Texas Snowbells

Share in my adventurous journey of finding the plants that are rare and endangered and creating their portraits. The biggest challenge is not only locating their natural or protected habitat and co-ordinating with people that can lead you to their sites, but to time your visit to capture the plant’s bloom. If possible, I return many times so that I can record the cycle of growth through to its seed production as well. It is illegal to remove the plants or any parts, so all documentation must be done on site and there is careful monitoring! Meet these people who take time out of their busy schedule to lead an artist to a solo plant; I hope my art measures up to their dedication to conservation!
Styrax texana Cory, Family: Styracaceae, Global/State Rank: G3T1S1, Federal/State Status: Endangered, Federally listed on October 12, 1984,& State listed on January 23, 1987, Global /State Range:  Endemic t the Edwards Plateau In Edwards, Kinney, Real and Val Verde Counties; introduced at a site in Uvalde County

San Antonio Botanical Garden had a reclamation project with a few specimens of the Texas Snowbell, but I also learned about a man named JDavid Bamberger who was also doing this work. It turned out that his 5,500 acre ranch was close to my hill country home, which was perfect because this painting took me two years to complete. After many visits and countless hours with him to research the Texas Snowbells I would consider him a friend. I would like to share what was written about him in Water from Stone – The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve: “While, on the face of it, this project may not seem particularly heroic, the implications are far reaching in the second largest American state with the smallest percentage of public lands. “Private land rights in Texas are the sacred cow,” … and in the region where the snowbell grows ranchers are particularly suspicious of the Endangered Species Act and federal intervention on their lands. JDavid went straight to the private landowners, searching out new Texas Snowbells colonies, growing the plant himself and reintroducing it where the federal government isn’t welcome.” This is just a small glimpse into the life of a man very dedicated to conservation and his mission to take the Texas Snowbells off of the critically endangered list.


These delicate 5 petaled flowers are clustered at the end of branches and hang upside down looking like small white bells. The bloom is quick and drop in masses which cover the ground like snow hence the common name of this deciduous shrub, Texas Snowbells.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2005 JDavid Bamberger showing off the big-toothed Maple, another native that he has introduced on his ranch, called Selah.  The name Selah comes from the Psalms and means to him, “Stop, pause, look around you and reflect on everything you see”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe bought the worst ranch he could find and restored it to a gem in the hill country. There was no ground water on his property until he restored the native grasses and now the water is abundant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis specimen of the Texas Snowbell is on his ranch and he is telling me about the identifying factor of its light green silvery underside of the leaf that distinguishes it from the Sycamore Leaf Snowbell.  So, I need to make sure that feature is distinct in my painting.


This heart-shaped shrub is multi-trunked and grows ten to fifteen feet tall.


He shares his property and loves to inspire others to be a steward of this earth.  On his property he has interpretive trails with many native trees and plants. It is a destination for entire classes of schoolchildren and public tours to learn about conservation and the endangered herd of Scimitar Horned Oryx that resides there. In 1998 he even built the Chiroptorium (bat cave) with an observation post for researchers and now as many as 400,000 bats make their summer home in the cave! The newest edition to Selah is built in the latest innovations of “green design” called the Margaret Bamberger Research & Education Center (named after his late wife)    which is part museum, part living zoo, part research lab, part classroom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe new greenhouse that he built where about 2000 seedlings will be started this year from seed.


On two-tiered shelving the snowbell plants range from seedling sprouts to two-year-old saplings. Here represented the only successful nursery for the endangered snowbell recovery operation for the entire state of Texas.  These potted plants are starting to mature in November.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a later summer visit he showed me the height that the plant needs to reach before he plants them in the wild around November. They only are planted in the same watershed where the seed was collected, mostly the cliffs/ banks of the Devil’s and Nueces rivers. This area in Texas is the only area in the world that this endangered plant exists.  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. He has more people on his side now with thirteen new landowners involved on this watershed giving him up to 75,000 arces to work on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The snowbells are quite tasty to feral goats, over-abundant white-tailed deer and a thriving introduced exotic population. Each plant in the wild is protected by JDavid and others with these tall cages, presenting quite a challenge when planting in remote areas, many times on cliffs and terrain inaccessible to deer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first year (2006) I started the painting I had missed the bloom and I decided to wait instead of painting the flowers from photos which JDavid gave me. It wasn’t until March a year later that I saw the bloom and could finish the painting of blossoms.


After an October seed collection trip, he called me so that I could paint them because he knew I wanted to add the whole cycle to the painting. But he had an ulterior motive, putting me to work hulling and then counting the seeds and returning them to the sack that recorded where they were collected.

Each pod can have multiple seeds & now I could add the seed to the painting.

In 10 years of work, JDavid’s last planting in fall 2007 brought the total to 700 plants (when the state of Texas listed it endangered, there were only 87 plants) that he has reintroduced into the wild. The first seeds from reintroduced trees were harvested in September 2015!  In 2019 the Selah, Bamberger Ranch celebrated half a century of conservation and JDavid turned 90!



One of my ongoing projects is to illustrate the Rare and Endangered Plants of the Texas Hill Country, initially inspired by a grant awarded in 2005 by the American Society of Botanical Artists. The two main aspects of this project are educating the public about the existence and conservation of these plants and collaboration with concerned organizations by doing fundraising with sales and exhibits of the artwork.  The Texas Snowbell was one of the paintings to fulfill my grant I am forever grateful to have met this incredible man.  After I got news of winning the grant he was one of the first landowners I called in search for rare plants.  I was anxious to get started (it was November) and I remember him saying,  “I don’t know what we will find this time of year, but you are welcome to come out.”

I entered the painting in a juried exhibition called Endangered Species:  Flora & Fauna in Peril and it got into this traveling show which first showed at the Wilding Art Museum in CA ( 2008) and then to U.S. Department of the Interior Museum, Washington, D.C.

In 2009 after watching President Obama give a prime time speech to Congress, I sent him an email urging him to maintain funding for the arts in his new budget and also sent his family a catalog of the Endangered exhibit, which was in their “backyard”. Two days later, the president gave a speech at the Department of the Interior about the Endangered Species Act, and later that week I received an invitation to travel to D.C. to present a slide show of my field work and give a workshop on graphite pencil technique so got to see my two paintings hanging in the Endangered Species exhibit. Fortuitous and serendipitous!


   Learn, Give Thought, Be Inspired, Take Action……Bring Back Balance

Lotus McElfish                                                                              LotusMcElfish.com

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