Chapter IVB. The View from the Top


Some interesting small shrubs and vines fill the spaces under the trees and tangle in their canopies. Beneath the Mexican Buckeyes are some Drummond Wax-mallows (Malvaviscus arboreus). The flowers are a brilliant red with the five petals twisted together and the style and stamen column protruding. These make good home landscape plants, though it is wise to remember that under ideal conditions they can get to be much taller than the little guys seen here.

On a lucky day you can see the intricate little flowers of Yellow Passionflower (Passiflora lutea) here too. These blossoms have a corona, a whorl of thread-like appendages between the petals and the stamens. The style has three wide-spreading branches. This slender vine has three-lobed leaves and climbs by means of tightly-twining tendrils.

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is easier to find. Its leaves and stems look a little like Poison Ivy, but remembering that Virginia Creeper has five or more leaflets per leaf and Poison Ivy only three will help you tell them apart. A member of the grape family (Vitaceae), Virginia Creeper has blue-black, grape-like berries that are (alas!) inedible. The fall color can be a very showy scarlet.

Sharppod Morningglory, Ipomoea cordatotriloba (Ipomoea trichocarpa), is admired more for its flowers. A bright pinkish purple, they are easy to spot from July until frost.

In addition to the woody species, the summit is home to a number of herbaceous plants. A few interesting things can be found close to the house and the edge of the mowed lawn area.

Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia gracilis) is a lawn weed that few people mind. The little golden blossoms do look just like miniature Dandelions, but the plants are much less aggressive.

Not so admired is Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis dillenii and/or O. stricta). The little yellow flowers are pretty enough, but the clover-like foliage can get to be scruffy-looking and the plant seeds itself prolifically. The little capsules actually explode, shooting hundreds of seeds as far as possible from the parent plant. No wonder it is so hard to get rid of...

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A little further out from the house one can find one of the local Groundsel or Ragwort species, Packera tampicana. Cheerful yellow blossoms accompany intricately parted and lobed leaves to make this spring find practically unmistakable.

Another can't-miss-on-the-identification plant is Sticky Bedstraw (Galium aparine). The long, floppy stems and whorled leaves cling to just about anything (especially socks!) by means of microscopic hooked hairs. Even the fruit are clingy. Botany students have discovered the fun of flinging bits of this at one another and have nicknamed it "Velcro Plant."

Of less recreational value but with more ornamental value is Dakota Vervain (Verbena bipinnatifida). The flat clusters of blue-purple flowers are very showy. Luckily for its many fans, this plant grows throughout much of the state and is quite at home in the garden. This plant is often mistaken for a Phlox, but close inspection reveals that Verbena flowers are slightly zygomorphic, as opposed to actinomorphic in Phlox.

Another Verbena found on the outcrop is Texas Vervain, Verbena officinalis subsp. halei (formerly Verbena halei). Its flowers do not have pedicels and are arranged on an elongate axis; this type of inflorescence is called a spike.


The open areas among the trees provide homes for a few more interesting herbs. One easily-overlooked plant is Knotweed Leaf Flower (Phyllanthus polygonoides). Its tiny unisexual flowers hang from the undersides of the stems. One would never guess that it is in the same family as the flamboyant Poinsettia.

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A second member of the Poinsettia family (Euphorbiaceae) found here is Wedgeleaf Euphorbia (Euphorbia longicruris). This nondescript little plant has caused no small excitement among Texas botanists. This is the only location known for this plant east of Austin, Texas and represents a range extension of a hundred miles or more. (Image not yet available.)

On the other hand, finding Nuttall Milkvetch (Astragalus nuttallianus) is no surprise at all. This species has several varieties--each region of the state features at least one. Milkvetches have pinnately compound leaves and no tendrils. This distinguishes them from true Vetches, which have the last leaflet of each leaf replaced by tendrils.

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Finding Venus' Looking-Glass (Triodanis) isn't surprising either.  This is a common spring plant in this part of Texas.  The stems are slender and the flowers resemble bluish-purple stars.  What's really cook, though, are the fruits.  Instead of splitting open, each one dehisces (opens) by means of pores.  The thin tissue covering the pore rolls up like a tiny window shade, leaving the tiny seeds to sprinkle out.

    

Two last treats await the hiker willing to explore the summit thoroughly. Late spring can bring a show of Carolina Delphinium (Delphinium carolinianum). Most of the local populations of this species have a lot of variety of color in their flowers (blue, lavender, and white), but all the ones we've seen here are white or white tinged with lavender.

A really splendid show is provided by Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). Turning a corner and stumbling on a whole open area filled with these fragrant, waist-high, school-bus yellow flowers can be the high point of a trip to the outcrop.

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Whatever the season, a trip to the outcrop is sure to captivate, teach, and inspire. Having run out of superlatives, we pause to simply admire the view from the top.


Chapter V:  Burn, baby, burn