Thursday, March 23, 2017

It's Bluebonnet Time in Texas

Motorists in North Texas are enjoying swathes of bluebonnets along roadsides these days. There is even a patch in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman NWR.

Texas A&M's Aggie Horticulture site quotes historian Jack Maguire:

"It's not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat." .... "The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland." 

According to The Handbook of Texas,
"On March 7, 1901, the Twenty-seventh Texas Legislature adopted the bluebonnet, flower of the annual legume Lupinus subcarnosus, as the state flower.  On March 8, 1971, the legislation was amended to include L. texensis and "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded." ... In 1933 the legislature adopted a state flower song, "Bluebonnets," written by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett. Also in the 1930s the Highway Department began a landscaping and beautification program and extended the flower's range. Due largely to that agency's efforts, bluebonnets now grow along most major highways throughout the state." 

From the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center we learn that the species most often planted along the roadsides is Texas lupine, Lupinus texensis  - known by assorted common names:
Texas bluebonnet, Bluebonnet, Texas lupine, Buffalo clover, Wolf flower.

A member of the pea family,
"Texas lupine has larger, more sharply pointed leaves and more numerous flower heads than similar lupines. Light-green, velvety, palmately compound leaves (usually five leaflets) are borne from branching, 6-18 in. stems. These stems are topped by clusters of up to 50 fragrant, blue, pea-like flowers. The tip of the cluster is conspicuously white."

Texas lupine is one of the six Lupinus species which are collectively designated the state flower of Texas.

One legend of the bluebonnet is the story of an orphaned girl who sacrificed her only possession from her mother, a doll with a blue feather, in a plea to stop the bad times of drought and famine that her tribe of Plains Indians was experiencing.  In return, the Great Spirit sent blue flowers, a herd of buffalo, and rain.

"From that day forward she became known as She Who Loved Her Tribe Dearly. And, every Spring, the Great Spirit sends the bluebonnet back to remind us of the young girl who was willing to give her greatest possession to save her tribe."

Keep your eyes out for our beloved State Flower! 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Winter Walk in the Woods

By Rebecca Jones

On the third Saturday of every month, Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge and the Friends of Hagerman host a youth outreach program called “The Refuge Rocks.” Themes center on local wildlife, and different activities are provided for the four- to seven-year-old and the eight- to twelve-year-old groups. In February, our subject was “Backyard Birds.”

Photo by Drew Smith, courtesy of the Herald Democrat
As the 20+ participants in the four- to seven-year-old class lined up for their first experience on Harris Creek Trail, I presumed that the combination of chilly weather and the sheer volume (read: noise level) of our group would provide us little chance of seeing any wildlife. I wasn’t wrong—but for these children that did not matter. They marveled instead at the curve of the tree branches, the stillness of the waters. They walked beside their friends and parents absorbing the scenery. Their shoulders slumped when we had to turn back, and many asked to come again after class.

Children walk the trail with parents at The Refuge Rocks (Photo by Holly Neal)
I saw myself in the wonderment on their faces, but I also identified with the children whose eyes stayed glued to the path as they buried their hands in their pockets and kicked stones out of boredom. 

I grew up on the refuge. For as long as I can remember (and even before I was born), my late father had done contract conservation work at Hagerman. As a kid, I would ride along with him while he checked and baited traps for wild hogs. I remember the raindrops hitting me like icy bullets as we rode his four-wheeler through the trees and puddles, the metal traps clanging noisily against the sides of the trailer. Later in life, we would spend our summers kayaking around the lake or walking the trails until my skin burned and muscles ached.

As a teenager, though, I secretly yearned for another life: one with Wi-Fi and all the conveniences of the city. After high school, I got my wish and moved to Sherman when I started classes at Austin College. Having lived there for the past seven years, I now secretly yearn to turn back time. What a gift I had growing up a stone’s throw from the lake and a wildlife refuge with a real outdoorsman for a dad.

My dad passed away last April, but Hagerman will always be a joyful reminder of the time we spent together and the knowledge he passed on to me. I’m now a Texas Master Naturalist and a regular at Hagerman’s monthly youth programs.

In March, The Refuge Rocks kids' classes will discuss wildflowers. Planning for the program is already underway, and parents can register their children for the class immediately. It begins at 10 a.m. If you can’t make it, I urge you to plan to come another day. Fish, hike, photograph and explore. The value of teaching children about nature today should not be underestimated.

Photo by Tami Howard

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Winecup, March Plant of the Month

Winecup (Purple Poppy Mallow)
Callirhoe involucrate
by Jean Flick

Winecups are a hardy, drought-tolerant perennial native to Texas and the central U.S.  Callirhoe is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae.  The family's nine species are commonly known as poppy mallows and all are native to the prairies and grasslands of North America.  The Winecup, or purple poppy mallow, produces a chalice-shaped flower in beautiful shades of wine ranging predominantly from pink to dark purple.  Look also for a white spot at the base of the five petals.  The leaves are rounded, hairy and palmately lobed.

This spring-blooming plant sprawls vine-like across the ground, spreading numerous trailing stems up to three feet in length and forming a thick mat up to a foot tall.  The blooms are found on the ends of slender stems and open each morning and close each evening.  Once pollinated, the flowers remain permanently closed.  Bloom time is typically from March - June.  There are several plantings of Winecup in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.  Keeping the faded or pollinated blooms picked helps prolong the growing season.

Winecups are easy to grow from seed, or can be started from a carrot-like tuber.  After seeds are planted in the fall, flowers will bloom the second year.  Plants prefer full sun in well-drained gravelly or sandy soils.  They often go into dormancy in the summer, with new leaves emerging after rain.

Roots of the plant have been used to reduce aches and pains.  The roots can be boiled, creating a tea, or can be dried, crushed, and then burned.  Inhaling the smoke may relieve symptoms of head colds and aching muscles can be exposed to the smoke to reduce pain.

The beautiful blooms serve as a nectar source for pollinators, including bees and butterflies.  The plants serve as a larval host for the Common Checkered Skipper and the Gray Hairstreak butterfly (shown below, nectaring on Butterfly Weed.).  The female Gray Hairstreak lays individual eggs on the flowers.  Young caterpillars feed on the flowers, while older caterpillars may munch on the leaves.


Aggie Horticulture at

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at

Wikipedia at

Missouri Prairie Foundation at

Butterflies and Moths of North America at

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden - March

 Text and Photos by Laurie Sheppard

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. The coming of spring causes the woods and roadsides to burst forth with color from Redbud, Wild Plum, and other flowering trees. Butterflies and moths are drawn to these blooms.

All butterfly species have a similar life cycle. Adult butterflies lay eggs on or near their favored host plant. The eggs hatch into caterpillars that feed until they are ready to pupate. They metamorphose in their chrysalis and emerge as adult butterflies. For some species, this entire life cycle can complete in a few weeks but for others, it takes an entire year. Some spring butterflies are only found this time of the year.

As soon as the spring flowers like False Garlic and those in the mustard family emerge, Falcate Orangetip butterflies emerge from their chrysalises where they have been for nearly a year. These white butterflies show gender differences in their color and patterning. Only the male (below, left) of this species shows the bright orange tip on its forewing. After mating, the female Falcate Orangetip (below, right) lays her eggs singly on the emerging blooms of a mustard plant. The eggs hatch as the plant blooms providing food for the caterpillar until it wraps up in its chrysalis to wait for the next spring. Look for these on Haller Haven Trail or along Oil Field Rd.

Another butterfly that is only seen in spring is the Henry’s Elfin (below). This butterfly’s eggs are frequently laid on the flowers and buds of the Redbud tree. The emerging caterpillar feeds on the buds and young leaves and then pupates in the litter at the base of the host tree. Adult butterflies emerge at the end of the following winter. Henry’s Elfins will also lay eggs on American or Yaupon Holly or on Blueberry bushes in the north.

Several small dark skippers called Duskywings are found around Redbud and other spring blooms along Bennett Rd and Sandy Point Rd. Horace’s and Juvenal’s Duskywings can be very difficult to differentiate but the Funereal Duskywing (below) always has bright white fringe edging its hind wings.

Two species of Swallowtails are among the earliest butterflies found on the refuge because they overwinter as chrysalids. They are the largest and busiest butterflies seen here. In early spring you can find Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (below, left) everywhere from Haller Haven and Meadow Pond trails to Bennett and Oilfield Roads. Black Swallowtails (below, right) will often be found nectaring on flowers on the auto tour and in the fields along Wildlife Road but you may also find them alongside other roadways looking for blooms.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Go Play Outside!

"Go play outside" was standard parental advice when I was growing up! And now volunteers at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge have new opportunities to do just that.

1. The Outdoor Crew will meet at the Refuge for a couple of hours on the FIRST Tuesday and the FOURTH Saturday mornings of each month, weather permitting.  Crew volunteers will trim brush, remove trash, and perform other tasks to maintain trails and public areas at Hagerman.

2. Gardeners meet on Wednesday mornings, weather permitting, and spend two hours maintaining and beautifying the Butterfly Garden at HNWR. You do not have to be a super-gardener, supervision is given for the work.  A bonus is take-home plants at times!

3. Garden Docents are present in teams in the Butterfly Garden for garden walks and tours throughout the growing season, primarily on Saturdays. Docents train monthly on the first Thursday of each month to interpret the garden; during tours, they share literature and help visitors identify butterflies and Texas native plants and the connections between them.

To learn more about the garden related activities, see Butterfly Garden on the Friends of Hagerman website.

We know that folks are busy so these opportunities offer a come-when-you-can arrangement.  To participate in the volunteer pool for any or all, just register through CONTACT and you will be notified of specific schedules and other details.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Phenology II

A year or so ago, I ran across a new-to-me word – “phenology”. When I looked it up I learned that we talk about phenomena of phenology all the time at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. According to the National Wildlife Federation,

“The study of how the biological world times natural events is called phenology. Scientists now understand that plants and animals take their cues from their local climate. Climate (long-term weather patterns) is impacted by non-biological factors--temperature, precipitation, and available sunlight. Species use the predictable yearly changes in the climate to determine when they start natural events such as breeding or flowering.
Snow Geese at HNWR, by Keith Crabtree
Visitors want to know, “How much longer will the geese be here?’ “When can I see the Painted Bunting?” and so on. We will soon be watching the shorebird migration begin and see some greening of the deciduous trees. Later this spring we will see  Monarch butterflies, migrant from Mexico.

Painted Bunting, by Phil McGuire

The three main non-biological factors listed by the National Wildlife Federation as playing a part in the timing of natural events are sunlight, temperature, and precipitation.
NWF adds that birds in the Northern Hemisphere are believed to depend on day length for when to begin their spring migration to nesting grounds. Another example given is that of frogs, which depend on temperature and precipitation to determine when to begin breeding, while plants depend on all three factors for bloom time.

Milkweed at HNWR, by Carrie Chambers

“Phenology is an important subject to study, because it helps us understand the health of species and ecosystems. Animals and plants do not live in bubbles--every species has an impact on those in its food chain and community. The timing of one species' phenological events can be very important to the survival of another species.” 

Monarch Caterpillar at HNWR, by Brenda K. Loveless

So as you watch for signs of spring, remember you are awaiting a phenological event!

Adapted from the original post published October 15,  2015.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden

Welcome to our newest blog feature,  Beyond the Butterfly Garden, written by Laurie Sheppard, and illustrated with her photographs.  Once each month you can count on finding timely tips for butterfly watching on the Refuge in these posts.

Butterflies can be found at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge during any month or season, and throughout the year, visitors are encouraged to look beyond the Butterfly Garden to find them. While the native flowers and plants in the garden are just beginning to emerge, the first warm days of January have caused tiny waiting wildflowers to bloom in places around the refuge.

 All butterfly species have life strategies that allow their line to continue even in harsh winter climates.  Every species that does not migrate has one life stage that is able to survive freezing temperatures without forming crystals within their cells.  For some, it’s the adult butterfly that winters over and emerges when the daytime temperatures rise above 55 degrees or so.

These butterflies that hibernate or semi-hibernate make up most of the species we see on sunny winter days or in early spring at the refuge.  They survive tucked into a sheltered crevice in a tree or wedged behind loose bark or burrowed into thick leaf litter, protected from ice or snow.  Dainty Sulphur (shown at left) and Little Yellow (below) are the smallest butterflies in the Sulphur family and both semi-hibernate at Hagerman.  Look for them and other sulphurs in areas where grasses have been cut short late in the fall so early spring blooms are exposed.  Sandy Point Picnic Area is a likely spot to find them.

The hibernating winter form of Question Mark butterflies (shown at left) have unique coloring on their hind wing and can live for several months. They occasionally emerge on warm winter days and mate once the risk of frost is over.  You will find them at the edges of forests such as on Oil Field Road or Sandy Point Road.  They frequently fly to oak trees where the dead leaves provide natural camouflage.
 Another hibernator that might be found at the edges of the riparian forest found in the Sandy Point unit is the Mourning Cloak (below).  These butterflies may be as large as 4 inches.  Mourning Cloaks rarely nectar on flowers, preferring tree sap, especially that of oaks.  You may see them walking down the trunk of an oak tree, feeding with their head down.

Look in the open field in front of the visitor’s center and in the grassy areas alongside Wildlife Drive for the Checkered White butterfly (below). These are not hibernators—they winter over as a chrysalis and may emerge in the first warm days of late winter to look for any available flowers to nectar on.

Overwintered Southern Dogface finds early Spring Beauty flowers at Sandy Point in January.