On Burros and Buckeyes

Post-Thanksgiving and we continue our very slow but steady march through the changing of summer into fall. Technically measuring by the sun, moon and stars, we are well into the season which we call fall or autumn, but here in the desert things tend to linger in their previous state for quite some time before they actually get motivated to get up and move on. I and many others have been accused of lingering like this on those lazy hot afternoons, no need to be alarmed, it’s just an indicator of the geography. 

We have yet to drop below 32 degrees for a freeze which can be typical in a lot of years or not, depends on the year. One thing not freezing yet differentiates is the ability for frost tender plants to continue to grow and thrive, like my basil and jalapeno pepper plants, still hanging on to the summer vibes. 2022 was quite a shitty summer for growing vegetables anyway so all the better that we have an unknown length of extended bit of summer growing left. I am prepared for a freeze to happen any day now so that affords me the absolute luxury of adorning my breakfast salads every morning with fresh basil.

I took a walk with Pancho down canyon over some slickrock and past a tinaja. We walk this way only occasionally as the slickrock is challenging for hooved creatures like a donkey and it requires great patience of me to walk him through the course. A technical walk like this is not possible if I have any scheduled events later to attend. Water crossing are similar challenges, it is a trust building exercise though and is important to stir the pot sometimes. I want to keep walking with him without the control of a lead rope (and on this day without halter as well.) I want to keep developing this skill because I enjoy his presence more as a friend and companion than a subordinate so we just have to walk the more difficult route occasionally.

We made it over the slick rock just fine. Pancho took a route that was more of a steep drop down off the side into the tinaja and it was all I could do not to freak out just watching him walk that path. Culture has taught me well though, externally I speak words of encouragement and smile as internally visions in my head play of broken legs and which gun I would use to shoot him in the head to put him out of his misery after the fall. I am not my thoughts, my ego is always so dramatic. Pancho’s tail whip swishes constantly back and forth as he finds a premium clump of grass to chew. I can sense he is proud of what we just accomplished.

Harbored in the protective alcove of a creek bend and short canyon wall just beyond the slick rock and tinaja there was this wonderful Mexican Buckeye specimen, Ungnadia speciosa. When I saw it I was delighted as I always am when I see this species. Mexican Buckeye are not exactly rare but certainly not something I would call common either, it is a tree after all so just in general trees in the Chihuahuan Desert can be considered ‘not common.’ A Mexican Buckeye being even a less common occurance among those considered trees, much less common than mesquite, desert willow, white-thorn and catclaw acacias and even cottonwoods, when I find a Mexican Buckeye it always feels special, like I located a hidden treasure chest and I am allowed to unpack and admire the contents for a while without jeopardizing the secret. 

I remembered after a moment though that I have met this tree before. Of course I have been past this creek bend before, but not on a day that the little tree flashed so vibrant yellow, up and out of it’s quiet alcove, it was in spectacular fall color! The Mexican Buckeye is certainly one of my favorite natives and it stands out from the rest by the spring flower display, the buds breaking before the leaves push out. The leaves are also not common for a desert native in that they are broadleaf and deciduous. Now that I have met the Mexican Buckeye in this time of year I can add that it stands out from the rest for its fall colors too.

Barton Warnock provides us with a good short description in his book Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country Texas
“Ungnadia speciosa, Beautiful clusters of purplish-pink fragrant flowers appear before this much branched shrub develops its leaves; plants normally 4-10 ft. tall; the brownish pods, about 2 in. across, hang empty on the shrubs for 2-3 years. Seeds are shining, brownish-black and considered poisonous; excellent honey-bee plant and desirable ornamental, [flowering] March to June.”

I thank the little tree for the visit as I always have conversations with the things around me, living or not. “Thanks for the fall cheer little canyon tree, my donkey and I will come here again but for now we need to go gather the courage to travel back up the slick rock and around the tinaja and walk back home.”

You can, of course, grow Mexican Buckeye from seed and I highly recommend it as a practice. The seed is fairly large for a seed, about ¾ inch diameter. It is dark brown, shiny and feels smooth and nice to hold in your hand, easy to collect and enticing to carry in your pocket as a token of some fantastic place where you found the mother plant. The first Mexican Buckeyes I grew from seed started on a river trip through Santa Elena Canyon. We were hiking in Fern Canyon, the wonderful little Mexican tributary of the main canyon that is as narrow and deep as a proper slot canyon should be. I collected a few seeds and three of them ended up in a #5 pot of soil that same fall. The pot of soil gets a drink everyday. It is an act of hope, hope that the water and soil and temperature are correct, hope that the seed is an easy one to sprout and hope that if it does sprout the roots will take hold and provide that sense of grounding that we are all needing when we plant trees. Many times that pot of soil is just that and a bit of hope that turns into nothing more. In the case of the three seeds from Fern Canyon, to my utter surprise, two of the seeds sprouted and grew into two short little tree seedlings. My friends and I kept the little trees alive for two more years in the pot as we passed it around to whomever was still in Terlingua at the time who could keep the hope alive and give it a drink every few days.

Mexican Buckeye, Ungnadia speciosa fruits, photo courtesy Leslie Landrum

We moved out to our property in 2014 and we brought that pot of hope with us from the protection of our former rental in the ghost town to the undeveloped and wild spot in Dark Canyon where we built our home. Our spot is on the edge of wilderness. The story of keeping our little homestead going is a story which includes a lot of losses of chickens, cats, trees and other plants, even that one poor goat. I did the best that I could with those little Buckeyes, I did the most work to the soil as I had ever done and those little tree seedlings got planted and anchored themselves in. Hope lies in the sense of grounding from planting baby tree seedlings on a newly acquired desert homestead.

Not ironically, the site I selected to plant the 2 seedlings in no way resembled the protected alcoves of fern canyon and the baby Mexican Buckeyes were doomed from the start. One spring the leaves of one of the seedlings never emerged. I waited many months with hope and then finally decided to bend the stem to check for a pulse and it predictably snapped off in my hand. Dead. Thinning the planting it would be considered if the act had been intentional. It’s sad to lose a life but overall not a bad thing, less competition for scarce resources. The surviving tree is living. There is still hope.

Of course the requisite fate of the surviving seedling was an early death too, but no need to dawdle, get on with it. Pancho came to live with us that same year. 

We don’t even remember why it all happened. The question comes up every now and then especially with new acquaintances, “Why did you get a donkey?” Well we actually have no idea why, I don’t think there was an option of not getting a donkey once the situation started playing itself out so maybe that’s why. Anna and I had been discussing a business idea where we could have a ‘burro bar hop.’ Tim was working with Titi on the maintenance crew at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  One afternoon Tim asks “Hey Titi, you know where we can get a donkey?” and Titi responds, “Of course, I have one you can get.” Simple enough. “Ok, how much do you want for him?” the next obvious question was asked and Titi responds “Oh, you can have him. He’s free” I was there for this conversation and I remember vividly Titi’s words, and I laugh and laugh about them now. Oh yeah, here, have a donkey, he is free.  But so we did just that. We had to fast track building a barn and a paddock and then about two months after that conversation Pancho came to live with us. He was 2 years old and had already been castrated, thank goodness, because we really knew nothing about getting that done. From the time that he first arrived we let him out to walk around and also socialize with us every day. It wasn’t too long before we figured out where the other fences needed to be, mainly one around our house to keep Pancho from wandering in and eating everything. He has been caught in my kitchen delicately investigating the items on the counter. He knows what he does is wrong, it is worth it though according to a curious donkey.

Pancho entering the tipi, circa 2018

It only took one bite for the little Buckeye seedling to succumb to its ultimate fate, death in the jaws of a curious donkey. Same as the Barbie head, multiple t-shirts, boots and shoes, the rear-view mirrors on the jeep, handlebar grips, tool handles or anything else within the reach of a donkey neck over a fence, chewed up and either swallowed or discarded.

These days I work with native plants from a differing perspective. I don’t need to plant my own seeds in a pot anymore to appreciate the species. Although I would like to have my own Mexican Buckeye planted at my house that I can care for and admire, I know the conditions here just aren’t right. Ultimately what I want for the species is to see it thrive where it needs to thrive in the region, sometimes that is at people’s houses and sometimes it’s not. In practice this means first and foremost being an advocate for the native plants and their kin. That is what this writing is about, sharing stories and information. Second to education and actively, I take more care to get the seed in the ground in a not too dissimilar environment from where the mother plant is growing and I do it with hopelessness, no expectations or desires, just a helping hand. Downstream the seeds are distributed naturally but upstream they must be taken by birds or humans or other critters. So that’s what I do now, when I find a Mexican Buckeye, I collect some seeds and then plant them during the wet periods upstream of where I found the mother trees. I have no idea if any of them have ever sprouted but I would bet that some have, they sprout so easy.

You can of course start you own Mexican Buckeye from seed, and I highly recommend it as a practice. Seek the mother trees in rocky canyons and ridges, in quiet alcoves protected from full sun and places that would have damp soil in many circumstances. Seasonal creeks are a great place to look. I have found them in limestone soil such as in Fern Canyon and in volcanic soil such as the specimen featured here. The seeds should be shiny, hard and almost black; there are three seeds per pod, just enough to get you started.


Attribution

All content by SustainableTerlingua.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.

Mexican Buckeye fruits photo by Leslie Landrum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)

Citation

Warnock, Barton. Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country Texas. Alpine, Texas. Sul Ross State University. 1970


Getting in the Fall Spirit

This time of year we are all well aware that the season is changing. The days are getting shorter, the North wind is pushing it’s way into town with a coolness not felt for months, and there is a stream of cars driving South on highway 118 as the transient souls who live out the summer months in far away Northern climes return to re-claim their own patch of the dirt lot. It is fall in Terlingua and the chili cook-off posters are up in the store windows. (There are two chili cook-offs, both claiming to be the original, one and only, international championship….a story I need not delve into, you can google it and come up with a few different variations as to why two?) Regardless, the chili cook-offs (along with Shelby Mustangs) are what put the modern version of Terlingua on the map and hence, one of the reasons each and every one of those transient souls including myself and possibly your own self too eventually made it down to claim our own patch of the dirt lot. These facts are Terlingua ancestry, just as much as cinnabar mining and State or National Parks.

What autumn in Terlingua is certainly not well known for is leaf-peeping, the term for loading up the car and taking the scenic route in order to admire the natural display of color from the leaves of trees. There are some very valid reasons for this, they are:

  1. The chili cook-offs invite TX DPS to patrol the roads vehemently and we locals aren’t always on our best behavior when it comes to complying with all known vehicle rules and regulations
  2. Lol, not many trees

We are not completely out of luck though because we do have some decidedly terrific things working in our favor if we wanted to do some autumn leaf-peeping, they are:

  1. Scenic drives, some of the best in the country and an almost endless amount of miles to choose from.
  2. Trees in specific places
  3. Other plants that are not trees that also have leaves or other displays of fall color
    ocotillo with leaves
    Ocotillos with leaves will create fall color, Photo by Angela Linda

    Where to drive and what to see

    When I lived in North Carolina as a younger adult, leaf-peeping season was so popular that the traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway would fill the roads until it was almost not enjoyable to participate. Luckily I knew how to enjoy the season by getting off the main drag and onto the backroads. Here we don’t have this headache to worry about as the traffic even on a busy day is never too bad (yet!) so stick with the most popular routes in the State or National Parks.

    Take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive down to Cottonwood campground and go hug a tree, a big cottonwood that will drop yellow leaves on you. Maybe you should bring a rake and try to make a pile or at the very least there should be enough leaves to lie down and make a leaf angel.

    close up photo of yellow leaves
    Aspen leaves, photo by Ruslan Sikunov on Pexels.com

    If you plan to drive around from Thursday to Saturday of the first weekend of November make sure you have all of your i’s dotted and t’s crossed on your vehicle to (hopefully) avoid getting pulled over by law enforcement. License plate lights out is a very common reason for citation and absolutely do not drive if you have been drinking alcohol.

    When you are finished lying around under the giants continue on down to the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon and see what the large stands of Coyote Willow have to offer. Even if your timing is off, spending an afternoon in the quiet shade of Santa Elena Canyon is never a disappointing affair. The Basin road is also perfect for an afternoon toodaloo and oh yeah there are lots of trees up there. If you want to get up close and personal with the slick hues of the Quaking Aspen, Madrone or Bigtooth Maples you will need to hike up one of the trails to the top, they are steep, rocky and not for strolling so prepare appropriately for a big hike ahead of time. However if leisure is more your style you can walk the very short and very sidewalked Window View trail to admire the bowl of fruity pebbles that is autumn in the Chisos Basin, absolutely no judgement from me for not being a bad-ass rim hiker.

    Chisos fall colors, photo by Joe Blowe

    Headed in the other direction, if you drive across the Terlingua Creek bridge then continue on FM 170 along the River Road to Presidio you can spot some large cottonwood and willow trees in Terlingua Creek and at Panther Canyon without the need to get out of your car. The River Road is also a good bet for thick stands of ocotillo and leatherstem which provide their own miniature display of fall leaf-peeping but you may want to walk around to enjoy the color close up.

    Ocotillo leaves turning red, photo by Brad Sutton/NPS

    What is it all for?

    We will not be putting leaf-peeping on the list as one of Brewster County’s top attractions but who cares, not everything you enjoy has to be the best you’ve ever had. Sometimes we need to stop and take a step back to remember why we are here on the Earth and to enjoy the small little pleasures and fall in Big Bend is certainly one of them. I am sure there is a good and valid reason you spend your time here reader and I emplore you to enjoy yourself. If taking a scenic drive and leaf-peeping is valuable to you and you are enjoying your time here on the planet then it is valuable to us all.


    Attribution

    All content by SustainableTerlingua.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.


    Fishhook Barrel Cactus

    Fishook Barrel Cactus, Ferocactus hamatacanthus

    Ferocactus hamatacanthus is know locally as a Fishhook Barrel Cactus because of the shape of the curved spines. It is one of the largest native cactus we have locally and many times grows in groups of 2 or more. They will bloom a vibrant yellow flower during the monsoon summer, mostly later than the other cactus species. They usually put off a cluster of blooms and have the ability to bloom more than once if the conditions are wet enough. Sweet redish fruits favored by desert critters follow the flowers.

    Their habitat includes a wide range in the Trans-Pecos but they are not extremely common. You may find one growing in a crevice of rock but may not find another in the same area. They don’t distinguish between volcanic or limestone soils though. The other large west Texas barrel cactus, Ferocactus wislizeni is a similar species but this is not it’s native range so should only be found in landscapes. Propagation by seed would be worth the effort as these cactus are not very abundant. Transplanting the smaller members of a group is possible as well.

    The Ethics of Wild Harvesting

    Wild harvesting of plants to propagate and use personally can be accomplished in a legal and sustainable manner. It is legal in some cases to forage seeds, berries, leaves, cones or mushrooms for personal use from public lands such as any land administered by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife or the lands designated as Parques Nacionales in Mexico but you should first contact the respective park service to ask specifics and or obtain permits.
    –Do not collect plants or plant parts from public lands without the proper procedures in place.
    –Never collect endangered, protected or sensitive species even on your own property.
    –Do not enter private lands for any purpose if you do not have permission to do so.
    –Harvest first from areas that will be disturbed by development.
    –Make sure you know your plant and can make a positive identification.
    –Never harvest the first plant you see, find the healthiest population that does not appear to have been harvested.
    –Never take more than ten percent or more than you need
    –Always ask the plant if it wants to go with you first. Yes, really.
    –Fill holes, spread the seeds of collected plants and return to the area later to monitor the effects of your harvest.

    Due Diligence When Buying Plants Online

    You will likely find some of these species for sale if you do a quick internet search. While there are many reputable sellers out there, unfortunately the plant trade can be quite a profitable endeavor for bad actors. There are laws that prevent harvesting of natural resources from public lands but poachers can often hide from law enforcement. On private lands, the practice of wild harvesting all of the plants in an area, leaving none to support future generations is not entirely illegal. International sales are difficult to monitor. Desert plants are especially vulnerable because they tend to be slow growers and may be marked as rare or exotic species, factors which influence higher prices.

    You should know where the plants you buy come from and how they were grown or harvested. Speak with the seller, a reputable seller will be able to provide you with an origin story. Avoiding wild harvested species all together is certainly an option but wild harvesting can also be accomplished sustainably. Ask the seller to explain to you their wild harvesting practices. You can also look for plants labeled field grown, seed grown, or propagated from cutting to be sure the plants were propagated ethically. As a consumer, you have more power to influence sustainable practices than any other agency on the planet.


    Attribution & Citation

    All content by SustainableTerlingua.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.

    Powell, A.M., Powell, S.A, & Weedin, J.F. (2008) Cacti of Texas a Field Guide. Texas Tech University Press.


    Leatherstem

    Leatherstem, Jatropha dioica

    You may notice the naked brown “leather stems” of this shin high, clumping plant after the first frost or you may notice the green staghorn shaped leaves throughout the spring, summer and fall. The leaves under perfect conditions some years will turn lovely autumn colors before dropping off for dormancy. Jatropha dioica is known locally as leather stem but you may also hear it referred to as Sangre de Drago. When cut, these stems and roots drip a red dye that is reminiscent of blood. The sap has historically been used to “stop the flow of blood from slight wounds” (Warnock, 1970) and as an anesthetic especially for toothaches.

    Leatherstem, Jatropha dioica
    Leatherstem, Jatropha dioica

    The flowers are tiny and short lived, you may never notice when Leatherstem is in flower during the summer. The flower is followed by a fat green seed pod that contains a large seed which is easy to handle. White winged doves feed on these seeds (Warnock, 1970) I have had success propagating these seeds they don’t seem to need much special treatment.

    I have also had very good success transplanting the clumps of stems. This high success is probably due to the thick fleshy roots as those characteristics will almost always transplant better than woody roots. You can find leatherstem growing commonly around Lajitas and on the mountainsides of Terlingua Ranch. It seems to grow taller in rocky volcanic soil but is also found to grow in rocky limestone soils. I find it commonly along the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park where in some instances the clumps of stems grow to above my knees.

    The Ethics of Wild Harvesting

    Wild harvesting of plants to propagate and use personally can be accomplished in a legal and sustainable manner. It is legal in some cases to forage seeds, berries, leaves, cones or mushrooms for personal use from public lands such as any land administered by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife or the lands designated as Parques Nacionales in Mexico but you should first contact the respective park service to ask specifics and or obtain permits.
    –Do not collect plants or plant parts from public lands without the proper procedures in place.
    –Never collect endangered, protected or sensitive species even on your own property.
    –Do not enter private lands for any purpose if you do not have permission to do so.
    –Harvest first from areas that will be disturbed by development.
    –Make sure you know your plant and can make a positive identification.
    –Never harvest the first plant you see, find the healthiest population that does not appear to have been harvested.
    –Never take more than ten percent or more than you need
    –Always ask the plant if it wants to go with you first. Yes, really.
    –Fill holes, spread the seeds of collected plants and return to the area later to monitor the effects of your harvest.


    Attribution

    All content by SustainableTerlingua.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License unless otherwise noted.

    Citation

    Warnock, B. (1970). Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country Texas. Sul Ross State University.


    5 commonly overlooked plants you don’t want to miss

    The human world tends to be built for the big and boisterous, the extroverts, those who need to stand out from the crowd. The natural world however, especially in the desert, grows into a balanced approach which incorporates successes beyond grandiose, successes that lie in qualities such as long hibernations followed by quick and ephemeral reproduction, drought tolerance when resources are scarce, a large range of adaptability for when resources are abundant, and camouflage. Below I highlight some of my favorite native plants that can easily be missed if you don’t pay attention.

    Blackfoot Daisy, Melampodium leucanthum

    This small low growing clump packed with little white flowers is delightfully adapted to living in dry arid conditions. It grows in some of the seemilgly harshest conditions like limestone ledges and ridge tops. With regular rain it will flower all summer.

    Blackfoot Daisy, Melampodium leucanthum (Photograph by Matt Licher) CC BY-SA 

    Why I’m overlooked: Low, round clumps stay dormant until rains bring the small white flowers
    Where to find: on dry rocky flats, tolerant of many soil types and conditions
    Propagation: From seed, Blackfoot Daisies are grown for the commercial nursery trade.
    Water Needs: very low once established, regular watering for continuous flowering

    Resurrection Fern, Selaginella pilifera

    A day or two after a summer monsoon rain you may notice the world around you turning remarkably green. It is strange that you didn’t notice before, is it all just in your head or are the stones coming alive?The Resurrection Fern, what was once a brown, dead looking ball of plant matter slowly becomes vibrant and unrolls to absorb the sun’s rays in the afterglow of the summer monsoons. It does seem like a miracle has happened if you witness it for the first time.

    The Resurrection
    While searching in vain for a photo I could use of the dry plant I came across this wonderful rendition of The Resurrection by Claude Mellan licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

    Back to the plants please!

    resurrection fern, Selagivella pilitera
    Selaginella pilifera individual, look at the details on those scales!

    “A beautiful resurrection species, whose circular form cannot be appreciated until sufficient rain falls to spread open the enrolled branches. When closed the plants appear the color and size of old horse-apples.”

    Barton Warnock, Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country Texas
    resurrection fern
    Selaginella pilifera, Resurrection Fern grouping (Photograph by Angela Linda)

    Why I’m overlooked: Appears as a brown ball of dead plant matter until after a rain
    Where to find: North facing slopes wedged below rocks in limestone or volcanic substrates
    Propagation: Can be transplanted into a porous soil.
    Water Needs: Very low, rainfall only

    Rain Lily, Zephyranthes sp.

    The site for the donkey pen we chose due to a lack of vegetation. It’s a barren dusty light colored soil that I would guess is very alkaline. It’s mostly silt and not clay which is good because it’s not slippery. After a good summer rain the donkey pen transforms, it blooms with portulaca, purslane and rain lily–the ephemerals. The rain lily, the yellow flowered Zephyranthes longifolia is the quickest to reproduce. It emerges from a single underground bulb in just a few days, blooms for one day and seeds out then dies back within the next week.

    rain lilly
    Zephyranthes herbertiana, a white flowered rain lily

    Since I like to collect the seeds and spread them out I have to be on my game to catch the quick cycle. The black seeds are contained in a triple lobed pod and are large enough that they are easy to handle. If my timing is right, I collect the seeds and then spread them in the arroyos closer to my house.

    rain lily seedpod
    Rain Lily Seedpods (Photograph by Janna Hill) CC BY-NC 4.0

    Why I’m overlooked: Only flowers for one day after a rain and the whole plant structure dies back quickly
    Where to find: I see them in a wide range of soil conditions, more often on flatter ground than steep slopes in both volcanic and limestone soils
    Propagation: From seed
    Water Needs: very low, rainfall only

    Dayflowers, Spiderworts or Widow’s Tears

    This inconspicuous plant gets the name Dayflower from the fact that each flower only lasts one day, in fact, each flower only lasts a few hours in the morning. It gets the name Widow’s Tears from the drop of fluid that collects in the spathe surrounding the flower. I’ve heard that this same fluid can be extracted from the stem, dried and stretched into a long filament hence the name spiderwort, this explains the spider part anyway.

    Widow’s Tears, Commelina erecta var. angustifolia
    My best attempt at photographing the widow’s tear effect

    One reason I love these plants so much is because they present striking blue flowers. It is a dazzling color that catches the eye. Other than the sky, blue is the least common color found in the natural world. Spiderworts are perennials and very easy to care for. They like to be planted along with other flowers in a bed so that they can stretch out and weave their way through the more secure structure of woody plants to pop out a little half inch blue flower every morning.

    dayflower
    Spiderwort, Tradescantia occidentalis (Photograph by Amber Harrison)

    Why I’m overlooked: Grows mostly amongst other plants and presents small flowers for only a few hours each morning
    Where to find: sandy soils on the banks of arroyos, in thickets, dense brush and under trees
    Propagation: I have been successful with root division, the roots are fleshy and take to cutting well with very little set back for the plant. I have also had success scattering seeds in my irrigated flower beds.
    Water Needs: Medium, regular watering to keep them flowering each day

    Living Rock Cactus, Ariocarpus fissuratus

    When you finally spot one of these cactus hiding in the rocky limestone you should look under your foot because you are probably standing on his sister. Found only in Big Bend this species ia aptly named the Living Rock. They are much easier to spot amongst the limestone hills in fall when they bloom a fuschia flower.

    living rock cactus
    Living Rock Cactus, Ariocarpus fissuratus (Photograph by Angela Linda)

    This cactus is popular with collectors as one of the few species without thorns. In fact, this species has been caught up in an international cactus smuggling ring and continues to be threatened by poachers.

    living rock bloom
    Living Rock Cactus, Ariocarpus fissuratus (photograph by Angela Linda)

    Why I’m overlooked: Excellent desert camouflage
    Where to find: limestone rich soils, rocky slopes and ledges
    Propagation: From seed, transplanted from areas that will be disturbed by development
    Water Needs: very low, rainfall only

    Due Diligence When Buying Plants Online

    You will likely find some of these species for sale if you do a quick internet search. While there are many reputable sellers out there, unfortunately the plant trade can be quite a profitable endeavor for bad actors. There are laws that prevent harvesting of natural resources from public lands but poachers can often hide from law enforcement. On private lands, the practice of wild harvesting all of the plants in an area, leaving none to support future generations is not entirely illegal. International sales are difficult to monitor. Desert plants are especially vulnerable because they tend to be slow growers and may be marked as rare or exotic species, factors which influence higher prices.

    You should know where the plants you buy come from and how they were grown or harvested. Speak with the seller, a reputable seller will be able to provide you with an origin story. Avoiding wild harvested species all together is certainly an option but wild harvesting can also be accomplished sustainably. Ask the seller to explain to you their wild harvesting practices. You can also look for plants labeled field grown, seed grown, or propagated from cutting to be sure the plants were propagated ethically. As a consumer, you have more power to influence sustainable practices than any other agency on the planet.

    The Ethics of Wild Harvesting

    Wild harvesting of plants to propagate and use personally can be accomplished in a legal and sustainable manner. It is legal in some cases to forage seeds, berries, leaves, cones or mushrooms for personal use from public lands such as any land administered by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife or the lands designated as Parques Nacionales in Mexico but you should first contact the respective park service to ask specifics and or obtain permits.
    –Do not collect plants or plant parts from public lands without the proper procedures in place.
    –Never collect endangered, protected or sensitive species even on your own property.
    –Do not enter private lands for any purpose if you do not have permission to do so.
    –Harvest first from areas that will be disturbed by development.
    –Make sure you know your plant and can make a positive identification.
    –Never harvest the first plant you see, find the healthiest population that does not appear to have been harvested.
    –Never take more than ten percent or more than you need
    –Always ask the plant if it wants to go with you first. Yes, really.
    –Fill holes, spread the seeds of collected plants and return to the area later to monitor the effects of your harvest.