Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hogwart? Hemlock? - Tansy Ragwort (maybe)

Seeing the shot, taking the shot, editing the shot - that's one thing! But actually trying to write something to go with it, is a completely other realm. I often spend more time trying to figure out what I shot and what I do tell about it, to make the blogpost more interesting, than in the Lightroom or on Photoshop.

With today's search engines, yes plural is correct - google is not almighty and I often find myself wondering back to the nascent of search about 6 years bg (before google). There was a thing called yahoo, well it still dabbles around, even though by now part of (tele)communications company Verizon.

Point in case - searching for "Ranch Weed Texas" on big mama didn't even bring me close. Hogwart, Hemlock, different wild carrot species showed up. All the pictures showed flowers as well, simply ignoring my quest that I took the shot in mid-winter, in January.  So long story short, after roaming a gazillion pages and photos, it was finally yahoo that suggested to me that this could be a Tansy - a Tansy Ragwort.

Yeah how the stems run to the flowers and form the little clusters is way different from Hogwart and Hemlock and it could well be Tansy Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris), So if I find it again in spring, early summer (it's somewhere in the northwestern end of the property) and I get yellow flowers on it, then I may know more. But it would also mean that I would search it with a shovel and get rid of it - as they are considered invasive and toxic to livestock. And it wouldn't matter that the decaying beauty made for quite a gorgeous photo. Don't you agree?

Sources: google, yahoo,

Friday, January 13, 2017

Don't Pick The Prickly Pear With The Paw...

Withering prickly pear fruit in Winter. As the cacti (Opuntia) are quite abundant on the ranch, this year I will try to make some PP jam, maybe a bitch even spicier with an added jalapeno to it.

Does anybody have a good recipe to share?

And yes I remember this form the Jungle Book

Don't pick your prickly pear with your paw
When you pick a pear use your claw

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Red Soil And Sweet Gum Tree

Oh land and soil,
red soil and sweet gum tree,
So scant of grass,
so profligate of pines

Jean Toomer

Writer and poet Jean Toomer described the sweet-gum tree in his poem "Song of the Son" in his more natural environment. In the meantime the tree, also called Alligator-Wood has become an ornamental tree even outside of his habitat, largely because of it's fiery red shining leaves during automn.

The picture depicts a cluster of sweetgum tree seedpods or fruits, by now (it's January) dried out and lying around in big batches. If you're an airhead, you may actually slip on them and fall.

Sources: Wikipedia, Modern American Poetry (via, Seeds in the front yard

I'd Rather Be A Fence Post In Texas...

I love the story in this simple picture. Sitting on top of the former eastern coastline of the Kansas Ocean, on a formation called Trinity Group, formed around 110 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period. Due to the high caulk & limestone amounts, most of this area is mostly used as ranchland to grow cattle.

Once grains were cultivated here, but the yields were mediocre and some of the grain mills in the area closed. So it's mostly open spaces, austere to a certain degree, but still full of beauty. I also love the negation of the wide open spaces with the prominent fence post and its barbwire in front, well at least from a picture point of view. And as they say, fences make for good neighbors or at least they keep the cattle from roaming the road.

As singer/songwriter Chris Wall said in the 90s - "I'd Rather Be A Fence Post In Texas, Than The King of Tennessee."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Abre Los Ojos - Open Your Eyes

Playing around with the camera yesterday afternoon, I walked back into the house and saw "Pancho" (well my wife says it's Pancho) staring at me. We do have a slight problem of keeping the two brothers apart - Lefty looks exactly like him, with a tad smaller head. But how can you tell if you can't compare. And as he sat there, he was not purring or meowing either - that's two of the differences between them.

And yes "Pancho And Lefty" got named after the Townes Van Zandt song, recorded by many, but made famous by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. And thanks to Alejandro Amenábar for the inspiring title to this post.

Curled Up - Emerging Sago Palm Leaves

Wrongly named Sago Palm (there is actually a palm with that name), this belongs to Sago Palm Fern family and originally hails from Southern Japan. By now it's a widely distributed ornamental shrub all over the world, in mostly tropic (even though it doesn't exist in the rain-forest) and sub-tropic climates.

Its Latin name, Cycas revoluta refers actually to its leaves, as revoluta means curled back - as you can well see on the picture above. They are pretty cold resistance, in case they freeze and all the leaves turn yellow, just cut them back to the pineapple looking and stinging "trunk" and give them some month to recuperate and start anew.

A client of mine had some "older" sagos, where actually a male and female species started to develop - with a big cone on the male one and a leaf in the middle of the female one that carried the sporangia, the seeds being as big or even bigger than and as hard as a chestnut. Do not try to consume the leaves or the seeds, they are quite toxic and can lead to death.

Sources: Several Wikipedia sites,

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Caliche Sediment - Abstract Nature

After my first Sunset of the Year and my Cocklebur, this is a complete "different" part of our land, actually the land itself or at least part of it. As it looks we have different soil systems at various places throughout the 17 acres. Everything from shallow grayish brown gravelly to Caliche sediment and rock.

Fortunately this part of the clayey soil with it's shrink and swell capacity isn't near the house, as it may else damage the foundation it's build on. Besides not being too fertile, as it may tear roots apart, when it shrinks, it can be used in constructing adobe blocks to build a wall for a water cattle tank or landscaping. With calcium-carbonate it can also from into rocks or bind rocks almost like a cement.

I mostly took a picture of it, because of it's abstract nature, detailing that even in "useless" soil is a hidden beauty.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

First Sunset of the Year - 364 To Go

Meanwhile back at the ranch, we had a great sunset on New Year's day. With temperatures hovering around 70 degrees (20 C) we got spoiled for the first two days. The colder days now (below 40 / 3 C) give me at least time to edit some of the pictures I shot strolling through the vastness of the land. Even though there weren't many critters of any kind around, there is always an opportunity to find something, like the beautiful large cocklebur I posted yesterday. I can barely wait till all the wildflowers and the butterflies return.

Unfortunately it started raining that night and I wasn't able to take pictures of the gigantic Milky Way above us. I'm sure I will be trying again pretty soon.

And no - don't worry I won't post another 364 sunsets, even though every one up on the bluff is a real blessing.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Large Cocklebur - How Velcro Came From Nature

The origins of the large Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) are unknown, but it is suspected that they originally hailed from Central and South America, even though they were first mentioned in European literature. But they are known to have been used by the Zuni, Native Americans for medicinal purposes. This even though the plant is toxic and can actually kill a cow.

The burs in the picture are so large, about an inch (~ 2.5 cm) that at first, I didn't make the connection with the familiar to me smaller "Klette" I grew up with in the Alpine regions of Europe. As I shot this on January 1st (winter), there weren't any leaves to help me identifying the plant either. I finally found a picture with similar burs that led me to where I was able to give them the proper name.

I also learned that they belong to the sunflower family Asteraceae. The species I found was about three feet tall, right in the middle of their normal size. Around here (Central Texas) they are considered a weed and a pest, as they not only can harm an animal with its toxins, but also mechanically if they should swallow whole burs. They also use the furs of animals to spread itself.

That function of hook and loop was later adopted, when Swiss electrical engineer George De Mestral  came up with the Velcro idea, after taking his dogs on a mountain hike in Switzerland. After a ten year search to find the right materials, he patented the fastener as Velcro (a combination of the French words velours (velvet) and crochet (hook.)

Sources: Wikipedia,,,