Since 1988, Environmental Survey Consulting (ESC) has been conducting active habitat restoration of the 1200 acre Spicewood Ranch. On May 14 2016, David Mahler led a tour of almost 40 people to explore areas of management success, including prairie restoration, woody species propagation in cedar (Juniperus ashei) breaks, and balancing deer browse pressure with revegetation efforts. Prairie restoration strategies included controlled burns followed by seeding with commercial and wild-harvested native grasses and forbs. David commented that restoring native vegetation in a previously heavily-grazed landscape is never easy, but “grasses are the least difficult, forbs are more difficult, and woody species are the hardest to restore.” Many species have been sourced from local remnant populations.
Informal experiments both inside and outside deer exclosures have yielded success with plant species such as evergreen sumac (Rhusvirens), prairie penstemon (Penstemon cobaea), bush sunflower (Simsia calva), narrow-leaf coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), and rosinweed (Silphium radula). These experiments, coupled with careful observation have informed the development of David’s Palatability Ranking species list – available on the ESC website.
We were lucky to have notable botanist Bill Carr join us and share his enthusiasm for native species and his extensive botanical knowledge. Bill has identified almost 550 species on the Spicewood Ranch, many of which are preserved for research in the ranch herbarium. Some of the more unusual species that he pointed out included Cistaceae rockroses (Helianthemum sp.) and pinweeds (Lechea sp.), bundleflower (Desmanthus sp.), and tiny powdery cloakfern (Argyrochosma dealbata). Bill also pointed out a Phyllanthus one of the several genera recently moved to the new Leaf-Flower Family (Phyllanthaceae). Previously, Phyllanthus had been in the Spurge Family (Euphorbiaceae), Bill’s favorite plant group!
For those who stayed after lunch, we were able to take a short hike along beautiful Alligator Creek. Unlike the familiar pitted Cretaceous Glen Rose limestone of the Hill Country, the bed of the creek consists of elegant, large, dark slabs of the older Pennsylvanian Marble Falls limestone through which the water sparkles and falls. A beautiful finale to a beautiful day!