Chapter III. Permanent (Woody) Plants of the Sides of the Outcrop


The woody plants on the slopes of the outcrop provide a framework for the showier annuals and perennials. Most of the slope above the road is open, but there are a few taller trees.

There is a clump of good-sized Eastern Red Cedar or Juniper (Juniperus virginiana) trees about midslope. The presence of so many Edwards Plateau plants on the outcrop has led botanists to wonder if these aren't in fact Ashe Juniper (J. ashei), but they key out as J. virginiana every time. The shaggy bark and pale blue fleshy "berries" (actually cones) are striking.


On the southwest part of the slope are one or two small Black Willows (Salix nigra). Because willows usually grow near water, we think there must be a drainage along that part of the outcrop.

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The reason no one has gone to see if there is a drainage there is because of all the Poison Ivy (Rhus toxicodendron or Toxicodendron radicans) at that spot. There's a good amount of it on the outcrop, evidence of some disturbance.

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Two other species of Sumac (Rhus) are nicer to look at and safe to handle. Fragrant Sumac (R. aromatica) is a small bush with three-parted leaves. Early spring sees it covered with clusters of small yellow flowers. In the fall it has attractive red fruit. This is a far-ranging species in Texas, with one variety or another found in every part except the South Texas Plains.

On the north face, near the top, Smooth or Scarlet Sumac (Rhus glabra) makes a patch of color in the fall. This Sumac has pinnately compound leaves and red fruit. (As a general rule, white-fruited Rhus are the ones that cause rashes; red-fruited species are harmless.)

A couple of members of the Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family) put in an appearance on the outcrop. Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) is a large shrub or small tree. In the spring its clusters of creamy yellow flowers really stand out along the wooded part of the upper slope. In the fall, it has deep blue fruits. The foliage is a favorite food of the cecropia moth (Samia cecropia) catepillar.

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Tangled in the Junipers at midslope is Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). The tubular red flowers are quite showy and are a favorite of hummingbirds. This native honeysuckle does well in the home garden and is not nearly so invasive as the Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)., whichi is, unfortunately, also present.

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Another vine here is the Mustang Grape (Vitis mustangensis). There is a large patch midslope, clambering over other plants. The palmately lobed leaves are densely white-furry underneath. The fruit are juicy and edible (except for the astringent skin), but it can be difficult to beat the animals to them once they ripen.

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Also midslope is a community of plants that would seem to be more at home in a desert than in East Central Texas. Their presence here indicates just how dry the outcrop is.

Several Yucca (Yucca sp.) plants have come up here. Each year they send up tall stalks of fragrant, cream-colored flowers.

All over the outcrop one can find Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia spp.), usually when a plant attacks the ankles. The big yellow flowers attract many kinds of insect pollinators. The plants on the summit tend to be taller than those on the slopes and may represent a different species.

Visitors with sharp eyes and a careful step will be the first to spot the small, round-bodied cactus, Coryphantha missouriensis. Never more than a few inches high, it forms circular clumps half-buried in the sand. The colonies can be up to a meter or more across.  The flowers are greenish yellow. In the fall, the bright red fruits can make a round patch resemble nothing so much as a Christmas wreath. The only other place we know of in the area to find this species is the mesa formation at Lick Creek Park, south of College Station in Brazos County. Since this plant is so uncommon, if you visit, please don't pick or do anything to disturb it!

      


CHAPTER IVA....The View from the Top