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Jake Landers' Range Plants

Reading the Landscape

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By Jake Landers
Published September 2011

Jake Landers Last spring this landscape along Hwy 83 in Menard County showed severe grazing by cattle and goats. If only cattle, the cedar in the background would not have been hedged. You would think that I would have something better to do than to drive along the Texas highways looking at the scenery.  The problem is, I must get from one place to another for various reasons, and the scenery is there whether or not I look at it.  I seldom purposely drive to look at the scenery as I might more often do in the Colorado Rockies or along the Pacific seashore, but I do enjoy seeing the  Texas countryside even if I’ve seen it many times before.

Observing and trying to understand what you see out the window while you drive is what I call “Reading the Landscape”.  Multiple questions arise as the patterns change from cultivated fields of cotton and milo to pastures dominated by Mesquite.  Why is the land cultivated here and not there?  It must be the soil.  Why is this landowner just now converting Mesquite pasture to cultivation by root plowing, stacking and burning the Mesquite and other brush?  Good question, but it can’t be answered from the highway.   Why is Pricklypear cactus so abundant here and not there?  And on it goes.

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Sensitive Briar and Fern Acacia

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By Jake Landers
Published August 2011

Jake Landers Sensitive Briar flower clusters with leaves already closed. Sensitive Briar and Fern Acacia are cousins that have similar looking leaves that behave very differently.  The leaves of Sensitive Briar fold up when touched while those of Fern Acacia stay put.  Few plants have movements as quick as Sensitive briar, and it’s done without nerves as in animals. Botanists understand that these movements in plants come about by changes in water pressure, but they can’t explain the reason why.   Why one and not the other!  Perhaps the leaf movements might surprise a grazing animal to make it move to another plant for a bite.  It’s a quirk in some plants that someday may entice a young scientist to find a good explanation.

Both plants are legumes and are first choice for grazing by goats, sheep, and deer because of their high nutrient content.  For this reason both have become scarce even in pastures where moderate to light stocking has been practiced.  They persist in much of central Texas in parks, roadsides, and rocky sites where plants are somewhat protected from heavy grazing.

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