Sunday, April 26, 2009

Natural Bouquets at Selah

I have written before of my love of trees, particularly flowering trees which I wasn’t used to seeing so much in my native state of Ohio. This week in Texas we have two beauties blooming! They are small trees, but are like giant bouquets.

Blanco Crabapple (Pyrus ibensis var. Texana)

Some botanists refer to it as the Texas Crab because Blanco County is considered the southwestern extent of its range. I discovered this old tree in 1973 and learned that it was listed as a threatened species. I had been in this area many times working on our tree species inventory, but never recorded it. I never saw it because I was never there when it was blooming. You won’t miss this small tree when it is full of its beautiful white blossoms.

Paul Cox and Patty Leslie in their book, Texas Trees: A Friendly Guide, write that its “natural occurrence is restricted to stream banks and the heads of canyons.” This specimen is on the top of our divide in shallow soil and hot sun. So, don’t give up when looking for one on your property. This is a good tree for wildlife, especially deer, raccoons and turkey. The tree protects itself by producing smooth, spine tipped twigs that would prick the nose of a browsing deer or other creature with the desire to eat its fruit or leaves.

The Blanco Crab is a small tree, sometimes a shrub. It rarely grows over 15 feet tall. After the tree blooms, a small green apple develops and matures in the late fall. These are very tart – sour. Many years ago I collected a half bushel from this tree and with a lot of enthusiasm and pioneer spirit I decided to impress Margaret by making apple jelly. It was a lot of work, especially for one who had never made jelly before! I closely followed the instructions in the “old timers” cookbook noting that it called for a lot of sugar. The sticky mess I made in the kitchen, the cuts on my fingers while trying to peel these little apples didn’t damper my enthusiasm. From one half bushel of apples, I ended up with just 6 small jars of jelly! What damaged my enthusiasm however was a product so very tart no one would waste a nice piece of toast by spreading it with my Blanco Crabapple jelly! I doubt that any readers of this blog will ever find a supply of enough Blanco Crabapples to make jelly; but if you do, take my advice and double the sugar in your recipe! There was a benefit from this experience however – I got enough seeds from which I grew seven trees that are now successfully growing here on Selah.

Blanco Tree, full shot.

Blanco blooms up close.

Photographs taken by Justin Duke on April 22, 2009.

It doesn’t seem appropriate that such a small tree as this would be awarded the largest Blanco Crab in Texas. I wish I knew its age. It could be 100!

Champion Blanco Crabapple Certificate.

Hawthorn (Crataegus sp. Series Virides) Rosaceae (Rose) Family

There are at least 33 species of Hawthorn found in Texas. The series Virides are native to the Hill Country. Those growing naturally on the Ranch are growing under harsh conditions on hilltops where they are exposed to heat, drought, freezing cold, and soil compaction by domestic animals and wildlife.

The Hawthorn is a small tree under 20 feet with a dense crown of thorny rounded branches which makes it an attractive place for nesting birds.

In the early spring it produces pretty white blooms and in the fall edible fruit that is enjoyed by birds such as Cedar Waxwings and Fox Sparrows, and by humans to make jellies and wines.

Most of the Hawthorns that I have found on the Ranch are growing amid thickets of Shin Oak and other woody brush. I have made it a habit to tie bright orange flagging tape on each one I discover so that I can come back at a later time with an intern or volunteer to clear around, prune and corral (cage) the tree so that visitors can enjoy its beauty. The Hawthorn would be a wonderful addition to any landscape. I have not been successful in propagating it from seed, but this fall I’ll collect lots of seed and turn them over to our biologist, Steven Fulton, who knows more about how to do this kind of thing. We’ll soon have Hawthorns available for sale.

These beautiful photographs were taken by Justin Duke on April 22.

Hawthorn tree full shot.

Hawthorn bloom.

Hawthorn bloom enjoyed by a honey bee.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Selah - To Pause and Reflect

Everything starts from philosophy ~ this I believe ~ Selah is not the name of the Bamberger Ranch, but rather it’s a place. To me, it’s like Walden was to Thoreau – a place not just for me, but for all who come here to look around, to see and witness the natural world and to reflect on the wonder, the magic if it all; and then, to think about our individual responsibility as stewards of our portion of this planet Earth.

Quite frequently Selah Moments occur here. Colleen Gardner coined that phrase. Pictured here are some high school students quietly having a Selah moment at Madrone Lake: pausing and reflecting.

Photograph taken by Colleen Gardner.

Paragon School 5th grade students from Austin gathered in front of Hes’ Country Store. They had been here for an overnight field trip. The County Store is the final stop where the value of conserving family culture and history is brought home to them. It’s another opportunity to feel a Selah moment.

Photograph taken by a Paragon parent.

Bracken School children from San Antonio were doing a “Rain Storm” exercise April 9th to help us out of this very serious drought. While I doubt this very enthusiastic gathering caused it, on April 17 we did receive a very nice two inch rain! The point of such a Selah moment is that these very young third grade kids could see that Selah and Mother Nature desperately needed rain and made somewhat of a spiritual connection with this exercise.

Photograph taken by Justin Duke.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Science Educator or People Motivator?

David Bamberger writes:

We determined long ago that our arboretum and nature trail would only have plants that were endemic to Blanco County. Not having any Canyon Mock Orange (Philadelphus Ernestii) growing here, I was delighted to have found one in a nursery in Austin. It was a small specimen in a one gallon container. Nevertheless, I put up the identification plaque and nurtured this rare plant. Within a few years it produced a glorious display of white blossoms. I hurried to the ranch house to tell Margaret who went to photograph the scene.

A few days later, while taking people on the trail I noticed that a Band-Aid had been placed over the word “canyon” on my plaque! Sure enough, Margaret was guilty. “David,” she said, “THAT is not a Canyon Mock Orange. It’s beautiful, but some plant breeder has created it and it’s probably a hybrid. So call it a Mock Orange if you want to motivate others. But as a science educator, get me the REAL thing!”

Thanks to Ernesto at Medina Garden Nursery (830-589-2771) we got the real thing and the plaque was moved to it. You can see the remains of Margaret’s Band-Aid around the word “Canyon,” in this photo by Justin Duke.

Below, canyon mock orange bloom. Photo by Amanda Fulton.

Below is the mock orange in bloom, as photographed by Amanda Fulton. You can see that the leaves and blooms are much larger than on the canyon mock orange above. There are many names for this hybrid, and we'll accept "Texas mock orange," but three biologists from Texas Parks & Wildlife have humorously suggested that we call it "mock mock orange," instead.

Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

The Anoles, with more than 250 species, constitute the largest genus of lizards in the world. However the Green Anole is the only species native to the United States.

This particular little fellow, photographed by Colleen Gardner, was seen on the bridge across the creek, now dry due to the drought, leading to Madrone Lake.

The striking feature is the red colored throat fan. The size of this one indicates that this is a male and most likely there is a female near by as this is a courtship routine. But sometimes, this goes along with push ups and head bobbing to defend territory. The anole’s diet consists mostly of insects and spiders.

It’s a treat when we have school children to be able to point out the lizards on tree limbs and leaves.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Quest for the Murray Plum

David Bamberger writes:

In 1992 I read an article in the Native Plant Society of Texas Newsletter written by Benny Simpson of the Texas A&M University Experiment Station in Dallas about an endangered plant named the Murray Plum. He stated that it would do no good to find and protect the few known plants, but rather what was needed was for someone to gather together as many plants as possible from the different mountain ranges and plant them together in a great thicket. This was because no one had ever seen this plant produce fertile fruit and no one knew what pollinated them. This plant, Prunus Murrayana, was thought to be native on steep rocky slopes of canyons in the Davis, Glass and Del Norte Mountains of the Trans Pecos.

I wanted to be helpful and at that time in my life was in need of a challenge and what later became the quest for the Murray Plum began; an adventure that went on for ten years. I contacted Dr. Barton Warnock, he was the most well known botanist of the Trans Pecos in Alpine, Texas, and Dr. Mike Powell, then head of the biology department at Sul Ross State University, who was in charge of the college herbarium. Their guidance led me to areas in all three mountain ranges.

In 1994 when Margaret came into my life she was eager to help and the quest widened. We were joined by Jim Rhoades, my tree aggie, and my son, David K. Bamberger. We camped out, we slept in the bed of my truck, in motels and in B&B’s. We met and worked our way onto ranches that were off limits to anyone interested in endangered species, particularly federal and state employees, but also other conservation organizations as well. This was because of the very conservative landowner’s fear of government taking land due to the Endangered Species Act. We spent years and many trips in our search for the Murray Plum. It was a great time in our lives and we recorded much of it in a song that eventually had 25 verses! Margaret played the piano while I led the singing. I think every guest here at Selah had to sing or at least listen to “The Quest for the Murray Plum” in its entirety!

Eventually we brought to Selah over 100 Murray Plums and planted three great thickets. Before Dr. Simpson died, I asked him how many plants did he mean when he said plant them together in a great thicket. He answered 25! We could have cut our quest off 4 years earlier had I been perceptive enough to ask that question at the start.

As very little was known about this “species” and in the interest of science, we sent 4 samples of the plum to the Smithsonian. We inquired at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and at the University of Texas. As the years went by, our biggest colony of 79 plum grew, but only a few ever bloomed and not profusely. In 1997 we suffered a major setback when a disgruntled hunter cut all 79 plants off at ground level! Through careful nurturing, most survived and this brings me closer to this week’s posting. All of this adventure is recorded with journals and photographs which I would be glad to share with anyone who would be interested in reading about it.

By 2009, most plants in our largest thicket had grown to 10 plus feet. On April 1st, we witnessed a spectacular sight. Thousands of beautiful white blooms with light pink centers had exploded creating beauty and scents which were attracting many species of butterflies, bees and moths. These photographs were taken by Colleen Gardner and Amanda Fulton. I hope you enjoy them.

But there is more to the story. If not for a major turn of events, this year’s explosion of blooms could have answered the original question of what the pollinator was, and would sexual reproduction take place.

The event that brought our project to a close was a paper written by Marshall Enquist, the author of the best field guide on native flowers, Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country. In the mid 1990’s, Marshall invited us to go with him out Interstate 10 near Sonora and onto some back state highways toward Menard, Texas where he had discovered some shrubby plums – Murray Plums? Marshall produced a paper which was accepted by the scientific community which proved the Murray Plum to be a hybrid and thus sterile!

All of the following photographs were taken while the butterflies, and honey bee spent time on the blooms of the Murray Plum. So who’s to say which is the pollinator?

The monarch (Danaus Plexippus) seems to me to be the most popular of the butterflies. Perhaps this is because of their migration through the hill country and a desired plant, antelope horn, which we have in abundance.
Photo by Colleen Gardner.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus Philenor) is slightly rare on the ranch, but maybe the Murray Plum bloom will help increase the population here!
Photo by Amanda Fulton.

All the males of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papillio Glaucus) are this color while females can be like this or of a darker color.
Photo by Amanda Fulton.

Unknown "skipper" butterfly (family Hesperiidae).
Photo by Amanda Fulton.

Unknown honey bee species. Our bees are suffering from the drought and corresponding lack of flowers and blooms. I’m sure the bees appreciate the Murray Plum which began these many blooms when needed the most.
Photo by Amanda Fulton.