It was comfortably cool, bright, and dry for our hike on May 6. Lots of plants are blooming now: Engelmann’s Sage (Salvia engelmannii ), Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia caespitosa ), Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), and Devil’s Shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana), and the Missouri Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) on the east side of the Canyon is putting on seed pods that look like star fruit.
The visitors this morning raised questions that led to the telling of two stories related to the Canyon. The first question was about the old Nike missile site in the very near vicinity. During the cold war, Austin was considered a high priority target because of its two airports. To provide air defense of Bergstrom Air Force Base, United States Army Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile sites were constructed during 1959. One of two Nike missile sites in the Austin area, BG-80,was located on the hill just east of the Canyon. After the missile site was shut down, the property was given to the University of Texas System and is now the UT Bee Caves Research Center.
The other question arose when I pointed out the grapevine (Vitis cinerea, synonym Vitis berlandieri) growing on a small juniper near the Canyon rim, telling the visitors that “this was the Texas grapevine that saved the French wine industry.” In 1880, the phylloxera insect was destroying the vineyards of France. The French scientist Pierre Viala was named to find a way to save the vineyards. Viala came to Denison, Texas and met with Thomas Volney Munson. Because Munson knew the Texas rootstocks were resistant to phylloxera, he suggested that the only way to save the French vineyards was to graft the Texas rootstocks with the French vines. Viala agreed and Munson organized the collection of thousands of bundles of dormant stem cutting from native grapes in Central Texas and shipped them to France. The vines were the breeding stock for the rootstocks which saved the European wine industry. For this effort, the French government awarded Munson the Legion of Honor, Chevalier du Merite Agricole. The rootstocks used throughout the world today originated in Europe from the Texas native grape material that Munson gathered in Texas.
All are welcome to come on a guided hike through the Madrone Canyon on the first Saturday of any month. For more information, visit http://www.westbanklibrary.com/madrone-canyon.