Texas A&M University-Kingsville First-ever Photographic Guide for South Texas Sand Sheet Vegetation Now Available
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First-ever Photographic Guide for South Texas Sand Sheet Vegetation Now Available

Posted on Monday, December 02, 2019

Forrest S. Smith, Dan L. Duncan Endowed Director of Texas Native Seeds Program at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.

Forrest S. Smith, Dan L. Duncan Endowed Director of Texas Native Seeds Program at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute helped create this user-friendly guide with information on more than 200 common plants.

A Photographic Guide to the Vegetation of the South Texas Sand Sheet, published by Texas A&M University Press, exists because Dexter Peacock struggled to identify the plants on his Hebbronville ranch.

“While other field guides are available, they are written with botanists and other scientists in mind—and none of them are focused to the Sand Sheet,” said Peacock, noting most guides are built around taxonomic keys, scientific names and dedicated to a single group of plants such as grasses. “As a rancher and a hunter, I wanted to learn more about plants so I could improve the habitat on my land, but the lack of accessible information was frustrating.”

Peacock, a retired Houston attorney and avid photographer, decided to solve the problem himself. He enlisted the expert assistance of Forrest S. Smith, Dan L. Duncan Endowed Director of Texas Native Seeds Program at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville. Texas A&M University-Kingsville sponsored the guide’s publication through the Perspectives on South Texas Series.

 “With the amount of ranching, hunting and scientific study that occurs in the Sand Sheet, the lack of a useful field guide was a gaping hole,” Peacock said. “We set out to create a user-friendly field guide that was equally at home in a graduate student’s backpack, on a rancher’s dashboard, or on the seat of a quail rig.”

The Sand Sheet, a more than 2 million-acre ecoregion encompassing all or parts of Kleberg, Jim Wells, Duval, Jim Hogg, Brooks, Kenedy, Willacy, Hidalgo, and Starr counties, is characterized by sandy soils and shifting sand dunes that originated on the shoreline of an ancient sea and have been blown inland over the millennia. It is bounded by the subtropical climate of the Lower Rio Grande Valley to the south, the arid South Texas Brush Country to the west and north, the Coastal Prairie to the east, and influenced by the convergence of several ecosystems just to the northeast.

“Sandy soils have naturally high plant diversity, but because of the proximity to other ecoregions the Sand Sheet enjoys the highest diversity of plants per unit area than just about anywhere else in Texas,” Smith said. “Here you can see plants found in the Hill Country, the Brush Country, the Coastal Plains and even some from the subtropical environment of the Valley as well as some species that are found nowhere else in the world.”

In the guide’s 231 pages, readers will find information on more than 200 common plants organized by type: grasses (including native and invasive grasses), wildflowers (subdivided by color), shrubs (subdivided by presence or absence of thorns), trees, cacti, and vines. Fifty-six of the species are found only in Texas and 15 are found only in the Sand Sheet.

“We collected the majority of the region’s common plants in one book—and arranged them in a way that should make sense to people on the street,” Smith said. “To that end, we grouped like things together such as grasses with similar appearance and flowering plants with the same color blooms.”

Knowing that a clear picture is worth a thousand scientific explanations, the duo used photographs of the various plants as the primary means of identification. The guide contains 365 color photos taken by Peacock and Smith.

“In many cases, we have several photographs of a plant showing how it might look from a distance, up close, and at different stages of its life cycle during different times of the year,” Smith said. “Using the photos, it’s possible to accurately identify a plant within minutes.”

The guide provides the scientific and common name of each plant, as well as regional names including those in Spanish. For instance, sand verbena, a well-known wildflower that grows near Falfurrias, is known locally as heart’s delight, and spiny hackberry is known as granjeno.

The ecoregion’s diverse and abundant plant life is the foundation for its legendary wildlife and ranching.

“Native plants are the bricks and mortar that literally hold this ecosystem of shifting sand together,” Smith said. “Abundant native habitat is valuable economically and environmentally.”

He continued, “The vegetation dictates whether you can profitably ranch, what wildlife you’ll find and what condition they will be in—and from an asset point of view, the plants directly impact the economic value of the land. Successful management of all these resources begins with knowing the plants and A Photographic Guide to the Vegetation of the South Texas Sand Sheetcan help.”

ORDER INFORMATION:A Photographic Guide to the South Texas Sand Sheet,written by Dexter Peacock and Forrest S. Smith, is available from Texas A&M University Press (www.tamupress.com), Amazon, Barnes and Noble and select independent book sellers for $30. Publicity photographs can be obtained from Forrest S. Smith (361-319-1071/Forrest.Smith@tamuk.edu)

Category: Ag/Env & Wildlife Sci, General Univ

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