Nature Trail Guide
Throughout the miles of trails found at Sage Hill Inn & Spa, you’ll run into dozens of native Texas plants and geological formations. We’ve put this guide together to give guests a better idea of what they will be seeing. Before you head out, please keep a few things in mind…
- Remember to drink plenty of water – it gets hot here!
- Cold water and hiking sticks are available at the trailhead.
- Sunscreen and bug spray are available at the pool.
- Please respect private property. Do not cross fences or the creek.
- Please don’t litter.
- You are in the Texas Hill Country. Please look out for the wildlife!
1. Edwards Plateau Eco-Region
Facing west away from the Inn you are looking across the Edwards Plateau Eco-region. The underlying geology is comprised primarily of a sedimentary stone called limestone. Millions of years ago Texas was covered by warm, shallow seas. The fossils are evidence of creatures that lived when the sediments were being deposited. Along the trail you’ll find many examples of a silicate rock called chert. This brittle stone flakes easily and was the material of choice for native Americans when making tools. The plant community is diverse and is home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else.
2. Engelmann’s Prickly Pear Cactus – Opuntia phaeacantha / Perennial
Common in the hill country, sometimes becoming invasive, this species yields a yellow/orange flower that is a favorite to many pollinators and the red fruit is eaten by birds, mammals and insects. During drought ranchers will burn off the spines making it palatable for cattle.
3. Kidney wood – Eysenhardtia texana / Deciduous
Found on dry rocky soils, this hardy shrub will reach a height of 4 – 10 feet. The leaves have a unique fragrance that to many smells like tangerines. The white blooms last all summer providing good forage for bees. Deer will browse on the leaves.
4. Texas Live Oak – Quercus virginiana / Deciduous
Green most of the year, this long lived tree loses its leaves in March and new growth starts right away. It can reach a height of 60’ with a massive trunk and limbs spreading close to the ground. A very useful species, the bark was used in the production of tannin, the strong wood has been used in ship building, furniture, and hubs for wagon wheels. The acorns are a food for many mammals and the Native Americans made flour from them by crushing and mixing with water.
5. Agarita – Berberis trifolioata / Perennial
Found on dry rocky slopes of the Hill Country, this is an early bloomer in the spring and the small yellow blossoms are an important early bee browse. Bright red fruit is tart and sweet, a food for birds, mammals and great for making jams and jellies. The leaves have 3-7 sharp points that help protect the fruit from some likely consumers.
6. Texas Persimmon – Diospyros texana / Perennial
A native tree that has smooth bark and can slowly grow to a 40’ height. The sweet, juicy fruit is dark purple when ripe and eaten by many birds and mammals. The black juice is used as a dye and the wood used to craft engraving blocks.
7. Mustang Grape – Vitis mustangensis / Deciduous
A high climbing vine with leaves that are hairy on one side and smooth on the other. The ripe fruits are a deep purple and a food source birds and mammals alike. Settlers found the grapes good for making wine. It is drought and heat tolerant, making it thrive here.
8. Honey Mesquite – Prosopisglandulosa / Deciduous
This tree will often reach a height of 30’ and sets flower in summer. It will often form thickets in grasslands and can be invasive. The beans are sweet tasting and have a high protein and sugar content. They provide good forage for quail, white wing dove, squirrels, deer, coyote, and jackrabbits. The meal made from the beans was used by Native Americans as a food source and can be fermented to make an intoxicating drink. The wood is really hard and used for furniture, posts, fuel and charcoal.
9. Gum – Bumelia languinosa / Deciduous
In cultivation since 1806 this tree has leaves that are clustered and spines along the branches. After setting flowers in June or July, the fruit ripens in the fall and is lustrous and dark black and is favored by several species of birds. The wood has bed known to be used for making tool handles and in cabinetmaking.
10. Twist Leaf Yucca – Yucca rupicola / Perennial
This cactus sends up a white, fragrant blossom that is pollinated by the yucca moth and eagerly eaten by white tail deer. The roots can be crushed and mixed with water to make a soap that can be used for shampoo. It is pollinated at night by a yucca moth.
11. Lacy Oak – Quercus glaucoides / Deciduous
A smaller variety of oak and often only a clumpy shrub. It has grey-green leaves and hardly ever gets higher than 45’. Found on rocky bluffs and limestone escarpments, this species is found only in the Texas Hill Country on the Edwards Plateau. The common name is for Howard Lacey, a rancher near Kerrville who first collected specimens.
12. Common Hop Tree – Ptelea trifoliata L.
This small tree can reach 25’ but can vary greatly in size and shape. All parts of the plant emit a disagreeable odor. The fruit was once used as a substitute for hops in brewing beer. A tincture of the root bark is used in tropical countries as a remedy for dyspepsia and as a mild tonic. Notice the trifoliate leaf arrangement.
13. Ashe Juniper – Juniperus ashei / Evergreen
Often mistakenly called a cedar, this is the tree many Texans love to hate. This native has become an invasive nuisance over the last 100 years. Why? Well we humans have eliminated most wildfires from the ecosystem. These fires used to move through the area about every 7 years and would be most beneficial to grasslands but kept the Junipers contained to the canyons. It is not the water hog it is purported to be as the leaves don’t transpire too much and it is drought tolerant. The leaves will capture the first 1/3 “of rain and it will evaporate—not ever reaching the ground. This tree has great wildlife value for the berries and bark which is used exclusively by Golden Cheek warblers for their nests.
14. Escarpment Black Cherry / Deciduous
This tree is of great value to wildlife and the wood is highly prized by woodworkers of all types for its color and hardness. The red berries ripen in late summer and early fall and provide forage for 33 different bird species, opossums, squirrels rabbits, and bears. The bark has been used as a cough remedy by humans. This tree can reach a height of 100’ and has been cultivated for ornament since 1629.
15. Mexican Buckeye – Ungnadia speciosa / Perennial
Found along fencerows, in canyons and rocky escarpments, the pink blossoms appear in March and April. The name comes from the seedpod that holds three seeds reaching 1/2” diameter when mature. It usually has multiple stems and can reach up to 15’ tall. This small tree is a favorite for attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
16. Chinaberry – Melia azedarach / Deciduous (Invasive)
Originally from Asia, this tree has become invasive here in the Hill Country. It grows really fast shading out native species. It blooms in April and does attract a lot of pollinators especially bees and butterflies. The berries are eaten by swine and birds but if it becomes moist it ferments and has a toxic effect. The pulp has been used as an insect repellant and the wood for making cabinets. The best idea is to remove this tree from your Texas property.
17. Riparian Zone
Look around you, the plants and grasses are different than the species that are up the hill. This is a place where temperatures are cooler and water flows most of the time. It can support plants and trees that need a bit more water to survive. It is also where you will find the highest diversity of mammal and bird species because of the water resource. If you own property along a river or stream it is important to preserve this precious habitat.
18. Limestone Karst / Geologic feature
The bedrock that makes up the Edwards Plateau is predominantly limestone. It is highly faulted and fractured. When rain falls and infiltrates into the soils it also goes back into the ground through these fractures and faults becoming groundwater. There it is stored or transported in a complex system of caves, tunnels, often coming out again as springs when the water table is high enough. Because of the high conductivity in this system we all need to be very careful of what we dump as it can pollute our source of drinking water.
19. Cedar Elm – Ulmus crassifolia / Deciduous
A slender trunk with reddish-brown or grey bark with ridges and broken into thin looser scales, this elm is mostly found along rivers and creeks as it likes a wet footprint. The leaves have heavily serrated edges, are rough to the touch and notice that they are not symmetrical. The wood is brittle but still used for furniture, hubs and posts.
20. Broadleaf Wood Oats – Chasmanthium latifolium / Perennial
Often found in riparian zones, this grass is great for holding soils in place along waterways. It only likes growing in shady areas and thrives along rivers and streams. It is often used as an ornamental in gardens and on patios. It is the host larval plant for several species of butterflies and birds will use it for nesting material. The seeds are known to have been used by Native Americans for food.
21. Sugar Hackberry – Celtis laevigata / Deciduous
Often considered a “trash tree” by land owners because they are not long lived and can become brittle, often shedding limbs as they get older. Notice the smooth bark with what looks like warts on the surface. The fruit will ripen in late summer and provide food for at least 10 species of birds. It is also the host larval plant for several species of butterflies. The wood has been used for crates, flooring and sometimes furniture.
22. Snag Dead Tree
Snags have great value for wildlife. The insects it harbors are a food source for birds and mammals alike. The voids or holes become homes for all kinds of creatures including possums, squirrels, and birds. When it finally falls the decaying tree can become a nursery for many species of plants. Please leave snags in place if you have them on your land unless you think it may damage a structure when it eventually falls.
23. Zexmenia – Zexmenia hispida / Perennial
Forming bushy clumps 1- 2 1/2’ high, this member of the composite family is drought tolerant and mainly found in the southern part of the Edwards Plateau. The leaves are rough so browsers don’t eat it. The flowers are yellow-orange and it will bloom from May through September. It attracts butterflies and other pollinators.
24. Big Blue Stem – Schizachyrium scoparium / Perennial
This is one of the “big four” grasses that make up a tall grass prairie. It provides nutritious grazing and helped support the large herds of bison the roamed the Great Plains. The roots are as deep as the crown and are beneficial to rainwater infiltration into the ground as well as holding valuable top soil in place. An indicator of a healthy rangeland is an abundance of this and the other prairie grasses.
25. Elbow Bush – Forestiera pubescens Oleaceae / Perennial
An irregular bush or small tree up to about 15’ tall, often forming thickets, it can be found in open woods and near streams. It can be recognized by the downward bow curve of the branches. Some have an elbow-like bend – thus the name, It provides important cover for many birds and other wildlife. The fruit is eaten by mammals and birds alike. You can chew the fruit with regular chewing gum to create bubble gum.
26. Pearl Milkweed Vine – Matelea reticulata asclepiadaceae
This is a twining vine often found in open woodlands, along fencerows and sometimes forming thickets. The flowers have 5 stiff petals covered with netlike veins joining to make a star shape with a small pearly dot in the middle of the star. It is a host plant for monarch butterfly larvae. Like all milkweeds the sap contains an alkaloid that renders the caterpillar and adult butterfly poisonous to birds, protecting them from predation.
Coming up the hill from the creek bed we encounter Hill Country rangeland. This area used to be an oak savannah with tall grasses and mots of oak trees scattered around. After years of cattle grazing the area has been changed and we see mainly successional grasses and wildflowers. The area does have a diverse plant population and does support wildlife native to the area. See how many different flowering plants you can identify. Enjoy the hike back to the Inn.
28. Post Oak – Quercus stellata / Deciduous
This tree is fairly common in the Texas hill country and can reach a height of 75’ or more. Leaves are deeply lobed and will be 4”-7” long and 3”-4” wide. The acorns ripen in early fall and provide forage for deer, squirrels, wild turkey, and javelina. The wood is very dense weighing about 52 lbs. per cubic foot. It is used for furniture, railroad crossties and fence posts.
29. Agave Century Plant / Agave Americana
This native of Texas and Mexico will stand 4’-6’ tall and send up a flower stalk over 20’ tall. Mexican villagers rely on the sap from this plant as a source for a refreshing beverage called aguamiel. When aguamiel is fermented it will produce an intoxicating drink that was very important to rituals of ancient cultures. Later the Spaniards figured out how to distill this into tequila and mescal. The stalks are useful for building materials, fishing poles and the fibers are used to make nets, bags cloth, paper and saddle blankets.