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.

3 Facebook groups you should join

If you aren’t already a member of Facebook just skip this article, there’s no need to join just for these groups. I will admit fully that I have tried to leave Facebook for good more than three times. Just a few months ago I had a message pop up and an old friend was ranting in a group message from 10 years ago. I tried then and there to delete all of my messages so I would not have the ghosts of the past come back to greet me anymore but I soon discovered that there was no feature for deleting every message, it had to be done one by one. Well since I was so determined I did embark on this task. The group message from 10 years ago was not something that I wanted to deal with again. I had to highlight each message, select delete and then confirm. Highlight-select-confirm. Highlight-select-confirm. Highlight-select-confirm. Highlight-select-confirm. I dedicated close to an hour of this repetitive operation before I gave up and deleted my entire profile. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

“I did it!” I declared in the kitchen later, “I deleted Facebook!” I was elated to be free, finally. But if there is one thing you learn when you delete a social media app it’s the things you miss out on that were truly valuable and served to actually enhance your life. It’s true, I was missing out and these feelings were not FOMO from the night life in town, it was about not being able to interact in my top three favorite groups that consequently have to do with the natural world.

1. Terlingua Weather.

Yes, there is a period at the end of Terlingua Weather. and your little quirks are why I love you so much TW.

You know when you join a group that has Terlingua in the title and seems like the location should be the main focus of the whole group but a bunch of people want to post regularly about things happening in Alpine? Yeah I find that annoying too and Terlingua Weather is not that group. It is strictly about the weather in Terlingua!

You know when you join a local group that has something in the name like Weather and you feel like it should be the main focus of the group but some people regularly post memes about stuff like dogs and happy hour. Yeah, I find that annoying too and Terlingua Weather is not that group either, in fact memes are extremely rare. This is a group with absolutely no drama, it’s just local people talking about the weather, and it’s awesome. You should join!

A donkey looks over his shoulder in a snow scene
I totally shared this pic in Terlingua Weather.

2. West Texas Vegetable Gardeners

I have been a member of West Texas Vegetable Gardeners for several years and at first it was real slow going. There were a few posts here and there and more people looking for answers than had answers. Since the pandemic hit it really allowed people to examine their lives and get back to the Earth. It was a gardening revolution and the little West Texas Vegetable Gardeners group has now grown to over 5 thousand members.

This group was originally started by some folks in Midland and you will still get daily conversation from people in that area but it’s truly West Texas in that there are regular people posting from Lubbock to Terlingua. The moderators have done an excellent job of keeping the group focused on growing vegetables in the harsh conditions of West Texas, and no more than that. No sales or commercial advertising are allowed, it is just neighbors helping neighbors so it is truly an organically grown. Can we ask for anything more than a group that stays true to their roots and is not overrun with spam? I think not.

Woman in her garden holding a basket of vegetables
This is what it’s like. Pictures of people in their garden with baskets of vegetables that they grew and harvested, but in West Texas!

3. West Texas Xeriscape Gardeners

Xeriscape is a term you should get familiar with if you aren’t already. Merriam-Webster defines the term xeriscape as “a landscaping method developed especially for arid and semiarid climates that utilizes water-conserving techniques such as the use of drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation.” By that definition alone it makes sense for us to design our landscapes with xeriscape in mind. I also like to point out that xeriscape focuses mainly on plants which are native to the region. I am a huge fan of native plants so I am also a huge fan of this group. West Texas Xeriscape Gardeners is an incredible resource for learning about the native plants that will survive and thrive in our landscapes.

Echinopsis plants at the Cactus Gardens, Ashington, Sussex
Echinopsis plants at the Cactus Gardens, Ashington, Sussex by Roger Kidd is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Many people consider xeriscape to be only cactus and stones like the preceding image but the world of xeriscape and native plants contains a plethora of soft flowering plants. Spending some time exploring West Texas Xeriscape Gardeners will introduce you to many of those plants, like these blackfoot daisies.

blackfoot daisy and bluebonnets

Conclusion

If you are not a member of Facebook I still do not recommend you join just to become members of these really great groups. But if you already have an account and have just been avoiding social media for a while, this might inspire you to take another look at your relationship with the platform. If used for specific purposes that are truly valuable and serve to actually enhance your life, like local weather and gardens, well then that’s fine and dandy.