Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Texas Wildflowers - Blue Eyed Grass

Blue Eyed Grass -- actually not a grass, but this clumping wildflower plant can be found hidden among grasses. Rising to around 12 inches high, this small (but true blue) flower can still make an impact on a landscape - filling pastures, prairies and  roadsides with a sheet of blue on a sunny day.  Found mostly in southern states of the US and most regions of Texas, this wildflower can be an ornamental addition to cultivated gardens as well. Growing from bulbs, blue eyed grass is in the iris family; reseeding each year (can also be planted from purchased seed).

The flower may be modest, but bees and butterflies are drawn to it and especially birds when flowers give way to seeds (one source includes wild turkeys and prairie chickens).

As for medicinal uses - sources says the Native Americans used the roots for various intestinal ailments (stomach aches, diarrhea, etc).  Another source stated parts were used for fevers, but also mentioned the possibility of the plant being poisonous.

To preserve  by pressing - collect the fully open flowers after the morning dew has dried and before they have closed up for the day.  They don't fully open on cloudy days.

Photographing -- since they are small and delicate, any breeze will cause movement, and growing low to the ground you'll definitely be on your knees or crouch position to capture this one.  Following are a few suggested angles/shots to get you started:
- overhead, to include the yellow inside the flower
- wider shot if shooting a large area for the effect of solid blue
-from the side for closed buds or seeds/fruit

Blue Eyed Grass in various stages - cloudy morning
I used a 105mm macro lens (Nikon), handheld (dodging playing dogs) for these images. The first image is only slightly cropped, the second image is cropped a bit more. Images resized for uploading/web, so are not full resolution.

Sources I used for this blog post include:
Common Sense Homesteader
Dave's Garden
Native Plants
Wildflowers of Texas by Geyata Ajilvsgi (my go-to book for wildflower identification)
Images are my own - copyrighted
Are you discovering the small showy flower near you?  For my backyard it is a sure sign of spring.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Texas Wildflowers - False Garlic

False Garlic

False Garlic (nothoscordum bivalve) is sprouting up everywhere in Texas right now. Growing from a bulb, and flowering in clumps, it rises above the bermuda grass found in most lawns.  Although false garlic is also known as crow poison - everyone assumes the wildflower to be poisonous. However, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower experts - there is "no creditable references ... saying that Nothoscordum bivalve (Crow poison) is poisonous."  This doesn't mean you should volunteer to test that theory -- it could be toxic or at least make you sick.  The Ozark Wildflowers website states that  "Cherokee legend tells that they would use this plant to make a poison that would kill the crows eating their corn."  However, further research using the all-knowing internet, I could not confirm the legend and one site (Native American Legends, Bird Tribes) stated that although crows could be found in many Native American beliefs, legends, etc. - they weren't included in the Cherokee mythology.  So, maybe they weren't revered as in other Native cultures - leading to the belief that they would possibly want to poison them? Don't know - good questions - and the common name had to originate from somewhere. 

False Garlic isn't listed in Delena Tull's Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest guide either - so for myself, I'm going to assume this wildflower's purpose is for our viewing pleasure, add color to the sea of grasses, photography, and wildlife (attracts bees and butterflies). If you're in to pressing flowers, its best to gather these at mid-day. 

 If anyone happens to know additional information on this wildflower - I'd love to hear about it! 

(I apologize for the text background color -- technical difficulties -- it happens.)

The Native Plant Society of Texas recommends that no flower be picked from a colony of fewer than 100 plants and as a reminder - never dig or remove a wildflower from TxDOT rights of way or private property without permission.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Review - The Black Eyed Susans are Dying Now

The Black Eyed Susans are Dying Now, by David Feist is a short non-fiction diary type book.  I ran across this title while doing research on the black-eyed susan flower and really didn't know what to expect. This short book is from The Prairie Naturalist Notes of the same author. Didn't really have what I was looking for concerning black-eyed susans and was more observations of the birds, wildflowers during one summer, early fall on his Minnesota acreage.  But what I did find interesting, after more research into this book and author - this is a self-published book - not obvious at first.  The author has written many shorts for local schools to educate young children about their state.  So with that knowledge/view - this book could be used in lesson plans in a school setting - providing a starting place for further research into various birds, flowers, seasons, etc, without getting caught up in a story of his property.  For now, I'll keep it on my shelf.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review - The Raft

The Raft, a young adult book by S.A. Bodeen.  I wasn't familiar with this author beforehand, but it was a quick, easy read - no stumbling on sentences, grammar etc.  Obviously from the tag line  "No one knew she as on the plane when it crashed. No one knows to come find her." - you get a good idea of the storyline. The story is of her experiences before, during, and after the crash.  It's kind of a freaky, but believable story, and one that you'll think about after you finish it - mainly what the main character (Robie) goes through.  If I said much more it would give away too much.  The book has references to a few other currently popular novels (Hunger Games, etc). Probably frightening for kids (and many adults), but can lead to great discussions on survival, trauma, PTSD, and how your brain can work to help you mentally survive particularly stressful, life/death situations.  My suggestion - read this before your child does, so you'll be ready to answer the questions they will have while reading.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Review - A Weekend in September

Those who enjoy reading about U.S. tropical systems, especially the 1900 Galveston Storm, should enjoy this book as well.  Writing/Researching his book in 1957, author John Edward Weems was able to get first hand accounts from survivors - and not just the prominent citizens (although they are included), but more of the middle class working Galvestonians.

One ugly truth about disasters that isn't often shown or discussed is the deaths of animals - pets, livestock, etc.  This book does touch on a few of those fatalities, but also includes several animal survivor stories.  A quick rundown - just because I like happy endings for animals: 

A horse (owner not named) galloping down Sealy street, ran through the Fred Langben neighbor's open gate, the open front door, and up a flight of stairs.  He weathered the storm on the 2nd story living off the moss inside the mattresses.  A couple of days after the storm, Langben and his servant removed the horse from the house (he didn't go willingly). 

Sydney Love remembers taking refuge in Saint Mary's University and seeing a cow on the second floor.  At the writing of this book he still didn't know how or why the cow was there, but he and a few others were "...lucky enough to have fresh milk for breakfast." (p70)

Although the McNeills were out of town, their servants were doing their best to save the thoroughbred horses - building a ramp and leading the horses into a first floor room to wait out the storm.  A charcoal brazier was placed on the floor to warm the horses up (the brazier left a mark on the floor that stayed for nearly 50 years). 

Kempner's coachman went to release the horses from the stable and after the worst of was over, the coachman and horses were "...found safe on the porch of a nearby house." (p127)

Henry Ketchum discovered a cow had taken refuge in his first floor parlor as well as mules, horses and cows were up on the gallery (porch). 

Others made grand efforts to save their animals, but the author doesn't mention their fate.

Ephraim Moore's family kept chickens in their backyard and when the water started rising, they took "...about 100 frightened chickens, one by one, from roosts... to the safety of a second-floor bedroom." (p76).  That chore completed - their son asked about the dog -- the solution "Put him in with the chickens!" 

Still, many others perished along with their owners that night. 

Ed Ketchum's stables were only able to provide shelter to 25 or 30 horses and mules out of the hundreds he supposedly owned. 

When Daisy Thorne left the island a few days later as Mrs. Gilbert, she took with her one remaining cat that had survived the storm on top of the wardrobe along with 22 people inside her bedroom.

This was a quick read, mentions several of the notable stories that have been retold, and pictures from Galveston.  I do wish the author would have included pictures of the survivors (although I'm not sure any exist) and a detailed map of where certain residences were in relation to others (several pages would be fine with me).    

It was nice to read the stories of ordinary people, many took in neighbors and strangers - anything to save lives.  After the storm many women cooked on any heat source they could while the men had the unbearable task of cleaning up.  The book also includes a timeline of how quickly services were reestablished on the Island - I was surprised that electricity was back as quickly as it was (maybe a week or less).  After hurricane Ike it took 2 weeks for our neighborhood to get back on the grid (and that was 2008).

UPDATE:  Looking back through the book I did find a map of Galveston that included the family residences of those in the book, overlaid by dark of areas that were totally devastated in the 1900 storm.  Other pictures and maps were in the center of the book.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Texas Winter 2016

Seems like every year about this time I post about (rant about actually) winter in Texas.  Don't get me wrong - I'm really thankful to not deal with constant freezing temps and several feet of snow, but many parts of this great state deal with heavy fog, dew that soaks through everything and mud -- lots and lots of slippery mud. Enjoy a few scenes from my very wet, muddy backyard this week (besides don't pictures of happy dogs always make things better?).

The black lab never minds the winter - she has energy to burn. She looks kind of fierce in this image - running at almost full speed - no paws on the ground.

The dog running paths are now mud paths -- those cute little feet always bringing the outdoors inside - mud, dirt, wet... life with pets.

A bright spot (literally) among all the winter browns and grays -- the first wildflower/weed -- spring will come (as it always does), just not soon enough. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

KonMari --- At My Pace

Like a lot of people I've enjoyed reading through Maire Kondo's books on tidying up, however I'm not ready to jump in at 100 mph and toss half of my possessions (although I'm sure I wouldn't miss some of the things I'd toss).  I've also read comments where people who thoroughly took the plunge later regretted thanking some of their possessions then passing them onto another life.  So I'm approaching it at my own pace.

Today's task --  those ubiquitous plastic grocery bags!  At our house we really try our best to repurpose them and one way involves cleaning the cat litter box (such a fun job).   With three cats, we clean/scoop the litter box everyday and sometimes twice a day, and those clumps have to make it from the box to the outside trash somehow.  In the past, those plastic bags were wadded up and stuffed into a wicker basket - at least it was a decorative box.  But today I decided to follow the KonMari folding method for those bags to make that area look better and make it a happier place (for me and those darn bags).  I found a small plastic box (I think it held index cards in a previous life) and as my morning tea was steeping, folded enough bags to fit snugly in the box.  I cleaned the shelf and placed the newly repurposed container and happy folded bags in their place and it really did make me feel better just knowing I could easily access a  bag without dragging the entire wadded mess out.  Also, going through the bags to fold I was able to use those that didn't have holes in the bottom (holes in bottom to hold cat litter = not a good choice).

I may be slow to fully implement her ideas and may not go as far with it as many others have, but I've done something productive, useful, and improved that one small area in the house and it will definitely make that chore go more smoothly in the future - definitely an accomplishment.

In the time it took for my tea to steep, I was able to turn wads of bags into a neatly folded, contained stack of bags - ready to be used.