Boerne Chapter

Still green after being in the freezer

Author: Bill Ward

Last weekend after the temperature in our yard dropped to 12 degrees one night and 16 the next night, I was lamenting about having to look out on a desolate brown yard for several weeks until spring arrives. It was a nice surprise, however, to see that a lot of our native shrubs and even some forbs and vines survived without much damage, despite so many hours below freezing. Some parts of our yard hardly show we just came out of the coldest spell in many years.

Lindheimer’s silktassel. (photo by Bill Ward)

Among our still-green shrubs and small trees are Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis), cenizo (Leucophyllum sp), mountain cedar (Juniperus ashei), autumn sage (Salvia greggii), silktassel (Garrya ovata subsp. lindheimeri), agarita (Berberis trifolata), barberry (Berberis swaseyi), Texas pistache (Pistacia texana), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), condalia (Condalia hookeri), damianita (Chrysactina mexicana), piñon pine (Pinus cembroides), and palmetto (Sabal minor).

Tall bunch grass
Both species of nolina (foreground) and piñon pine (behind). (photo by Bill Ward)

The mountain laurel, evergreen sumac, and silktassel show that in this part of the Hill Country it’s possible to have an evergreen hedge or privacy screen without planting the exotic ligustrum or red-tipped photinia.

Our little Vasey oaks (Quercus pungens var. vaseyana) proved to be as “evergreen” as the live oak trees (Quercus fusiformis).

Neither beargrass (Nolina texana) nor devil’s shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana) was fazed by the frigid weather. The sotol (Dasylirion texanum) and our various agaves, yuccas, and cactuses are still green, too.

Tree with green leaves
Madrone trees. (photo by Bill Ward)

Even some of our maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) received only minor damage during the deep freeze. The fern already had withstood December lows in the mid-twenties without turning brown at all. Perhaps that is because it grows under protecting branches of a large live oak, but even under the oak it was unusually cold last weekend.

Among our native vines that still have green leaves are crossvine (Bigonia capreolata), old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), and much to my surprise, snapdragon vine (Maurandya antirrhiniflora).

Vine growing up wall
Snapdragon vine. (photo by Bill Ward)

A seemingly cold-hardy native plant I’m trying to get started in my yard is cut-leaf germander (Teucrium laciniatum). This perennial wildflower still had a couple of blooms late last month, and the recent cold spell seems to have done little harm to the leaves. It looks as if this is going to be a good garden plant.

Other forbs that did not freeze back to the ground are violets (Viola missouriensis), blue-curls (Phacelia congesta), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis and A. hinckleyana), and slender-stem bitterweed (Perityle lindheimeri). And all our bluebonnet rosettes survived. It’s going to be a good bluebonnet year!

With so many native plants that hold on to their leaves in sub-freezing weather, we can keep a lot of green in our Hill Country landscapes, even during the colder winters.

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About the Region

New Braunfels, the location of our Fall 2024 Symposium, straddles both the Edwards Plateau Ecoregion and the Blackland Prairie ecoregion. Interstate 35 divides the city of New Braunfels; its path through the city closely parallels the boundary of these two ecoregions, with the Edwards Plateau on the west side and the Blackland Prairies region to the east. The Edwards Plateau area is also called the Hill Country; however, this general term covers a much larger area extending farther north. Spring-fed creeks are found throughout the region; deep limestone canyons, rivers, and lakes (reservoirs) are common. Ashe juniper is perhaps the most common woody species found throughout the region. Additional woody species include various species of oak, with live oak (Quercus fusiformis) being the most common. Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) border waterways. This area is well known for its spring wildflower displays, though they may be viewed in spring, late summer, and fall, as well. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, average annual rainfall in the Edwards Plateau ranges from 15 to 34 inches.

The Blackland Prairie extends from the Red River south to San Antonio, bordered on the west by the Edwards Plateau and the Cross Timbers, and on the east by the Post Oak Savannah. Annual rainfall averages 30 to 40 inches, with higher averages to the east. This region is dominated by prairie species. The most common grass species include little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in the uplands and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in the riparian areas and drainages. Common herbaceous flowering plants include salvias, penstemons, and silphiums. This area has suffered greatly from overgrazing and agricultural use. Few intact areas remain, though many of the plants can be found along county roadsides throughout the region.

Our four host chapters (New Braunfels, Lindheimer, Guadalupe, and the Hill Country chapters) are located in one or both of the ecoregions above. However, the eastern portion of Guadalupe County also falls within the Post Oak Savanna ecoregion. Annual rainfall averages 35 to 45 inches, with higher averages to the east. A wide variety of hardwood trees are found, including several species of oaks, elms, and in the Bastrop area, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). Grasses and forbs dominate in the open savannas, with most common grass being little bluestem. Ranching, agriculture, and fire suppression have allowed woody species to encroach on the once-open savannas.

Source: Wildflowers of Texas by Michael Eason