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Photo Essay

Sandy Draws

Most draws of the Llano Estacado have clay soil. Clay soil holds moisture better than other soils, so the draws often have “pocket forests” of soapberry and hackberry. When a draw runs through towns on the Llano Estacado, the draw is often turned into a “ditch” to move floodwaters out of town, but just at the edge of town, a draw will be filled with “escaped” ornamental plants. Another photoessay examines these “modified” draws. In places sand has blown into draws, or lines the edge of the draw, so the vegetation can be somewhat different. This photoessay examines a draw influenced by sand. Some draws are alkaline (and there is a photoessay about such a draw, too.)

The 2008 class of the Llano Estacado chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists visited a draw on a local ranch in mid-May. The photographs were taken by Chris Cherry, Nina McCart, Sharon Long, Sean Patty, Taffy Armstrong, and R. L. Orth.

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PhotoIn one location in Midland County sand from a neighboring dune field has encroached on the draw, and it widens out. Shinoak, sandsage, (the gray plants) and other sanddune habitat plants grow in the bottom of the draw. Bluestem grass provides the reddish color in the photograph.

PhotoThe soapberries not only grow in the bottom of the draw, but up on the sandy slopes of the draw as well.

PhotoThis is a young grove of soapberries in the sand in the bottom of the draw. The trees may be as young as 20 years old. Soapberries sucker to form groves as an adaptation for protection from the wind. A young hackberry is in the foreground, along with mesquite to the left.

PhotoFurther along the draw, the soapberries are older and the trunks close together.

PhotoIn the heart of the oldest grove of soapberries, plentiful deadfall blocks the way of a passerby. As usual, the lowest branches of the soapberry are browsed by deer up to as high as they can reach.

PhotoThe soapberry saplings are so thick that it is hard for a person to walk between them, especially with the deadfall of earlier saplings.

PhotoAlong the edge of the trees bordering the flood channel, organic material deposited by floods and by leaf and twig fall build up the soil. A larger grass grows in this region, but without any seedheads visible, the grass remained unidentified.

PhotoA windmill is along the edge of the draw. The remains of an even older windmill is not far away. This windmill feeds a stock tank above the usual level of the floodwaters.

PhotoSoapberries have open airy appearance.

PhotoThe greenery in the middle foreground is sneezeweed. The tall dead weeds are kochia, evidence of 2007's plentiful rains. The trees line the channel. The grove has an opening at the upstream end, but the downstream end is partially blocked by more soapberries. The gray soil is Lipan Clay.

PhotoA young hackberry shows off its gnarly twisted growth. Some folks call them tumbleweed trees for their brambly growth.

PhotoFlood detritus piled up against the soapberry in the center. A hackberry leans in from the right. Beyond is a dense grove of soapberries.

PhotoHackberries are green in May, and turn orange in the fall. The underneath side of the leaf accentuates the rough texture of the leaf - showing why another name for the species is netleaf hackberry.

PhotoThe top of the hackberry leaf is rough too, with little warty tubercles and short raspy hairs.

PhotoPocket forests are dotted along the draw, seperated by more grassy area with some mesquite, shinoak, and yucca.

PhotoA preying mantis eggcase graced one of the shinoak stems.

PhotoA comanche prickly pear had plentiful cochineal scale along its bottom edge. This scale produces a wonderful red dye. The Aztecs of Mexico had cactus plantations for cochineal, and the Spanish made millions of dollars producing the dye. Red clothing became the color worn by royalty for the first hundred years after the Spanish brought it to Europe, and after cactus plantations were started in the Mediterranean, the red clothing became the color worn by the English army - the famous redcoats that fought against the rebels of the American Revolution.

PhotoThis prickly pear is a hybrid of the Comanche Pear and another species since it has yellow blossoms tinged with pink.

PhotoTiny ants found plenty of food material to gather on these Comanche Pear blossoms.

PhotoThe floodwaters had cut a channel through some of the sandy soil filling the draw.

PhotoBig clumps of a bunchgrass species held some of the sand together in the middle of the channel. Another flood will probably wash the hillock away, and the grass roots and leaves will snag on more flood detritus further down the channel.

PhotoBermuda grass grows wild in the draw, helping hold some of the soil together, but the force of the occassional floods washing from the streets of Midland slowly erode the channel deeper and wider.

PhotoA cocklebur had been partially buried by a flood when sand grains in the floodwaters collected among its spines and caused it to sink to rest in the bottom of the channel.

PhotoNew cocklebur leaves are toxic to cattle, causing serious liver damage.

PhotoPlantain is an annual that cattle love to eat. Ranchers call it tallow weed for it puts weight on cattle. The seeds when mixed with water form a slimy mucilage.

PhotoCaltrop is the native "bur" of the Llano Estacado. Goathead, another bur, is an introduced species, according to several sources, although it grows in disturbed soil all over the region.

PhotoKingbirds were plentiful in the trees along the draw. While flycatching, this one rested on a mesquite beginning to bloom.

PhotoOne of the photographers found a mesquite bloom that had turned almost orange as it finished blooming.

PhotoA stretch of the draw was filled with the soft billowy seedstalks of Lehmann's lovegrass, an introduced species of grass used in erosion control.

PhotoA soapberry forest forms a wall along the draw.

PhotoTexas Purple Thistle grew in the clay soil in the draw bottom in the openings between the trees.

PhotoThe architecture and coloration of the thistle bud and bloom is amazing.

PhotoA coyote skull lay in the flood channel.

PhotoA leg bone of a deer appeared to have only been laying on the grove's floor for a few months.

PhotoIn the sand at the bottom of the flood channel a much older bone had been exposed by the rushing water.

PhotoPocket gopher mounds were found in the clay soil in the bottom of the draw.

PhotoA pile of deer bones was probably from the butchering of a deer by hunters.

PhotoSoapberry branches had been broken by grazing deer.

PhotoA deer feeder indicated that the landowner made some money by leasing his land for hunters. Some hunters will keep the feeders filled year around to make sure the deer are there in hunting season.

PhotoA lichen covered mesquite was flanked by a seedling soapberry, a tasajillo cactus with red berries, and a seedling hackberry. Birds landing in the mesquite had deposited the seeds of the other plants under it, forming a tight thicket of brush.

PhotoIn sandy soil the gray leaves of a loco intermingled with the greener leaves of psoralea.

PhotoPsoralea has a reddish blossom, but books call it the brown flowered psoralea.

PhotoThe remains of a jumping spider nest draped over the old reddish seedstalk of a annual buckwheat.

PhotoA shinoak acorn broken by deer, feral hog, or mice lay in the sand.

PhotoA different species of pocket gopher dug in the sandy soil of the draw's edge.

PhotoThe gray leaves of sand sage filled a meadow at the edge of a soapberry thicket.

PhotoA mesquite was adorned with a peculiar insect nest. It was not the right shape for a jumping spider, but maybe a different species of jumping spider builds a egg case nest in such an elongated fashion.

PhotoA peculiar gall grew on one of the dead weeds in the sandy soil.

PhotoOld plainsman is a daisy that grows three feet tall. Its blooms are disc flowers - it has no ray flowers like most daisies. Only a few of the individual blossoms had a white tube sticking out of the center - had the others been pollinated, and the tubes fallen out - and are the tubes the styles (female part of the bloom?)

PhotoChocolate daisy seeds remain on the plant, attached to the brown achene. Are only 8 seeds produced by each composite head, despite there being more than eight ray flowers and 50 or more disc flowers?

PhotoThe thickets created by birds attracted more than one photographer - and notice the sand sage in the background.

PhotoThe 8 foot tall remains of giant ragweed created a contrast to the dark trunks of the soapberries and hackberries in the background. Notice the yucca to the right side of the picture.

PhotoSneezeweed grew thickly in the clay soil portion of the draw bottom. It indicates that water stood here for at least several weeks during the winter.

PhotoTo the left are tall sunflowers, ragweed, and kochia stalks from previous years, with sneezeweed in the channel of the draw, and the soapberry forest along the edge of the draw in the background.

PhotoOne lone Trimerotropis (bandwinged) grasshopper was found by the photographers during 10 hours of investigation.

PhotoA lazy daisy (Xanthisma texana) bloomed in the draw bottom in late April. It normally blooms later in the year (from May until October, depending on rain.)

PhotoThe soft gray leaves of lambs quarters was also found. This is an excellent potherb - settlers would often fix a batch of "greens" when they found lambs quarters.

PhotoPeppergrass was mixed in the salads of settlers, or added to stews. It is full of vitamin C - and after chewing the seeds for a few minutes, a spicy warmth is imparted.

PhotoFeral hogs left sign of their presence. Since 1998 feral hogs have spread throughout the draws and sanddune habitats of the southern Llano Estacado.

PhotoThe cast of an earthworm showed that some of a cowpatty had been processed, turning its organic material into nutrients for future plants.

PhotoA cricket crawled out from another cowpatty.

PhotoA scorpion was under an old tire that had washed down the draw. They are found under cowpatties, too.

PhotoA small herd of longhorn cattle lived in the stretch of the draw the photographers investigated, but they did not bother the people.

PhotoA few horehound plants were found in the draw. It is an European plant brought by the Pilgrims and has spread all over the United Plants, for a great cough syrup or cough drops can be made from the plant.

PhotoAlthough this large nest looked fresh, the photographer did not find who had built it.

PhotoMice had collected hackberry seeds and gnawed them to get the tasty embryos. Whenever a tree had a cavity at the ground, there was always signs of the mice and their love of hackberry seeds.

PhotoNotice the soapberry suckers growing in the shade of the taller trees - enough dappled light reached the ground for the soapberry suckers to start growing. Deer will probably strip the suckers of the leaves eventually.

PhotoMockingbirds were plentiful in the trees of the draws.

PhotoA lesser earless lizard scampered along the sandy soil of the draw. It prefers open ground, not the shady pocket forest ground litter.

PhotoA coyote kept visiting this scent station, leaving a record of his "comings and goings" for other coyotes and other predators in the draw.

PhotoPurple nighshade (trompillo) was common in the clay soil of the draw.

PhotoThe seedhead of cane bluestem had managed to make it through the winter without falling apart.

PhotoSome of the soapberry saplings showed stress from drought.

PhotoOther patches of soapberries were growing vigorously, so the difference had to be water flow - the previous picture's saplings must no longer have water running under them due to deposition by floods.

PhotoAnother grasshopper was found, this time in sandy soil, but it flew away before the photographer could get close enough for a picture that would indicate its species.

PhotoA robber fly rested on the sand.

PhotoOne of the trees appeared to have a weird growth about ten feet on the ground.

PhotoOn closer examination the weird growth turned out to be a swarm of bees - and most likely they were Africanized bees, which luckily did not get upset at the photographer's approach. The photographer was far from her car, so if the bees had gotten upset, she might have been in serious danger.

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Sibley Nature Center
1307 E. Wadley, Midland, Texas 79705
phone 432.684.6827
email info@sibleynaturecenter.org