Recovery of the Texas Snowbell

The Texas snowbell (Styrax texana) has long been recognized as Texas’ most seriously threatened native plant species, and was officially declared as endangered in the federal Register in 1984. The snowbell is a beautiful understory tree that inhabits the limestone cliffs of the southwestern corner of the Edwards Plateau. Found mostly on cliffs associated with deeply cut waterways, only 87 plants from seven widely scattered populations were known to exist when this species was listed as endangered by the State of Texas in January 1987.

Because all but two of the known populations of the Texas snowbell occur on private land, it was imperative from the very beginning of the recovery process to include private landowners. J David Bamberger, as a personal quest, began landowner contacts and relationships with private landowners who knew that they had this tree on their properties. He collected seeds, grew and planted trees around the Bamberger Ranch. from seed, Mr. Bamberger’s success rate has been good.

In 2003, Mr. Bamberger and his staff gained confidence with those who oversee endangered species at the federal level, receiving funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Service for Phase One of a written recovery plan, instructing that within 5 years 500 plants would be reintroduced into counties of its natural range. Seeds collected from existing sites would be grown and potted and kept separate from other watershed collections so that hybridization of genetic material would be unlikely to occur. Records are kept as to where each plant came from and where they went within their watershed of origin.

All reintroduced trees have been protected with corral fencing so that deer, sheep, cattle and goats would not predate on the new seedlings. After 12 years, 617 trees are protected and flourishing in three watersheds and encompassing 23 ranches and 123,000 acreage. Additionally, 98 previously unknown trees were discovered.

In September 2015 the first seeds from reintroduced trees were harvested, making this a success story of how private lands can positively affect endangered species protection efforts.

Check out this great article in Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine about Selah’s efforts to save the Texas snowbell.