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.

No comments: