Sunday, December 14, 2008

December trip to Dolan Falls to plant Tx. Snowbells

A group of hardy volunteers, including some "significant others" traveled westward with David and Margaret to the Devil's River area to plant more of the federal and state listed endangered Texas Snowbells along the river and its tributary Dolan Creek. It is always best to plant in the cooler weather, and it was cool and delightful on December 5th, 6th and 7th. The sun was shining and there were clear skies and moonlight at night.

On April 20th, 2008 I published a post on this Blog "April's Blooming Trees and Bushes" which included the Texas Snowbell, so for more pictures of the plants and history of the Snowbell Recovery Project check it out.

We have been propagating Texas Snowbells here at Selah for the past eight years from seeds collected in the Nueces and Devil's River watersheds. When we first started we used the gallery, the house and set up saw-horses for tables around the back of the house for the hundreds of plants we were growing. Five years ago, we put up a greenhouse for this kind of work, and we are no longer tripping over pots -- thank heavens, and thanks to Steve Fulton's hard work planning and assembling the green house.

Margaret and J David standing by Dolan Creek in Val Verde County. Dolan Creek arises from amazing springs along its course. The creek enters the Devil's River a short distance down stream.

In this picture of the blooms of a Texas Snowbell you can see what beautiful bell-like flowers it has. Note the underside of its leaves have a fine white pubescence which distinguishes it from its close cousin the Sycamore Leaf Snowbell. Botanists currently consider the Texas Snowbell (Styrax platanifolia var. texanus) a variety of the Sycamore Leaf Snowbell (Styrax platanifolia var. platanifolia), with the main difference between them being the presence or absence of pubescence on the underside of their leaves.

Yellow Bluff on the Dolan Creek was our main view from the cabin we stayed in. Along the river and creeks in the area, on the bluffs above the river, the weathered rocks were dark grey, but where the older rocks had fallen away the under-rocks were golden in color.

Dolan Falls belongs to the Texas Nature Conservancy. This photograph shows the main area of the falls, which are quite dramatic, and very beautiful. I have been fortunate to visit in the summer when swimming was comfortable, and swam in the clear water of the deep pool below the falls. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has the area along the Devil's River above the falls which is considered The Devil's River State Natural Area.

In this photo we have the entire work crew that went on this planting trip. From the left on the front row is Ann Cook, Margaret Bamberger, J. David Bamberger, and Amanda Fulton. From the left on the back row is Betsy Pheil, Steve Williams, Arlyn Cook, and Steven Fulton.

Sturdy, large corrals have been an essential ingredient in the success of the project. Note the two "steps" that are attached to the t-post. These allow workers to climb over the wire without having to dismantle the corral to gain access.

Heavy gage fence-wire and steel t-posts create the enclosures that range from 6 feet in diameter to 15 feet in diameter. Having a large protected area increases the chances of having natural replication in the wild. With multiple plants in each large corral we hope that there will be cross pollination, and seed production resulting in a new crop of seedlings every few years. I say every few years because in very dry years like this past year, the chances of a good crop of seedlings is very poor. They have deep root systems, so once they are well established, they survive well even through seasonal droughts.

Inside this large corral, Steve and J David remove the weeds that have taken root, and prepare holes to add new plants, either to replace those lost during the hot dry months, or to simply increase the number of plants. The ground was so dry on this trip that water was added to the holes as they were being prepared. It is important when preparing holes to make sure that they are the right depth and square.

The snowbells when first removed from their container need to have their roots untangled so they will spread out laterally as well as downward.

The plant is then lowered into its new spot and the roots covered with soil and gently packed down.

A slow release fertilizer is added around the base of the new planting to provide the nutrients the plant will need as it grows.

Steven Fulton worked in another corral getting plants into the ground.

Steve Williams takes 2 five-gallon buckets to the river and fills them to be used for watering the new plants.

Betsy hands a bucket of water to J. David who is ready to give each new plant enough water to help it get established, and to release some of the nutrients in the slow release fertilizer.

Several gallons of water are slowly poured around the base of the plant.

The final touch is to surround the base of the new plant with "pasta", which is usually grass. Pasta shades the ground, reduces evaporation, and as it decomposes, adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil.

Arlyn uses tie wire to secure the fencing to the steel posts. The corrals have protected the plants from deer, cows, and even 400 pound wild hogs!

Amanda writes information in the data book, which is the official record of the project. She indicates which plants died, how many are replaced and where new plants are located. Before we leave, the older plants are measured and that information also goes into the record also.

This is a 3 year old plant that is doing well. It is not only taller, but has spread out and has lots of leaves. A plant like this one makes us happy!

The Devil's river is a beautiful river, with crystal clear water flowing year-round through a dry and rugged region of West Central Texas. The source of water is some rain runoff, but primarily from the springs which are abundant in the region. The Edwards Plateau limestone holds one of the major aquifers for the state of Texas. Springs can be found in canyons and along the edges of the plateau. Because much of the flow of water is underground it is free of pollution.

I love the rugged deserts of Central and West Texas. The geology and terrain are fascinating, the plants hardy and interesting, and the rivers beautiful. Check them out on the web, and if you can, go see them for yourself.

These pictures were all taken in early December, 2oo8 by Margaret Bamberger, except the photos of blooming Snowbells, which were taken in April.

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