Boerne Chapter

“Native-Plant Watch” — helping Boerne school children grow native

Author: Bill Ward

One of my good buddies in the Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas is Delmar Cain. He is like several others of us who have taken an interest in native plants during our post-retirement years.

It was not that much of a stretch for me to get more interested in native plants after retirement, because as a geologist I was often in the field describing rocks and paying attention to the plants that characterized the outcrops of different strata. Some plants even helped me map the distribution of certain rock types.

Group photo
Boerne NPSOT President Wilt Shaw presents Native-Plant Watch award to Lora Beth Escalante, 4th-grade teacher at Curington Elementary School. Also enjoying the ceremony are Boerne NPSOT Education Chairman Kathy Ward (far left), Principal Jean Perry and BISD Science Coordinator Chris Ormiston (center rear), and Mrs. Escalante’s 4th-grade class. (Photo by Delmar Cain)

Delmar’s profession, on the other hand, kept him inside a lot. He was a lawyer of high repute in the Texas A&M System. Retirement to the Boerne area gave him a chance to more fully explore his lifelong interest in the outdoors. Luckily for us, he found his way to the Boerne Chapter of NPSOT. I say we were lucky, because Delmar is a man of great curiosity, and his curiosity always is leading to good ideas for us to test. He would have been a good scientist.

One of his recent good ideas has led the Boerne Chapter to try to promote education about native plants by aiding elementary and middle-school teachers who want to use hands-on projects involving native plants as a way to draw their students into investigating the natural world.

Knowing that one of our goals in NPSOT is to educate young people about the value of native plants, Delmar came to a Boerne Chapter board meeting to say that he had been thinking about the plight of the hardworking public school teachers who commonly must use their own money for teaching aids and equipment for special projects.

Delmar thought there might be local innovative teachers who would have implemented educational projects using plants if only funds had been available to support the projects. Shouldn’t the Boerne Chapter see if there are, indeed, worthwhile projects we could encourage and assist in our community schools? This good idea of Delmar’s led the Boerne Chapter to consider the idea of “Native-Plant Watch.”

Candid shot of two people talking
Delmar Cain (left) and Boerne NPSOT President Wilt Shaw at the Native-Plant Watch award ceremony. (Photo by Kathy Ward)

Native-Plant Watch would be a pilot educational grant program for elementary and middle school teachers in the Boerne Independent School District (BISD), sponsored by the Boerne NPSOT Chapter. The purpose of the program would be to encourage projects that help students learn about the conservation, value, and use of Texas native plants and native-plant habitats. The goals would be achieved by making some funds available directly to teachers who have projects using native plants, but do not have the financial resources to complete the projects.

The Boerne Chapter board encouraged Delmar to test his idea. So he contacted Chris Ormiston, BISD Science Coordinator, and found just what he had suspected. Ormiston told him about Lora Beth Escalante, a 4th grade teacher at Curington Elementary School. She wanted to construct a garden, filled with vegetables and native plants, which she could use in any number of ways to demonstrate fundamental science concepts to her students. She had the full encouragement of Principal Jean Perry, and the support of her students’ parents, some of whom were lining up supplies. Ms. Escalante already had started a composting project using the biodegradable leftovers from school lunches.

The Boerne NPSOT Chapter added more fuel to the project by presenting Ms. Escalante with a check, which allows her to purchase fencing, garden tools, and native plants. The check was presented on February 26th. Now all that is needed is a decision from Principal Perry on a location for the garden.

From now on, the Boerne Chapter will make the Native-Plant Watch educational grant annually. Interested elementary and middle-school teachers can apply online by going to the Boerne Chapter webpage on the NPSOT website

With the help of the Native-Plant Watch educational grants, some lucky Boerne school children will learn about natural science through studying native plants. They won’t have to retire before they fully appreciate the fascinating and important role native plants play in our natural environment. I wished I’d had a teacher like Ms. Escalante in elementary school.

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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