Autumn Leaves

The calendar says autumn started almost three weeks ago. The central Texas landscape doesn’t know it though. I heard a local gardener say that we don’t get our autumn until December around here. I’d say that’s about right.

I was in upstate New York at the end of September last year. This is a view along a country road. I don’t know what kind of trees they are, but they are quite pretty. Upstate New York seems to align with the calendar fairly well.

Upstate New York Fall

Upstate New York Fall

Of course, the definition of autumn has more to do with the length of day and the position of the earth along its orbit than with the landscape’s appearance. In North America, it’s considered to start with the September equinox and end at the winter solstice in December.

It’s common to say that the leaves are turning color, but what is actually happening is that they’re losing their cholorophyll, which is what they use in the process of photosynthesis, and gives them a green color. When the green is gone, the leaves’ real color shows.

The whole process is triggered by the shortening day. That’s the cue deciduous trees need to start shutting down for winter. Less daylight, less need for cholorophyll. That’s neat.

The leaves change color even in central Texas. They’re just not as showy about it as in other parts. That makes me appreciate even more the colors we do get.

Here’s a view along a Hill Country back road which I took last year. This is in late November, so the observation about getting our autumn in December is about right.

Hill Country Fall

Hill Country Fall

Garden Spots

We had almost five inches of rain in September and our garden is definitely showing the results.

Our Texas Flowery Senna (Senna corymbosa) bush is in full bloom and has produced many seed pods. The plant is about 6 feet tall and has a nice round shape. We’ve done no trimming so that is its natural size and shape. It’s not a native but does very well here. It’s actually from Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. It’s considered an invasive and although it’s very pretty, I think we may remove it from our garden in favor of a native.

I think it will be in bloom for a while. You can see many unopened flower buds in this photo.

Texas Flowery Senna

Texas Flowery Senna

We also have a large rosemary bush (Rosmarinus officinalis) in our garden. It’s what’s left of an herb garden which was in our backyard when we moved in. We’re thinking of restarting it. It’s also blooming right now and is covered with very small, about 1/8 inch, light blue flowers.

I noticed a small pink moth resting on the flowers. I thought it was a butterfly, but moths usually rest with their wings open and butterflies have the folded up. After a bit of searching, I think it’s a Pyrausta inornatalis. What do you think?

If my identification is correct, the larvae feed on salvia, which we have in our garden.

Rosemary and Moth

Rosemary and Moth

Big Box Finds

I was at the local big box store this weekend. I was quite bored as Mary wandered through the greenhouse section, looking for something new for our landscaping. All I had with me was my smart phone. I quickly came alert as I realized there were some interesting patterns and textures to see.

I don’t even know what these plants are. They were clearly labeled, but in my excitement, I forgot to look. I’m almost certain they’re not natives, but that’s okay. It definitely helped that an employee was hand-watering them while we were there. The added water droplets and sheen are great.

I selected three of the shots and decided to convert them all to black and white. I frequently take a quick look at a color photo in black and white, just to see if something pops. I was not disappointed.

This first photo shows a plant with large, mottled, shiny leaves. I like how some of the leaves are mostly yellow, some are mostly green, some have yellow spots, and some have green spots. I don’t know if that’s a development stage or if that’s the way the leaves look when fully-developed, but they are amazing.

Big Box Find #1

Big Box Find #1

The black and white version is also very striking, with the yellows turning light and the greens going dark.

Big Box Find #1 - Black & White

Big Box Find #1 – Black & White

These pink, red, and purple, trumpet-shaped flowers look nice against the light green foliage. It’s nice that some are fully open and others only partially. The water droplets are nice.

Big Box Find #2

Big Box Find #2

I really like the black and white version. You’d think that removing the color from such a colorful scene could only detract, but I don’t think so.

Big Box Find #2 - Black & White

Big Box Find #2 – Black & White

I liked the densely-packed flowers this plant presented. All the flowers are about the same size and color. You can’t see the foliage because they are so tightly spaced. The green you see is in the center of each flower.

Big Box Find #3

Big Box Find #3

The black and white version allows you to see more clearly the shape and texture of the arrangement. I also get the impression that it goes on forever.

Big Box Find #3 - Black & White

Big Box Find #3 – Black & White

 

Light My Fire

I saw the signs for a prescribed fire at the entrance to our neighborhood last week. We live near two Austin Water Quality Protection Lands and one of the land management tools they use is a prescribed burn, also known as a controlled burn.

They notify the area residents that they will be conducting a burn in order to keep the fire departments for being flooded with phone calls when it happens. They usually announce a window of several days during which they might burn. The weather conditions have to be just right – recent rains and wind conditions being most important.

One of the managed lands is along Little Bear Creek and the other is along Onion Creek. I feel lucky to live near them. It’s estimated that before we fenced the land and kept wildfires from spreading, any single spot in our part of Central Texas would experience a wildfire about once every seven years. Fires are an important tool in maintaining a grassland because grass thrives after a fire, while woodier species are killed. Austin is interested in promoting grasslands in these areas because they allow more rainfall to get into the underground aquifers. The two WQPLs near us both feed into Barton Springs.

I recently drove by the aftermath of a prescribed fire and was struck by the stark beauty. It was just after sunrise and the sun was casting a nice golden light across the landscape.

Here’s a view to the north. You can clearly see the extent of the fire, with the foreground unburned. It’s amazing how much control they have over the fire.

Prescribed Burn Little Bear Creek WQPL

Prescribed Burn Little Bear Creek WQPL

Here’s a view of a rectangular section which burned.

Prescribed Burn Little Bear Creek WQPL

Prescribed Burn Little Bear Creek WQPL

Here, you can see how an old dirt road formed a fire break.

Prescribed Burn Little Bear Creek WQPL

Prescribed Burn Little Bear Creek WQPL

Looking Out My Back Door

A young rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) decided to hang out just outside one of our back doors. We had a  small brush pile on the deck, a result of recent planting bed clearing. When it came time to move the brush pile, we got a surprise.

I’m pretty certain it’s a Western Rattlesnake, but please correct me if you know what it is.

Young Rattlesnake

Young Rattlesnake

It’s been very hot recently, although we’ve had a bit of cooling, mind you. The highs have been in the 90s. The temperature on the deck though, in full sun, easily tops 100.

The snake didn’t move. I think it was too hot for it. It just stayed curled up. We put the brush back and decided not to mess with it. When we checked the next day, the snake was still there.

Now, at our house, we have an agreement with snakes, especially venomous ones – we don’t mess with you and you don’t mess with us. I know some people who promptly kill any and all snakes. Snakes play an important role in the environment, mainly as predators of animals which we consider to be pests, such as rats and mice. We try to leave them alone.

This rattlesnake was quite small. I think it was about 8 inches long. Since it hadn’t moved appreciably, I decided it was a good opportunity to get some photos. Afterward, we carefully swept it into a container and escorted it to a large ranch which borders our property. Nothing prevents it from coming back, so we’ve kept an eye out for it.

Everything in our local landscape is brown and crunchy right now. Interestingly though, some of our plants are blooming. We have a large crepe myrtle and here’s a close up of one of it’s blooms. The deep red, almost wine color is beautiful.

While not a native, it certainly well-adapted, and is very common in our landscapes.

Crepe Myrtle Flowers

Crepe Myrtle Flowers

We also have some lantana in bloom right now. One of our varieties has red and orange flowers. We also have one which has yellow flowers.

Lantana Flowers

Lantana Flowers