Boerne Chapter

Bluebell Gentian, Favorite Wildflower of the Drought

Author: Bill Ward

It is difficult to find anything to like about this exceptional drought we continue to suffer, but in this part of the Hill Country, at least it seems to have brought out more bluebell gentians than I’ve seen in a long time.

Image of purple flower
Bluebell gentians blooming in the summer heat.

The showy blue-purple blooms of the bluebell make it a favorite wildflower. Supposedly, those eye-catching flowers have led the plant to extinction in certain places where people could not resist picking them all.

The bluebell gentian is the namesake for the popular Blue Bell Ice Cream, which originated in Brenham in 1907. Bluebells may occupy whole fields in the Brenham area. What a sight when they are in bloom!

In Kendall County, even during this dry period, there have been bluebells in many low, moist(?) places such as the Cibolo Nature Center marsh (now dry), various places along Cibolo Creek southeast of Boerne, and on the banks of the Guadalupe River at Kendall County’s newly acquired parkland. I don’t remember seeing so many in this area for several years. Some authors say they are biennial or short-lived perennials, which may partly explain their apparent relative abundance this year.

Purple flowers
Bluebell gentians blooming in the summer heat.

Bluebell gentian (Eustoma grandiflorum or russellianum) is a widespread species, growing in the wild throughout the central US and into Central America. Some botanists divide the Texas bluebell gentians into two species based mostly on supposed differences in flower width. The prairie bluebell (E. exaltatum), according to some botanists, is a separate species, but others think all the bluebells are subspecies of a single species. I’m sure DNA testing will soon resolve the discussion.

Among the Texas bluebell gentians there is variation in color, including purple, blue, pink, and white. Horticulturists have developed a number of cultivars from these different color varieties and introduced them to the nursery trade. Bluebell gentians, probably from Texas, have been cultivated in Japan for many decades.

As the common name implies, the bluebell is a member of the Gentian Family, which also includes the three kinds of pinks (Centaurium sp.) common to the Hill Country. The bluebell gentian is not to be confused with the rare Texas bluebell (Campanula reverchonii), an endemic which today grows only on granite and metamorphic rock of the Llano Uplift. As an interesting aside, there is one historic record of the Texas bluebell having been collected in Kendall County near Waring.

SUN Award to Debbie Reid

The Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society recently presented Debbie Reid with the SUN Award (Standing Up for Natives Award). Reid has been one of this area’s most innovative and influential stewards of native plants and the general ecosystem.

Woman holding framed image that reads "Sun" and illegible script
Debbie Reid, former San Antonio Arborist, receiving SUN Award.

During the mid 1990s, she was a Naturalist at Friedrich Park in northwestern San Antonio. While there, Debbie conceived of the Master Naturalist program. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department urban biologists Rufus Stephens and Judit Green and others helped her create and implement the Texas Master Naturalist training classes, first held at Friedrich Park. Now there are at least four Master Naturalist programs in the Hill Country and many more around the state. This volunteer program also has spread to over 30 other states and another country. That effort alone is an impressive legacy for Reid.

In 1997, she was hired to be the first and only Arborist for San Antonio when the city adopted its first tree-protection ordinance. To better understand urban development, Reid went back to her alma mater Texas A&M to take a class in heavy machinery. In trying to enforce the tree ordinances in San Antonio, most developers and environmentalists alike found her to be knowledgeable, fair, and willing to work hard to find equitable compromises.

Debbie Reid recently resigned from the San Antonio job to go to Mexico with the Peace Corps. She hopes to work with federal and local government agencies to improve forestry practices in Mexico. Another pioneering adventure for this creative ecologist!

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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