Throckmorton County is a 900 square mile, sparsely populated jurisdiction in north central Texas. The landscape is defined by a transition from the oak-dominated Cross Timbers to the scrubby grasslands of the Plains. The area explored lies about 1 mile from the Brazos River where Hog Creek empties into it, and a few hundred yards from Coon Hollow, a drainage bounded by exposed bluffs of sandstone, rising 30 feet above the horizon. While these features are not particularly impressive, they do vary from the norm of relatively low, rolling hills of the surrounding terrain.
The soil composition is obviously different here, as it is in the immediate river basin of the Brazos. Red sand has been carried from the lower Panhandle, the headwaters of the Brazos River, and deposited, allowing a variety of unique species to thrive in these well-draining soils.
Paying homage to the past, a local resident has taken it upon himself to build and mount a series of markers noting important sites to the history of the area. The land in this area is owned by the school districts of Polk County, Texas, where the money paid for agricultural and oil and gas leasing is then invested into their education. At the intersection of County Roads 448 and 450, there were a series of mailboxes belonging to a small community of farmers and ranchers that once leased this land from Polk County. The land has since been consolidated and leases are held by just a couple ranchers. If this area of northeastern Throckmorton County had a name, it would be Koger, a small community that once had a school, but leaves no evidence of establishment today.
The area has had rain in the past few months, and last year was brought out of a 5 year drought. When I first explored this pasture, it was in the middle of this drought and many of the cacti species were much easier to spot as the grass cover was greatly reduced.
Blackfoot Daisy occurs in many regions of Texas. I have also documented it along Slaughter Creek in Austin.
Liatris blooms once per year, usually in October for Texas. I was able to find one small bloom straggling along, but there were a good number of seed heads ready to disperse. Average rainfall for most of the summer contributed to a nice crop compared to past years. Liatris is a reliable nectar source for butterflies and other beneficial insects.
I was confused as to the identification of this plant at first, but with some direction from online folks (the internet is an amazing place), it was determined this is a perennial Broomweed, Gutierrezia sarothae. Unlike the annual Broomweed, this plant grows closer to the ground and is multi-stemmed. After its bloom, the plant tends to splay and lie prostrate. Gutierrezia is usually a good indicator of poor range management or shallow, poor soils.
Rhus aromatica is probably my favorite Sumac species. This species is defined by its fragrant blooms, and it is short enough to be grown in landscapes. It has been gaining popularity in recent years, even if they are hard to find from the limited number of growers who have dedicated themselves to propagating this plant.
Mormon Tea is a great, arid shrub with an interesting branching structure. You can see in the photo above that the stems are covered in small, unopened cones, it's primary method of reproduction. Like other species of Ephedra, the name comes from the use of the plant to cure syphilis.
Throckmorton is just about the western edge of this Yucca's range, occurring from southern Texas to southern Missouri. The cattle and deer do a fine job of grazing the bloom stalks before they have an opportunity to flower.
Pencil Cactus is one of a few species of Cylindropuntia that grow here. Directly, C. leptocaulis is the only species observed in the vicinity. Some call this 'Jumping Cactus' for its propensity to readily break at the joints and attach itself to whatever bumped into it. The red fruit in the winter make great forage for birds and other critters that can reach them.
I have said, without hesitation in previous posts, that Opuntia species are difficult for me identify. With the help of the internet again, it's determined that this species is O. tortispina. This is relatively exciting because this species is less recorded than the species I confused it with at first, O. phaeacantha. Instead, O. tortispina is lower growing. I admire the pink blush that is occurring along the pad's margins.
Do you see what I see? For scale, here is a photo of my feet surrounded by Horsecrippler Cactus, named for its low profile, allowing it to be stepped on by livestock. This barrel cacti occurs in great numbers here, and is pretty impressive when viewed in such a restricted area.
Lote Bush also grows in the western two-thirds of the state, and offers great cover for wildlife. It also provides shelter for another species of cacti, Mammillaria heyderi. This is the only Mammillaria species that has been observed by myself in this region. Down the Brazos River about 30 miles is a cemetery on the banks that has a nice community growing within its fences. Maybe I will be able to photograph those soon.
There were more than just plants observed here...
Three and a half years ago, my dad found vertebrae and part of a leg bone belonging to an Early Permian mammal called Dimetrodon. While I was hunting for cacti this day in the same red beds, my dad and sister found another vertebra piece that fits perfectly into the previously found section. These lizard-like pre-dinosaurs lived 270-300 million years ago. Dad says his goal is to now find the skull and make it his mailbox. Oh, to have seen these dragons in their natural environment. This area is rich with unique flora, and I look forward to exploring more.