Chapter IVA. The View from the Top


The southeast rim of the slope seems to have a flora all its own. Some interesting plants are found here and nowhere else on the outcrop.

The first such is actually a very common plant in the surrounding countryside. Common Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) colors nearly every roadside in the fall. The pollen from its bright yellow flowers is often blamed for fall hayfever, but most fall allergies are probably due largely to ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) which blooms at the same time but is not nearly as showy.

Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) has much the same form as Goldenrod--tall and skinny--but its flowers are a bright, intense blue. A large patch of this really is striking.

Another interesting minty find--and a bit of a surprise--is Late Lionsheart or Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana). All of the other species of Physostegia in East Central Texas bloom in May or June and prefer wet ditches, but this one catches folks off guard by flowering in the fall in a high, dry spot. The lavender-pink flowers will stay wherever you position them on the stalk--hence the name Obedient Plant.

    

Perhaps the rarest and most unusual plant of the rim is Tall Wild Mercury (Argythamnia mercurialina). This odd member of the Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae) has small greenish-yellow flowers that actually have petals--not a usual feature in flowers of this family. There are separate male and female flowers on each plant, with occasional plants bearing flowers of only one sex.  The second image here shows a developing fruit and the stalks of fallen male flowers.

    

The summit of the outcrop is a large flat area several acres in size. Part of the space is taken up by a private residence with a surrounding lawn.

In April, the meadow to the southwest of the house is solid gold with Engleman Daisy (Engelmannia peristenia) and sprinkled with Tall Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe leiocarpa), which we met in smaller numbers on the side of the outcrop.

     

The edge of this meadow has some other interesting plants, including Roadside Gaura (Gaura suffulta).  This is in the same family as the Sundrops or Evening Primrose we saw before, but the flowers are bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic).  This species is distinguished by its glabrous sepals.


If you look very, very closely and are lucky, you may see tiny Green Violets (Hybanthus verticillatus).  They only slightly resemble the "regular" Viola species that grow in the woods locally.


 The rest of the summit is a maze of open areas and stands of small trees and brush. The north rim is heavily wooded and slopes down through a thicket to a creek below.

The woody flora of the summit includes some common plants and some not-so-common species usually associated with the Edwards Plateau.

One such unusual find is Netleaf Hackberry (Celtis reticulata). This plant is found in much of Texas, but usually only on limestone soils or calcareous outcrops. It is quite rare in East Central Texas, confined to scattered limey sites. The long-oval leaves are rough as sandpaper to the touch and have a raised network of veins on the undersurface.

Also present is the exceedingly common Sugar Hackberry (Celtis laevigata). Compared with the leaves of Netleaf Hackberry, its leaves are narrower, more pointed, much smoother, and lacking the raised veins beneath. It also tends to be a taller, narrower tree. C. reticulata is often rather short and broad. (Image not yet available)

A second Edwards Plateau plant is Texas Persimmon (Diospyros texana). This Persimmon bears black, grape-sized fruit that are a favorite of racoons and ring-tailed cats. These little fruits are edible, but are smaller and less tasty than the neon-orange ones produced by the Common Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) which is not found on the outcrop. Don't ever eat a green persimmon unless you want your mouth puckered up for the rest of the day.

Along the north rim of the outcrop, mixed in with some truly gigantic Junipers, is a stand of Mexican Buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa). This tree has pinnately compound leaves and pretty pink flowers. The fruits are capsules, each with three shiny, marble-sized seeds that look like little Buckeyes. (What most people know as Buckeyes are the seeds of various members of the genus Aesculus.)

 

Much more common in the region is Hoptree or Skunkbush, (Ptelea trifoliata). The fruits are round and quite flat, each with a single seed in the center. The foliage (like that of so many members of the Rue Family) has a distinctive, not-exactly-pleasant odor.

Bumelia (Bumelia lanuginosa) is also rather common locally. It is a smallish tree with thorny branches and edible black fruits. The foliage and new twigs are rather densely pubescent (hairy), with the undersides of the leaves being quite velvety.

Finding Roughleaf Dogwood (Cornus drummondii) isn't unusual either. In fact, it is more common in the region than the more showy Flowering Dogwood (C. florida). Roughleaf Dogwood does indeed have very rough leaves. The flowers are small and not very showy.

Two common-as-dirt plants of the summit are the Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) and Deciduous Holly (I. decidua).

Both are medium to large shrubs with grayish bark and dark green leaves. The Yaupon (shown below) holds its leaves throughout the year, while the Deciduous Holly (shown above) lives up to its name and grows a new set every year. Hollies are dioecious, meaning that there are male and female plants. Both sexes have tiny white flowers in the spring, but only the females wear the bright red berries in the fall and winter.

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Chapter IVB. The View from the Top (cont'd)