Breaking the winter fast

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Blanco crab apple at Selah Bamberger Ranch

It’s been a curiously cold winter here in Texas, while elsewhere in the country has been inundated by unrelenting snow storms.  Still the first Spring trees are beginning to flower and the crab apples have been blooming for almost three weeks despite the weather alternating between freezing temperatures as low as 28F and highs near the 80’s.  Here the Blanco crabapple (Malus ioensis var. texana), an endemic species of the Texas Hill Country, is blooming next to a tributary of Miller Creek on the Bamberger ranch.  This splendid tree is a member of the Rosaceae family and, as it’s genus (Malus) suggests related to the domesticated apple.  The characters that place this plant in the Rosaceae family are best seen in its flowers.  The blooms are actinomorphic, meaning they are radially symmetrical.  They have five petals, as can be seen in the adjacent close up, and five sepals.  The flowers have both male and female parts, making them hermaphroditic, and many stamens arranged in whorls.  Three stigma and styles (slightly greenish structures at the center of the flower) are evident in this photograph

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Close up of the Crab apple flower by Abe Halbreich

disappearing into the top of the ovary that will ultimately become the apple once the flowers have been pollinated.  The base of the flower, calyx (sepals), corolla (petals) and androecium (filaments of the stamens) essentially fuse to form a hypanthium enclosing the ovary.  According to the Ladybird Johnson site, this species is particularly important to a variety of native bees.  Naturally the bitter fruit that appear later in the summer are food for a variety of animals.  As a harbinger of spring and warmer weather it brightens the dry, cold landscape and it’s bright fresh blooms easily draw the eye against the brown palette of the grasses and olive green cedars.

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Lake Madrone at the Bamberger Ranch in February 2014

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Contrasts in Texture

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We might be very familiar with the red poppy (Papaver rhoeas), a European native Imagecommon in disturbed areas, or even the yellow Californian poppy (Escholzia californica), native to the USA.  But we might not be so quick to recognize the prickly body of the White Prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora).Image  This Texas native is a survivor, preferring to grow in disturbed and nutrient poor conditions.  It can be seen on the roadside in many southern states and has a rose-pink variant in Southern Texas.  An annual or biennial, it has delicate paper white flowers beloved by bees and butterflies but shunned by deer and cows.  Probably because it is very prickly and toxic.  It produces copius quantities of seeds and would possibly be a good candidate for restoration in very disturbed sites where people would not necessarily pass to close by.  Given it’s deep root system I wonder if it would also be a candidate for phytoremediation?