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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - October 01, 2012

From: Belton, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Propagation, Seeds and Seeding, Transplants, Trees
Title: Keeping a Texas Madrone alive from Belton TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have found a supplier of a Texas Madrone and have been wanting to grow one ever since our family vacation to Big Bend NP. My question is how do you have success with this tree? Many people say it is almost impossible to keep alive for more than 5 years. I saw the madrone at the Wildflower Center and was curious how you guys had success with this tree when so many haven't. I live on the western edge of the blackland prairie and far east edge of the hill country.

ANSWER:

As it happens, this question has been answered before by Mr. Smarty Plants. Please read this previous question.

As you will see from this USDA Plant Profile MapArbutus xalapensis (Texas madrone) is not native to Bell County, but to Williamson and Travis Counties, just south of Bell County. From the same map, note that it is native to Brewster County, where Big Bend National park is located. This is in the Chihuahan Desert, a very unique ecosystem. If you will follow the plant link to our webpage on this tree, you will find several entries which pretty well characterize why it is going to be difficult to grow it in Central Texas:

"Native Habitat: Grows in rocky limestone soil; igneous soil in canyons; and is sometimes found on the open plains of the Edwards Plateau and in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos."

"Conditions Comments: One of the most interesting and beautiful native trees of Texas, but temperamental to propagate or grow. Propagation requirements are complex, and it is very difficult to transplant successfully from the wild. In the landscape, it grows best  in well-drained areas."

We are familiar with the madrone you have seen at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. We are not sure if it was on the land when clearing was begun for the construction of the Center, or if it was grown in that spot. We haven't been volunteering there that long. However, we have many skilled, dedicated gardeners, volunteer and staff, who check on that tree and make sure nothing is threatening it on a regular basis.

The only other location I have personally known of in Austin where madrones grew in the wild was at a Wildflower Center Garden Tour. We were told there were naturally-growing madrones at the bottom of a rather steep cliff in a partially dry creek. We say we were told, because we didn't have the courage to go down that cliff to see them.

Our take on all this is that if the supplier you have found has grown some seeds from the madrone, and you can take some small seedlings and plant them, after amending the soil to be satisfactory to the madrone, your chances are pretty good. If they have been dug up in the wild, we think you would probably be wasting your time. This is a tree that does NOT choose to be dug up.

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas madrone
Arbutus xalapensis

Texas madrone
Arbutus xalapensis

Texas madrone
Arbutus xalapensis

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