A Production of the Herbarium, Department of Biology,
Texas A&M University (TAMU)
Script by Monique Reed Photographs by Robert Corbett (except as noted)
Winston Ranch (privately owned) occupies roughly 7,000 acres in eastern Uvalde County. It borders the Sabinal River and is a harmonious mixture of well-managed pasture, cropland, and largely undisturbed brush and savannah country. The owners have a strong sense of stewardship and a keen interest in the plants and animals of the ranch. We were fortunate to be invited out in May of 2003 to help them catalog the flora.
Uvalde County is part of the South Texas Plains, which means a flat to gently rolling mix of brush and grassland, sandy soils (usually on the alkaline side), long hot summers, and about 24 to 28" of rain per year. If irrigated, the soil is very good for growing vegetables. Unirrigated, the land can be good pasture if not overgrazed.
Many of the plants we found are typical of the South Texas Plains, but we also found quite a few which are also typical of the Edwards Plateau to the northeast. A number of the plants here are also found in the Chihuahuan desert to the west. Winston Ranch, then, is something of a botanical crossroads.
Our botanizing led us over a large portion of the ranch. Keeping track of our collections was made easier by the fact that the ranch is divided into named sections. We also had a great GPS unit with us so that we could pinpoint our collecting stops. The image below represents our expeditions on the ranch over the space of four days.
This short trip netted about 270 collections (many with duplicates), including several species new to the TAMU collection. We were able to prove that each hour in the field turns into about an hour pressing--collect all morning, press all afternoon, collect again in the evening, press until midnight or later. You can see that in the first image, it's daytime and in the second we are working the night shift. Pressing remains pretty much a low-tech endeavor--plant press, newspaper, blotters, field log. (Note the very full press propped in the window air conditioner unit to speed drying. Also note how much help we are receiving that is canine in nature.)
The photographic side of the expedition, on the other hand, made good use of 21st century gadgetry. The camera folks took well over a thousand images. Most of them were taken with a Nikon CoolPix 4500, 4 Megapixel Camera on the NORM resolution setting. For the extreme close-ups, a Nikon Light ring (Model# SL-1) and sometimes a Nikon cable remote (Model# MC-EU1) were used. We found that a hood for the LCD display made shooting outdoors in strong sunlight much easier. A laptop with a CD burner was a must for downloading everything at the end of each trip. The marvels of modern software allow for image processing, cross-referencing specimens and images, and getting the GPS unit to talk to the laptop.
We couldn't have asked for a better time. Our hosts were generous and gracious, the weather was cooperative, and the flora fantastic. We are already making plans for a fall and a spring excursion. Heartfelt thanks to Libbie Winston Mize, Jerald Mize, and Hillary Loring for hosting us and showing us around. Thanks also to James Manhart for additional images--we promise to take you along next time--and to David Reed for keeping computers happy during the construction of these pages.