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Chester Rowell

INTERVIEWEE: Chester Rowell (CR)
DATE: March 31, 2001
LOCATION: Marfa, Texas
REEL: 2142 and 2143

Please note that the video includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers refer to time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” indicates background noise or off-camera conversation unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s March 31, year 2001, and we are in Marfa, Texas, at the home of Dr. Chester Rowell, who is a noted botanist and specialist in plants throughout Texas. And I wanted to thank you for taking the time to visit with us about his life.
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CR: I’m delighted.
DT: Well, thank you. We often start these interviews with a little discussion of your earlier estates and how there might have been influences in your childhood that could have introduced you to the natural world and conservation.
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CR: Well, I was born at—at the Graphite Mines in Burnett, Texas, which is now under (inaudible). They’re no longer, available. And then we spent—most of the time I was in Austin, growing up. But my first botanical—I guess my first botanical memory was—I was pulling up a plant and it popped and I sat down on a bunch of prickly pear and I had to—mother had to work on me for some time. It was a transcansia, I found out since, that—that I did on that. But when I was living in Austin, the next-door neighbor was (inaudible) and he and I started raising succulents and cacti. And so he introduced me to that and to classical music, which I enjoy. And when we went to college, why, I went into biology and (inaudible) said, you can’t make a living in biology. So he got his degree in geology. And has spent his whole life as a projectionist at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. So, he didn’t—it was after he retired that—that I got him back into botany. And he’s still a very close friend. So, I mean, with that…
DT: In those early days when you were growing succulents, did you have a garden, did you build a greenhouse? How did you do it?
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CR: We just used the windows—we had—the place we were living in had a basement and we—we put our plants in the windows down there, or out in the yard. And, you know, Austin doesn’t have—doesn’t freeze very often, so we didn’t lose anything. But when I went to high school, I decided I was going to be a chemistry major. And—but I had a course in biology in high school and that was the inoculation. And my first paper was a listing, a discussion of the cacti of Texas, just from the literature. I was a high school senior. And at the Texas Academy of Science, Junior Division, I won state with my—my paper that year. And I was given the money for two semesters’ tuition at the University of Texas, which was fifty dollars. That was what the tuition was then. And, but anyway, then I went—got into the V5 program for—in the Navy, for flight program. And that’s how I got to college. I probably would not have been able to go to
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college without that. And after the first year, they had—it was so near the end of the war, they had enough pilots and they said, well, you’ve got a choice, you can either go home and maybe drafted, or go Deck Officer. And so obviously I just went for Deck Officer on the thing. But then, I got—was let go from the Navy, whatever it is—what do you call it?
DT: Furloughed? Discharged?
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CR: Discharged—discharged. There wasn’t any—I had enough credit points, you had so many points. I had enough points that at the end of the second year, I had enough for—to get out. So—but by then I had the G.I. Bill so I went ahead and finished my Bachelor’s Degree. And I was in a hurry. I did it in three years. I don’t know why I was in such a hurry, it was stupid, I took as many as twenty-five hours a semester. And that was dumb. And I got my commission when I—when I graduated.
DT: Were there teachers at the University of Texas who were sort of inspirational or helpful with your…?
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CR: B.C. Thorpe, old Dr. Thorpe, and Fred Barclay, were the two botanists that I got to know and I became assistant in the arbarium with—with Dr. Barclay.
DT: What sort of affect did they have on your life?
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CR: Well, they just kept my interest going and—and that’s why I went Taxonomy. So then I decided to go—I probably couldn’t make a living in botany as such, so I went to A & M and was going to major in horticulture, but I took assistantship at the Biology Department because it paid more. And after the first western horticulture, I had a course in common vegetable crops. And not only was it boring, it was botanically inaccurate. And I was naïve enough to tell the professor when he was wrong. So at the end of the semester I went in to see him and he says, you’ve come to tell me that you’re going to go back into biology didn’t you? And I said yes. And we were very close friends the rest of his life. So I went into biology and got my Masters in Taxonomy, with—with the Taxonomist who was there at the time. Who also had something to do with—with. my teaching approaches, I liked his teaching approaches. It was John Sperry. And so then I
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was a graduate assistant for two years and then I taught at A & M for eight more years. And then I realized that I’d have to share Taxonomy if I stayed there, and I had the chance to go to Tech, and the Taxonomist was—was retiring. And so I—I moved up to Tech and—and…
DT: Texas Tech?
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CR: Uh huh. And the Taxonomist there—I was—he was supposed to retire at the end of the year and he died of a heart attack about midway through the semester. And so I took over the taxonomy right in the middle of the semester. And then I stayed there until Angeles State was setting up a graduate program. And they took two of us, Jerry Brown, our UN, who’s somebody you ought to talk to too, by the way. And—and I went in to set up the graduate program. And then after a while, Jerry had to leave and then I became department head for nine years. That was as long as I could stand it. And then I stayed about, what, four years after I got out of the headship, before I retired. So…
DT: Could you tell us something about the botany that you’ve studied over the years?
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CR: Well, my Master’s thesis was on bogs in—in East Texas. Sphagnum box. There’s some minable bog over there, near Lincoln and near Palestine.
DT: Minable for peat?
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CR: Peat uh huh, but mine was a—a living bog, the one that I studied. And…
DT: What drew your interest to the bogs of East Texas?
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CR: I don’t know. I guess (inaudible) had taken us to one bog earlier and I wanted a Master’s program that was in the field. And Dr. Sperry really wanted me to do a key to the seedlings of plants, but that didn’t interest me at all. And so I—I—I did that bog study in Robertson County. And…
DT: Can you describe what one of these bogs might look like to those…?
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CR: Well, it’s—it’s sort of a meandering small stream that’s been blocked for some reason and it—it begins to accumulate. It doesn’t drain. And it—it becomes acid and that stops bacterial action so that the organic material accumulates. And—and that’s how it pe—peat is formed in the long run. And…
DT: Are there many of these bogs, or are they quite rare?
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CR: They’re pretty rare in Texas. Not totally, but pretty rare. An—but they’re mo—in the Northeast and so forth, the—where we get our cranberries are from sphagnum bogs bogs. And they often have a mat about two feet thick over water and you walk on it and it bounces. It’s like walking on jello. And I know I had a brand new camera one time and I was bouncing up and down on it and I went through. And before I got out of it, I—my shutter had rusted to, it wouldn’t—wouldn’t work any longer on the thing. The good thing is the no—snakes did not like the acid bog, so we didn’t have to worry about snakes. But that was my Master’s thesis.
DT: Had the bogs been affected by any human activities?
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CR: Oh yes. Yes. They’re either drained, well mostly they’re drained. That bog, for example, was completely drained and I went back twenty years later and it—it was almost completely gone. It—it—the guy didn’t want his cattle to get stuck in it, so he had it mechanically opened up so that it drained. And it just—succession occurs. It’s a good example of succession. It’s surrounded by oak trees and in the sand hills. It’s usually in the sandy situation with an impermeable be—lay—layer underneath. And given time, why, it’ll fill up and—and become like the rest of the area. It’s always a classic example of succession. And so the ones that I—that one that I studied, it’s no longer a bog. And…
DT: Are the playas that you studied similar or quite distinct?
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CR: They’re different. You know, the playas—their not sure where they originated from. Either—some people thought they were old buffalo wallows, but it more seems like there’s been a dis—dissolution, a dissolving of something underneath and its—they’re shallow, you know? They’re—sometimes they’re very large. Big as a city block, but they’re very shallow. And, but they don’t have an outlet, so that through the years, the in wash brings in material and it salts, and so it changes the pH. And so it’s got a very distinctive flora. And the ranchers like it—liked it because—they called it lake grass—it was actually a sedge, that would grow, and—and during the really bad periods, drought periods, that was—lake grass was about all the cattle had to eat.
DT: And this is on the High Plains?
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CR: In the High Plains. And if you fly over Lubbock, for example, that area—you can see them scattered all over, little round lakes. And then the ag—ag—ag majors decided that it would hold more water if they would dig them out. And so they did and it did save more water, but it—it ruined the—the vegetation, and it was also a significant source for migrating birds to land in.
DT: Cranes, ducks?
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CR: Cranes and ducks and all those things that migrate north and south. And so after they modified so many of them, they didn’t have a place to land any longer and so, that was de—negative. And so…
DT: I’m curious, what was their reaction, the extension agents or advisors had when they saw their advice when they saw that their advice didn’t really pan out as they had hoped?
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CR: Sometimes they’re pretty slow about realizing something like that. They continued to recommend it. Unfortunately but—as far as I’m concerned anyway. But there have been some additional studies of the playas. I know we had one—a small paper and a symposium on playas long after I left—left there. But it’s—it’s a very distinctive area.
DT: I understand you’ve also written about the flowerings plants and ferns of coastal Bend County?
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CR: Oh, yeah. That was Welder Wildlife Foundation.
DT: Tell us about what were there.
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CR: Rob and Bessie Welder, was the old ranchers that set up this—this wildlife refuge and when they first set it up, why, I came down there every—nearly every weekend from A & M. And uh…
DT: This is in Sinton?
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CR: Uh huh. In Sinton. I’d get off—I usually had lab until five and I’d get up—usually I’d take one or two kids with me and we’d go down there and spend the weekend collecting. And—and they—and then—then we published it. There was a—a—a man in—in Corpus Christi, Fred Jones, that was an amateur botanist. And he had begun work on the—on the coastal bend. And so I invited him to join me on the thing, when we got ready to publish. And then I transferred up to—to Tech, so I had Marshall Johnson finish things off be—some of my specimens where I didn’t have access to it. When I first went to Tech, the herbarium—herbarium consisted of—after I went through and saved what I could save of sixteen specimens, and I think we had about seventy thousand when I left. And it was the same thing when I went to Angelo State. They had just—just a few specimens and—and I had nice herbarium, about thirty-five thousand seeds. Me and my students.
DT: Tell us about herbarium, what’s the purpose and how do you collect for them?
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CR: It’s a reference library of real specimens. You collect them and dry them and then mount them on—on hundred percent rag bond. I’ve—I’ve looked at specimens; I’ve actually touched a specimen that Lineas collected that, (inaudible) professor when he was studying (inaudible) borrowed one of his collections from the 1700’s.
DT: They last that long?
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CR: Yeah. And then you file them. Either alphabetically by family or evolutionarily by family. And—and then alphabetically by genus and so forth. And it’s just a reference library. It’s real—and now they find that they can use that for DNA materials if they want to do that. That’s why a lot of the work that’s being done now is not—it’s not fieldwork, it’s being done just by—we call them kleptotypes. Taking a little bit of the specimen and doing a DNA analysis on it. Like kleptomania? Stolen set, yeah. Because they have type specimens—in Taxonomy you have type specimens. You—you name a spe—particular collection as the type for when you describe a new species. And—so you have—that’s the—the holo type. And then if it gets lost, you can have electo-type where you choose one. So then we facetiously say, kleptotype for those things that people just had to have a little bit of the specimen. And—but anyway, they’re—they’re very, very valuable and are—are being used—I guess U.T. Austin—well, I don’t know. Maybe Brit has the—the largest herbarium now.
DT: That’s at SMU?
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CR: Uh huh. Was SMU, it’s in Fort Worth now. Separate thing. Lloyd Shinners was—was the Taxonomist there when I was working at—at A & M and at Tech. And he was a Canadian botanist. A fantastic guy. And he—he set up the herbarium at (inaudible), I mean, at—at—well it went—it became Brits. Yeah, it was SMU. Then I guess the second biggest collection is U.T. Austin. And then there are a whole bunch of smaller ones after that.
DT: You mentioned that you helped build up a lot of these herbaria by going on field trips to collect specimens.
DT: Can you tell us about some of these field trips?
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CR: Well once—the first group to Mexico, every summer, when I was at A & M, we took wildlife majors between their junior and senior years, we went down and camped out for six months—six weeks, six weeks. And that’s where I learned my Spanish because I had to go and—in and buy food for us, you know, and sometimes to get the kids out of a little bit of trouble. Or to explain when we had visitors, you know, to come by. And so my Spanish is—is a usable Spanish, like they use in Mexico. Which is the third worst Spanish in the world. Costa Rica is next and Cuba is worst. As far as the—the Spanish people—people say. But anyway, we went down and—and stayed six weeks and camped out all together and the kids would work half of the time with me in my camp on botany, and the other half of the time with—with (inaudible) Doc Davis, the birds and—and mammals. Then half way through we’d change—change the kids in that, then we’d get the other set. And all my collections in my first set went to A & M and their collections, and the second set went to SMU. All—all the way through my second set, usually collected in—in triplicates, and sometimes quadruplicates, but my second set always went to SMU.
DT: And where were you in Mexico?
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CR: Well, let’s see, we worked in Guerrero, the Mex—the state of Guerrero.
DT: This is in Taxco, that area?
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CR: Uh huh. And we—–and—and the state of Mexico, which surrounds the District of Federal. And, in fact, the only publish—publication I had was, I checked leafed plants from the state of Mexico. And we camped all over, you know, and—and on the way down when it was time to stop in the evening, we’d just pull over to the side of the road and set up our cots and spend the night. And we were never molested at all. But I wouldn’t do it now for all the money in the world, you know? It’s no longer safe to do that sort of thing. But we—we—some of our camps went above nine thousand feet and some were down there near sea level. And—and we just gave the kids—it was so nice because as I told you earlier, you can sneak in knowledge without their knowing it, thinking they’re having fun when they’re in a field trip.
DT: How do you mean?
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CR: Well, it’s just—when they’re all interested in collecting, you just talk along and they remember what—what you tell them. And then after I went to Tech, we had—after the Sputnik, the government supported summer institutes for high school teachers and I would take these high school teachers in a chartered bus to Mexico for a week. And I had a lot more trouble with those teachers getting into trouble than I ever had with the—with the agi’s. They—they—they just knew what to do and they didn’t—and they’d eat the wrong kind of food and get sick or get into some problems. I had one girl—we stayed in a motel, and it said in English, Shallow, Do Not Dive. And she dove in, split her head open. And she said, well no Mexican doctor is going to work on me. I said
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fine, just bleed to death, as far as I was concerned, you know? Her own head, this is racist, you can cut things out can’t you? I had two Negro students one time and we—we—I gave them the weekend off in Monterrey, and about three in the morning, there was hammering on my door and one of them came over and wanted some money. They’d been to a whorehouse and they kept one as a hostage and sent the—sent the other one in to get money to get out of the—let them go out of the whorehouse. They’d—they had a box of candy they didn’t know existed. But—so we went down there like that and then since then, I—I usually Spring Break, I—I nearly always took somebody to—deep into Mexico, nearly—nearly to Mexico City, usually.
DT: What would be a full day of sampling for plants?
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CR: Well, if we camped out, you know, we’d get up pretty early and we’d collect and go along and put them in presses. You know, you have to put them in a plant press to dry. And we’d usually work most of the day. The—the first summer after I graduated I went down with Dr. Fred Barclay, and Gray Webster and I, and we’d collect from almost daylight to dark. And we’d get in, why Dr. Barclay would make us put all the plants to press before we could go eat that night. So we collected a heck of a lot in that first six weeks.
DT: And these were plants, and some of them were from the high desert and some of them from tropical regions?
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CR: Oh yeah, yeah.
DT: Can you describe the range of what you found?
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CR: Well, we even—with—with the A & M group, we collected in a cloud forest. In fact, the first plant that was ever named after me was a collection I made in the—in the cloud forest in the State of Guerrero, up from Chilpancingo. And it was, of course, wet all the time and Doc Davis would take his group somewhere else and then I’d have mine. And it got to where the—our plants were molding and we couldn’t—we’d build fires and put our plant presses over them to dry and keep them from molding. And finally I said, we’ve had enough, and we had three-quarter ton pic—a truck, that our gear was in, and I said let’s load up and go. So we broke our tents and we all got in and I’d never driven a truck like that before with that kind of shift on it. And we were about eight thousand feet and we went down nearly to sea level. And we went through the first little town, I
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noticed that all the people yelling and waving, and I thought, isn’t that nice? And I yelled and waved at them. But I came too close to the truck and knocked the wall down of one of the little houses as I went through town. But—it was—it was—really was fun, really is. And interestingly, I still have friends among those early groups. We have one group that we get together every three years now from the ’50, ’51, and ’52—there’s six of us left, seven. And we get together and have a reunion in some part of the state. They’re coming here next year.
DT: Have you been able to have your reunions or be able to visit these parts of Mexico that you sampled in? I’m curious how they may have changed since then.
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CR: Well, one bad example is in the state of Tamaulipas. It used to be a solid massive forest of palms.
DT: Is this south of Brownsville?
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CR: Yeah, Cuidad Victoria—between Cuidad Victoria and—and Cuidad Vayas I guess, yeah. And it was one of the most beautiful primal forest with—with the birds and everything characteristic of these—these palms. They’re—they’re native palms. And since they have all been torn up and made into sugar cane fields. And completely changed that. Mexico is even worse than we have been as far as destruction of the natural habitat.
DT: Have you noticed any logging in the cloud forest?
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CR: It was going on then. I remember we decided that—that we needed to photograph a tree fern so I let the kids clean out, very carefully, clean out around the tree fern so we could photograph it. And then we started walking back different route into camp and we found a narrow gauge railroad where they’d used tree fern stems for the crossties in the railroad. And was a real loss. They’re, you know, they’re good size trees. And so, yes. They’ve changed a lot. The—the El Salto Falls, which is in—in Tamaulipas too, (inaudible), they run together there. And there’s one of the most beautiful falls in the world. And they have since diverted that through a hydroelectric plant so only in the summer when the—the monsoon rains come do the falls run anymore because all the water’s diverted through the generating plant, which of course, they needed electricity too. So they’ve modified that a lot.
DT: You said you also collected in the coastal prairies new Corpus Christi.
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CR: Yeah.
DT: Have you noticed changes there?
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CR: I don’t think there’s been much change since I’ve been going because whatever damage or change had taken place, I think had already taken place. There are few refugees, and of course this Welder area. Once they took the—reduced the livestock on that ranch, why the vegetation changed. It became more diverse again. The stuff was already there, it just—it’d been eaten before.
DT: What is the impact concern about livestock on vegetation?
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CR: It—it depends on what is being done. If—cattle don’t do much damage. They’re probably the equivalent to buffalo. Horses are terrible because they—they don’t bite it off, they pull it up from the ground. And then sheep and goats are far worse.
DT: In what way?
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CR: They just eat everything and—and—and in order to make a living from either sheep or goats, you have to grossly overstock. And it just—it’s just—well I’d say it goes from cows to horses to sheep to goats to the Federal Government. That’s about the way it goes. There’s noth—after the goats gets through with it, there’s nothing that can be done with it for a long time. Out—down here in the desert, the early—some of the early accounts talk about grasses being as high as a horse’s belly. This is simply wasn’t the case. There were a few mesas where it might have been, but the desert scrub—well, the black gap had been grazed heavily, and after the state took it over, they cut way back on—on the grazing. Almost eliminated it. They were—some cows and burros came across the river. But since I started—I was there—we stayed up—what we were going to study on the black gap, I was on the committees that set it up when we first got here. And we stayed up transects, vegetation analysis. Do you know what a transect is?
DT: Um hm. A survey line, isn’t it?
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CR: Yeah. And I’ve been watching those for thirty-five years. And the first thing that happened—there were a bunch of wheatie grasses and things came in after they took the grazing off. But in time, they’ve gone back to a stand of scrubs. It’s desert scrub. It’s just—it can’t support grasses. But the rule of thumb is, ten inches of rain a year or less, it’s going to be a desert. Ten to thirty, it’s going to be grassland. And above thirty, you are going to get into trees and so forth. But in—in the—in the desert down there, when they take the pressure off from it, it doesn’t become a grassland at that level.
DT: Can you tell a little bit about your experiences in the desert and the areas with less than ten inches?
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CR: Well, the black gap is a good example, because I followed it all these years. In fact, we—we have a paper, my major paper that we’ve done on those transects but we’ve left it up to the statistician to finish it off. And—and it sat there for five years while he got—takes care of other problems and becomes department head in a—in a range department. So that—that—that’s going to be a good paper, if we ever get him to do his side of it.
DT: I’ve heard people say the desert can be a very deceptively and distinctively rich area because there isn’t as much competition among plants. Is that…?
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CR: No, it’s the other way around. There’s great competition from pl—you’ve seen the creosol bush area, you’ll see them when you go to the park. They look like somebody went out there and planted them three feet apart all the way. Well, that’s—that’s simply—they have a chemical in their leaves that leeches out when there is a rain and inhibits germination of any kind of seeds in their immediate area.
DT: Like a natural herbicide?
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CR: Yeah, it’s a natural herbicide in the thing. And so that’s how they eliminate. There are a number of different ways that desert plants compete and that’s one of the ways they do. I have a whole talk that I give on how do they do it and—and I talk about how plants have adapted to the desert. They—and there’s some major changes that they have both inhibitors like that and morphological changes.
DT: Such as?
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CR: That—thick epidermis, food—water storage tissue. Lots of the plants—well, you’ve seen the story where John Wayne come up to this big cactus and lopped off the top of it, you know, and take out his cup, which is carried it all the time, and—and reach in there get a drink of water and save his life. In the first place, John Wayne couldn’t lop off the top of the cactus. It’s very woody inside. And two, in about two days there would be an accumulation of liquid, but you wouldn’t need a cup because it’s so slimy, you could drink it like a long spaghetti string, but the taste is so god awful that you—you’d prefer to starve to—to starve—die of thirst than—than to eat the stuff. That’s just a—just
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a bunch of stuff. But they have—well the (inaudible), the breathing pores in many of the desert plants are sunk into the—into the stems so that they’re removed from direct wind movement, which increases transpiration, which they’ve got to serve them. Or they have—they’re covered with spines that slows down the wind movement. Or scales and hairs that slow down the wind movement. And—well, they’re—they’re basically three different ways in which they—and others is their growth habit. They’re usually low and so they’re—they’re not subject—subject to the wind to the same degree.
DT: So they don’t (inaudible) moisture?
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CR: Uh huh. Or they occur in clumps. And you know how cows, when there is a cold norther going through, how they kind of clump together to keep warm? Well the plants grow in clumps like that and that, again, reduces air movement so that they—they don’t lose as much water. And then a lot of them have underground parts where the body of the plant is—is protected by being under ground. Like the Living Rock Cactus, and so forth.
DT: I don’t know that one.
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CR: You don’t know that one?
DT: No.
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CR: I’ve got them growing out there in the—in the green house.
DT: And what is distinctive about them?
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CR: Most of it’s below ground. It may have a thing this big below ground and about that much up above in the thing. And—so the—the habit is—and of course, then another thing is they’re—there’re always some ecological niches that are more moist. Like a crack in a rock, where the moisture will ro—will roll into that crack and you—if you took a—a—a vegetative line through that it would be very dense because there are just lots of plants there that are taking advantage of the soil and the water, and two inches either way, there’s nothing. Because there’s nothing—there’s no water. And then slope, is important too. Which side of the mountain they’re one depends on—just outside from Alpine you can see on the one side there, their pine, pinion pine woodlands, but on the side that gets the—the hottest sun, it’s grassland. And it just—you know, you go over a hump and seeing as it’s a slump, why, it’s a matter of just two or three feet. A total difference in vegetation. So, they have all kinds of—of modifications to live in the desert.
DT: Have you seen similar or unusual adaptations among plants in other ecosystems?
0:39:51 – 2142
CR: Well, for example, in the bogs, those plants that live there can—can stand the acid conditions. The pH is as low as three in some of those bogs. And they’re plants that—that can tolerate high acid conditions. And down in the desert, I mean, along the coast, it’s the same thing. Because the salt water is like being in a desert. And many of the adaptations you see in plants along the Gulf Coast where the water is salty is the same that you see in the desert. It’s just that the water is tied up being—by being salty and unavailable to them. Or they take in enough salt so that they have the diffusion rate—you know—the diffusion goes from a high concentration to a low concentration. So if they can have more salt inside than outside, then they can take in water. So that’s—if you’ve ever chewed on any kind of plant along the coast, why, it’s always really salty. Or nearly always really salty.
DT: Have you seen similar adaptations in the cloud forest and how they can adapt to, getting used to that?
0:41:05 – 2142
CR: Yeah, they’ve got, for example, drip tips on the leaves. You can see that on these here, see how they come to a point? These—these came from the rain forest, from—and they—they will—the leaves are oriented in such a way that the—the excessive rainfall is dripped away from their root stocks on the thing. And, of course, in a cloud forest and in a rain forest, the canopy is so dense that there’s not much undergrowth because there’s not enough light for it. And that’s when they have the lianas that climb up the—the trees to get where there is light.
DT: Is that a vine?
0:41:45 – 2142
CR: Uh huh. So yes, everywhere you go—plants are pretty dad gum smart. I mean, they really—really have the adaptations to the habitat.
DT: I understand that you’ve been involved in efforts to recognize some of the rarest plants and give them some protection. Can you talk about your work with T.O.E.S. and the Nature Conservancy?
0:42:12 – 2142
CR: There was, interestingly, most of the people that we started T.O.E.S….
DT: What does that stand for?
0:42:21 – 2142
CR: Texas Organization for Endangered Species. And that was in the ‘70’s, I guess, when we first started that. And a lot of it was zoologists that knew the—the significance of the—of endangered species as well as some botanists. And we first started getting together when everybody was supposed to find—bring their list of their species that they thought were endangered. And, of course, everybody had a monstrous list because they—if something was rare in their part of the country, they considered it endangered. And it may be a hundred miles away that it’s abundant. So our first list was outrageously big. And then we began to pare it down to—and still they do some things which are, I call, peripheral species that are just barely in—into the area, into the state. There’s a
0:43:20 – 2142
couple of (inaudible) that are considered very rare. And they are rare in Texas but you go over in—into Mexico, they’re all over the place. And, more often than not, an endangered species mainly means that there haven’t been biologists there to see them. I had some kids do their graduate—master’s theses on what were considered endangered species and after they really did the fieldwork and found out, why, it was obvious that they didn’t.
DT: Do you think there has been a diversity of decline, or do you think…?
0:44:01 – 2142
CR: Oh, I think there has been yeah. Yeah. Again, I suspect urban sprawl is more—more significant than—than any grazing or other misuse of land. We just—we just keep expanding and expanding and—and once you to build up a city, why, that’s the end of the natural vegetation. When I was teaching at A & M and I needed plants to study, I didn’t have to go a half a mile to get plenty of different plants for us to study. And now you’d have to go fifty miles.
DT: Because of the development of homes?
0:44:39 – 2142
CR: Uh huh. Uh huh. And there’s just damn too many people. That’s what it is. Exactly.
DT: Do you think that’s the central environmental problem?
0:44:49 – 2142
CR: Now certainly it is. I’m going to shift on you. I need to sit up for while. My back gets tired. Yeah. That’s by—there—he’s on again. Yep, the…
DT: Could you add a little bit more to what you were saying about the population’s impact on vegetation?
0:45:08 – 2142
CR: Well, for—for example, and—in this area, the original ranchers didn’t allow much growth and the town was kept small. And the same is true of Alpine. But after they died and the heirs began to break it up into smaller pieces so they’d—and they’d sell it out for development and so forth, then the sprawl has taken place and so there’s—there’s a loss of a lot of vegetation there. The—the more exciting vegetation in the upland regions here—this—at this level, this—this is—is short desert grassland. And that’s true until you drop off down around Shafter. But in the higher elevations, they’ve done some lumbering but the pinion is—is the dominate one until you get above—above six
0:46:06 – 2142
thousand, two hundred feet. Then you do end—get into something equivalent of ponderosa pine. And so there—there’d been a little lumbering there. And then the higher elevations, we do have spruce and fir in the higher elevations, in the Chisos and the Davis Mountains and in the Guadalupes. And there are good preserved areas in the Guadalupes now, the Guadalupe National Park. The Big Bend, the—the—the best part of the Chisos are protected by—it’s interesting, the Feds do a far—far better job of protecting and conserving than the state does.
DT: In what way?
0:46:56 – 2142
CR: I don’t know. The state tends to, I guess, over care for things. And I don’t know—for example, the Christmas Mountains were owned by an M.D. and he says, I’ll give it to the state as long as the Parks and Wildlife Division has nothing to do with it. So it’s being managed by the G—GL—General Land Office, GLO. And that’s not always true, but it—it often is. Elephant Mountain was over—grossly over grazed and when they first got a hold of it, I—oh, I did set up a herbarium there too, I forgot, at the Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area. But then they—they brought in the big horn sheep and their population has gotten pretty big now so it’s making an—an effect anyway. On top of Elephant Mountain I found a little aquatic plant there, some—some of the old lava flows there, some summer rain pools and there’s a little member of the snapdragon family there that is new to the state that had never been collected in the state before. And I haven’t published it yet. I should have, but I haven’t.
DT: Could you talk about some of the relic species that are found in some of these outlying…?
0:48:23 – 2142
CR: Oh, in these—these protected areas. There you have what was probably like during the—during the Ice Age.
DT: How so?
0:48:30 – 142
CR: Well you’ve got maple trees and the other shrubs, wild plums and stuff. And these protected valleys that are still there after the—after the change from the Ice Age.
DT: Why have they persisted?
0:48:46 – 2142
CR: The—the—the deep canyons create a refugium. They don’t dry out as much or they’re—they’re live springs, li—live creeks. This is true all over the Southwest.
DT: At one time it was wetter out here than it is now?
0:49:03 – 2142
CR: Oh yeah, yeah. During the Ice Age. The—the Playa Lakes that—that are around Lovell—we had, when I was there, a couple of guys in—in geology that was studying the pollen and—and the—in the Playa Lakes and what it was like. And we dug up sages that no longer grow there and we found the pollen of a lot of things that—that are no longer there, that—with—with the climatic change. But they’re in ice areas, not and—nearly everywhere you go, there’s somebody knows where there is a good, protected area, you know. McKittrick Canyon is famous, up in the Guadalupes. And, for example there, I was with a group that released the wild turkey, re-released them there. They had all been shot out, but they—they took over and—and reestablished a good population up there. So those things have been good. But overall the state and Federal Government, between
0:50:15 – 2142
them, have managed to get pretty good sites of most of the regions protected. Grasslands, there’s some good grasslands refuges. Buffalo grass, solid buffalo grass pa—pastures, well not pastures but grasslands that are still protected. I’m trying to think of the lady that has been important in setting those things up. I can’t think of her name now. And Dorothy Mattiza. You know, when I was—I was on the board of governors of the—of the Nature Conservancy for two terms and she had put her ranch up as a possible site for them to have after she died. And so they sent me out to evaluate the land. That’s how I met Dorothy. And since then, she’s been disappointed. The Nature Conservancy is more
0:51:18 – 2142
interested in the money than in the conservancy accent. And there’s a state one run by Fritz—Ned Fritz, a lawyer, that he runs an organization that—that does a better job of protection than I think Mother—Northeast Mother’s Ranch, in part, was given to them, and I think Dorothy will give it—hers is just a small eight hundred acre ranch.
DT: Is it NAPA?
0:51:48 – 2142
CR: Uh huh. Yeah. Uh huh.
DT: Natural Areas Preservation Association?
0:51:50 – 2142
CR: Yeah. And you know there’s also a thing called the Natural—Natural Laboratories of Texas run by a lady in Austin that I was on their board for I don’t know how long. I’m not any longer.
DT: And, what did they do?
0:52:06 – 2142
CR: They arranged with ranchers that—to—to allow investigators, either classes or individual investigators to go on their land. And here we’ve had some people, particularly in Parks Division, that have crossed over fences and—and found so called endangered species without permission. And they simply will not put up with anybody doing that. Now that was one place where Barton (inaudible) was very good because his friendly approach, they let him on any—practically any land. And…
DT: Can you talk a little about that? I know that Take Back Texas, the private property rights, are strong out west.
0:53:03 – 2142
CR: They really are, on the thing. The—I’m chairman of their Board of Science, which has never met. But I thought working inside is the best way to see what they’re doing. But their—their property owners, almost all of them have inherited land, which they didn’t—they didn’t make on their own, they—they inherited it. And they’re wildly opposed to—to the Government, to endangered species, the Government—anybody coming on their land. So they’ve—fortunately I’ve got good contacts so I can get on a lot of the ranches. But others, they simply—there’s one girl in the—in the Wildlife Department that is persona non grata in any ranch out here and the boy scout ranch over at (inaudible), she’s been told not to ever step foot on it again. And she went across fences that should not have gone across without permission. And then—then published it as an endangered species. This is funny, there’s a little (inaudible), which is a submerged aquatic, and there’s (inaudible). It’s—it’s pretty rare. But it also looks like (inaudible). And her specimens that she got and published on were—were actually the wrong species and it does occur on the boy scout ranch in—in a couple or three places. And—and I can go there, but she can never go—step foot in there.
DT: What is it that the landowners fear, do you think?
0:54:57 – 2142
CR: Government control. Do you remember that they were the—they controlled everything out there for so long. I mean, the government was theirs, the county, city government, all was under their control. And now there’s a lot of people moving in and they no longer completely control this area because of—because of democratic set up. And so they’re—they’re—they’re—they’re protective of their interests. And they say, well we do a better job of protecting our land than the state and Federal Government do. And that’s not always the case. Sometime it is. There’s the Whites that have the—the old big ranch out—out toward Marathon. They do a pretty good job of—of protecting their lands. They have the upper—have you heard of Capote Falls?
DT: No.
0:55:56 – 2142
CR: It’s—it’s the prettiest falls in Texas, the biggest falls in Texas. It’s up from Candelaria, Candelaria. And they own the—the land above where the water forms. And those—there’s an old M.D.—I’ll see if I can think of his name. And he collects waterfalls, I’m sorry.
0:56:19 – 2142
CR: Yeah, here we go, him. This M.D. collects waterfalls and he’s bought up about six of the waterfalls in Texas. And he owns the—the Capote Falls out here, above Candelaria. And he has Dripping Springs, I think, in Central Texas. And I think he has about six—six waterfalls, if he has—and I don’t know, he—he protects him.
DT: What do you think distinguishes a land owner who manages his land, or her land, well and one who does not?
0:57:00 – 2142
CR: Pride. And their heritage, I think. And education. But nearly every one of these ranchers out here has been educated. When—when I was doing field work in East Texas and I’d stop along the road and collect, and the—the farmer would come up, or the rancher and he’d say, what are you doing? And I’d say, well I’m studying these plants. And he’d say, well what’s it worth? And I said, they’re just interesting. And they’d say, well, get the hell off my ranch or my land, even the roadside. And then when I went to Tech and I would be on the edge of a ranch or something, and the rancher would come by and would say, what are you doing, and I’d say, well, I’m just studying these plants, and they’d say really? Get in the pick-up, I’ve got something I want to show you. And that was the real difference. One of the major reasons is why I went to Tech, because the approach the ranchers was better than…
DT: What made the difference?
0:58:04 – 2142
CR: Education. They’re all strong for education. A lot of them—nearly—nearly all of them have degrees. And pride, pride in their heritage. I don’t know, but it’s a—it’s a major difference. It really is and which has made working out here so much more fun. And, you know, the desert is—people drive through and say what a barren thing it is, but diversity-wise, it’s—it’s greater than any of East Texas. More species per unit area, probably by a factor of four, as opposed to East Texas.
DT: Why is there more diversity here?
0:58:47 – 2142
CR: Well, there is a topographic difference, slight rainfall differences. And we talked about crevices and—and there’s some species that always grow on the sides of cliffs. There’s some species that grow under great big boulders. But it’s a specialized habitat that enables the different species to—to get along. And the desert is, you know, if you’ll just stop and look, it’s really—really diver—diverse and beautiful.
DT: Could you tell us about some of the people who you introduced to the desert?
0:59:31 – 2142
CR: Oh well, I—I—I used to, before I got sick, I talked to these elder hostels—every year I’d—I’d have talked to two or three of them and introduced it to it. And then—well, various groups have had me come and talk to them about what is a desert, or how do they do it. And I have another one that I got started on was the year that I was president of Southwest Association of Naturalists. At the end of the year you give your swan talks. And the guy before me was a—an etymologist from U.T. Austin and he described the earth as though the population was vehicles, cars. And he had a whole wonderful set of
1:00:25 – 2142
slides of—showing populations of cars, cars copulating, twins and—and all that sort of—it was just hilarious. So I figured the next year I had to beat him. So I put together what I called, How to spend a quiet evening at home with a potato. And I had extreme close-ups of potato parts, some of which are pornographic, you know. And we—I’d have them all, wherever I give it, I have them all hold a potato. And then I could make remarks to them now like, you know, feel the potato but don’t molest it, and things like that. It goes over pretty good. I’ve give—I’ve given it many times since that one talk. But that’s the way you get people’s interest going. And, you know, and the photography.
DT: Before we go onto the photography or anything else, we should change the tapes.
[End of Reel #142]

0:01:34 – 2143
CR: …even out here with satellite antennas, why we can keep—I can keep up with what’s going on all over the world, you know, via television. But you asked about my teaching, I started as a—as a teaching assistant for my masters at A & M and I liked it. And so then after the first two years when I got my masters, why I stayed there eight more years just teaching full time.
DT: What appealed to you about teaching?
0:02:06 – 2143
CR: It’s—it’s—it’s the few doors that you open. If you can—you can see their eyes bright up when they get interested. Like this young man that’s going to come by. He’s interested in plants now and photographs. And he had no background in that. It’s just—I say I’m just trying to open new doors for you to look into. And that’s what teaching is. And, to enjoy what you’re doing. And I—and I enjoy botany. I mean, and that’s fairly painfully obvious that—that it dominates my life. And so I—I can spread it that way. I—my lectures at Tech usually fill the auditorium, we—we had—size four hundred and ninety-nine. They wouldn’t let us—a new auditorium, they wouldn’t let us build a five hundred-seat auditorium because that gets out of the realm of a classroom. So our new
0:03:13 – 2143
auditorium at Tech had four hundred and ninety-nine seats in it. And I got to design the—the—the—the teaching aides there. I had three large screens behind me that I could control from the front and a projection room and a sound system and all. And I—I found that after I lowered the lights, sometimes kids would get up and walk out. And so I got me a—a spotlight, you know, a really potent one? And I’d see some moving out, well I’d turn on the light and follow them. You know, that stopped that right away. You didn’t have any—anymore of that.
DT: How did you get the people’s attention who didn’t get up and walk out?
0:04:03 – 2143
CR: I—I did all kinds of odd things. When it was—general biology, for example, we had communications, I had the art department build me a gorilla suit and I’d come in and be interviewed as a gorilla on—on communications. And—oh, I’d have things put up on the lights in the auditorium and right on seed dispersal, and just I got to the point about seeds dispersed to the air, I’d pull on these little black threads and they would just—seeds fall down all over everybody. And oh, occasionally I’d get somebody come in and yell or have a protest meeting, botany si, zoology no. Or something like that. I had a wonderful, after I went to Tech, my department head allowed me to do things like that and not many places would have allowed me to develop that way. And he’s still very dear to me for have—having allowed me to do it because I did things—we—I had—another friend that I taught with, another botanist, and I had this large class of about four hundred and some odd kids, and I had Paul come in and I said, you know, we’re running late this semester, this—this week, on the things. So I asked Dr. Prior to come in and help us catch up. So we both start lecturing and writing on the board at the same time. You know? And quickly the kids would say, okay, you do one and you do the other and they’re smart, you know? The kids are so much smarter than you think they are. And so—I—I—I got involved in all kinds of crazy things to get their attention. And while you have their attention, then you can sneak in some knowledge and so, it—it was fun.
DT: I understand that you not only taught in large lecture halls but on field trips. I wonder if you could comment on how things have changed over the years. It seems like a lot of natural science was formerly taught in the field, but it’s increasingly taught, or learned, in labs now. How would you explain that?
0:06:47 – 2143
CR: Well, it’s a lot easier for one thing, you know, to—to—to run a DNA analysis or chemical techniques where you can analyze what’s in there. And you just don’t have to go out and—and it’s not—you know, it’s—it’s pretty laborious to be in the field. It’s hot and it’s dry or wet. And it’s so much easier just to do the lab sort of thing. People are just not interested. There’s very little fieldwork going on anymore. And there’s, I think, a shame. And of course, the or—organismic levels, the organic—where you’re dealing with the whole organism, is much less frequent now than it was in the past because now you’re dealing with a part of an organism, with the cells, or—or subsystem, instead of the whole organism. And in the long run, I think that’s detrimental. But I admit to being prejudiced about it too. But it’s—it’s—it’s a lot different now. And also the kids are different. I think I retired just at the right time because the kids are coming out now, they—they—they—they’re really not interested in so much in their—and—and friends have disciplinary problems. Of course, we used to have that, I’d never had that because I made—the very first time I had a problem, it was settled then. And—and—and I didn’t have it anymore. But if you let kids take control, why, you’ve lost it. And I had one faculty member that he got sick and I took over his classes and the kids got up and walked around and—and visit during the class and get up and go in and out. And he just had no control of his class. And I got that stopped, but you—you can’t do it that way. But if you can get them interested, you don’t have to worry about discipline. So, do everything you can to—to get them interested.
DT: There’s another new direction of research that I’ve heard a little bit about and that’s genetic level research, engineering. And I was wondering as a Taxonomist who has been careful to delineate the differences between the species, what you think of this melding of species?
0:09:22 – 2143
CR: Well, this—this—this genetic engineering is simply a quick way of doing what we’ve done since time in memorial. We’ve selected a variety that we liked. We selected a—a—a mutant, or a change that we like and, for example, all the cole crops, COLE, or KOLE, cabbage and broccoli and all of those, came from one wild species in Europe. And through the years, they selected the ones that they wanted. So that’s how we got cauliflower and broccoli and one, I can’t think of it—we don’t eat much here, but they do in Europe, and about six different things that were selected for, and—and reselected and reselected, so they were changed. So what we’re doing now is just a more rapid way of doing it. There—these tomatoes out here are genetically engineered and they last—the shelf life is—is four times as long as the old tomatoes. You can get them and keep them two, three weeks out in the open and they’re still good. So that means they travel better. Most of these go north and to Chicago and New York and that area. We grow here because they travel well. They don’t get overripe too quick and it’s simply, it’s just—it’s same as selection. It’s just they speed it up a little bit. So…
DT: What do you think about genetic engineering when you are taking genetic material from one vial and putting it in another?
0:11:13 – 2143
CR: It, you know, I can see both the dangers and the advantages in it. But if you can put insect resistance into a crop, it would be a totally different crop just by transferring some genetic material. That would be great. One of the problems with being with corn, you know, that they have this new genetically engineered corn…
DT: (inaudible)
0:11:40 – 2143
CR: Uh huh. But the, I guess it’s the pollen from them is—is—will kill bees. Of course, that’s windblown. I can’t think exactly of the example that I had in mind.
DT: The Monarch Butterfly?
0:12:00 – 2143
CR: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s—yeah, that’s right. And some things like that. And that’s got to be careful. And—and this—this—this business of—of duplication of an individual, of cloning.
DT: What do you think of that?
0:12:19 – 143
CR: I don’t know, again, it could be misused, it could be advantageous. If you could clone a liver or a kidney or something and just grow it invitro, it would be wonderful for everybody that’s in line and needs a kidney or. Theoretically, any part could be grown. But—I don’t know, you know, we manage to screw up a lot of things once we start really messing with them. I—I don’t—I’m not at ease about cloning. Now they’re talking now, you know, that they’ve—they’re cloning humans. And that was inevitable. Once they found that they could do it but I don’t think it will be successful. They’ll get over it.
DT: Can you look into your crystal ball and look at other sort of conservation problems that may be facing some of the students that you taught over the years? And coming years?
0:13:27 – 2143
CR: Yeah, they’re all going to deal with the problems of global population. Worldwide. Here and everywhere else. That’s going to be depleting the natural recourses, possibly to a dangerous thing. And then we got into politicians that simply, in their own—to—to—to preserve their jobs are willing to do anything, like global war—global warming. There’s no question about that occurring. And yet we have certain politicians that think it needs to be studied more. Well, it’s been studied adequately, a long time. We know it’s there. And when we get a politician who has been bought, then he’s got to pay back the people that bought him. And that’s usually detrimental to the—to the environment more often than not. Like the changes that have occurred recently in—in emission controls, in arsenic in the water supply. It’s frightening what’s been done in the—this first hundred years of this administration—first a hundred days of this administration.
DT: Seems like years, doesn’t it?
0:14:42 – 2143
CR: Yes, it really does. It just—it—it really upsets me on the thing. And…
DT: Are there any environmental challenges that are more innate to West Texas, that aren’t as global, perhaps as the climate change? I know that groundwater and other issues…
0:15:02 – 2143
CR: Yeah, you see our groundwater here now, part of it’s been—been bought by El Paso. Out at Valentine, they bought a—a major ranch because of the water that’s underneath it and they plan to tap that water and feed it to El Paso, which now has almost a million people. And they’re going to be desperate for water very soon. And so it’s something—we do—we just now have formed sort of a water board and we’re going to fight that sort of thing.
DT: Is this the conservation district?
0:15:42 – 2143
CR: Yeah. And we had these two tomato factories. Now, they’re—they’re there because of the water supply and their hydroponics. They’re not grown in soil, they’re hydroponics. And the initial thing was that they would use only the water from their wells and now they’re buying from us, from our city’s water supply, massive, hundreds of thousands of gallons. And initially, the—they set it up to get it real cheap, much—much cheaper than we pay per gallon. But we’ve—we’ve had a change in our government, local government. Instead of one man and two board members controlling everything, we have a larger body now. And so he’s lost his power to do that sort of thing. And but we were just giving water away like mad. And I’m opposed—we were giving free water to—to a golf course out here and massive amounts for just the very few
0:16:50 – 2143
people that play golf. And yet they didn’t want to put in a swimming pool, or they didn’t want to let them irrigate the cemetery, which is a relatively protected area. You know, you’ve—you really want to see what land originally was, one of your best places to go is to a cemetery because they’re damaged least because of our—our superstition about the afterlife and so forth. So, that again is the demand for water, the demand for energy. We’re in good shape here right now. And we are—you know, there’s what, one, two, I guess they have three batteries of wind generators up here in the Davis’ now. And there’s also one big solar electric system up there. And that’s good. But we don’t have an energy problem now, here. But it could come if we continue to expand. And—and
0:17:55 – 2143
I’m guilty, good lord; I have everything in the world that—that’s electrically operated. So I’m as guilty as any of us. And, of course, we, as a nation, are—are using resources far out of proportion to our numbers. World resources. And again, unless we get a politician elected that can consider these things, even if he has certain other sexual predilections, he still—he still—we’ve just got to—to rise up really on the thing. And we have a democratic representative here, Pete Giago, who has—has been, surprisingly, fighting, even though the ranchers put him in basically. He’s been fighting for a number of the right things, both conservation-wise and socially as far as I’m concerned. And
0:19:01 – 2143
again, there’s—there’s been some—of the ethnic groups in that we’re—that—that the Anglos are—well, here it’s eighty percent Mexican and twenty percent Anglos. And so we’re the minority here. And we’ve got to educate the—these coming majorities. I feel very strongly. And so Ross does a pretty good job of that, and down at Laredo there’s a pretty good job. UTL, El Paso UTL, is doing it and we’re getting more scholarships for—for Latins and it’s something we really need to do.
DT: What do you think your advice would be to kids who are being educated about how they can deal with some of these problems that we are passing on to them?
0:19:59 – 2143
CR: It’s just to get them excited about their environment and they’ll realize it on their own, I’m convinced of it. Again, this young couple, this young man anyway, his—his whole outlook has been changed by—by taking care of me and getting interested in the plants and stuff. And, of course, I got him the cameras and set up. So, I’ve been—kids that showed interest in the field, I’ve been buying cameras for them as long as I can remember and because then they’ll stop and look. And so that’s why photography I think is so important. To make—make people stop and look. And—and a macrolens. Because in the desert, you know, it’s—the belly plants are the most interesting plants when you have to get down on your belly to see are the more exciting ones. And we have, you know—you know, the resurrection plant?
DT: Tell me about it.
0:21:05 – 2143
CR: It’s a—it’s a…
DT: Fern?
0:21:06 – 2143
CR: Fern relative. It’s actually not a fern, it’s just a laginella. But most of the year, you know, it’s completely dried up and closed up like this. And within thirty minutes after the rain, it opens out and that’s why the Resurrection, from dead to live. I had a girl one time, after I demonstrated that in lab, came and asked me, she said, where can I get my mother one of those salvation plants? She—she—she got it mixed up a little bit on the thing. But I still think education is—is the only hope and still, I know a lot of educated people that—there’s a difference between educated and being, I don’t know how you’d phrase it but education alone doesn’t bring normal, good sense. And some of
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our majors, you know, do such a horrible job of really educating people. Kids now are not subjected to the really classic literature. You talk—you make a quotation from Shakespeare and they’re just completely lost. And that should not be. That’s still, you know, one of the grandest things going. And they’re not getting that. And it’s not because the teachers wouldn’t do it, I think, it’s because the pressures of the—the parents. And again, it’s the parents are more important than the teachers in the long run. If they insist that the kids learn, insist that they do their work, it’s going to be a lot better. And that would improve their problem of—of discipline that they are having with these
0:22:51 – 2143
shootings. What did we have, two more campus shootings yesterday? It’s—parents are scared to death of their kids and I’m an old bachelor, see, so I can speak about this with—with great authority. But I do observe, and them people are scared to death of their kids. They really are. Yesterday I saw a kid over here on the street that I knew, and he had blue, bright blue hair. Why in the world his parents let him do that sort of thing, because he looks idiotic, you know? I really don’t understand. Do you ever watch Politically In—Incorrect?
DT: I do.
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CR: He’s so good. I—I—I stay up, I—I can’t get up from 12:30 till 1:00 at night, but I stay—stay awake usually to—to listen to him. And he’s pretty forceful. And a wonder he’s not sued more often than he is, but, again—I had—I took—when I did my doctorate, I—I—I first went to University of Michigan to do my doctorate. And my major professor wouldn’t let me do the kind of dissertation that I wanted to do. And I wanted to do a floristic study and he wanted me to do a monograph, a study of just a genus, or part of a genus. And he said, the floristic study is either too much or too little. So I quit and went to—to work under Dr. Wadafal at—at Oklahoma State. And he let me do—I did a whole Texas Panhandle as the flora for my dissertation. And when it was done, I sent a copy to—to Dr. McVaugh at Michigan and he sent me a wire back, and he said, just what I thought, too damn much. But, it—it—it—it—it makes a difference on the thing, but anyway…
DT: When you talk about the Panhandle and the coastal prairie and the bogs in East Texas, and desert out here in West Texas, is there an example of a place that you especially like to go or think about that gives you solace?
0:25:22 – 2143
CR: That’s where I am, right here—right here and the places that ha—that are available here. I love to just take the river road. You ought to take the river road. It’s the most beautiful drive in Texas. And you can see all the diversity there and most of that is either Federally owned or privately owned land and it’s not very much—it’s been grazed mostly, not goats and sheep anymore. And they do come back. It takes—if you stop overgrazing in the Gulf Coast, you can get pretty good recovery in five years. If you stopped overgrazing here, it would take about twenty years before it would show any signs. There’s some good examples out here on the Davis Mountains where there’s a
0:26:12 – 2143
fence line and there’s been overgrazing on one side and just pretty much left alone on the other. The one where it’s overgrazed and then pulled off the animals, it’s—it looks better. It’s got a lot more growth and it’s taller. But it’s—they’re invader species, they’re not the natural ones. And then the other one that doesn’t look as good, on the other side of the fence, actually, is—is the better of—of the two. And, you know, one bite of—of black grabba for a cow is—is—is—in protein—is equivalent of about six bites of the grass along the Gulf Coast. The protein content is much higher in these plants out here.
DT: And do you have any of the invasive grasses like the…?
0:27:04 – 2143
CR: Fortunately not. It—it—it hasn’t done it here.
DT: Did you used to have a problem with invaders out here?
0:27:12 – 2143
CR: No, you know, it—it—it’s a disturbance species. And you find most of the—the problem with the KR broomstick, it’s been along side of the roads, where there’s a disturbance. Now there—there are a lot of plants that just do best—I’m working on now a real—really limited species that is really limited distribution species of proboscidea. Unicorn plant plant? Does that mean anything? Anyway, it’s—as far as I know, the population is totally represented by say between presidio and the park and not very many cases there. All together, they occur in the strub—disturbed roadsides and in—in dry arroyos. That’s a disturbed site. It’s a disturbance that’s—it doesn’t—it—it can’t
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compete otherwise. And we have an endemic species there that’s found nowhere else in the world. And I suspect it’s on the other side of Mexico, but at this point there’s no way to—to get to that—for me to get over there and see what’s on the other side. But it is a very distinctive species. And up from Presidio North, there are two other species in the same genus, old species that we’ve known for a long time. But this one is, I don’t remember, Dr. Coral found about 1980, I guess. And…
DT: What areas have had more disturbance than West Texas? Do you see much threat from Old World species or other outside…?
0:28:55 – 2143
CR: Yeah, yeah, we’ve had a lot of that come in. Yeah.
DT: Can you give us some examples?
0:28:58 – 143
CR: Metalitry is another good example of—of an emerging species that’s spread in—into disturbed sites and—and taken over. What else? Well, a number of the less usable grasses that—that are invader species that can take over.
DT: Is tumbleweed an invader species?
0:29:25 – 2143
CR: Yes, it’s—it’s an invader, but again, it’s never really a problem. It’s—it’s—it’s got bad PR, you know, but it never occurs in such an abundance that it’s going to destroy anything. But again, it’s a disturbance lower.
DT: What about salt cedar or…?
0:29:43 – 2143
CR: It’s terrible. That’s really a threat, yes.
DT: What’s the impact or threat from that?
0:29:47 – 2143
CR: Well, they’re—they call them free adiphites. They’re plants that use more water than would be normally used by a similar looking plant. And so the—the Pecos River, which is just a little bitty stream, you know, here now, if they killed off all of that from it’s origin all the way down here, the—the—we’d have a good running stream. They waste that much water. But they found out that certain doves, for example, nest—there’s a subspecies of—of white—white wings that we’ve been (inaudible). I don’t see any right now. I’m sorry I—I moved out of your thing. There’s a subspecies of—of white wing doves that just nests in the—in these sites along the river where—where all that salt cedar is. So now that they—they’re close to controlling it. So, it’s two edged in that case, but they are wasteful plants, they really are.
DT: That brings a thought to my mind. It seems like the Endangered Species Act and I guess sort of our cultural approach has often been to protect the animals but not to give the same amount of protection to plants. Do you see that sort of…?
0:31:13 – 2143
CR: Yeah. The—the—the—people have always been more interested in animals than they are in plants. I think because we are animals. When I’m out collecting on the roadside, for example, and people come up and want to know what I’m doing, you know. If I tell them I’m collecting plants, I’m a taxonomist, they (?). So I tell them I’m a piano player in a whorehouse and then they’ll leave me alone. See (?) like that. You have to put up with people’s thing but really botany is, again I’m prejudiced, but they’re—they’re pretty well organized. We are, when we get together. We have a little bit of political pull to—to protect some things and maybe sometimes protect the wrong things. Again, in the peripheral plants, I don’t see any sense in our worrying about some plants in East Texas that are very rare, but you cross over into the—the delta areas and—in the Louisiana areas they’re abundant. So that’s not a valid approach. But we have some endemics—we have three areas of great endemism in Texas.
DT: Where are those?
0:32:34 – 2143
CR: The Trans Pecos, the Edwards Plateau, and the Coastal Bend, surprisingly. That’s where two major floras come together, Tamaulipan flora, which is a distinctive flora from Tamaulipas. And the coastal flora from south—southeast United States come together there. And so it’s produced a lot of ecotone, of endemic species. And I told you earlier that ecotone is this contact between two vegetative zones where they enter and they say no bot—botanist has ever lived anywhere except on an ecotone. Wherever you live, you think you’re on an ecotone, because you can see the influence of one or the other. A good
0:33:18 – 2143
example is the—is the—the vegetation here. Dang, it’s got a—a lot of influence from—from the coastal vegetation, few species from the Edwards plateau stuff and from the eye plain stuff, it’s got some elements of it. The difference between—for example, between the Sonora Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert. The Sonora Desert is mostly derived from tropical species from Mexico coming up. Our desert, the Chihuahuan Desert is mostly derived from so called madro tertiary yields, geoflora. They’re more related to the plants of the Rockies.
DT: To the north?
0:34:07 – 2143
CR: Uh huh. And so it—that—that—that’s—and—and another thing is the rainfall patterns in the—here, our—our major rainfall is in July and August and September. And the rain—in the Sonoran Desert, the major rainfalls are in the winter. So that makes a big difference too. There’s been some good studies done on that by some oth—other botanists. I’ve got to sit up for a while.
DT: We talked about the Sonoran Desert and the Chihuahuan Desert. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the land you recently bought out here?
0:34:48 – 2143
CR: I bought five whole acres right in the middle of the (inaudible) Ranch. And it’s plain desert scrub with—with all the—the normal creosol bush and—and the other shrubby species. And…
DT: (inaudible)
0:35:06 – 2143
CR: Well, the costs, you know, it—it—it was only five hundred dollars for five acres. And that’s why I bought it but I wouldn’t have been able to buy any land around Marathon there. It—it used to go for a hundred dollars an acre max. And now it’s going for twenty—two thousand, three hundred in lots of places right around Marathon and here where these people are moving in. They found out about our climate. And, of course, they’ll bring with them the problems. Phoenix is a classic example that people moved out there because of their problem with allergies and then they brought their plants with them and the pollen from them is just—allergies is just as bad as they were back home because they brought their allergenic plants with them. So, it’s people screwing it up again.
DT: I guess we are a plague on the planet. Thanks for enlightening us on how we may be able to control all that.
0:36:11 – 2143
CR: I’ve—I’ve enjoyed it. I hope—I hope people will learn and—and try to do something about our problems.
DT: Well, thanks very much.
0:36:32 – 2143
CR: I’ve enjoyed it.
[End of Reel #2143]
[End of interview with Chester Rowell]