Knowledge of plants is fundamental to range and pasture managers and, when combined with knowledge of soils and climatic conditions, forms the basis for range management and successful ranching.
With recent rainfall we have started to see a little green in our pastures and in some cases a few plants that have us wondering what in the world they are. Texas is large with extreme variation in environmental conditions and provides growing conditions for about 5,000 species of flowering plants that have been named. Because of the variability in weather, past management on the ranching landscape and different goals of land ownership, no two ranches are exactly alike, have exactly the same plant species or densities of plants, or have the exact same capability for the production of plants.
For many reasons, each ranch owner or manager needs to have some idea of the names of the plants growing on the land, their value and meaning in a management sense. The plant species growing on a ranch can often indicate the success or failure for the land manager. Plants respond to our management imposed on the land.
Livestock and plants belong together. However, livestock and plants do not necessarily exist for each other’s convenience. In fact, it appears that plants will try anything to avoid being eaten. Plants will crawl under rocks, grow thorns, give off obnoxious odors, taste bad, grow inaccessibly high in the air or low to the ground, become unpalatable, change from high nutrient quality to low and even produce toxic or poisonous chemicals. If you can’t identify the plant you can’t manage it.
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Some people know plants by sight or general appearance. Many people have come to recognize, consciously or unconsciously, the many points that make plant species different from each other. Others have learned the value of a plant through experience. Some plants are easier to distinguish than others. It has always been one of our human characteristics that we name things and arrange them in some orderly fashion. We have always needed to name things in order to have a means of communication.
We name plants to help communicate about it. Without a name, we cannot look it up in a book and find information others have written. Without the name and the attached information, we can only learn about plants through experience and this could be a costly if it is toxic or invasive.
New plants are always arriving on our various properties through mud on tires, weeds baled in hay purchased from another area, by wind from adjoining properties and even in the fur of wildlife. This makes learning plants a lifelong project. Fortunately, several good resources are available to help with plant identification. Some online resources can be found at http://bit.ly/PlantID. For more information on plant identification or range management contact the Extension office at 361.767.5223.