Friday, April 6, 2012

Week Six: Rainwater and grasses

This week, we met at the the Flying X Ranch for our classroom instruction.

Tucked into the hills between Burnet and Liberty Hill, the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge–managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service–consists of pocket habitats that knit together total some 19,000 acres.

So far.

The goal and hope is to eventually acquire at least 46,000 acres in order to protect and preserve nesting habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo. Visitors are welcome at the center, too. Numerous hiking trails and annual festival –like the upcoming Balcones Songbird Nature Fest (April 27)–attract nature watchers of all kinds.

Week Six of our Texas Master Naturalist training with the Highland Lakes chapter covered rainwater collection systems and native grasses. For our morning lectures, we met in a former home now used as an event center at the Flying X Ranch, a piece of the refuge that’s located off Ranch Ranch 1174.

Wade Hibler, an extension agent with Burnet County Texas AgriLife, gave a presentation on rainwater harvesting and collection systems. About half the people (more than 20) in our classroom held up hands when he asked how many have their own system. I wasn’t among them. (But I’ve since suggested to my husband that maybe we could get one for our little storage shed. He likes the idea!)

“The drought is still here,” Hibler said. “We’re not out of it yet. We still have a lot of problems, like with reservoirs.” One solution to meet growing future demands for water will be to harvest rainwater, he said.

“Rain barrels are one way to harvest rainwater, but we need to get bigger than that,” Hibler said. “We’ve got to capture rain and keep it on our property, don’t let it run off. When rain goes into the soil, it adds humidity to the air, which helps to generate thunderstorms. We’ve got to change people’s mindsets–we dot NOT have to have all this turfgrass.”

“The best fertilizer for St. Augustine (grass) is Roundup!” he added, which drew laughs across the room.

How many gallons of water can a roof collect? Use this calculator: 1 inch of rain on roof = .6 gal per square foot of roof. Example: 2,000 sq. ft. x 1 inch rainfall = 1,200 gallons of water.

Several times during his lecture, Hibler mentioned Billy Kniffen, a retired water resources specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. In 2003, Kniffen built his own green home that relies solely on rainwater. 

For more info on rainwater collection systems, go online to Rainwater Harvesting.
Brian Loflin gallantly struck a pose just as I snapped my camera. He and his wife, Shirley, wrote Grasses of the Texas Hill Country: A Field Guide.

Next, Brian Loflin of Austin gave us a mini lecture on Texas grasses, which number more than 600 species. In the Hill Country, there are approximately 280 species. "Grasses are important because they provide forage for cattle, habitat for wildlife, and soil stabilization for the land," he said. "Grasses are where we are."

What is a grass? By definite, a grass is a flowering vascular plant that's a member of the Poaceae family. "They are generally thin, erect plants that are mostly green in appearance with long, round and hollow stems and long, thin, specialized seedheads," Loflin said. 

He offered a ditty to help us remember certain differences in plants: "Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have nodes all the way to the ground."

In their field guide, the Loflins group grasses according to seven basic types of seedheads (also called the inflorescence): 

* Spike  Canada wildrye

* Spicate raceme  Little bluestem

* Panicle of digitate spicate branches   Bermudagrass

* Panicle of alternate spicate branches   Texas grama

* Panicle of vericillate spicate banches   Hairy crabgrass

* Contracted panicle   Bushy bluestem

* Open panicle  Broadleaf woodoats  

After our class and picnic lunches, we loaded up cars and drove a short ways on RR 1174 to the Doeskin Ranch Trails (part of the Balcones Canyonlands NRW), where we had a field excursion with Loflin. Time for photos!

We're about to start off down the trail.

Posted map of the Doeskin Ranch Trails.
Our first grass to ID was Virginia wildrye.

Rescuegrass grows in a large patch along the trail.

Is it johnsongrass or not? Opinions varied.

Loflin had us scratching our heads over this grass for a while.

Ed and Kay concurred that it was purpletop grass.

Wayne's taking notes on his clipboard.

Grasses look different at different times of the year. Pat examines this lovely seedhead, which was IDed as Texas wintergrass.

Loflin went off trail at times in search of native grasses.

He explained seedhead structures in more detail.

Pete and Fred flip through Loflin's field guide in search of a grass ID. Ken in the background conducts his own search.

Landscapes at the Doeskin Ranch are beautiful.

Whenever shade trees happened along, we all dove under them.

After a controlled burn, new plant life–such as blackfoot daisies and Engelmann daisies– is emerging from this field. 

Bunches of little bluestem are coming back strong.

My mystery grass that didn't get IDed.

Under junipers, Loflin pointed out vine mesquite grass.

Follow the leader.

In an open field, we found threeawn grama and rosettegrass.


We're nearly done and heading back to the trailhead. After today, we're more than half done with our 11 Thursdays of classes!

What I'd assumed was a grass in our Wildscape is actually a plantain (the slender stalks above), Plantago sp.

On our field outings, we, the 20 members of the 2012 Class, because we are highly inquisitive, super-smart students who love all Texas flora and fauna, cannot help but get sidetracked by other species that we see along the way. (Hence, the occasional C'mon, folks, hurry up! from our patient leaders.) Pictured above is one of my favorite plants, sensitive briar, which I had to stop and photograph...very fast.

Our class curriculum takes us to the Childers home, where we'll learn about plant identification keys. After lunch, we'll carpool to Westcave Preserve and trek to the grotto.


Martha Herden said...

I loved these photos-people standing there looking at grasses, appearing to be in deep thought-good sign of Learning!

What hit me was the tremendous amount of rain water that can be collected-depending on what size you have. Many of these systems also have a specialized "treatment" process and my friend at church has a huge tank and she LOVES her rainwater!!

Great lesson Sheryl. Get some rest-that trail looked pretty long!

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers said...

We all get home tired from our classes, but we sure DO learn a lot!! (P.S. As I've mentioned to some folks, I've decided I might need professional that I'm learning more, I finding I have MORE to worry about, like invasive bastard cabbage and star thistle!!!!!!)

Post a Comment