A tale of two trees

SAWS Conservation Consultant Gail Gallegos

This botanical meet-cute brings candy-colored hues to the Salado Creek Greenway every spring.

There’s a unique natural phenomenon that happens in north-central Bexar County each spring: two distinct plant varieties hybridize, creating a spectrum of fascinating color combinations.

These two species are both native buckeyes and they share many features, including palm-like leaves and, most noticeably, large seed pods with a characteristic white spot, or “buckeye.”

Texas buckeye is a lovely small tree that boasts showy butter-yellow flower clusters in early spring. Red buckeye is more of a large shrub with striking deep red flower clusters in spring. Its bell-shaped flowers are tubular with long filaments, and several flowers bloom at once on their six- to 10-inch stems.

The big difference between the two is that they have quite different geographic ranges. Yellow-flowering Texas buckeye occurs in only a few central Texas counties along the western Edwards Plateau, while red buckeye is found in the easternmost part of the Edwards Plateau, ranging from East Texas to North Carolina, Florida and as far north as Illinois.

But along San Antonio’s Salado Creek Greenway trail is a wondrous spot where these two species mix and mingle.

On a spring day, you can observe they get along quite well, combining into a variety of flowering hybrids in many combinations of yellow and red. You’ll spy pale butter-yellow outer petals with cherry red streaks inside, and pinkish-red buds popping open with bright yellow petals and red stamens. The color possibilities seem infinite. (Strawberry lemonade comes to mind.)

Both buckeyes drop their leaves with the extreme heat of summer and remain bare until the next year. This means that from mid-summer to late February, you may not even notice they’re there.

But when they burst into life every March, the month-long show is worthy of an annual stroll along the Greenway between Hardberger Park and Walker Ranch Park to see these exclusive hybrids in their array of candy store hues.

Rather than wax on about all the quaint combinations, let’s explore some photographic examples from a recent spring day!

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