Armadillos to Ziziphus
A Naturalist in the Texas Hill Country
280 Pages, 77 color illus.
Sales Date: April 11, 2023
A collection of essays on the ecology, biodiversity, and restoration of the Texas Hill Country.
For most of five decades, evolutionary biologist David Hillis has studied the biodiversity of the Texas Hill Country. Since the 1990s, he has worked to restore the natural beauty and diversity of his Mason County ranch, the Double Helix. In his excursions around his ranch and across the Edwards Plateau, Hillis came to realize how little most people know about the plants and animals around them or their importance to our everyday lives. He began thinking about how natural history is connected to our enjoyment of life, especially in a place as beautiful and beloved as the Hill Country, which, not coincidentally, happens to be one of the most biodiverse parts of Texas.
Featuring short nontechnical essays accompanied by vivid color photos, Armadillos to Ziziphus is a charming and casual introduction to the environment of the region. Whether walking the pasture with his Longhorn cattle, explaining the ecological significance of microscopic organisms in springtime mud puddles, or marveling at the local Ziziphus (aka Lotebush, a spiny shrub), Hillis guides first-time visitors and long-term residents alike in an appreciation for the Hill Country’s natural beauty and diversity.
Each chapter in this utterly engaging book is a finely crafted chronicle of a unique Hill Country treasure. Taken together, Armadillos to Ziziphus is a master class in the singular geology and ecology of the Hill Country taught by its most renowned naturalist. A delight to read and ponder!
— Juli Berwald, author of Spineless and Life on the RocksDavid Hillis’s Armadillos to Ziziphus is a love letter to a unique home ground shared by humans and many other creatures, revealing an infatuation glimmering with scientific acumen and tales of personal interactions with nature. This book is sure to resonate with admirers of A Sand County Almanac.
— Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club and The Backyard Bird ChroniclesBrimming with insight into the Hill Country's fascinating nooks and crannies, these essays will change the way you see this beloved part of Texas.
— Carter Smith, Executive Director, Texas Parks & Wildlife DepartmentHillis brings encyclopedic scientific knowledge to the task of explaining the Hill Country’s 'natural wealth.' He doesn’t allow scientific jargon or Latin taxonomy to muddy his prose, however. Using plain, understandable language, he paints accessible portraits of the land he’s spent a lifetime walking and exploring...He dissects the region with both practiced ease and great authority, tapping his wisdom as a scientist, as a scholar and as a lover of nature. Reading the book feels much like perusing a personal journal that captures a lifetime of experiences...Armadillos to Ziziphus is one of those books that can be read in one sitting or used as a go-to compendium, whereby the reader looks up something sparked by a curious moment.
— San Antonio Report[A] charming new primer on the region's environment.
— Austin MonthlyThis book is intensely delightful...Hillis writes short, entertaining essays on nature...Hillis writes in a fluid, open, sometimes awed manner, primed for enjoyment by the reasonably curious reader.
— Austin American-StatesmanOne of the most practical and pleasing new Texas books of 2023. . . I will read these incandescent essays . . . again and again.
— Austin American-Statesman[Hillis]'s decades of personal and professional experience in the region are evident in the text . . . [Armadillos to Ziziphus] will be of great interest to naturalists and scholars as well as general readers interested in developing their ecological knowledge of this region, and could serve as an informative prerequisite for environmental tours or individual outdoor enthusiasts planning a visit to the area.
— Choice[Armadillos to Ziziphus] lovingly catalogs the region’s environmental components, making seemingly familiar features new. More important, Hillis offers practicable pathways toward not only safeguarding the region’s endangered environments but also repairing and rejuvenating them...The succinct essays are packed with information, and Hillis’s writing style balances scientific precision with conversational ease. It is a wonderful addition not only to the environmental writing on Texas but also to environmentalist activism in Texas.
— H-Net Reviews
- Foreword by Harry W. Greene
- I. The Texas Hill Country: A Naturalist’s Paradise
- 1. Geological Setting of the Edwards Plateau
- 2. From Acid Sands to Alkaline Clays
- 3. Hill Country Weather: Droughts, Floods, and Severe Storms
- 4. Some Texas Icons Haven’t Been Here All That Long
- 5. Hill Country Endemics
- 6. What Is the Value of Biodiversity?
- II. The Seasonal Life of a Vernal Pool
- 7. Tilting at Tiny Windmills
- 8. Crustacean Wonders
- 9. The Fascinating Flora of Vernal Pools
- 10. Those Who Live in Glass Houses
- 11. A Season of Symphonies
- 12. What Happened to All Our Frogs?
- III. Flowing Waters: Aquifers, Caves, Springs, and Rivers
- 13. Life without Light
- 14. Lanterns of Summer
- 15. Musings about Mussels
- 16. The Last Wild River
- IV. Life of a Grassland
- 17. Why Do Some Grasses Grow in the Winter, but Others in the Summer?
- 18. Butterflies, Hummingbirds, and Other Pollinators
- 19. The Noble Life of a Dung-Roller
- 20. Where Have All the Quail Gone?
- 21. Grasshoppers, Locusts, and Plagues
- 22. The History of Texas Cattle Written in Their DNA
- V. In the Woodlands and Brushlands
- 23. Containing and Preventing Oak Wilt
- 24. The Challenges of Being an Oak Tree in the Hill Country
- 25. How Do Trees Sense When It Is Time to Leaf Out and Bloom?
- 26. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Trees
- 27. Spring Is Here, and So Are the Snakes
- 28. Songs of the Summer Dog Days
- 29. Going Batty
- 30. Deer Densities on the Edwards Plateau
- 31. Bucks in Velvet
- 32. The Future of Hill Country Deer Populations
- 33. The Carbon Cycle and How It Affects Our Daily Lives
- VI. Backyard Biology
- 34. The Remarkable Life of Hummingbirds
- 35. Ways to Attract and Increase Bird Populations
- 36. The Unexpected Beauty and Diversity of Lichens
- 37. There Is More to Mistletoe than Kissing
- 38. The Ups and Downs of Ants
- 39. A Pattern in the Web
- 40. Caterpillar Plagues and Their Connection to the Weather
- 41. Predators and Second Chances
- VII. Climatic Adaptations
- 42. Toadally Cool
- 43. The Surprising Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly
- 44. How Do Animals Survive the Winter? Part 1: Migrating
- 45. How Do Animals Survive the Winter? Part 2: Keeping Warm and Active
- 46. How Do Animals (and Plants) Survive the Winter? Part 3: Waiting Out the Cold
- VIII. Restoration and the Future of the Hill Country’s Natural Resources
- 47. The Restoration and Benefits of Native Grasses
- 48. The Pros and Cons of Brush Control
- 49. Recovery of a Texas Icon: The Texas Horned Lizard
- 50. Avoiding the Dangers of Lead Poisoning in Game Meat
- 51. Our Climate Future in Central Texas
- 52. If the Earth Is Warming, Why Did We Just Have a Record Cold Snap?
- 53. Practical, Painless, and Significant Solutions to Climate Change
- 54. Six Resolutions for Supporting Native Plants and Animals