Sunday, April 20, 2008

April's Blooming Trees & Bushes

In mid-April there are blooms on some Hill Country trees:

Yesterday J. David and I went on a flowering tree expedition, with my camera of course. The first three trees featured are in the Rose family and they all have white or pinkish-white blossoms with five petals. The size of the flowers varies and they all have fruit in which the seed(s) are surrounded by flesh, sometimes soft, as in the cherry, or relatively hard, as it is in the Blanco Crabapple and Hawthorn.

ESCARPMENT BLACK CHERRY (Prunus serotina var. eximia):
Some trees you can smell before you see them, and the aroma of the Escarpment Black Cherry flowers is heavenly. They are fairly common on the ranch, and are native to this area. Because the foliage is so tasty to deer that they appear to be in decline. However, if small cherry plants are protected by a corral, a pile of brush, or by virtue of being in a thicket, they do very well. The blooms appear in March or April, and in late summer the fruits ripen, which are purple, round and small (1/4 to 3/8 inch). In the fall their leaves turn bright clear yellow and they offer a beautiful accent to the Central Texas fall landscape.

J. David is enjoying the sweet smell of the spring blossoms of The Escarpment Black Cherry (Prunus serotina var. eximia).

The bark of the Cherry tree has silver and grey bands on the smooth younger branches and the trunk of young trees. On older trees the bark is is is rough and silver to dark grey. In the picture above the tree trunk is on the left and has circular silver and grey bands.

Flowers are small and white. They have 5 tiny petals on a slender center stalk that is 4 to 6 inches long.

HAWTHORN (Crataegus sp.) is a smallish tree that grows in bottomland or in heavy mixed deciduous shrubs and vines where it is protected from browsing deer. Here at the ranch it grows in thickets on the rocky limestone soil on our hilltop(s). There are many species that are difficult to tell apart, and it is uncertain which species we have, thus the scientific name ends with "sp." which means "species" which implies that it's exact identification is unknown.

Hawthorns are small trees or large shrubs, 5 to 16 feet tall. They protect themselves with long very sharp thorns, as are seen on the underside of the small branch in the picture above.

Small clusters of white flowers appear briefly in mid-April. It is amazing how many Hawthorns we see driving around the ranch in the spring when they can be easily recognized by their flowers. They tend to be found in thickets of mixed plants, such as Shin oak, poison ivy, Elbow bush, Rusty Blackhaw, where they are out of reach of Whitetail deer and other browsers.

This close-up shows the five white petals of each Hawthorn flower and the toothed edges of the shiny leaves with parallel veins.

BLANCO CRABAPPLE: (Malus ioensis var. texensis) is another small tree with beautiful pink and white spring blossoms. It is endemic which means that it is found only in a limited area. This tree or shrub, is found only on some limestone soils in Blanco, Kerr and Kendall Counties. Fruit is a hard green apple that can be made into jelly with enough sugar.

J. David is standing under the Texas State Champion Blanco Crabapple.

Susan Sander presented a Champion Tree Certificate to J. David Bamberger on June 3, 2003 for our Blanco Crabapple which is 12 feet tall, has a crown spread of 14 feet, and a trunk circumference of 13 inches. We believe that this is the only Blanco Crabapple that has ever been submitted to the Texas Forest Service, and will remain the champion until someone submits a larger one for the champion tree registry.

This small tree is actually quite old, and because it is slow-growing lichens are growing on its branches in spite of its relatively small size.

Thorns on a Crabapple are less frequent than on a Hawthorn, they can still help provide some protection from herbirvores.

Like other trees in the rose family, its leaves are tasty to deer, and the small plants must either be protected by thicket growth or caged if they are to survive being eaten. This young Crabapple has been corralled for 5 years and this year has a beautiful crown of flowers.

WHITE HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera albiflora) is in the Honeysuckle Family and is native to our area. Its flowers resemble the common invasive Japanese Honeysuckle from eastern Asia. White Honeysuckle is a bush that has long branches that "climb" when appropriate. Fruit are bright red translucent berries in clusters in the fall.

This bush is blooming and you can see a long climbing branch that arises on the right side of the bush in this picture. It is not attached to anything and was waving in the wind yesterday when I took this picture.

The terminal leaves are joined in the middle to form a collar around the blossom cluster.

TEXAS SNOWBELL, (Styrax platanifolius var. texanus) is a close relative of our Sycamore Leaf Snowbell (Styrax platanifolius) found along the Miller Creek on the Preserve. Texas Snowbell is an endangered variety that is found west of here in the watersheds of the Nueces River and Devils River.

J. David stands in front of the largest Texas snowbell that we have here on the Preserve. It is on the trail and there is a sign so hikers can read about the plant and the project to save them that David, Steven Fulton (ranch biologist) and a group of volunteers have been involved with for years.

On the right side of the picture is a Texas Snowbell. Note that the underside of the leaves have a white pubsence. On the left side is a Sycamore-leaf Snowbell which has flower buds, and the underside of its leaves are a shiny smooth green.

The flowers are bell shaped with a distinctly yellow group of stamen surrounding the pistal. You can see from the white underside of the leaves that this is the Texas Snowbell.

Each year in the spring J. David and a group of volunteers go out to the watersheds where the Texas Snowbells are found, and look for the blooming plants on land owned by cooperating ranchers. It is important to have diverse genetic material to restore the endangered snowbell. In the fall the crew is out again to collect seeds. Seeds are stratified by putting them in a baggie with moist peat moss in a refrigerator for several months until they start to sprout. The sprouts are moved to 4 inch cups that are marked with the watershed name and keep in the greenhouse until it is warm in the spring.

In the fall older plants 6 to 12 inches tall are taken out into the watershed where seeds were collected, and planted with a sturdy corral to protect them from browsers. Each plant is visited in the summer to make sure they are doing well and to be given some water if too dry. The reintroduction program has been funded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Texas Parks and Wildlife. Jackie Poole, botanist with TPWD, who is in charge of the recovery projects for endangered plants in Texas wrote the recovery plan and assists the group in field work as well as overseeing the project as a whole.

To learn more about endangered plants in Texas see the TPWD website.

The plants featured in this post are not all of the blooming trees now. We saw Golden Ball Lead Trees, Rusty Blackhaws, Pyracanthas blooming this weekend as well.

All photos taken on April 20, 2008, by Margaret Bamberger with a Canon Rebel XTi digital single lens reflex camera, with the exception of Susan Sander giving TFS Champion Tree certificate to J. David, which was taken by Margaret on June 3, 2003.

Reference: Jan Wrede, TREES, SHRUBS, AND VINES OF THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY. A&M nature guide. Texas A&M University Press, College Station. 2005

Marshall Enquist, WILDFLOWERS OF THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY. 1987. A new printing of this wonderful book is now out and can be purchased at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin. I got their website by Googling Marshall Enquist.

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