April 14 2018 was an exciting day at the Hermits’ Rest. It was chilly most of the day and incredibly windy ALL day, but that didn’t stop an intrepid band of El Camino Real Chapter Master Naturalists, along with genuine botanist Monique Reed from Texas A&M, to scour the ranch for plants.
Why did we do that?
It turns out that not all that many plants of Milam County have been documented in the SM Tracy Herbarium, and as citizen scientists, we want to help. Our band was led by Nancy Webber, who has done an amazing job documenting what plants are documented, as well as what is still needed. She and another couple of the Master Naturalists who came along have a great working knowledge of the local flora.
However, Monique Reed has an entire Latin dictionary’s worth of plant names in her head. It was amazing to watch her work. There was only one plant that she didn’t at least get a clue about (the “mysterious carrot-like plant”). She looked high and low, from the largest osage orange tree (Maclura pomifera) to the teeniest, and I mean teeniest, little flowers imaginable. She spent quite some time kneeling in the dirt seeing “what’s down there.”
What we needed
We were looking for plants that were blooming, because, as Monique explained, you need to see the flowers to identify some of the more varied species. Hawthorns (Crataegus), she said, are one example. They like to hybridize.
What we did
So, as Nancy consulted the big book of needed plants, Monique carefully pulled up samples. My job was to write down the GPS coordinates of where we saw each plant, while other members helped by taking bags of plants up to the “pressing station” on my porch, so that they could put a preliminary label on each specimen and get them ready to become pressed samples for the herbarium.
We looked along the roadside in front of the house, along the arroyo/stream at the front of the property, in the beautiful woods (full of coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)), and in a large pasture that has been managed organically, so it’s got a lot of variety in it. And of course we checked out Walker’s Creek, which runs through our property. That’s where we found the lonely male osage orange trees, many hackberries, cedar elms, and even an ash tree (along with the ubiquitous post oaks, of course).
All the while, Laura, Monique’s god daughter, followed us around and took over 500 photos (she’s taking a class). My dogs tried to be photogenic.
Snacking on the tender shoots of prickly vines wasn’t quite enough, so after the smell of a wild onion made us hungry, we broke for burgers. A valiant few of us kept going until 5:30, and we ended up with over 50 new plants for the collection.
Of course, there will be many hours of work back in the lab to identify some of the more tricky specimens, but from the sound of it, Monique likes to do those things.
We look forward to seeing some of the photos, of course. And if you want to learn more about Monique Reed’s travels and adventures, she has a really fun blog, hosted by her Lego companions, Loki and Sygin. It’s worth a visit!
Learn about a similar event held in 2016, with lots of background information on Monique Reed in the Spring 2016 edition of Los Caminos, the El Camino Real Master Naturalist Chapter newsletter.
All photos are by Sue Ann Kendall