Acme Botanical Services: Call Today- You’ll Be Glad You Did!

Bill Carr and I in front of Maggie Livings' native garden before our hike

“I need to get Bill Carr back out here!” I told myself in mid-April, after spring rains began to show up on a regular basis – a welcome change in a long, dreary drought cycle. In 2014, we were well into May before we got any rain at all. That’s almost half the year without a drop!  Instead, May 2015 racked up the highest rainfall amounts on record, changing Llano and Gillespie Counties’ ranking from “extreme drought” to a less dire “abnormally dry” status.  Who knew what a thrill it would be to be merely abnormally dry?

The last time Bill came to our place was the spring of 2010.  We had just acquired our property in August of ‘09 and were eager to learn everything about the plants growing on our granite sands and woodlands, and he was just the man for the job. 

Bill is a well-known and highly regarded floristic taxonomist.  That means wherever he goes in our vast, diverse state, he is able to identify almost every plant he comes across.  He has worked for Texas Parks and Wildlife and also for the Texas Nature Conservancy, conducting detailed plant surveys for public, conservation, and private lands.  Today, as principle and only employee of Acme Botanical Services, he is an independent consultant and works with all sorts of landowners and organizations.

It was an amazingly cool and wet day in early May of this year when Bill arrived, and we wandered for hours, admiring and discovering even the tiny invisible plants that only a deep plant nerd could love.  Later, Bill sent a report of our field day together with a spreadsheet that added 65 species to our original 2010 list.  Having these lists has expanded my recognition of more plants, and has helped me understand the changes in the landscape that perhaps we have set in motion through our conservation projects. For example, Bill spent a lot of time this year recording in detail what was growing in the exclosures we constructed.  This will be so helpful in the future as we observe what plants show up in these places protected from browsing.

Besides receiving an impressive list of plants, sharing Bill’s enthusiasm and joy at every step as he admires the common, the non-descript, and occasionally a rare plant in the field. 

In early June Bill returned to survey our neighbors Hal and Maggie Livings property, and I got to tag along.  Although they live just across the road, their place has some special features such as exposed granite domes, a long stretch along Hickory Creek, and a dramatic approach to House Mountain. We were hoping to see some different plants growing there, especially during this spring.

Several years ago Bill sent me an excerpt from the field journal of early explorer and botanist, Julien Reverchon (1837-1905), who traveled from his French settlement near Dallas to Uvalde in 1885, passing right through our “neighborhood” in southwest Llano County. Below is an excerpt from his journal (Italics and name corrections from Bill): 

“The next day, after crossing a very poor country, a perfect desert, where Plantago patagonica was about the only thing growing, with here and there a tuft of Hermannia texana not yet in bloom, we pitched our tent at the very foot of House Mountains, a mass of bold, denuded rocks, quite high for Texas, where there are not true mountains this side of the Pecos. This proved to be a very interesting locality for a botanist, and for a tourist it is certainly so. And now I am sorry we did not stay there a week instead of three days.

In this locality (House Mts.) two entirely new plants were discovered, and both have been decorated with the name of Reverchoni, a Diplachne [the specimen proved to be Tripogon spicatus] and a Campanula [Campanula reverchonii]. The latter is a little annual, making long ribbons of the finest blue in the cracks of the rocks, with here and there a large tuft of Cereus pectinatus [I’d guess Echinocereus enneacanthus] all ablaze with its beautiful pink blossoms, or a picturesque cluster of Cereus paucispinus [Echinocereus triglochidiatus?] covered with brick-red flowers . The more noted plants collected here were: on the side of the mountain, Metastelma Palmeri [probably what is now Cynanchum racemosum var. unifarium], Zexmenia hispida, Cyclanthera dissecta, Ipomoea Lindheimeri; on the banks of a sandy creek, Astragalus leptocaulis, and a variety of Mentzelia Wrightii [now Mentzelia albescens] with very small flowers.”

Hal, Maggie, and I were joined by another neighbor, Holly Noelke, as we began our wanderings with Bill down the exposed granite sheet, heading toward Hickory Creek. The shallow pools and pits were all full of water, and the prolific sedum (Sedum nuttallianum) flowing over the red rock glowed like chartreuse neon paint. Immediately Bill hustled towards one of these pools, asking us stragglers if we had ever seen rock quillwort (Isoetes lithophylla). This tiny primitive plant requires the specialized ephemeral habitat of pools in granite outcrops that retain their water long enough to reach maturity.  There are only 10 known populations of rock quill, and it wasn’t long before Bill was on his knees with his magnifying glass, verifying that indeed he had spotted the rare quillworts by examining its tiny male and female sporangia growing at the base of its bulb-like underground rhizome.   Dear reader, I assure you I would never have stopped to examine anyone’s sporangia, but I sure am glad Bill did.

Our exciting find inspired us to look closely at everything as we made our way across the beautiful flowing water of Hickory Creek, up to House Mountain.  There we saw rivulets and pools where all had been dry for years.  This property had once been part of a quarry operation and we assumed that most of the rare plants would have browsed or hammered out of existence.  But just as we were meandering back to the truck and lunch, Holly spotted a lovely little blue wildflower growing in a crack in the granite.  She called Bill over, and he gave a shout: We had come across a cluster of specimens of basin bellflower (Campanula reverchonii). In the same letter Bill sent with Reverchon’s journal, Bill added: “By the way, Campanula reverchonii is still a good species, and one of the rarest in Texas.  And it was first discovered right across the street from your house by a Frenchman.  Quelle chance!”

How wonderful to experience a little of the same excitement and admiration as Reverchon did when he first encountered the lovely little basin wildflower on a glorious, wet, and abundant spring day.  We felt a little bit like Reverchon ourselves that brilliant, vivid day of June 1, as we celebrated the discovery of rare plants we assumed was long gone from it’s tiny habitat.  You don’t have to be a plant geek to be excited when something special comes along, especially when you have Bill as your guide.  Bill can be reached at billcarrspurge@gmail.com.

posted on 6/16/2015