Thursday, June 29, 2017

July Plant of the Month - Downy Forestiera

By David and Sharon Parrish

A native, perennial Texas shrub with so many names – Forestiera pubescens, Texas Forsythia, Spring Herald, Spring Goldenglow, Texas Elbow Bush, Devil’s Elbow, Tanglewood, Cruzilla and Chaparral! Many of these names relate to how they grow and when they appear. This plant is found on prairies, in brush and along streams. It grows in North Central Texas to the Edwards Plateau and into the Trans-Pecos.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife GIS Lab
There are male and female plants, the male has two to five stamens surrounded by hairy bracts, while the female has yellow-green flowers with one two-lobed stigma.  These are generally the first flowers to appear in the landscape blooming from late January to March.

Source: Joseph A. Marcus, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Downy Forestiera attracts bees and butterflies. When the female develops fruits, which are blue-black in color and fleshy, birds and small animals rely on these drupes as a food source. This shrub is also the host of the larval Hairstreak butterflies and is a nectar source for bees. There are two planted in the Butterfly Garden at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.

                                                  Source: City of Austin, Texas

The Downy Forestiera is a rapidly growing plant and can reach fifteen feet tall and wide. The shrub tolerates many soil types and responds well in sun or partial shade. Once established, the plant can adapt to heat or drought. This plant can be pruned into a dense shrub or small tree with drooping branches of deciduous leaves. 

Source: University of Texas, Austin 


Friends of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Butterfly Garden Plant Pages

Delene Tull and George Oxford Miller, 1991, Field Guide to Wildflowers, Trees and Shrubs of Texas

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website,

Teo Spengler, Gardening Know How: Elbow Bush Care – Information On Growing An Elbow Bush,

Texas AgriLife, Texas Elbow-bush, Downy Forestiera, Spring Herald, Texas Forsythia, Spring Goldenglow, Tanglewood, Devil's Elbow, Chaparral,

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pollinator Week

June 19-25, 2017 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

What is pollination and why should we care about this??  According to the Pollinator Partnership

"Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. When pollen is moved within a flower or carried from one flower to another of the same species it leads to fertilization. This transfer of pollen is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems.

About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization.
Meet the pollinators:
 About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
 Most pollinators ... are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees."
The most common avian pollinator is the hummingbird. There are 4000 species of native bees in the USA. (USDA NRCS

We should care about pollinators each time we shop for food or sit down to eat!  From the  USDA  National Resources Conservation Service:

"The produce section of grocery stores would be rather empty without the hard work of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other pollinators. More than 80 percent of the world’s plants need pollinators to survive, including many that provide the food we eat.
 We learn from the Pollinator Partnership that
 "Pollinators are often keystone species, meaning that they are critical to an ecosystem. The work of pollinators ensures full harvests of crops estimated 1/3 of all foods and beverages is delivered by pollinators. In the U.S., pollination produces nearly $20 billion worth of products annually." 

The Ecological Society of America states that:

"Pollinators play a significant role in the production of over 150 food crops in the U.S.—among them apples, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squash.

And from Business Insider:
"Native pollinators play a vital role in dairy production, fertilizing the clover seeds and alfalfa seeds that feed livestock. They are also involved in the production of oil stock like canola. “The absence of pollinators would not only take the most delicious things out of our diet, but also the most nutritionally significant parts as well...”

When you ask a blessing at your next meal, be sure to include the bees, the birds, the bats and the butterflies who pollinated the food! 

And - check out the photos in the recent Friends of Hagerman Nature Photography Club album, Pollinators at HNWR.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Animal Dads

With a nod to Father’s day on June 18, we googled “animal dads” to see what we could learn. 

According to Animal Planet,  the top 10 animal dads are:

  • Lion – fiercely protective (when awake), dad lions head up large family units called prides that can include up to seven lionesses and 20 cubs
  • Australian Marsupial mouse – Dad gives his all, dies after long mating period
  • India’s Golden Jackal – monogamous dads feed regurgitated food to the “kids”
  •  Giant Waterbug of Japan - Dad carries up to 150 eggs on his back until they hatch
  • South American Rhea - Dad incubates up to 60 eggs for over two months with just two weeks of food to sustain him, and also raises the newborn chicks as a single parent for nearly two years
  • Stickleback fish - Dad keeps the eggs oxygenated by fanning them at 400 beats per minute for more than half the day
  • Jacana - Dad builds the nest and remains on it to incubate them
  • South American Darwin frog – Dad protects the eggs by swallowing and keeping them tucked inside his vocal sacs for six weeks, then essentially upchucking his children. 
  • Emperor Penguin – Dad incubates the egg in subzero weather and provides first meal to the young chick
  • Seahorse – the male is the one who gets pregnant, carrying up to 1,000 babies at a time 

But wait, what about some of the species at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge?

Snow Geese – mate for life – female builds the nest and male guards it while she incubates eggs and nestlings    

Great Blue Heron – male collects nesting material to present to the female, who builds the nest

Great Egret – males chooses the display area and begins building the nest platform, then the pair collaborate to finish building the nest    

Painted Bunting – males help search for nesting sites and vigorously defend their territory

Eastern Bluebirds – male selects a nest site, then if female approves, she builds the nest; he may assist in some cases and both parents feed the young.  

White-tailed Deer, Bobcats – moms raises the young alone

Coyote – this Father of the Year assists in building den, feeds the female during gestation and helps rear the pups  

Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Beyond the Butterfly Garden - June, 2017

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. Summer heat has arrived and with it, large flowering plants like native Texas Thistle, Basket Flower, and Buttonbush have bloomed. Tiny Frog Fruit is also in flower and will be through fall.

Texas Thistle is a drought tolerant plant that can easily be found along roadways and in open fields all over the refuge. Its purple blooms are an excellent nectar source for bees, butterflies, and other insects. If you sit by a thistle, you may be rewarded with a Giant Swallowtail (shown below) sighting. These large tailed butterflies are yellow on the underside but viewed from above, they are black with a trailing row of yellow spots and a second row that stretches from wingtip to wingtip.

Buttonbush blooms best near water, and many grow along the pad roads. They thrive in very wet soil, so high water levels are of no concern. Common Buckeyes (shown below) are frequent visitors to Buttonbush, but they will also feed on many other plants. In addition, Buckeyes are found pulling minerals from white rock roads and trails. They likely are the most common butterfly seen by hikers.

Many butterflies look different above and below, but few use camouflage as effectively as the American Snout (shown below). The Snout is so named because of the long palpi extending from its face. The underside of its hindwing is brown; when it folds in its forewing and hangs on a twig, it looks like a leaf. 

In contrast, the upperside  (shown above) of the Snout shares the colors of the Monarch, with orange patches bordered by dark brown, and white spots on the wing tips. American Snout are often found in flowering trees, but they also feed on Buttonbush and other plants.

Skippers are the most populous family of butterflies in the U.S. Most are yellow or brown and characteristically perch upright with wings closed or partially open in a so-called “jet-plane position”. They can be quite challenging to identify because they are very small and the differences between species are subtle. The most common skipper found here is the Fiery Skipper (below), shown here on Frog Fruit. This plant grows as ground cover on roads to the oil pumper pads and along other roadside edges. Look down as you are driving or walking and watch for butterflies’ movement.

Also common on the refuge is the Sachem (above). These are very similar to the Fiery Skipper but rather than tiny dark spots on the wings the Sachem has larger softly contrasting areas on their wings. On the upper side, the males have a large black “stigma” that is obvious in flight. That dark area is slightly smaller in the females.

Some skippers have no visible markings at all on the underside of their wings and identification can only be done by noting the color of the wings, face, and body, or by viewing them in flight or on the occasions when they open their wings. One of these unmarked butterflies is the orange Delaware Skipper (below).

Others, like the Zabulon Skippers (above) have bold contrasting areas on their hind wings. This latter butterfly is seen from spring through fall and may be found along Oil Field Rd as well as in some more open areas. The female Zabulon Skipper is dark brown.

Note:  Some of these butterflies may also be seen in the Butterfly Garden at the Refuge.  Garden walks with docents on hand to interpret the garden are held on the first, third and fifth Saturdays of the month, through September, 9:30 - 11:30 am. Visitors are also welcome in the garden at any time during Refuge hours. Mark October 14 "Butterfly Day at HNWR" on your calendar and look forward to a day-long slate of butterfly related activities!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

June Plant of the Month – Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana)

By Sue Abernathy

Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana), a member of the Rosaceae (Rose) Family, is also known as Big Tree Plum, Inch Plum, and Wild Plum.  It is a beautiful single-trunked, flowering, deciduous tree with bark that eventually gets dark and striated, peeling off in patches on old trunks.  It has an irregular branching structure with somewhat thorny branches.  Early in the spring, it is covered with clusters of two to six fragrant white flowers before the leaves appear.  The flowers are reminiscent of Crabapples (Malus spp.) when in bloom and provide nectar for bees. The dark red to purple plums ripen in summer to early fall.  The plums are edible and can be used in preserves, but are most valued as food for birds and mammals. The leaves are 2 to 4 inches in length, smooth and dark green.  At times they are folded over and look like they are drooping from lack of water.  Fall leaf color ranges from yellow to a beautiful orange.

Mexican plum is relatively drought tolerant, soil pH adaptable, and suited to full to part sun, but requires good soil drainage.  It is often found in its native Texas habitat (mostly in northeast and north central Texas) along woodland edges, river bottoms, open woods, fencerows and well-drained prairies.  Because it grows singly and does not sucker or form thickets as do many other native plums, its rootstock is widely used for grafting.  Mexican plum grows in a rounded shape to a height of 15–30 feet and a spread of 20–25 feet at maturity and is hardy to USDA zone 6.  It grows at a slow rate, with height increases of less than 12 inches per year.

Mexican plum is most often planted as an ornamental or understory tree.  Its iridescent white flowers are of prime ornamental value, while the fruit, bark, and fall color are secondary assets.  It is a good alternative for Japanese Maple and Crabapple trees for the residential landscape.  These trees can be seen growing at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge in the landscaped area at the Visitor Center, in the Butterfly Garden, and in the wild.  Occasionally, a few insects chew on the leaves but the tree does not have major pest problems and is tolerant of cotton root rot which devastates many members of the family Rosaceae.  It is rather difficult to transplant from the wild except for very small trees, but is widely cultivated and readily available in the nursery trade.
Aggie Horticulture at
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at
National Arbor Day Foundation at
Photo credits – Sue Abernathy