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Boerne Chapter

Anacacho orchid tree, a NICE! landscape plant

Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) is the Operation NICE! (Natives Instead of the Common Exotics!) choice for May. This large shrub or small tree is ever-increasingly popular as a hardy landscape plant for Hill Country yards.

Close up of white blossoms
Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) in full bloom (Boerne chapter)

Bauhinia is a large genus with 250 species of shrubs, trees, and vines growing in many warm parts of the world. The large-flowered orchid trees native to India and China are familiar to many people because they are cultivated along the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida. They also are a favorite ornamental in California, Mexico, the Caribbean, both sides of the Mediterranean, and many other places.

The United States has only one native species of Bauhinia, the Anacacho orchid tree. This species grows only in three Texas counties and northeastern Mexico. For a while, it was thought to occur in Texas only in Kinney County in the Upper Cretaceous limestone hills called the “Anacacho Mountains.” Later it was found in Maverick County, probably in similar limestone terrain, and also in Val Verde County on the Lower Cretaceous limestone slopes of the Devils River valley.

Tree covered in white blossoms
Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) in bloom.

The Anacacho orchid tree is a perfect NICE! plant, because it is drought-tolerant, needs little care and water, grows fairly fast, and produces abundant spring blooms. Even in the severe drought we’ve recently suffered, our Anacacho orchid trees are now thick with blooms.

The blooms are in tight clusters of white or pale-pink 3/4-inch flowers. The old species name B. congesta refers to the crowded flowers. Typical of most bauhinia, the leaves are distinctly bi-lobed. In Anacacho orchid trees the small leaves are divided to the base into two leaflets, giving a cloven-hoof shape. One of the common names, “pata de vaca” (cow hoof), is derived from the appearance of the leaves.

Anacacho orchid trees apparently can grow well in understory or open-sun sites. Both our Texas white orchid tree and our Northeastern Mexico pink orchid tree do very well in full sun. The population growing in the Dolan Falls area of the Devils River valley is in full sun.

Bee on a light pink flower
Bee on a light Anacacho orchid tree (Bauhinia lunarioides) blossom (Boerne chapter).

The native stands of Anacacho orchid trees thrive in thin limestone soils, which would seem to bid well for their success in Hill Country gardens. Probably one of the most important requirements is good drainage. In this area, Anacacho orchid trees seem to be cold tolerant, but they may not easily survive the winters much farther north.

According to Robert Vines (Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of the Southwest), the genus name Bauhinia is in honor of Caspar and John Bauhin, “Sixteenth-Century herbalists, an allusion suggested by the twin lobes of the leaves.” These Swiss brothers, however, were not twins. The younger brother Caspar (Gaspard) gained recognition as one of the earliest botanists to attempt a classification system based on common characteristics. In 1623 he published a description of over 6,000 plants in “Pinax theatric botanici.” Even though Bauhin did not conceive of a binomial nomenclature as used in Carl Linnaeus’ 1735 “Systema Naturae,” many names of genera he coined were adopted by Linnaeus and remain in use today.

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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