Rare San Antonio-area wildflower could be deemed ‘threatened’ under Endangered Species Act

The bracted twistflower can be found from Austin to San Antonio and across Medina and Uvalde County

The rare bracted twistflower, found around San Antonio, may soon be placed on the 'threatened species' list. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servicr)

There are more than 1,300 endangered or threatened species in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Within the next few years, one more species, located right here in South-Central Texas, may be added to the list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Where is it found?

The bracted twistflower is a rare annual wildflower native to the southeastern edge of the Edwards Plateau. It’s found from Austin to San Antonio and west to Medina and Uvalde County and boasts a blue-violet color.

The bracted twistflower's habitat stretches form Austin to San Antonio and points west.

How rare is the bracted twistflower?

The bracted twistflower is not often seen. There are only a few populations of the flower left, with dwindling numbers in San Antonio and Austin due to urban development. It’s also not always visible, with pulses in germination occurring about once every five to 10 years.

Why does it need to be protected?

Its flowers are important to native bee species. It also provides nectar and pollen for other insects.

What is the wildflower’s biggest threat?

The biggest threat to the wildflower is from urban development.

“Much of bracted twistflower’s range occurs along the I-35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio, which is one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the United States,” said Chris Best, state botanist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Texas. “We estimate that 33 percent of the species’ habitats have been lost to urban and residential development over the last 30 years. The good news is that we have many dedicated local partners who are helping us protect and recover this species in the remaining occupied habitats.”

Grazing by white-tailed deer, reduced light levels from woody plant cover, small population sizes and lack of genetic diversity are also threats to the species.

How does a species become ‘threatened’ and what’s next?

The process is long. The species was listed as a candidate species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011 and was petitioned for listing in 2014. Now, the proposal to list the bracted twistflower as threatened and designate critical habitat will be published in the Federal Register on Nov. 10, 2021, and public comments will be accepted until Jan. 11, 2022. It can be a confusing process. Here’s a flow chart provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that may or may not clear up how a species becomes threatened or endangered:

The process of a species becoming threatened or endangered takes time.

Should it become threatened, removing, cutting, digging up, damaging or destroying the wildflower would be prohibited.

Wildflower’s habitat may also be protected

Critical habitat is defined as specific geographic areas that contain features essential to the conservation of an endangered or threatened species and that may require special management and protection. In this case, critical habitat for bracted twistflower is proposed for in nine areas occupied by the species in Travis, Bexar, Medina and Uvalde counties. All nine areas are already managed for conservation of the species, including approximately 345 acres on state land at Garner State Park; 1,200 acres on local government lands at Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and within City of San Antonio Parks & Recreation Department park boundaries; and 63 acres on private land that is voluntarily managed for conservation. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership, establish a refuge or preserve, nor impact private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.

Should the bracted twistflower become threatened, it will likely take several more years for an official designation.

About the Author:

Justin Horne is a meteorologist and reporter for KSAT 12 News. When severe weather rolls through, Justin will hop in the KSAT 12 Storm Chaser to safely bring you the latest weather conditions from across South Texas. On top of delivering an accurate forecast, Justin often reports on one of his favorite topics: Texas history.