Saturday, April 24, 2021

Texas Gold Columbine - Nature Journal

Columbines and I have a spotted history.  I have tried to grow this beautiful  spring-flowering plant many times, and have killed it just as many times. 😢. 

Last year, I planted three healthy young gallon-sized plants.  One didn't make it through the summer, and a second didn't make it through the deep freeze.  Leaving just one lone Columbine.  

So, it was with some trepidation that I selected this plant for my nature journal, knowing full well it is unlikely to be with me for another year.

But, such a gorgeous, random flower!  In full bloom, it reminds me of a cartoon starship, and with its flowers closed it reminds me of a missile.

In studying the Texas Columbine, which is in bloom this week, I realized something new...  each of the long spikes (which I have since learned are called nectar spurs), are actually very long tubes.  

As I watched, a small green bug crawled inside the nectar spur, aiming for the nectar at its very back.

It turns out that these long spurs are designed for pollinators with long tongues, such as hummingbirds and hawk moths, that can reach the nectar.

Curious, I went online to learn more. As far back as the 1850s, Darwin noticed these unusual nectar spurs and hypothesized that the length of the nectar spur and the

pollinators that consumed the nectar was a co-evolutionary relationship. He believed natural selection allowed the properly matching pollinators and flowers to dominate.  

However, in 2007, researchers at the University of California discovered that the relationship is more one-sided.  Columbines adapt the length of their nectar spur to the length of the pollinator tongue that is prevalent in the area!  Super cool!!😲😎

Another interested researcher noticed that the pedicel (the part that holds the flower to the stem) was not rigid, causing the flower to droop downward. However hummingbirds tend to like more upright flowers, and when they feed on the columbine, they have to essentially push the flower up with their beak.  In further study, comparing columbine flowers that were wired to be unable to lift up versus the natural columbine, they found that the process of the hummingbird lifting up the flower resulted in 30% better seed setting.  

I love learning more about the amazing flowers around us, and the intricacies that surround their shape!

Friday, April 16, 2021

After the Freeze


It was really a tough winter, with the coldest, longest temps on record.  Every gardener did everything they could to cover their plants, and then just sat back and hoped.  And the first few plants popped their heads back up, and we all thought, "That's great... but is this it?  Has everything else died?"  But slowly and surely, small green sprouts would appear on brown branches.  Many plants lost all of their structure, and only came back from the roots.  My six foot tall pomegranate tree is now a foot tall sapling.  But overall, I'd have to say more came back then did not.  And, weeks later than expected, just this week I saw two small green leaves appear at the base of one of my pittosporum, my fire bush, and shockingly, my bottle brush.

So far, I have lost at least one established Esperanza and three newly planted ones, I have seen nothing from any of my Pride of Barbados.  My Little John Bottlebrush (the hardier of my bottlebrushes) did not appear, but the other bottlebrush did.  Most of my rosemary have 90% dead, with only the tips of a few branches having green on them. I lost two of my Mocha Mangaves, but the middle one is still alive.  And that Unknown Agave in the back side bed turned to mush...

Sadly, none of my established Turks Cap came back, while the small cuttings I had made did.  This freeze really seemed to harm the older larger plants more than the smaller newer ones.  I can only imagine this might be because the snow blanketed and insulated the smaller plants, but not the larger?  Not really sure.  

But overall, I'd have to say that I truly expected far more damage, and while this year will be a rebuilding year, with many plants not flowering, and needing to rebuild size, I am pretty pleased that I did not lose more!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Waterwise Austin

My first garden with Water-wise Austin, I converted a grass and weed covered hill into a flower garden full of native plants.  Over the years, it has filled in and grown. I frequently get complements from neighbors, who have altered their walking paths to view my garden :)  Here it is in full bloom:

This spring, I planted two new Water-wise gardens, a "solar garden", which filled in the hottest driest part of my yard. Now, instead of struggling grass, I have these gorgeous flowers (this all grew up in one year!).  And a "shade" garden, which turned out to have more sun then I realized.  Here are some photos from the solar garden.  The shade garden is still filling it.

Here is a before and after example photo of the shade garden when I first planted it.  I wish I had taken more photos in the fall, because although it didn't fill in as much as the solar garden, seeing this early spring photo makes me realize how much it has already grown. 



Sunday, January 31, 2021

Backyard birds

We have seen lots of Lesser Goldfinches at our feeder, but today with the first time I have seen an American Goldfinch here.

Also the first time I have seen a Hermit Thrush.

This spring is the first time we have seen Pine Siskens.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Agarita Notes

 Agarita (Berbis trifoliolata) (2020)

Exposure:  Sun or part-sun
Seasonal Interest:  yellow spring flowers,  red berries
Size:  2- 6ft x 6ft
Hardy to 15 degrees

Agarita is a rounded shrub with beautiful gray-green, holly-like foliage and clusters of fragrant yellow flowers from February through April. With its armor of spiny evergreen leaves, this plant provides a perfect shelter for small wildlife (birds, rodents, rattlesnakes) as larger animals tend not to browse the foliage.  

"The bright yellow, saffron-scented flowers are especially attractive to bees.  The early blooming period of the plant (as early as January or February) provides copious amounts of pollen and nectar for the bees at a time where there is precious little to be had.  Agarita is preceded only be mistletoe in the annual blooming cycle of bee plants in Texas. Its flowers are also unusual in having stamens with touch-sensitive bases, which, when triggered, strike the nectar-seeking bee on the head, covering it in pollen.  The fresh flowers of all Texas species Berberis are also entirely edible"  Remarkable Plants of Texas, pg 109

The fruit that follows is a bright red berry that is a magnet for birds and small mammals and which makes a delicious jelly. "There is evidence going back to 7000BCD (Baker Cave, ValVerde County) that early Americas ate the berries.  Ripening in May and June, the berries are one of the earlies fruits of the season, but even when ripe, they are highly acidic... The Apache are known to have made a type of jelly from the fruit as well. The roasted seeds have been used as a substitute for coffee.

The best way to collect the fruit is to place a sheet or upturned umbrella around the base and to whack the bush with a stick or broom.

Take a knife to the bark of any stem, and you will find a surprisingly bright yellow flesh beneath.  The yellow coloring, present in both the stems and roots, was prized by the native American and early settlers as a source for a yellow and tan-orange dye. "Berlandier, one of the earlies trained botanists to collect in Texas, noted in 1828 that the pounded rooms were use to make a yellow dye."  Current day craftsmen use the yellow wood in carvings and for beads.  A 1977 article in Texas Parks and Wildlife gave instructions for dyeing Easter eggs with an extract of this plant

Medicinal Uses
The roots contain antimicrobial alkaloid named berberine.  It has been used as a dressing for impetigo, a skin infection, and ringworm. A decoction of the roots was also used in frontier times for toothache.  berberine, which can be derived from many species in this genu, has a weak physiological effect but in sufficient quantities it can cause fatal poisoning.

Origin of Name
Agarito, Spanish for "Little Sour," name for it highly acidic fruit. Berberis is the latinized form of berberys, an Arabic name of the fruit.  Some workers place the species in the genus Mahonia, named in honor of Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816) a prominent American horticulturist.  Trifoliolata refers to the compound of leaves of three leaflets

Personal History
I have wanted an agarita for awhile.  They are all over our backyard, but digging them up has always been very difficult. In April 2019, I managed to dig one up and keep it alive for a few months, but the heat of summer killed it. So in 2020, I dug one up in February.  It made it through the summer, and seems to be thriving, so I will now count it among my 'permanent' plants.  

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Couldn't resist buying something

It has been at least a month since I have planted something in the ground, maybe longer.  And the days are getting longer and warmer.  We have a whole week of nice weather ahead of us.  So, I couldn't resist a trip to Leaf to look at their clearance plants.  Sadly, there were no new plants there, just the same little plants that had been there for the last few weeks.  

I decided to just go ahead and buy them, not even knowing what they were.  One was identified as a photina.  Not a plant I would normally buy as it is non-native, but I put it in the ground anyway.

They also had Emerald Snow Lorapetulum, which looks pretty in the photos, but there is not a whole lot of anectdotal photos yet... I guess a newer plant.  One of the plants I purchased was identified as a "hibiscus", but the persons checking me out felt like it was mis-marked and probably a Skyflower Duranta.  Its leaves certainly look more like a Duranta then a hibsicus to me... And the last plant, they had no idea what it was.  Some kind of sage or salvia, maybe?  Ah well, not my most successful purchases, but for $12, it at least got me digging in the dirt :o)

I also decided to put my Oakleaf Hydrangea in the ground today.  I may regret it, if a cold front blows in, in the next two weeks, but maybe I can cover it up...

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