Category Archives: Love Notes

Madrone Canyon Hike on May 6, 2017

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.

Inaugural Day at the Vireo Preserve Nursery

Author: Jean Love

The first workday for the Vireo Preserve Nursery, April 3, 2017 was great fun. The fence around the nursery area was completed just last week, and we are ready to continue to build our stock of plants destined mostly for planting in the Vireo Preserve and other parcels of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.  

This morning we made two mother pots, one of white yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and one with a mixture of native wildflowers. The mother pots will be kept in the nursery so we can enjoy the blooms and the butterflies that will come and then gather seeds and cuttings for further propagation.  

We transplanted some native passion vine seedlings (Passiflora lutea) into 4” and 1-gallon pots and put them in a circle of rabbit wire to protect them from predation.

An interesting chrysalis was attached to one of the paper pots and a mushroom was growing from another.

In our version of an Easter egg hunt, we used colored flags to mark plants that are growing up in the mulch in the nursery area so we can try to not step on them.

Vireo Preserve Nursery workdays will be every Monday from 10-12. See the CAMN Weekly Reader for more information.

At the Vireo Preserve on March 5, 2017

(Article by Jean Love. Photos by Marc Opperman)

Volunteers who came to work at the Vireo Preserve on Sunday, March 5 participated in inoculating logs with spores of reishi, oyster, and turkey tail mushrooms.

We had a large group of volunteers, and Jim O’Donnell, biologist with the City of Austin, brought all the tools and equipment: bags of spore-filled sawdust, an electric drill, containers of wax, and colored flags.

The logs to be inoculated had already been placed on the slope where they will slow the flow of rainwater as the mushrooms aid in their decomposition.

To make sure each log was inoculated with only one kind of mushroom, the group was divided into three teams, each with their own pot of wax, bag of spores, and tools. CAMN volunteer Terry Southwell drilled holes in the logs and flagged each log to indicate which type of spore to use. CAMN volunteer Marc Opperman took pictures of volunteers packing each hole with sawdust and then sealing in the spores with a plug of wax. It will take about 8 months for the spores to germinate, for the mycelia to permeate the logs, and for the fruiting bodies—the mushrooms—to appear.

To register to participate in a Sunday or Tuesday land stewardship workday at the Vireo Preserve, visit the City of Austin Wildlands page at http://www.austintexas.gov/water/wildland_vol/index.cfm?action=hike.eventregistration.

The 2017 Bethany 4-H Club Butterfly Garden at Oak Springs Villas

(By Jean Love)

On Saturday, February 25 the Bethany 4-H Club dug and planted the 2017 Bethany 4-H Club Butterfly Garden at Oak Springs Villas. The parent advisor of the 4-H Club, Ms. Valerie Queen, had ordered a butterfly garden kit that included bulbs and roots of several kinds of butterfly host and nectar plants. To get them in the ground as soon as possible, we met at Oak Springs Villas at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday and broke ground. Almost as soon as we started, a giant swallowtail butterfly came floating among us in the cool air like a blessing, settling in the sun on the grass near us for a while.

A videographer, Ms. Jaha Wilder, founder of The Young Journey Foundation, came to record our ground-breaking ceremony.

During the day, there were 8 of us working: Mrs. Metria Adams, Mr. Adams, their son Caleb, who is president of the Bethany 4-H Club, their daughter Baushah and son Jordan who are also members of the 4-H Club, and Jean Love. Residents of the Villas would come by to greet, thank, and encourage us from time to time. Ms. Ida Herrera, who had come to visit a relative at Oak Springs Villas, walked over to us in the morning, picked up a shovel, and started helping to remove the grass. By noon we had removed all the grass from the area we had marked and had begun double-digging. Mr. Adams kindly brought us a hearty lunch, and after a bit of a rest, we had the energy to get back to work. In the afternoon, Ms. Connie Boyer, the manager of Oak Springs Villas, joined us to help finish the digging, spread mulch, and water.  Mr. and Mrs. Adams followed the diagram that had come with the butterfly garden kit to help us lay out the bulbs and roots, and at 5:15 p.m., we were planting the last one.

What a joy to be outside working with a delightful group of people, all hands in the dirt, from early morning to late afternoon, watching the sun move west across the sky and the shade of the trees move east on the ground. What a huge sense of accomplishment to have started and finished this big project in one day. Now, all we have to do is watch the garden for signs of life and dream of butterflies to come.

If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact Jean Love, CAMN volunteer working on this project, at jloveelharim@gmail.com. If you would like to participate in helping the Bethany 4-H Club maintain and keep track of the 2017 garden or help plan and create the 2018 Bethany 4-H Club Butterfly Garden at Oak Springs Villas, please contact Mrs. Adams at 512-909-6593.

News from the Vireo Preserve 2/3/17

Even with a small crew, we got a lot done this morning:

  • Took the temperature of the compost piles. One was cooking at 150 degrees!
  • Built up another compost pile with leaves, coffee grounds, and water.
  • Spread dirt in another space for wildflower seeds.
  • Gathered dormant hardwood cuttings of escarpment black cherry to root for the Vireo Preserve Nursery.
  • Planted a donated red buckeye in a newly cleared area down in the canyon.
  • Added to a brush berm that Jim is building halfway down the hillside to slow the water flow during rain events.
  • Dug a hole to plant a madrone seedling another day.

You can find more information about how to participate in activities at the Vireo Preserve in the Weekly Reader.

 

Love Notes:Long Canyon

On a cold and gray Saturday morning in December,  Gloria and Robert–volunteers with the City of Austin Wildlands Division– guided us on a hike in the Long Canyon parcel of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, west of 360 and south of 2222.

Rainwater runoff had formed the thick juniper duff into natural berms and swales in several places. Lichens of various colors and shapes decorated the branches and rocks, and patches of bright green star moss grew by the path.

A circle of stones protected a colony of tiny barrel cactus growing right in the middle of the path. One stream crossing had garlands of maidenhair fern, and at another crossing of the same stream, dried brown sycamore leaves floated in a clear blue pool.

To learn about and participate in hikes and other activities organized by the City of Austin Wildlands Division, go to the Wildlands Event Registration page, create a user account, and register for an event in the drop-down menu of scheduled activities.

Hikes in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve are also often posted on the Friends of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Meetup site.

Love Notes: Stewardship at Wild Basin Preserve

On a bright, cool Saturday morning, October 22, a small group of folks joined Aaron Haynes, Land Steward at Wild Basin Creative Research Center, to remove invasive plant species from the creek area in Wild Basin. The plants of concern on this day were nandina (Nandina domestica), Japanese ligustrum (Ligustrum japonicum), and Chinese ligustrum (Ligustrum lucidum), and the tools of choice were an EZ Ject lance, a weed wrench, a hand saw, liquid poison, and elbow grease.

Nandina and both kinds of ligustrum are extremely invasive in central Texas, especially in riparian areas. These, like many other invasive species, have been imported and cultivated by humans, have very effective methods of reproduction, and are very hardy and well-adapted. Unfortunately nandina and ligustrum are still prominent in Central Texas landscapes, which makes them even more difficult to control in our wild, riparian areas.

Nandina is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that bears showy red fruit. Birds spread the seed, and new plants can grow from the strong, extensive root system. Japanese ligustrum can become a tree, has showy white flower heads, and produces black berries that birds love, especially cedar wax wings. The leaves are bright green with a smooth edge and are oppositely arranged on the stem. Chinese ligustrum also has an opposite leaf arrangement but much smaller leaves and grows as a shrub rather than a tree. It is often difficult to distinguish Chinese ligustrum from the native yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) since the leaves of these two species have the same size, shape, and color. The easiest way to know the difference is to look at the leaf margins and the arrangement of the leaves on the stem. The leaf margin of ligustrum is smooth, and the leaf margin of yaupon is usually slightly serrated. The most telling factor, however, is that yaupon leaves are alternate, not opposite, on the stem.

Although ligustrum seedlings can often be uprooted by hand, the larger plants need heftier tools than a firm grip and a strong back. The EZ Ject is a large (expensive) lance that injects a pellet of poison into the bark of the tree, killing it over time. On this day, our group used the EZ Ject only on large ligustrum trees that would have been hazardous to cut down. We also saw a dead chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach) still standing, with an EZ Ject pellet in the trunk, proof that this method works. Seedlings that were too big to pull out by hand were yanked up with a weed wrench or clipped and treated with liquid herbicide.

In a draw by the creek, we found ourselves in a thicket of head-high beauty berry (Callicarpa americana) with hundreds of Japanese ligustrum seedlings growing in the midst. Wondering if there was a mother tree nearby, generating seeds and creating this dense population of seedlings, we looked up, and higher in the draw, 20 feet in the air, almost hidden between tall junipers, we saw the tell-tale shiny green leaves. We located the mother tree, and Julie used a hand saw to cut it down and then treated the stump with herbicide.

At the end of the morning, walking back through the thickets of juniper, yaupon, and beauty berry, it was delightful to see seedlings of escarpment black cherry, wafer ash, oak, and many other natives, knowing that we were giving them a better chance of survival with every ligustrum and nandina we had eliminated.

Love Notes: A Hike at Bright Leaf Preserve

Saturday, October 8 was a cool, bright morning for our hike at Bright Leaf Preserve, located off 2222 between MoPac and 360. Our guide, Nancy Woolley, is a Capital Area Master Naturalist and Program Director for Bright Leaf Preserve. The hike began at 9:00, and for two and a half hours, we hiked over the hills and through the canyons of this 216-acre juniper and oak, hill country wilderness in the heart of Austin.

The Bright Leaf Preserve is the gift of Georgia B. Lucas, 1918 -1994. Ms. Lucas was inspired by the beauty, spirituality, and poetry of the land and wanted to preserve it for posterity, undeveloped and made available to the public through guided hikes. Formerly managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, the Preserve has been managed by the Friends of Bright Leaf and Austin Community Foundation since 2006.

For more information about Bright Leaf Preserve and the schedule of guided hikes, visit the Friends of Bright Leaf website: http://brightleaf.org/index.html

History of the Kent Butler Ecological Reserve

In 2011, the Kent Butler Ecological Reserve was named in honor of Dr. Kent Butler, a prominent environmental advocate in Central Texas. The Reserve, 942 acres between 2222 and the top of Jester Boulevard in northwest Austin, has some of the best golden-cheeked warbler habitat within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system, due partly to the gentle use of the land since settlers came into the area that was to become Austin.

Continue reading History of the Kent Butler Ecological Reserve

Love Notes: Forest Ridge Land Steward Orientation

On May 14, Cait M and Mark S. who work for City of Austin Wildlands Conservation offered a training for land stewards on the Bull Creek Forest Ridge trail of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve (BCP). This training brought into clear focus the delicate balance between the purposes of public trails through protected habitats. The primary purpose of the BCP is to protect the habitat of endangered species. To serve this purpose, ideally, the land would be left entirely undisturbed, isolated from human interaction. Another purpose is to allow recreational use of the trails through the habitat, encouraging people to appreciate this wild space and all that lives here, in the knowledge that people are more likely to value and protect what they know and love, while realizing that every footstep off the trail will be crushing some living thing, altering the natural environment. Volunteer BCP land stewards are needed to help keep the trails safe for visitors, to help keep the visitors on the trail, to watch for things that could negatively impact the preserve, and to share their observations with Cait and Mark.

Removing invasive plant species is one thing stewards can do. Mark pointed out Beggars Lice (Torilis arvensis) and Malta Star Thistle (Centaurea melitensis) at the entryway, saying that it would be appreciated if stewards were to pull these invasive species and put them in the trash if they have seeds.

Along the path, a young cedar was partly leaning into the path. Mark simply pushed it back the other direction, out of the path. Another cedar had fallen across the path, and this one Mark sawed off at the base, first making sure that there were no nests in the branches. Then he laid the branches across the beginnings of an adventitious path to help remind visitors to stay on the marked trails. As stewards, we would not ordinarily be cutting down trees, but part of our job would be to remove obstacles from trails and to discourage creation of unauthorized paths.

Another part of the steward’s job is to check the water bars, long cedar logs laid across the trail to channel water runoff away from the trail and mitigate erosion. Stewards are authorized to dig or scrape away gravel, rocks, and leaves that have accumulated above water bars so that rainwater flow is properly diverted from the trail.
As we cultivated our sense of responsibility, we also enjoyed the sights and sounds. Standing quietly for a moment, we could hear the songs of many birds. Butterflies escorted us all along the trail, and we saw grapes and wildflowers in bloom.

Visit the Wildlands page to learn about future steward training opportunities.