Maple Trees in Texas

Bigtooth maples

These beautiful maple trees are called “Lost” because there are a few small native populations in such places as the Ouachita Mountains, Fort Hood, Lost Maples Park and the Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas, all hundreds of miles apart and “lost” from other maples.  Each population is a relict of the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago, and the localities in which they have found refuge and survived are canyons with perennial streams.  When conditions are right in the fall, the Lost Maples put on a breathtaking display of blazing autumn foliage with spectacular hues of scarlet, gold, orange, yellow, and burgundy.

Lost Maples are native hardwood trees that will thrive not only in the rocky alkaline soils of the Hill Country and Central Texas, but most other soils too.  Many thousands of Lost Maples have been planted throughout the state in various soil types in the last twenty five years and have grown successfully.  They are virtually disease and insect free, and are not susceptible to Oak Wilt.  With proper fertilization and care, they will grow rapidly at a rate of three feet per year and live for hundreds of years.  Their great beauty and adaptability of the Lost Maple make it one of the most desirable native trees of Texas.  Their very upright growth and durable wood, make it ideal for street planting.

Austin Native Plant

The Austin Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. The purpose of the Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) is to promote the conservation, research and utilization of the native plants and plant habitats of Texas, through education, outreach and example.

Boerne Texas Maples

The Native Plant Society of Texas-Boerne Chapter’s mission is to promote understanding, preservation and enjoyment of the native flora of Texas. Thanks to the Lende Foundation’s generous support, more Bigtooth Maples will be displaying their beauty in Boerne. For the next ten years, a limited supply of maples will be available at no charge for adoption by qualified Boerne businesses, organizations and residents. Applications must be submitted by October 1 each year. The Bigtooth Maple Tree Adoption flyer is available for distribution to family and friends as a reminder of the event.

“Lost” Maples of the Hill Country

Acer grandidentatum, or Bigtooth Maple, the “lost” native maple tree of the Texas Hill Country, lived in profusion in the midst of hardwood forests until the end of the last great ice age, about 10,000 years ago. As the great ice sheets receded, the climate of the Hill Country became gradually warmer and dryer, and the hardwood forests began to die out as cooler, wetter years gave way to a hotter, dryer climate less suitable for supporting the forests. Over many centuries, the semi-arid conditions of today developed and gradually the maples died out in harsher localities, but sought sustaining shelter from the elements and life-giving moisture from the cool, clear springs in the steep-sided canyons of the Bandera County region. Within these exotic localities, a microclimate exists that has helped sustain a great variety of plants that collectively are called a “relict” flora, because the plants living in them today are true fossils of an ancient forest in an ancient time. Among the plants that survived almost exclusively in the protected canyons are hardwood trees such as Bigtooth Maple, Chinquapin Oak, Black Walnut, Linden (Basswood), Cedar Elm, Black Cherry, and understory plants such as the Mexican Buckeye, Carolina Buckthorn, Sycamore Leaf Snowbell, Witch Hazel, and Spice bush.

In the Texas area, the deeper canyons of central Bandera County centering around the Lost Maples State Natural Area (the headwaters of the Sabinal River) hold one of the best populations of these plants in the state. Other localities are near Belton, the Glass Mountain area of west Texas, and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park on the Texas-New Mexico line. In each of these locations the same relict flora occurs, and always in a similar setting; reliable water in protected canyons. McKittrick Canyon, of the Guadalupe Mountains, is the largest and grandest of the canyons containing the relict flora. It is, however, a little difficult to see, because there are no roads in the canyon and it can be seen only by hiking at least 3 or 4 miles up the canyon.

Although many of the relict plants that occupy these canyons are beautiful, the Bigtooth Maples are the star of the show because of their blazing fall colors. Visitors, armed with cameras, flock to the parks containing the maples in late October and early November to try to record one of natures most inspired displays of color. The intensity and variety of colors that the maples provide are breathtaking, but the colors are a response of the tree to the changing conditions at the onset of cooler autumn weather. If the weather is favorable, the colors are maximized, but if warm, wet weather prevails, the colors are muted. In some years, particularly when the maples are seeding (generally every 5 to 7 years), the color does not develop. The formula for the maximum coloration of the leaves is not really known, but it is certain that chilly nights, warm days, and dry falls are necessary for color.

Bigtooth Maples live for hundreds of years, are bona fide sugar maples, and are highly desirable for their decorative wood. They differ from the northern maples in that their leaves are much smaller, a concession they have made to the dry climate in which they live. One of their most desirable traits is that they thrive in very alkaline soils. Most of the other maples prefer acidic soils and do poorly in alkaline conditions, but the Bigtooth Maple is a native of shallow, rocky, caliche soils and it will thrive in soils that few other trees will tolerate. Serious insect problems or diseases have not been observed to be a problem. Despite these hardy attributes, and its striking beauty, the maples are gradually dying out of the plant community in many of the Bandera County localities. The blame for this unhappy event does not lie with the changeability of weather patterns, but with our failure to perceive that it is happening and to take corrective measures to restore these beautiful trees to the plant community.

The story of the threatened demise of the maples begins with the settling of the land and introduction of livestock that was confined to pastures year round by fencing. Livestock, particularly goats, when confined to pastures year round consume all of the seedling trees for food and thereby prevent the natural renewal of trees to replace those that die from natural causes. In addition, protection of the livestock requires the removal of predators such as coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, etc. The white-tail deer, which coexists with all this activity, are the accidental beneficiaries of the removal of the predators. To top it all off, the greatest enemy of the deer, the screw worm, has been virtually eradicated. With no natural enemies, the deer population exploded. At the present time, with the overgrazing that exists in most of the county, the deer herd alone can prevent the renewal of any of the hardwood trees by consuming all of the seedlings that nature can create. Lost Maples Park has had to resort to planting trees and protecting them from the deer with cages, because no hardwood tree seedlings have survived since the early 1970’s (since the eradication of the screw worm) existed in the park! The Texas Forest Service confirms that the same situation exists in the rest of Bandera County and are actively encouraging the replanting of hardwood trees.

In the Guadalupe Mountain National Park the same problem existed before the park was created. With the removal of livestock and the protection of all wildlife the natural systems restored themselves and today their forest is in a state of full recovery with thousands of small trees of all sizes growing in the canyons. A large and healthy deer herd lives there also, but it is in a natural balance with the predators and the food supply. A trip to this park allows one to see what the Bandera County forests were like in the not too distant past!

Good stewardship of the land requires that we recognize problems such as this one and do what we can to rectify them. Bringing the deer population into its natural balance with nature is a worthy, but exceedingly difficult goal in the absence of their natural predators. In the meantime, planting more of the maples in protective cages will help decorate our countryside with these beautiful trees and keep plenty of them in the plant community.

Guadalupe Mountain National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is located in West Texas and contains Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet (2,667 m). It also contains El Capitan, long used as a landmark by people traveling along the old route later followed by the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach line.  The park covers 86,367 acres (134.95 sq mi; 349.51 km2)[1] and is in the same mountain range as Carlsbad Caverns National Park which is located about 25 miles (40 km) to the north in New Mexico. Many well-established trails exist in the park for hiking and horse-riding.

The park also contains McKittrick Canyon. During the Fall, McKittrick comes alive with a blaze of color from the turning Bigtooth Maples, in stark contrast with the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert.