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Arts & Culture

Boerne Fall-ing In Love With Autumn Leaves

It was an odd sight at the Agricultural Heritage Museum in Boerne, Texas, on Saturday. They began showing up at about 9 a.m, and came in for hours. They came primarily in pickup trucks, backed up, checked in, loaded up trees, and big bags of mulch, and wire cages, and then left. Not one person pulled out a wallet, and no money was exchanged. The people running this show weren’t just giving away trees. They were giving away Bigtooth Maples. Some folks call them ‘Lost Maples.’

“The reason they’re called Lost Maples is because at one time, they covered most of the western U.S., but slowly, as the temperatures warmed up, gradually, they just found pockets of them.”

That’s Suzanne Young. Those Lost Maples never were actually lost — they’re native to this area. But they’re dwindling. The program she runs is called Bigtooth Maples for Boerne, in the Texas Hill Country, and its objective is to turn that trend around. It’s a remarkably local program.

“We buy the trees in Love Creek Nursery in Medina. We buy the supplies from [Boerne's] Bergmann Lumber.”

The supplies are those bags of mulch, and the wire cages. Why wire cages? Deer.

“Yeah, the biggest problem is deer, and other animals that eat the seedlings. In most places they’re just mature trees, not young ones.”

That, is Chuck Janzow. He’s a retired science teacher, who, after years of experimentation, figured out a great way to grow the Bigtooth Maple from seed.

“It’s a real lengthy process, it takes the seeds about 90 days to get the seeds to germinate — if they’re going to. Some trees produce tons of seeds, but they’re not viable.”

Janzow’s got the routine down though, and produces thousands of seedlings from the trees that produce viable seeds. And he sells those seedlings to Love Creek in Medina, not far from San Antonio, to grow.

“Some years there’s a lot of seed, and other years, sometimes two, three or four years in a row, there aren’t any seeds.”

Author and Naturalist Jan Wrede originally came up with the idea for Bigtooth Maples for Boerne.

“Its natural populations are in decline, so it’s a particularly important plant to put our conservation efforts on.”

The odds weren’t too good for the Bigtooth’s longterm survival in Boerne. Then along came the Bigtooth Maples for Boerne program, and then the Lende Foundation to fund it.

“I think it started with a $10,000 grant for the first five years, and [it] subsequently has been extended.

The ‘Bigtooth Maples for Boerne’ program was born nine years ago.The idea was to buy the maples and give them away to Boerneites to plant. But there had to be some rules.

“Absolutely" said Young. "We take applications, and the guidelines say that they live inside Boerne City limits; that they will place the tree so that it’s visible from the streets, so that some day, when we have tours, people can drive around and see the fall colors. We ask that new owners, when they adopt them, agree to take care of them, water them to establish that deep root system, so they can survive the heat in the summer.”

Since they’ve been doing this for nine years, they’ve given away quite a few.

“A thousand one hundred and seven” said Young.

But back to last Saturday’s tree giveway. Here’s Valerie Oldfather.

"I love maple trees. I had one at my old house but we moved and I didn’t get to enjoy one anymore, so I was so excited when I heard about this.”

Qualified applicants don’t have to stop with planting just one, as Russell Moore found out.

“Probably about five years ago, we picked up our first maple. And we have it planted now and it’s probably a good 10, 12 feet tall.”

Lleanna Brinsmade was there with her 90 year-old, organic gardening mother, to pick one up.

“What a fabulous program this is! There’s nothing like this on the east coast where I’m from.”

Steve Stevens was here to choose his second one.

“We got one of ‘em and planted it and it’s just beautiful. So when the opportunity came up to get a second tree, we jumped at the chance, and here I am today to pick it up.”

Yvonne and Raul Gonzales showed up ready to dig. We asked if this was the first tree they’d got.

“Second.”

"You got one last year?"

“Yes.”

"How is it growing?"

“It’s going great! I was afraid I was going to kill it, but I didn’t. It survived!" she laughed.

Jan Wrede reminds us of just why the Bigtooth Maple has survived until now.

“One of the remarkable things about the Bigtooth is that it’s tough as nails. Shoot, I’ve driven a truck over one, a seedling that I forgot about. And it popped right back up.”

The most enthusiastic tree recipient was probably Crystal Matulich.

“I’m here to get my maple tree. It’s like getting a Christmas gift; I love my maple trees!”

She’s planted a bunch of them in her neighborhood association’s park.

“During the drought, I take water buckets from my home, and big huge garbage cans, take ‘em down to the lake and give my kids a dollar each to bucket it out on the trees during the drought, but they’ve all lived, and they look super great, so we’re happy about it.”

So you’ve planted them where there isn’t water, but you’ve made the water happen?

“Absolutely.”

She doesn’t just keep them caged and watered. She prunes them.

“I prune them every year, in fact, this last year, I was pruning one of them and I didn’t realize it, but there was a hornet’s nest underneath some leaves, and they came at me and popped me, but that is the only tree that hasn’t been pruned.  Every other tree has been pruned and is doing great!" she laughed.

And so the ‘Bigtooth Maples for Boerne’ program continues its slow makeover of the city.

“This is a wonderful public/nonprofit partnership: said Paul Barwick, who is with the City of Boerne.

“We’ve been able to put a number of these trees along the Old #9 trail. We’ve got ‘em at the city park, we’ve got them at city lake park. We’ve got ‘em on the Curry Creek Trail, the Cibolo Trail. We’ve got some on the police department grounds, fire department, the city campus. So we’ve got ‘em all over town, and they’ve got some fantastic fall color. They can range anywhere from kind of a brilliant yellow to some deep reds and some crazy oranges.”

Young says we shouldn't be surprised to see Boerne marketing itself as the place for fall color over the next decade.

“In 10 years, we’re hoping that we will be able to walk the trails, and walk around Boerne, and see the fall color, and not have to have any carbon footprint. That we will have it in Boerne and not go anywhere, fly anywhere, to see fall color.”

Volunteer Dan Basarich says “It just makes our town better.”

That it does. We’ve more on the Bigtooth Maples for Boerne Program here.