Hunt for the Red Green Condalia

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By Jake Landers

Published April 2013

Jake Landers Geen Condalia develops a few black berries throughout the summer. Some years ago the late R.J. Godfrey parked his pickup beside mine and showed me a thorny plant that almost filled his pickup bed.  “What is it, and how can you kill it?” he asked.  I identified it as Green Condalia and told him what I thought would kill it.  I cut off a piece of the butt end to determine its age, and I noticed that the heartwood was dark red.  I told him that I would dump it out on my brush pile, suggesting that next time he didn’t have to bring me the whole plant for me to identify.  He was glad to get rid of it on the ranch, was his closing comment.

Green Condalia appears bare in winter growing on the gravelly slopes above the Llano River in Mason County. The next time I saw Green Condalia was along one of the nature trails in San Angelo State Park, where it was mixed with the more abundant and shorter Lotebush and taller Mesquite.  What was so noticeable about it was the fuzzy, grassy bird’s nest about head high in almost every bush, and none in the Lotebush or Mesquite.  Smart bird.  It can pick the thorniest bush among thorn bushes in which to build its nest. Most people can’t tell them apart.

Green Condalia may grow to 8-10 feet in a cluster of several stems of different sizes.  It is abundant but not the most dominant brush species in the chaparral growth along Llano River slopes in Mason County.  In surrounding counties in central Texas it occurs as scattered individuals.  It is found on shallow gravelly soils, mostly.  It retains its leaves in winter, except for the uppermost branches which are bare with abundant white thorns, an easy identification characteristic.   Its value as browse for livestock and deer is minor, and I have never seen it to be the primary brush problem for removal in spite of R.J.’s desire to get rid of one plant.

Condalia displays its typical white thorns in winter. My interest in the red heartwood of my first sample was revived when I started polishing thin cross sections of woody stems I call wooden nickels.  It was a hobby I started with my grandchildren trying to teach them the value of money by giving them wooden nickels they could spend at our nephew’s store.  I called them dollars then, and would reimburse my nephew in secret.  Once they caught on and required real money, the wooden nickels were devalued, and I used them to give away to friends who needed something in their pocket.

My assortment of wooden nickels has grown to several dozen of the woody plants of the Hill Country with great variation in colors of heartwood and sapwood, growth rings, insect and disease scars, bark, and polish.  Sanding from coarse grit to the super fine 600 grit is tedious, but satisfying to feel the finished disk.  But I didn’t have a wooden nickel with the red heartwood that I remembered from my first encounter with Green Condalia.

Wooden nickels of Mesquite, Pecan, Flameleaf sumac, and Green Condalia borrowed from Steve Nelle. Thus began my quest several years ago for the Green Condalia with red heartwood.   I haven’t visited R.J.’s ranch near Menard where I presume the original plant was cut.   Samples from plants I have cut elsewhere had dull brown heartwood.  I even cut some stems of Lotebush from the ranch just in case my original identification was wrong.   They say a bird in Africa can guide natives to trees bearing honey.  Maybe I need the bird from San Angelo State Park to guide me to a suitable Green Condalia and see if there are any left on R.J.’s. Now I need to find someone who can identify that bird.

Reading The Landscape

What river is this?  What would you expect to be covering the hills along this stretch of the river?

What river is this?  What would you expect to be covering the hills along this stretch of the river?      —JL

See below for Jake's answer

Reading the Landscape: Answer

Jake’s comments: This is the Llano River looking upstream from Hwy 1871 crossing in Mason County.   River edge has Bushy bluestem and Willow baccharis; slopes are covered in dense Chaparral, consisting of Mesquite, Lotebush, Cedar. Green Condalia, Tx persimmon, and Tx Colubrina, respectable wildlife habitat, but not much for livestock grazing.       —JL

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