I can’t count the number of times I have heard someone say they want to make their landscape “look natural,” only to then describe their view of a “natural” landscape or show me a picture or invite me to come see for myself, and it turns out to be, in my opinion, anything but natural.

I nearly always limit my columns to discussions specifically about the Hill Country, but after watching a TV documentary some time ago about conditions in the Americas before Columbus, I thought a few observations about the larger area would be of interest.

Ever hear the phrase, “The older I get, the smarter my father gets”? I have always been in awe of how much folks in the 1800s and early 1900s knew and understood about the world around them. When you think of how much time most people back then had to spend every day just raising, gathering …

Dear readers: The following column appeared in The Kerrville Daily Times a few weeks ago, but, due to a printing error, the wrong headline was used, which may have confused some readers. Therefore, it is being run again here.

Regular readers will not be surprised when I write about something in Nature that I find “amazing” since I find most everything about nature amazing. Here is yet another “amazing” Nature story.

We know enough about what the Hill Country looked like before European settlers arrived to be able to describe it fairly well, at least in general terms, and we certainly know what changes have taken place in the 200 years since that time. 

A German geologist, Ferdinand Roemer, visited the Hill Country from early 1846 until the spring of 1847 and chronicled his observations in great detail in a book. The work has since been translated into English by Oswald Mueller, called “Roemer’s Texas.”

When most people think of the winter landscape, they tend to think of brown, dead-looking foliage. While a lot of our trees, shrubs and perennials do in fact lose their leaves in the winter, we in the Hill Country have greener winters than folks in many other parts of the country.

Our native woody plants (trees and shrubs) fall into two categories: evergreen and deciduous. The latter means they lose their leaves in the winter and then put on new growth on last year’s stems. The majority of our woody species are, in fact, deciduous, but that doesn’t mean they all behav…

The Hill Country Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist celebrated the graduation of 34 members of its 17th class this week. This class brings the total number of Master Naturalists trained by our chapter to 545.

A little while back, after a rain the previous day, I looked up from my computer one morning and saw a swarm of flying ants rising from the grass outside. They were back-lit by the early morning sun so their wings made a dazzling display against the dark background of the green shrubs. I was…

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about lichens, ball moss and other things that grow on trees. Galls don’t fit in that category, because they are not things that grow ON trees, but rather abnormal growths that are part OF the tree.

Growing up in the country in the Permian Basin between Lubbock and Midland, I spent a lot of time roaming the pastures around our house, although much of it was being plowed up to make new cotton fields back then.

When we want something to eat, our available choices are many. We can pick one of a long list of restaurants and other prepared-food places, or we can go to the grocery store and chose from an unimaginable assortment of things to eat. Furthermore, most of these choices are available to us 36…

Whenever anyone in this part of Texas thinks of a disease of trees, or just thinks of trees dying, they always think of oak wilt. And with good reason. Oak wilt is probably the proximate cause of the death of more mature oak trees in the Hill Country than any cause, other than man.

A while back, I was watching a herd of deer gathered around a feeding station where feed had apparently just been dispersed (a practice I don’t recommend). Then, all of a sudden, the entire herd bounded off in one direction, tail flags up, clearly having been spooked by something.

For those of us who don’t make our living raising plants or animals, and who are not yet worried about having enough water to take a hot shower, the drought concerns us mainly by what is happening to our trees, shrubs, perennials and grass. And while our current situation is not as bad as ba…

e topic of water, again, was an article I found on the Cynthia and George Mitchell blog. The article was written by Katherine Romans, the very able and knowledgeable executive director of the Hill Country Alliance.

Lichens are composite organisms made up of a fungus and usually a green alga, sometimes a cyanobacterium. Many different species of fungi and different species of algae may combine into a number of different shapes and colors of lichens. They can be found in rainforests, the Arctic tundra an…

Someone asked me the other day if our current lack of rainfall is as bad now as it was in the drought of 2011. I looked up our rainfall records at our house and found that we have had more than twice as much rain in the first half of 2018 as we did in 2011.

The name of this column, “Hill Country Naturalist,” was chosen in part to indicate that, to the extent I have any particular expertise in matters of the natural world, it is largely limited to the Hill Country.

We are all familiar with shrubs and even trees that have thorns, such as mesquite, acacias, huisache, bois d’arc, gum bumelia, toothache tree, fragrant mimosa, retama and Blanco crabapple, and even vines like greenbrier and dewberry. One might think that the thorns or spines deter browsing b…

I have written about our native Hill Country trees and shrubs in previous columns. Today, I want to write about some other woody plants that are native to the Hill Country, vines.

Worldwide, invasive species are second only to habitat destruction (for development and farming) as the cause of the loss of species. It is estimated that the U.S. spends more than $100 billion a year fighting invasive species.

It says something about the diversity of the flora in the Hill Country that this is the fourth column I have written on native shrubs and there are still others that won’t be included. Here are some more shrubs or small trees common to our area:

There is an article in a recent Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine by Cliff Shackelford titled “Bird Brained Behaviors” in which the author describes a number of strange bird behaviors and explains why they do what they do. It seemed to me to be a good subject for a column. So, while giving M…

In previous columns, I have discussed native evergreen shrubs and shrubs most often found in shady, wetter areas of the Hill Country. There are lots of native shrubs that don’t fit into either of those categories, and here are some of them.

I previously wrote about our native evergreen shrubs. Today, I will discuss native deciduous shrubs that are usually — but not exclusively — found in shady, wet areas in canyons and along creeks.

Most of us learned about our nutritional food pyramid in school, where we were advised to eat lots of the bottom layer (grains, cereals), slightly less fruits and vegetables, much less meat and fish and only a little of the top of the pyramid — sweets.The food pyramid has recently been repla…

The scientific study of animal behavior is called Ethology. Much of Ethology is concerned with understanding what is instinctive behavior and what is learned behavior. Instinctive behavior, sometimes called innate behavior, is inherited and not based on any prior experience. Exactly how inst…

This winter, it seems like we have had more than our share of drizzle and fog, and maybe a few light sprinkles, but very few actual rains. In fact, at our house, since a good rain the first week of December, we went the rest of December, all of January and most of February without any meanin…

The water cycle, or hydrologic cycle, is a depiction or description of where water is on the planet, how it moves from one place to another and the factors that influence these movements. To begin with, a couple of astonishing facts.

When we think of winter, we usually think of bare trees, dry grass and lack of flowers, and compared to the other seasons, winter is certainly that. But all is not just gray and brown — we still have a lot of native green things around in the winter. Here are some of them:

The cover of the January National Geographic magazine shows a close-up of a bald eagle with the words, “Why Birds Matter” below in bold letters. I expected to find an article inside about all the things birds do for humans, and there was some of that, but it turns out that this issue was jus…

A lot of us who are concerned about the future conditions of the Hill Country tend to focus on the problems we see in land management. To greatly oversimplify the issue, too many properties in the Hill Country have less-than-ideal native habitat, mostly caused by past or present overgrazing,…

When most folks think about the trees in the Hill Country, they mostly think about the oaks, especially live oaks. But there are a lot of other species of trees that are fairly common in the Hill Country. Here is a partial list.

That headline comes from the title of a presentation Rufus Stephens gives to the trainees of our Hill Country Master Naturalist chapter every year. Stephens is a wildlife biologist, recently retired from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and one of the true experts on white-tailed dee…

I recently sat through a presentation on invasive non-native plants and was amazed by how many people in the audience were unaware that some of these plants were non-natives and were in fact invasive.