In the far southwestern corner of Throckmorton County is the YL Ranch, encompassing 5,500 acres of responsibly-managed, grazing pasture among low, rolling hills. Two prominent waterways cross this property; Ranger Creek and Tecumseh Creek, both with exposed limestone bottoms. About 5 miles to the southeast is the famous Lambshead Ranch, established in 1880 after the area was purposely evacuated of the Tecumseh tribe of the Comanche Indians.
The area is dominated by Hackberry and Mesquite trees, along with plentiful grasses and short scrub. Abundant rainfall over the past 2 years has really benefited the perennials, and many early summer bloomers were showing their colors. It was the last day of spring and the temperature would reach the upper 90s. After taking a dip in one of the stock tanks, I set to document some of the more interesting species of the area.
I photographed Engelmann's Milkweed last year in Young County (east) on Cement Mountain. This specimen was also along a maintained, gravel road. It reached over 6' in height and was covered buds and open flowers.
While some Milkweeds are still blooming, others were going to seed and beginning to disperse. This Antelope Horns Milkweed, defined by its characteristic seed pod shape, had pods bursting all over the place. The "cloud" of seeds can be seen in the photo below, and the hairs aid the seeds in catching moving air.
The third, and last, Milkweed observed was Broadleaf Milkweed, defined by its large, ovate leaves. The blooms on this species are not impressive when open, but the large clusters of blooms are nice on their own.
While beautiful from a distance, you don't want to get too close to this annual Prickly Poppy. The prickly leaves serves as a deterrent to livestock. I find the blue hue of the leaves and stark white flower petals in nice contrast with one another.
Most people know this plant by the claw-shaped seed pod that follows this flower, often called Devil's Claw. I find the precursor to the seeds beautiful. The leaves are covered in a glandular nectar and can collect dirt, as can be seen in the photos below.
The American Basketflower is sometimes confused with a thistle, but you will find this perennial free of prickles. Bloom color can range from a deep purple to a near white. The common name exists because of the characteristics of its opening bloom.
Gaze at the "baskets".
Horsemint is probably the most common Monarda species in Texas and other states to the west and north. When most of the earlier spring wildflowers have faded, this annual is really putting on a show. It also serves as a great pollinator plant for bees and butterflies.
Texas Primrose has been gaining popularity as a landscape plant because of its drought hardiness. Like most other primroses, it blooms best in the spring and again in the fall. When the bloom is finished, the bract will fade from green to red.
Lace Cactus occurs in small populations along exposed ridges in very shallow soils. While not a particularly attractive clump, this stand was a nice surprise. It also looks as though buds are forming while others have passed from a cooler-weather bloom cycle. Those buds will eventually give way to brilliant magenta-colored flowers.
I haven't seen Mealy Blue Sage in Throckmorton County, so this was another nice surprise. On the banks of a large, private lake there was a nice colony of this blue-blooming perennial. Salvia species are not too common in this area, and blue-bloomers are always coveted.
The best find of all was several large colonies of Texas Bluebells. This genus is less common as it once was because of the tendency of people to pick the blooms before setting seed. Displaying a teacup-sized bloom in brilliant shades of violet, you can see why it's so popular as a cut flower. This location is many miles from civilization, so I think the stand is safe this season.
Blanketflower is a fairly common wildflower in the American southwest. Bloom color is usually bi-color, but can be completely yellow or red.
Coreopsis has many species occurring in North America. They are also popular landscape plants because of their hardiness to cold, sun, and heat. This species is usually bi-color with red appearing where the petals meet the bract, but this specimen was pure yellow.
These Water-Willows were growing while completely submerged in Tecumseh Creek, an intermittent waterway that eventually meets the Clear Fork of the Brazos. Aquatic species in the high plains where water is scarce are always a treat.
I have said before that I don't attempt to identify Opuntia species. Maybe one day that will change. Most of the Prickly Pears were done blooming in the area. This particular one was growing in the shade of a Mesquite tree, which probably contributed to its late bloom.
I am ending this experience with a couple photos of a restored stone structure referred to as the "Ranger Camp". It's believed this was an occasional home of a Texas Ranger in the early part of the 20th century. It is also a few hundred yards from Ranger Creek. Whatever its origin, it is a nice piece of local history that has been restored in a fantastic way and will be maintained securely.