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Boerne Chapter

February 2008

NICE! Plant of the Month

(Malus ioensis var. texana (Synonym: Pyrus ioensis var. texana))

Pink flowers and buds on a green branch
Crabapple Photo by Jan Wrede

Family: Rosaceae (Rose Family)

Other Common Names: Texas crabapple, Prairie crabapple

Type: Small deciduous, wide spreading, multi-branched tree 12-15 ft high or large shrub forming thicket by root suckers; spine-tipped spur shoots; bark on young trees is smooth and reddish brown to gray; older trees have deep fissures and ridges; one of our showiest trees.

Natural Habitat: An adapted variety native to three counties in the Texas Hill Country (Blanco, Kendall, & Kerr) near stream banks and heads of canyons in well drained locations; this is the western most extent of wild crabapples.

Preferred Site and Use: Ornamental for well drained sites only.

Deer Resistance: Browsed frequently by deer (deer candy); for tree form protect by caging until growth is well above browse line then protect trunk with a small cage of a few inches in diameter; for shrub form permanent caging will be necessary.

Wildlife: Fruit eaten by a number of small mammals and numerous birds.

Light Tolerance: Full sun is best but will tolerate afternoon shade.

Flowers: Highly fragrant, dramatic 1.5″ wide 5-petaled apple blossoms show colors ranging from reddish buds to pink to white petals in mid-April.

Fruit: ½ – 1″ diameter green mini apples mature in October; very astringent but edible; cook to make excellent jelly, preserves, cider, and vinegar.

Leaves: Alternate, simple, usually 2-3″ long, margins toothed, upper surface shiny green; fall color is a potential kaleidoscopic array from purple, red, pink, orange, to yellow depending on the tree.

Water Requirements: Natives are xeric once established; water during establishment period.

Soil Requirements: Adapted to alkaline, dryer, well drained soil.

Maintenance: This native requires little maintenance if established in a well drained location where the soil is amended with compost and mulched beyond the drip line; some of typical apple problems such as cotton root rot.

Planting Instructions: Space plants 6-15 feet apart depending on the final desired appearance. Dig hole at least two – five times wider than, but the same depth as the root ball in the nursery container. Sides and shape of the hole should be irregular, not smooth. Remove plant from container, taking care to support the root ball. Loosen exterior roots gently with your fingers. If the plant is root-bound and cannot be loosened by hand, the outer roots may be cut in several places to avoid root girdling. Lift the plant by the root ball and place into the hole. Backfill the planting hole, using soil that was dug from the hole. Do not add any soil to the top of the root ball, but a thin layer of compost may be spread over the root ball and disturbed soil surface. Gently firm the soil with your hands, but do not tamp it down. Place 3-4 inches of mulch over the disturbed soil around but not touching the base of the plant.

Watering Instructions: Water deeply after planting to settle soil around roots. Then every 7-10 days, as needed, during the first growing season. Before watering, check for soil moisture at a depth of an inch or two at the edge of the root ball. Skip a watering after a rainfall of ½ to 1 inch. Maintain this watering schedule until the first fall following planting. Reduce watering during the cool fall and winter months. In a “normal” year, no watering may be necessary during the fall and winter, but during a dry period, monthly watering may be needed. Second Spring and thereafter, water monthly only during periods of drought. Once established, natives will survive with little supplemental irrigation.

NICE! Tip: This is a much underused tree, which is disappearing from the wild due to severe overgrazing by the exploding overpopulation of deer in the Hill Country. Beware of introduced hybrids or Malus floribunda, which grows naturally in the acidic soils of eastern Texas, and are not well adapted to our alkaline soils. Plant this ornamental as a specimen plant or establish a colony in a protected, well drained location, and enjoy a riot of color from spring to fall. Hard to find, but well worth the effort!

Look for the NICE! Plant of the Month signs and information sheets on your next visit to a participating Boerne nursery. And thank you for supporting native plants by using them in your landscapes.

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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