master Gardeners visiting with us said they hope to continue increasing the Lindheimer plants, especially those well suited for a garden (for not all of the Lindheimer plants would qualify as being ideal choices). After reading Lindheimer's letters that accompanied his plant specimen shipments to Engelmann, I'd like to also suggest continuing to add native plant species that Lindheimer particularly loved collecting from the Texas wild - what fun it would be to research those! For it cannot be questioned that Lindheimer's true passion was Texas flora, not just collecting it but experiencing adventure along the way. But the Lindheimer garden is truly charming, and I commend the Master Gardeners for their dedication to creating such a lovely setting that is both an array of color and a tribute to Lindheimer. It is a garden that is a pleasure to stroll through. In fact, I was so delighted with the Lindheimer Morning Glory that I made sure to purchase one for my own garden at the Wildflower Center plant sale soon thereafter.

lindheimeri04-04-12.jpgToday, many plant species (and one snake) bear the name Lindheimer in their scientific name. Depending on the source, there are at least 30 such species and possibly more than 40, but with taxonomic changes happening all the time, there is no way for me to confirm an accurate number. But after touring the Lindheimer Home and gardens and knowing that I intended to write this article, I decided to increase my personal collection of plants named for Lindheimer, and so far I am up to at least 7 (there might be others on the property):


·         Silk Tassel (Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri)

·         Lindheimer's Senna (Senna lindheimeriana)

·         Big Muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

·         Lindheimer's Morning Glory (Ipomoea lindheimeri)

·         Lindheimer's Beebalm (Monarda lindheimeri)

·         Texas Star (Lindheimera texana)

·         Devil's Shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana)


I'm technically not counting Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens Lindheimer ex Gray), but some people do -- in any case, I have it. With luck, someday I'll be growing again White Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), which succumbed to drought, and perhaps I'll be able to add Balsam Gourd (Ibervillea lindheimeri), Woolly Ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri), and others to the list.


lindheimerr04-04-12.jpgThank you to John Turner of the New Braunfels Conservation Society and to the Comal Master Gardeners for sharing a moment in time with Lindheimer with me. The friendliness of my tour guides, my love of Texas botany, and my being a former resident of New Braunfels made my visit just like coming home. Plus I had a great time speaking to the 2012 Master Gardener class. On the way home, I viewed wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country. What a great day!


Note: If you are wanting to visit the Lindheimer Home, you'll need to contact New Braunfels Conservation Society in advance to arrange a tour. In fact, I hear that the entire NBCS Conservation Plaza is a must-see, and it is a must-see I must see on my next visit!

Gardens on Tour, 2011


This last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the five homes highlighted on this year's Gardens on Tour, an annual event sponsored by the Wildflower Center. Native plants and sustainability are always a primary factor in selecting the gardens for this tour, but I found myself as much inspired by the creative use of stone as I was by the different plants and other garden features.

GoT2a05-07-11.jpg Fellow Austin garden blogger Caroline of Shovel-Ready Garden joined me for the tour. Our first stop was at a Westlake Hills home that overlooks Austin's green, rolling hills. The most notable feature was out front, a striking combination of the aptly-named Mexican Feathergrass, various agaves, and Salvia leucantha. Caroline remarked that she wanted to run through all that Feathergrass -- I knew the feeling, loving the way the wispy grass caught both the breeze and the sunlight.

I was quite fond of the single clump growing out of a large boulder.


Our next stop proved to be a favorite for many a gardener. The homestyle offices of Tait Moring and their surrounding gardens top a mostly-natural 17-acre property. The landscaped areas offered so many clever and beautiful ideas that I'm certain I missed a lot. I liked that much of the cedar (Ashe Juniper) and rock used in the landscaping was collected directly from the larger property.

The unique stonework on the raised beds was just a taste of things to come.


This tank pond was a brilliant transition point from one level to another, and I love the combination of the stone exterior with the tank pond inside.


As you walk up to one of the lawn areas, two container-topped pedestals stand like sentries.


In selecting plants, the landscape designers used a combination of natives and non-natives, always experimenting to see what grows well.

GoT7b05-07-11.jpgAmong the greenery, this stone bench really stands out, as far as seats go.

I have always wanted a bubbling rock and am ever on the lookout for a rock that seems "just right." Of course, drilling equipment would be handy, too.


If I could line my whole yard with a stone wall like this one, I would. Masterful placement of large and small rocks, fossils, glass, and stone art create a handsome partition.

GoT8b05-07-11.jpg On the other side, a window of sorts adds fantastic interest.


To get from one side to the other, you must pass under a cedar arch that provides the perfect overhead framing to a simple but tall cedar gate.


Loved it. Want it.

Moving on to Stratford Drive, another arch, this one more horn-like, commands the attention of visitors as they approach the property.


GoT8c05-07-11.jpg The archway leads visitors to the front of a dreamy, modern multi-story LEED-certified home set on a very rocky and unforgiving hillside.

GoT9c05-07-11.jpg A native-lined stream flows along the front of the house. Near its end is a beautiful metal gate, the design of which is repeated in other areas of the complex architecture. GoT7c05-07-11.jpg  

Here is a view of the back of the house, which gets a fantastic view of the Austin cityscape, as seen in the gate photo above.

GoT2c05-07-11.jpg Note the very long rain chain that hangs from the jutting balcony.

The homeowners hired two design companies for much of their work, requesting sustainable landscape practices and a majority of native plants.


Two giant tanks collect roof water at the Stratford home. This tank was so big, I kept envisioning the opening scene of that old TV show, Petticoat Junction, where three young ladies take a dip in the town's water tank, hanging their petticoats off the side. No petticoats here, though.

GoT4c05-07-11.jpgThe designers used different types of stone to create both formal and more naturalistic pathways. I loved the look of these stairs that descend the steep slope, but I'm curious what it's like to walk on them fresh after a rain. My tuckus still aches after all these years since the last time I fell on stone steps.

GoT5c05-07-11.jpgDespite the obvious expense put toward the "natural elegance" of the property, I appreciated the presence of achievable touches that budget-bound folks like me can consider. This lovely container garden set upon a rock and wood pedestal is something I'm going to work on.

GoT6c05-07-11.jpgAnd though a pool isn't something one can really call sustainable, I feel obligated to show a picture of the multi-tiered pool -- a hot tub at the top feeds the waterfall which drips into the pool which flows into an additional level below (unseen in this picture). Wow.

Over at the Eanes Circle garden, visitors walked along river rock pathways that had the look but not the function of a dry streambed.


GoT2d05-07-11.jpgI found myself drawn to the Purple Coneflowers up front, along with the areas of Goldenrod, Buffalo Grass, and fading Bluebonnets, which had gone to seed but will be gorgeous again next year, I'm sure.

In the front, a rather large rock sat atop a tiled patio. As much as I love the use of rock in a garden, I confess that this one had me rather confused.

GoT3d05-07-11.jpgBelow the center hole is a small pond of sorts, but you can only see it if you look down upon it from above. The pump in there wasn't strong enough to send the water upward out of the boulder as a fountain, but perhaps the pump was on a low setting, or maybe that wasn't the intention at all. The wildlife gardener in me feared for any animal that made any sort of attempt to get to the water, assuming it might actually discover it -- without an escape route built into the pond, the animal would likely drown. So, great potential for the unique and interesting rock, but as is, it didn't work for me.

The final garden on the tour, with the exception of the Wildflower Center itself, was the Monroe house. Its dry streambed aids in drainage from the house, with dual bridges to the side doors -- a steel grate as one, the other of stone.


Stone steps lead down the slope to the backyard, where a custom light arches over an outdoor table.


Two large tanks stand ready to collect rainwater. That's a lot of water for the lower shaded garden -- since most of the garden is upslope from the tanks, I'm curious how much of the water actually gets used.

GoT3e05-07-11.jpg GoT5e05-07-11.jpg Up at the front, Berkeley Sedges provide a lovely mounding alternative to a lawn. I definitely want to figure out a way to use sedges in my front yard -- I love how they look.

GoT4e05-07-11.jpgThere's that whimsy that always finds its way into Austin gardens! This one definitely qualifies as "different."

Caroline, I'm so glad for your company on this tour, and to all the homeowners and the Wildflower Center, thanks for making this possible. I am much inspired!

Hornsby Bend Birds Fit the Bill


GSshovelersa03-17-11.jpgJust when I thought I was starting to get caught up, time slipped away again. Take this post, for instance -- I visited Hornsby Bend more than two weeks ago and am only just now getting to show the photos. And it's been driving me crazy to be so far behind -- there are some really cool photos on my flash card right now, and I can't wait to post them!

One quick note -- today was the Trowel & Error Garden Symposium benefitting Mayfield Park. I had a great time talking about native plants and wildlife, and I enjoyed seeing friends, meeting new ones, spreading native plant love, and getting to spend the day with gardening folks. What a wonderful day!

GSshovelersb03-17-11.jpgNot that these Northern Shovelers would have cared -- they're too busy scooping food from the ponds at Hornsby Bend. Fellow Beautiful Wildlife Garden blogger Carole Brown and I visited Hornsby Bend during her recent trip to Austin, and we delighted in seeing numerous migratory birds, as well as getting our first glimpses of many different early spring wildlife. Of course, that was 2.5 weeks ago, so I'm sure the numbers have increased tremendously. For my previous visits to Hornsby Bend, check out this and this -- oh, and this little weirdness.

GSshovelersd03-17-11.jpgNorthern Shovelers are dabbling ducks. which means that they primarily feed at the water's surface or by tipping upside-down to get food underwater. Their spoon-shaped bill allows them to strain and filter the water for food.

GSshovelerse03-17-11.jpgA curious behavior of the Shovelers is the way they will circle in a group to churn the water and bring food to the surface.

But they spent much time showing off their unique ability to walk on water... or at least stand on a hidden barrier in the water and look like they can walk on water.  


Clearly I enjoyed taking pictures of the Shovelers. How about for a change of pace, we look at pictures of... other ducks!

GSbluewingedtealf03-17-11.jpgTake a look out on this island -- see that blue on a duck's wing? That patch of blue earns this species the name "Blue-Winged Teal." Note the Least Sandpipers hanging out on the island, too.

  GSbluewingedtealbf03-17-11.jpgRuddy Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, American Coots, Snipers -- these are just a few of the other water birds we glimpsed during our visit. But that's not all -- the Yellow-Rumped Warblers were too numerous to count, the swallows hid along the bank, Cardinals sang from the river pathway trees, and White-Eyed Vireos looked down upon us.

Not the least bit concerned by our presence, the Least Sandpipers stayed really busy gathering food along the wet shores. Well, at least I'm not resorting to bad jokes again... to say the least...

GSleastsandpiper03-17-11.jpgAnd Hornsby Bend is a haven for multiple sparrow species. We saw Savannah Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and many others. I'll just pretend that we didn't also see House Sparrows. They didn't earn a photo spot, at least. Oops, there's that word again. At least that time was an accident! (that last might be a different story, though).


Here's a Savannah Sparrow, kind enough to pause for a close-up:


The most unusual bird of the day goes to a leucistic sparrow seen foraging between two of the Hornsby ponds. Quite unusual in nature, and an even bigger rarity for the average birdwatcher.


   We followed this leucistic sparrow around for some time -- I was determined to get a picture -- as it was, I had to use a zoom from far away and really crop in to get a decent look at it. Oh, how I long for birding binoculars. But I feel lucky to have seen a leucistic sparrow at all, with or without gadgets. Then again, even luckier to have managed to catch semi-acceptable photos of said leucistic sparrow.

Other wildlife happily enjoyed the start of spring, Monarchs included. Here's a Black Swallowtail on Henbit:

GSblkswallowtail03-17-11.jpgAnd a Pipevine Swallowtail, too:


A White or Common Checkered Skipper took a rest on Velcro Plant. Hope it didn't get stuck to it.... Apparently you can only tell White and Common Checkered Skippers apart by dissection. Well, it was this skipper's lucky day. I wasn't going to go that far to ID it.

GScheckeredskipper03-17-11.jpgCheck out this hard-working ant carrying a berry in the picture below. There's a lesson to be learned there.

GSleafcutterant03-17-11.jpgAllright, enough with the longer photodocumentaries -- on to new things! Lizards, bird babies, and more, coming soooooooon!

Early Blooms at the Wildflower Center


"My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth." -- Lady Bird Johnson

Please enjoy these images of early spring blooms and wildlife at the Wildflower Center, along with some special quotes by Lady Bird herself. A week ago Friday, fellow blogger Carole Brown of Beautiful Wildlife Garden and Ecosystem Gardening joined me for a special tour given by our friend Kelley, who has volunteered at the WFC for many years. Thank you, Kelley. It was wonderful. And we followed up our visit with a delicious Tex-Mex lunch -- mmmmm.


Carolina Jessamine...


Black Swallowtail...

GSblackswallowtail03-17-11.jpgSpiderwort, with Agave...


"Though the word beautification makes the concept sound merely cosmetic, it involves much more: clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal, and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas. To me... beautification means our total concern for the physical and human quality we pass on to our children and the future." -- Lady Bird Johnson

Red-Eared Slider...


Goldeneye Phlox...

GSphlox03-17-11.jpgGolden Groundsel...

GSgoldengroundsel03-17-11.jpgSkulls in a West Texas desert bed...


GSskulla03-17-11.jpgMexican Plum...


 Texas Bluebonnets, of course...



"We have impressive and valid reasons for using our native plants -- reasons of the soul and pocketbook." -- Lady Bird Johnson

Coral Honeysuckle, on a trellis I aim to copy...


The first winecup...

Possumhaw, still showing off its winter berries...


Plant sale preparation...

GSplantsale03-17-11.jpg Redbud...


"My special cause, the one that alerts my interest and quickens the pace of my life, is to preserve the wildflowers and native plants that define the regions of our land -- to encourage and promote their use in appropriate areas and thus help pass on to generation in waiting the quiet joys and satisfactions I have known since my childhood." -- Lady Bird Johnson


Lady Bird's message and purpose continues to touch my heart and soul. What a gift she has given us, with a call for us to do more.

Trekking Through the Roughs


roughse09-05-10.jpgYesterday morning our hiking crew of friends and family visited McKinney Roughs Nature Center, an LCRA park near Bastrop in Central Texas. Not to be confused with McKinney Falls State Park, the Roughs is home to 18 miles of pleasant hiking trails that take one through peaceful woodlands, past wildflower meadows, and along the scenic Colorado River.

The park is located where four distinct ecological regions converge: East Texas Pineywoods, Riparian, Blackland Prairies, and Post Oak Savannah, and these regions can seem to suddenly switch on you as you walk along the trails. I think of three words when I picture my time at McKinney Roughs -- "beauty," "solitude," and "wildlife." Birds, butterflies, bees, lizards, spiders, turtles, mammals -- everywhere you turn, you either see wildlife, or you see evidence of it. Wildflowers line the paths, vines climb the trees, and sunlight filters through the trees to highlight shrubs or snags or other interesting elements of nature.

A little anole welcomed us at the front gate, though he did hang out among some thorns. Good for him.


Up at the visitor's center, spectacular flowers and berrying-plants provide a colorful scene, alive with zooming hummingbirds, busy bees, and fluttering butterflies. The building in the photo is the Natural Science Center, closed except for educational purposes, but all about the grounds, demonstration gardens teach visitors about native plants, wildscaping, and water conservation through rain collection. There's even a tepee to sit in. And the visitor's center itself holds large aquariums and terrariums, with all sorts of live creatures inside. So much to do, and so much to learn.

roughsn09-05-10.jpg roughso09-05-10.jpg

If all that wasn't enough, McKinney Roughs offers even more-- nature programs for youths, dorms for groups, stargazing and kayaking programs, and vertical challenge courses, including a climbing tower.

roughsr09-05-10.jpgBut the park trails are truly the "diamonds in the Roughs." They are well made and easy to traverse. Dogs on leashes are allowed, as are horses. It says something good about a park when people bring their horses from across the state to take them on the trails.

roughszd09-05-10.jpgWe chose about a 5-mile route, traveling on several connecting trails. The paths took us through all four ecological regions, letting us see quite a variety of plant species and terrain. Pine needles in portions reminded us when we were in the pocket of isolated hardwoods known as "Lost Pines."


The paths took us to overlooks and valleys, dry creek beds and the river, and through woods and meadows, but always the trail was well defined and constructed, particularly whenever a slope was present.

roughszl09-05-10.jpg roughszm09-05-10.jpgAnt lions left little pits in the sand along the paths.

roughszc09-05-10.jpgAll around were plants I'd never seen before, and I realized that while I can identify many native species, it was clear I had a lot more to learn. But many of my favorites were around.

Like American Beautyberry...


Texas Persimmon, with its beautiful peeling bark...


Inland Sea Oats, with seeds in transition from green to brown, and so many others.


While I could identify this next plant as a bird-friendly Pokeweed due to its very dark red berries, I didn't know much about it, so I looked it up. Turns out it's very dangerous to mammals, sometimes even lethal -- so don't eat it. This is a time where the saying "You eat like a bird" best NOT apply.


Another new one for me -- this appears to be Tall Gayfeather, also known as Tall Blazing Star, Liatris aspera. The stalk was indeed so tall that it needed the support of a younger plant.


And this is Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea. Thank goodness it didn't have different colored seeds -- I might not have ever identified it otherwise. Not surprisingly, those beans are toxic.


It was hard to resist taking pictures of all the wildlife we saw. And ohhhh, we saw a lot. What a joy to experience nature at its best.

Near the visitor's center, this Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly worked really hard to make it as difficult as possible for me to take a picture of it, but I finally got one. It's on Pride of Barbados -- not a true native, but a sun-loving wildlife-friendly neighbor from the south. 


Well, actually I did get two photos. I believe this is another Pipevine Swallowtail, though its markings are less vibrant. It's on Tropical Milkweed.

roughsv09-05-10.jpgIt was pretty neat to see so many different species of Swallowtails all in the same vicinity. Here's an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.


And a good old-fashioned Black Swallowtail on Texas Lantana.

roughsz09-05-10.jpgNearby, a Gulf Fritillary drank from a Turk's Cap.

roughsq09-05-10.jpgOff in the woods, a pollinator favorite was Shrubby Boneset, or White Mistflower. Bees and butterflies all flocked to it.


roughss09-05-10.jpg Here's an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Female, a dark morph.


And, of course, the Mistflower-loving Queen.

roughsu09-05-10.jpgBut Mistflower wasn't the only plant the pollinators loved.

roughsd09-05-10.jpg roughsf09-05-10.jpgSolitary wasps collected nectar and pollen, as well. This digger wasp is a wonderful predator of grasshoppers and katydids. I wish it lived at my house.

roughsg09-05-10.jpg This black-and-white wasp is a Mason Wasp, Monobia quadridens.

roughsh09-05-10.jpgDown at the river, we soaked our feet in the cool flowing waters.

roughsza09-05-10.jpgWe weren't alone -- fishing birds fished, bumblebees bumbled. And damselflies joined us at the water's edge, often resting on our feet and toes. This American Ruby Spot stood out among the more common blue-bodied damsels.

roughsx09-05-10.jpg That's just the perfect shade of green on its body to go with the red on its wings.

  roughszb09-05-10.jpgA water bug army showed off surface tension physics at its finest.

roughsb09-05-10.jpgWe lingered awhile at the river, taking the time to rest and eat a few snacks. Then it was back on the trail.

Occasionally we had to dodge and duck under cobwebs that stretched across paths. But with them we sometimes found beautiful spiders, many of them orange Spiny-Backed Orb Weavers. But the larger garden spiders stole the show, I'm afraid. Big, beautiful, and very, very still. This lovely lady is an Argiope aurantia. She posed for many views. Interestingly, her web also held a male spider (missing one leg) and several baby Argiope spiders. It really surprised me that she would be so tolerant of other spiders on her web. Well, perhaps not so tolerant of the male, obviously...


roughsj09-05-10.jpg The view of her underside looks enough like the parasitic Alien facehugger to give even me the creeps. But she's utterly fascinating -- look at the way she positions herself on her own web strands. Do you see the tension she holds on select threads? Poised and ready to nab any creature who foolishly gets too close to her web...


Argiope aurantia has another name than just Garden Spider. It's also known as the Writing Spider, named for the zig-zags it makes in its webs, seen in this view of a different female.

roughsl09-05-10.jpgNot to be outdone, other spiders at the Roughs created spectacular tunnel webs and dense webs that seemed almost like blankets.


At last we made it back to the visitor's center, finishing our trip with a tour of the aquariums and terrariums. And after our hike, we enjoyed a late lunch at the Roadhouse in Bastrop. Great food. I had to skip dinner, I was so full. 

McKinney Roughs has become one of my favorite parks in Texas. I'm so glad it's close to Austin, as I know we'll enjoy going back. Next time we'll be sure to take our dogs with us. If you are in the vicinity, it's a trip worthwhile.


Up Close and Way Too Personal


Dude, where's the food?


As part of my son's birthday yesterday, he decided that we should go on safari. We visited the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch near San Antonio, a trip that's always guaranteed to delight and sometimes alarm visitors.

safaric05-15-10.jpgConsidered a sanctuary for many endangered animals, the wildlife ranch allows native and exotic herbivores to roam freely around the park, and visitors get to drive through and feed the animals, which include Aoudad (shown above), Wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, Zebra, Barasingha, American Bison, Gemsbok, Ostrich and other flightless birds, Blackbuck, Giraffe, and many more species.

There were numerous babies around, as well -- here's a baby Aoudad.

safarid05-15-10.jpg Gemsbok:




Below is a highly endangered Blackbuck -- according to the program, there are more Blackbuck in Texas than in their native homeland, India and Pakistan.


The animals are quite at home in the native Texas hill country, which provides a scenic habitat not too unlike the homelands of most of the deer and goat species.


For the most part, they get to roam freely, making it a habitat instead of a traditional zoo. There are some areas where animals are kept under closer supervision, including the rhinos and giraffes, most likely for safety and breeding purposes, and there's also a walk-a-bout with caged lemurs and parrots, but the majority of the park is open hill country.

safarii05-15-10.jpgsafarih05-15-10.jpg  What they say is to drop the food on the ground and let the animals pick it up. And that works for the most part. But realistically what happens is that some animals get in your face and car to get as much food as they can before the next group does.

safarij05-15-10.jpg The zebras were the most aggressive of the trip. They fight with each other to be the possessor of the car, and they'll shove a sideview mirror aside for easier access, no problem.

safarik05-15-10.jpg And then they actively try to get the whole bag of food, not content to be fed a bit at a time, and forget about their willingness to pick up the food from the ground. Keep a close hand on the window controls, that's all I'm saying!

safaril05-15-10.jpg Well, I'll say this too, I got nipped twice by zebras in their zealous drive to obtain food -- mostly my arm was in the way of their reaching the bag of food -- my failed tug of war with one zebra meant that he got to eat the whole amount of food, bag included. We learned fast to keep our bags of food out of sight and not in our laps!


You have to watch out for these guys, too -- the ostriches -- if you value your bags of food and your eyeballs.

safarin05-15-10.jpg   And with their long necks, they can reach all the way across the car to the person sitting opposite you.

Now isn't this a cutie -- a tiny Sicilian donkey.

safarip05-15-10.jpg He couldn't reach the window, so apparently he and his buddies have trained visitors to just toss food into their mouths. How about a kiss?

 safariq05-15-10.jpgBack at the walk-a-bout, we were delighted to watch a mama lemur and her nursing twins, and the fun antics of the neighboring lemurs. All lemur species are considered endangered or vulnerable, so the wildlife ranch is very proud of their successful breeding program.


A fun place to visit. Just take care of your fingers!

Natural Landmarks of the Texas Hill Country


This past weekend, we were joined by friends from Florida and California, with everyone gathering in the (approximate) continental middle right here in the heart of Texas. Last year we introduced our friends to Mount Bonnell and Pedernales Falls, and this year we decided to venture down near San Antonio for a tour of Natural Bridge Caverns and back up to the Austin area for a dip at Hamilton Pool.

Natural Bridge Caverns are named for the 60-foot natural limestone bridge just above the main entrance to the cave. It really is picturesque.


Below the bridge lies a gem of a natural landmark-- more than a 1/2-mile of large dark and humid chambers filled with fantastic stalactites and stalagmites and other formations.


The caverns were formed after the warm sea covering Texas in the Cretaceous period began to recede. About 20 million years ago, movement along the Balcones Fault created joints in the limestone, and water along the joints began to shape the caverns, causing (and then in turn helped by) the occasional collapse of limestone that ultimately created the caverns of Natural Bridge. 

natbridgecavb05-02-10.jpgDue to unfortunate ill planning on my part, my large camera's battery was in need of a recharge, so all I had to document the cave was my little but ever-reliable pocket camera. Reliable yes, but its light was too weak to show the magnificense of the largest chambers and their truly majestic columns. But I offer these few glimpses of the cavern's beauty.


It had been many years since I'd last visited the cavern, but the gardener in me this time appreciated the rugged scene of Texas terrain and native flowers highlighted along the outside grounds on the property. Here's a lone Firewheel among a bed of Pink Evening Primrose.

firewheel05-05-10.jpgOn the way back to Austin, we did stop for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, the Gristmill, in the historic and truly Texas town of Gruene. The Gristmill overlooks some of the rapids of the Guadalupe River, but as hungry as I was, I forgot to take pictures until later when, well-fed, I paused to admire containers of flowers near the ever-famous dance hall.

I know some people don't care for the barrel-style planters, but the mass of flowers they offer for planting just might sway some gardeners back to new appreciation.


On Sunday we headed out for a late-morning visit to Hamilton Pool. I'd last visited with the boys just a few months ago in the winter. What a difference a season can make! Gorgeous no matter the time of year, it's still interesting to note the differences in the foliage from winter to spring.



hamiltonpoolb05-02-10.jpg The peaceful sounds of the waterfall, the antics of the cliff swallows zipping about their mud nests on the limestone walls, the lovely greenery of the natural fern beds, the coolness of the cavern, and the unusual bird calls of several unidentified species all brought a tranquil, content feeling to our group. What a lovely place to take a pause from our busy lives.

hamiltonpoolh05-02-10.jpghamiltonpoolc05-02-10.jpg hamiltonpoold05-02-10.jpg        This natural Texas landmark is a collapsed grotto with a 50-foot waterfall that plunges into the swimming hole it forms below. The boys were more prepared for their swim this time than last -- we had towels!

hamiltonpoole05-02-10.jpg hamiltonpoolf05-02-10.jpg hamiltonpoolg05-02-10.jpg And on the walk back, a treat of wild columbines.


Just as we were leaving, a few large groups of people showed up. I highly recommend a morning visit, both for the best light and to enjoy the serenity of the pool before the picnickers arrive.

Our friends are back on their respective coasts now. We miss them already!

Happy Go Clucky


Yesterday my family, aunt, and cousin enjoyed visiting several homes on Austin's second annual Funky Chicken Coop Tour. I'd been looking forward to it since I found out about the tour a week after it took place last year. It was certainly fun but not as funky as I'd envisioned -- after visiting the Cathedral of Junk last weekend I was really jived for some more Keep Austin Weirdness!

funkychickena04-03-10.jpgBut chickens are weird all in themselves, so I was content. And they're cute. Some are downright beautiful, actually -- gorgeous patterns and whatnot.


Some of the first chicken coops we visited were quite well designed.

funkychickenc04-03-10.jpgMy husband was a big fan of the sliding doors on this next chicken coop.


The inside of another chicken coop looked fun for the chickens, but by mid-afternoon it was quite hot in there, and most of the chickens were outside.

funkychickene04-03-10.jpgThis castle coop definitely qualified as funky. I can't say it was designed for practicality -- quite difficult to clean, but we spent more time at this house than any other. That says something!

funkychickenf04-03-10.jpgThe chickens loved the boys, who fetched them grass from around the yard.

funkychickeng04-03-10.jpgFlowers decorated the castle...

funkychickenh04-03-10.jpgAnd a peek inside revealed a framed picture to spark the chickens' imagination.

funkychickeni04-03-10.jpgOther nifty things about this castle coop were a large mailbox converted to a nesting box, and a doghouse as another one, and this bicycle-turned-waterwheel-and-fountain. There were even fish in the pond below.

funkychickenj04-03-10.jpg funkychickenk04-03-10.jpgSome of the chicken coops were large, like the one at Eastside Cafe. Of course, the gorgeous vegetable gardens distracted me. (This garden is worthy of a full blog tour sometime, too -- another visit, though.)


funkychickenm04-03-10.jpgBut their sister farm, also in East Austin, had 200 chickens, the largest number on the tour.

funkychickenn04-03-10.jpgThis stop sign added an element of the funky and functional. Would that make it funk-tional?

funkychickenp04-03-10.jpgAnd I liked this artwork from a recycled tire.


We finished the tour armed with ideas for our coop we plan to build this spring or summer. My primary requirement on our design -- it must be easy to clean (that automatically means it will be tall). But we want it to be fun and funky and funk-tional, too.

Happy Easter, everyone! Hope it was eggs-cellent!

I have more bad jokes to share with you, but I'm too chicken.

And Now For Something Really Different


Exhausted from our school's habitat Dig Day, we nevertheless got up the next morning to begin another busy day. Birthday brunch at the in-laws, followed by taking our dogs to hunt for doggy-treat-filled Easter eggs at the Austin Begg Hunt, followed by a visit to the Zilker Garden Festival, followed by a tour of an Austin landmark, followed by seeing a movie. Did we do anything after that? If we did, I seriously blocked it out. I'm not even sure I ate dinner that night.

While I have pictures from throughout the day, what I really want to show you is the Austin landmark we visited. Known as the Cathedral of Junk, this pile of objects from former days of glory forms a 3-story arrangement of rooms and look-out points. The South Austin residence and artistic structure is owned by Vince Hanneman, who began building a creation of junk in 1988, and visitors have helped it grow substantially ever since.

junkp03-28-10.jpgUpon arrival, visitors get a taste of the weird from the very front of the residence. There are interesting objects in the front yard, including a collection of cycling trophies above the front door, but the real fun begins when one enters the backyard. I was amused by the Praying Mantis (I think that's what it is) eating the Wildlife Habitat sign.

junkh03-28-10.jpgThe chickens in their coop kept a close eye on our dogs. I wonder if at night they are released as guard birds.


Earlier in the day, I greatly admired an arbor covered in thousands of gorgeous yellow flowers at the Zilker Botanical Garden. I couldn't believe it when I saw an arbor covered in the same yellow flowers right there at the Cathedral of Junk of all places. I wonder if this is the same flower that Rock Rose has, Lady Banks.

junkl03-28-10.jpgBeside the flowers, a surfboard stands adorned with the signatures of countless visitors to the Cathedral of Junk. Had I had any sort of pen, I'd have signed it, too.

junkm03-28-10.jpgAnd from there one begins to explore the cathedral itself. It's quite an impressive contraption, wired and welded and cemented strategically. To some it might look potentially dangerous, but I felt quite confident that its builders had built the structure quite soundly.


There are a variety of rooms and passageways, with hanging discs and other objects to bring colorful light inside.

junkw03-28-10.jpgA few ladders and steps allow visitors to reach various vantage points and different levels.

junkx03-28-10.jpgI think one could visit the Cathedral of Junk 100 times and always see something different, and it's one of the qualities I find particularly appealing.

junkn03-28-10.jpg junkt03-28-10.jpgObjects range from the odd...



junkg03-28-10.jpg(I really don't want to know what the squirrel in this next image is doing...)

junkc03-28-10.jpgto the strangely endearing...



junkf03-28-10.jpgto the downright creepy.



My husband pointed out that this receiver was once a really nice one back in the day.

junko03-28-10.jpgMy son enjoyed being the King of Junk for a moment.

junkr03-28-10.jpgWe climbed a ladder to a second-story room...

junku03-28-10.jpg and found a bedroom of sorts.

junks03-28-10.jpgFrom the back of the cathedral, one really gets an idea of the true scale of the structure.

junkz03-28-10.jpg junkza03-28-10.jpgThere's also an altar of sorts in the back created as a memorial to those only there in spirit. Nearby is about the only good use for ligustrum I've seen... as a table.


One of the things I liked was that my son got to see some objects I remembered from my youth. He got to type on an old typewriter (ok, the typewriter was actually way older than me), and he even got to ride a little horse (I warned him I'd take a picture for the blog if he dared to get on it!).

junky03-28-10.jpgOn the way out, this giant bird looming over us through bamboo seemed to be watching us a little too closely.

junki03-28-10.jpgAs we exited, we left a small donation for the owner. It absolutely is an awesome place to visit. 

While I was incredibly impressed by careful and artistic arrangement of objects at the Cathedral of Junk, apparently one visitor from awhile back did not think so, for a complaint to the city officials has led to some urgent adjustments to get the Cathedral up to code to avoid dismantling. It's this reason we visited this particular weekend -- knowing the possibility that the Cathedral might be shut down for good, we knew we wanted to see it right away.

But Cathedral of Junk fans are working every day to make the necessary changes to get the Cathedral up to code, and other groups are showing their support in a variety of ways. They know that there's substantial value (not necessarily of the monetary kind) to this pile of junk, and if ever there is a place that Keeps Austin Weird, this is it.


Down in southeast Austin along Onion Creek lies a somewhat tucked away state park called McKinney Falls State Park. The wealthy Thomas F. McKinney was one of the "Old 300" original settlers who received land grants in Stephen F. Austin's colony back in the 1820s (McKinney actually moved there around 1850), so this park definitely has its history. Now, some of that history sadly includes McKinney's use of slaves, the clearing of acres and acres of precious woodland, the racing of horses, and aid to the Confederacy -- but this post isn't about all that! What it is today is a state park filled with walking and biking trails, with waterfalls, creeks, and historical buildings mixed in. And that's what this post is about.

The main areas of McKinney Falls State Park are divided into the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls. We visited the Upper Falls first. When rain is plentiful, the falls are much more substantial, but at least water was flowing. What I was particularly drawn to, and you'll see this in many of my pictures, is the erosion power of the water, shaping beautiful curves and channels into the rock.

2mfspb12-24-09.jpg 2mfspc12-24-09.jpg 2mfspa12-24-09.jpg

Below the falls is a larger pool in which people sometimes enjoy swimming. However, often the pool is closed to swimming because of high fecal counts due to runoff from upstream areas and flooding. During our visit, the pool was open for swimming, but given that it was December, it wasn't so surprising that no one cared to swim in the cold water. Bald cypress trees, complete with twisted roots, line the pool's edges. 

2mfspd12-24-09.jpg Dogs are not permitted to swim at the state park, but the headquarters said it was ok to let them take drinks. Of course, leashes are also required at all times. 

2mfspe12-24-09.jpg The Upper Falls trail is actually paved and seems a great place if you have young kids who like to ride their bikes while parents walk along. For adults on bikes, the distance is probably on the short side.

We visited in winter, and there were few leaves left on the trees, except for the annoying occasional invasive ligustrum which just thrived; its dark-green foliage really stood out when we ran across it.


The path travels along Onion Creek, which Austinites know is the area most prone to serious and dangerous flooding during heavy rains. You can see evidence of flooding in the images below, though the results seemed to be to the basking turtles' favor.

2mfspg12-24-09.jpg 2mfsph12-24-09.jpg

To get to the Lower Falls, you have to drive to a separate parking area, then walk for awhile across exposed rock. I imagine during floods that this whole area gets quickly covered in water. Again you can see the result of water erosion -- broken limestone slabs and large pools carved out in the open rock, as seen below.

2mfspi12-24-09.jpg 2mfspk12-24-09.jpg 2mfspj12-24-09.jpg 2mfspl12-24-09.jpgThe Lower Falls look different from what I remember from years ago -- presumably this is a combination of water erosion at work and current flow of the creek. To cross to the other side, where the old homestead is, one has to jump across a channel just large enough to be risky for an adult and way too dangerous for children to safely cross.

  2mfspm12-24-09.jpg 2mfspn12-24-09.jpg 2mfspo12-24-09.jpg

So we, the ever-adventuring gang, decided to take advantage of the fact that this was an ON swimming time for MFSP, and we crossed the creek higher up. Yep, in our tennis shoes. Well, except for me, who was clever enough to wear my Keens. Though the water was plenty shallow, the carved channels in the creek bed (the always-occurring water erosion still at work) were hidden by long strings of algae, so we still had to be careful in our endeavour.

2mfspq12-24-09.jpgBut we wanted to see the homestead and grist mill, and crossing the falls was simply too hazardous for my youngster. It would be nice to have a bridge built someday, one safe from the effects of flooding, if that's even possible.

2mfspr12-24-09.jpgYeah, I think the boys will be getting new shoes for when they go back to school.

2mfsps12-24-09.jpgOn the other side of the park, we could really envision the McKinney ranch of old. The McKinney homestead was built around 1850 and stayed relatively intact until a fire in 1943.

2mfspt12-24-09.jpgIt's easy to picture horses pulling a wagon under the trees along this wide road.

  2mfspu12-24-09.jpg The trails were lined with yellow flowers and a variety of shrubs and grasses.


Little remains of the grist mill, once used to grind flour. It was destroyed by a flood in 1869.


There are other remnants to be found along the Lower Falls trails, but we had to get home. So we followed the trail back to the creek for another adventure in crossing. We enjoyed a different view of the falls from the other side, but the muck we found in the creek was pretty much the same!

2mfspx12-24-09.jpg 2mfspy12-24-09.jpgWhile waiting for the kids to cross, I snapped a close-up of our husky. He's a handsome brute, isn't he?


McKinney Falls is a lovely state park, but it's difficult to see all of it, especially the historical structures on the Lower Falls side, unless you are agile and have good balance, or are otherwise determined, and large enough to safely cross. Parents would have to carry their children across, or wade the way we had to. The Upper Falls trails are pleasant, though paved. In other words, it's a pleasant place to visit, but not a park for everyone.

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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