Boerne Chapter

Texas Ash — NICE! tree for October

Author: Bill Ward

The hint of fall in the morning air makes me want to get back outside with the native plants. A few plants that didn’t survive the exceptional drought in our yard need to be replaced, and October will be a good time to plant wildflower seeds in hopes that a few autumn rains will bring a pretty spring in 2010. Also, fall is the best time to plant native shrubs and trees.

Image of someone's hand holding up leaves on a tree
Compound leaves of Texas ash. (photo by John Siemssen)

For our October Plant of the Month, the Boerne Chapter’s Operation NICE! (Natives Instead of the Common Exotics!) is highlighting the small tree Texas ash (Fraxinus texensis or F. americana var. texensis). This is a handsome shade tree getting up to 30-45 feet high. Once established, Texas ash is drought-tolerant.

The dark-green leaves are opposite and compound with five to seven leaflets. During fall the foliage has nice color. “With redder shades on the outside and yellows on the inside, the whole tree looks like a candle flame” (Sally Wasowski, “Native Texas Plants, Landscaping Region by Region”).

Image of large bush above a stone fence column
Texas ash grows into small shade tree with lush green foliage. (photo by Bill Ward)

Many botanists believe Texas ash is a variety of white ash (Fraxinus americana), from which it is hard to distinguish. Texas ash has five to seven leaflets, typically 5, while white ash has five to nine elongate leaflets, typically 7. White ash, native to the eastern part of the state, can grow to be a larger tree than Texas ash.

Texas ash is endemic to limestone areas of southern Oklahoma down through North Central Texas and across the Edwards Plateau, including Kendall County. Some Texas ash trees also grow in the Ft. Davis area. Texas ash should do very well in Boerne-area yards.

This tree is adapted to well-drained calcareous soils. It is hardy, fairly fast growing, long-lived and fairly resistant to pests and disease, and it is the most drought-tolerant of the ashes usually available at nurseries.

The Boerne Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas provides free planting and care instructions for Texas ash at nurseries participating in Operation NICE! (Hill Country African Violets & Nursery and Maldonado Landscape & Nursery) and at Cibolo Nature Center.

The most commonly planted (some say overplanted) ash in local landscapes is the non-indigenous Mexican or “Arizona ash” (F. berlandandieriana), which requires a lot of irrigation, is susceptible to pests and disease, does not have fall color, and is short-lived. Texas ash is a better choice for home gardeners as well as for landscapers and developers in this area.

What’s blooming in our yard now?

It seemed that within hours of the first rains the week before last, several of our backyard plants burst into bloom. They had been waiting out the drought long enough.

Mounds of purple and pink wildflowers
Salvia greggii and indigo spires burst into bloom after recent rains. (photo by Bill Ward)

Rain lilies and both the blue and white common wild petunias were the first. Salvia greggii was close behind. Also blooming now are mealy sage, tropical sage, giant blue sage, Salvia leucantha, indigo spires, Barbados cherry, pigeon berry, turk’s cap, cenizo, snow-on-the mountain, greeneyes, Lindheimer’s senna, esperanza, evergreen sumac, beebrush, snapdragon vine, and chile piquin.

The butterflies and hummingbirds have some nectar now! What a difference in two weeks!

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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