It’s hard to appreciate the large size of Trinity Park until you’ve been inside it (map1). Most of the park has paths leading through areas of native trees, but it also has playgrounds, a miniature train, picnic tables and covered pavilions. The Trinity Trail for walkers, runners, and cyclists runs along the whole length of the park (about 1.5 miles, from West 7th Street nearly to Hwy I-30), immediately paralleling the Trinity River. The Trail continues beyond the park northward under the 7th Street bridge and on along the park-like area beside the river. Near the north end of the park is the peaceful Duck (and Goose) Pond, blocked from direct traffic from W 7th Street. The Fort Worth Botanic Garden, just across University Drive, is nearly continuous in native vegetation with Trinity Park ––features of its trees are noted below.
Trinity Park stretches over a low area paralleling the west side of the Trinity River, and like the natural areas in nearby Overton Park and Forest Park, it was periodically flooded until completion of Benbrook Dam in 1952 –– creek-like drainage ditches now are cut through the park to drain the water. The plants mostly are characteristic of bottomlands and low woods in this part of the state. The most abundant and largest trees are bur oak, pecan, cedar elm, American elm, hackberry, and Berlandier/green ash. In the area immediately bordering University Drive, the dominant trees are cedar elm and hackberry. Less common but scattered everywhere through the park are bois d’arc, soapberry, gum bumelia, Texas oak, white mulberry, red mulberry, and other species. Black willow, cottonwood, and sycamore grow near water. Native bamboo (Arundinaria gigantea), a tall, woody-stemmed grass, forms colonies in a few areas.
Trinity Park is an excellent place to see and learn to know many of the common and beautiful native trees of Fort Worth –– walking is easy and shady paths run closely among nearly all of species that occur in the park. Huge bur oaks appear at nearly every turn, and even on a short walk, about 10 to 15 of the species are common enough to appear repeatedly, providing a great learning opportunity (photos).
Here’s a suggested walking path, a little more than one mile long, that goes close by nearly all the tree species (map2).
1 Begin near the RR Depot/concession stand, just in from the main entrance on University Drive across from the Botanic Garden. In this area are mostly cedar elms, bur oaks, and pecans -- the concession stand itself is shaded by two bur oaks.
2 Near the edge of the “undeveloped” woods is a large bumelia (88 inches in circumference) and a smaller one, both in the midst of numerous cedar elms. Throughout the park, bumelia seedlings and saplings are common at bases of trees, where by hugging the larger trunks they escape being eliminated by the constant mowing. It’s a testament to how much more common these beautiful trees would be in a natural setting.
3 Walk northward along the gravel path that runs between the miniature RR tracks and the “undeveloped” woods on the left, just across the little drainage ditch that runs along the side of the dense woods.
* The central part of the southern half of the park has been left alone (shrubs and undergrowth not cleared, not mowed, etc.). For short, this area of dense, undeveloped woods is here called the Thicket. Much of the Thicket edge is bounded by a creek-like ditch that drains water out of the area –– many distinctive plants, including non-natives, grow in profusion along these woods-park interfaces, which are characterized by lots of light and water. Further in, where light is low, the woods are much less thicket-like. This is a beautiful place and it’s wonderful that it exists, even in its very limited area –– to be “improved” only by removal of the invasive species that have crept in.
* The non-native glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) and Quihoui privet (Ligustrum quihoui), especially the latter, are abundant along the Thicket edges –– both are in flower in June and most distinctive and easily seen then, but with their opposite and mostly evergreen leaves, they are easily identified any time of the year. Native hackberry and ash-leaf maple are common small trees along the edges of the Thicket, as are the introduced chinaberry, white mulberry, and mimosa. The parasol tree, with its large spreading leaves and smooth green trunks, has only recently begun to become invasive –– several of these grow along the drainage here.
* The Thicket edges often are heavily draped with vines, especially catbrier, poison ivy, and racoon grape. The other common vine throughout the park, Virginia creeper, covers the lower trunks of many trees –– find it easily, based on how and where it grows and its 5-parted leaves.
* Small trees and saplings of white mulberry are common along the drainages and elsewhere. The leaves are amazingly variable in shape -- from nearly round or heart-shaped to very deeply lobed (as well as toothed along the edges) -- but still they usually are easy to recognize by their glossy green surfaces and the strong pair of lateral veins emerging with the midvein from the very base of the blade.
4 The large clearing into the woods on the left leads to a maintenance road that runs through the Thicket to meet the end of the paved cul-de-sac (an extension of Trinity Park Drive; see 11). Along the maintence road is a great place to see what the inside of the Thicket looks like, since there is no drainage ditch and the invasive species are not as common. Also see comments at 12.
5 A row of young bur oaks is planted along the main walking trail, as well as a chinkapin oak or two.
6 At the intersection of the path and miniature RR with Trinity Park Drive, turn left and walk along the road toward the irregular junction of Trinity Park Drive with Crestline Road (which enters the park from University Drive).
At the junction of Trinity Park Drive and Crestline Road (7, 8, and 9):
7 In the southeastern corner –– there is a large, beautiful bois d’arc and a smaller one, among pecans, cedar elms, and hackberries. Late in the afternoon or early evening a ‘troop’ of racoons (surely finding good places to live in the Thicket) sometimes comes out to play in the open area and even in the road.
8 In the northeastern corner –– a large, multi-trunked cluster of ashes is conspicuous just a little back from the road. Many of the native ashes in Fort Worth are Berlandier’s ash, with 3–5 leaflets per leaf and fruits that are sporadically 3-angled/3-winged, but those in Trinity Park may be mostly a hybrid form with green ash, which has mostly 5–7 leaflets and consistently 2-winged fruits. Typical Berlandier’s ash can be seen in Overton Park.
9 Across the street, on the slope along the bending corner of Crestline Road and Trinity Park Drive, an interesting collection of species persists from some earlier planting. These all are plants of southern Texas, perhaps intended to represent a dry habitat, and though the slopes have now been overrun with Quihoui privet, the plantings are still conspicuous: leucophyllum, retama, sweet acacia, mesquite, elbow bush, lantana, Texas sotol, and three species of yucca.
10 From the junction of Crestline & Trinity Park Drive, turn southward and follow the walking path that runs along the southeast side of the cul-de-sac (this road usually is blocked to motor traffic). On the other side of the street, the natural slope apparently marks the edge of the first terrace of the river floodplain. The slope is heavily overgrown with Quihoui privet, but many small live oaks and cedar elms emerge. The cedar elms surely are native, but are the live oaks? Elsewhere in the park (as well as all over the city), many live oaks are planted –– many or most of these probably are horticultural hybrids between the coastal live oak (Quercus virginiana) and the Texas live oak (Quercus fusiformis).
11 At the end of the cul-de-sac (a maintenance road goes off to the left; see 4):
* Near the picnic table is a beautiful little tree, a downy hawthorn. Though there probably are others of the same species in the park, this apparently is the only one that is large and easy to find. Across the street, the distinctive small, gray-green tree is a paper mulberry –– probably planted here, although at least in the Austin area, paper mulberry has become weedy. As the walking trail enters the woods (the Thicket), it is flanked on the north by a large Shumard oak, on the south by an American elm.
12 Walk southward from the cul-de-sac along the path, which is a corridor through the Thicket –– large pecans, cedar elms, ashes, bois d’arc are prominent in this area. Beautiful little red mulberries, an understory tree with large leaves and low, wide-spreading branches (adaptations to gathering light in shady places) also are common along here –– compare these in tree shape and leaf shape and hairiness with the paper mulberry growing at the end of the cul-de-sac. Near the end of the Thicket corridor, on the north side, is a colony of the invasive breath-of-spring honeysuckle –– this shrub is about 6 feet tall, with arching branches.
13 The trail emerges from the Thicket corridor to cross a little iron bridge and turn back south, parallel with University Drive. Cedar elm is by far the most common species along here, with individuals of American elm, hackberry, soapberry, and gum bumelia, and Shumard oak scattered through. Compare the leaves of the Shumard oaks from one tree to another to see how they vary in the width and depth of the lobes.
14 The "keep-on-going American elm," a large tree fallen over but still healthy and growing. Where there’s life, there’s hope.
15 Front woods -- a beautiful walk along the winding trail and across a series of iron bridges. The trees here are similar to those back at 13.
“Fort Worth council approves gas well site next to Trinity Park, with stipulations”
Article by Mike Lee in the Star-Telegram, 2 September 2009
“The City Council approved a gas well site next to Trinity Park but only after approving a series of stipulations intended to protect the historic Van Zandt Cottage and a planned retirement home.” The site is within 225 feet of Trinity Park, a vacant lot at the intersection of Foch Street and Lancaster Avenue, and may include up to 8 wells. “The permit stipulates that drilling can continue for two years but will stop for two years once a planned retirement home opens nearby.”
“Trinity Park is arguably the best-known park in Fort Worth. It was donated to the city by Maj. K.M. Van Zandt, a civic booster who also owned a farm. The family home, which dates to the 1860s or 1870s, is still standing at the western entrance to the park. It is now a state historic landmark.”
The Fort Worth Botanic Garden (MAP pdf) is just across University Drive from Trinity Park, and the native plants there are similar, for the most part, to those of the Park. After becoming familiar with the trees and shrubs in the park, anyone will feel at home among those in the Garden, although the diversity there is much higher because of the many non-native plantings. The Garden is slightly upslope from the Park, but enough perhaps to be reflected in the greater abundance of hackberries all through the Garden. Some are biased against planting hackberries, but there are many large, old, and beautifully shaped individuals of it here –– easily recognized at eye-level by their white trunks with peculiar warty outgrowths (the degree of wartiness as well as leaf size vary among individuals).
In addition to the many plantings of non-native species, to its great credit the Botanic Garden has planted many young trees of bur oak (and perhaps protected naturally occurring ones). While their growth toward a mature size may require a wait –– from a human perspective but not from a forest perspective –– this beautiful species is worth the time.
Along the front side of the Garden, paralleling University Drive, the most abundant trees are hackberry, pecan, and cedar elm, with scattered soapberry and bois d’arc. Slightly back, there are areas of “unmanaged” woods, as in the Park, the edges densely grown with privets (Ligustrum quihoui and Ligustrum lucidum). Cherry laurel also occurs in weedy abundance in the Garden (but, oddly, not in Trinity Park) –– like the privets, it’s an evergreen and produces huge numbers of edible fruits that obviously are a major food source for birds, the unwitting minions of man in the homogenization of the world’s vegetation.
The “Texas Native Forest Boardwalk,” running about 500 feet, provides an elevated view through a small area of woods. Hackberries are the most common tree on both sides of the boardwalk, but at the north entrance are large bois d’arcs –– and large trees of American elm, pecan, cedar elm, cottonwood, bumelia, and soapberry, as well as the shrub-like Eve’s necklace, are scattered but easily found along the short walk. Small individuals of various other species have been planted and labeled. On the west side of the boardwalk, thickets of privets and cherry laurel have been left uncleared to contrast with the east side, where these invaders have mostly been removed. Among the woody weeds on the west, one can even find nandina, which is becoming a serious and damaging invader inside forests across the eastern USA.
A virtual tour of the Botanic Garden’s “Champion Tree Trail” takes one to trees of Japanese zelkova, sawtooth oak, California buckeye, English walnut, southern magnolia, jujube, Lacey’s oak, green hawthorn, and Oklahoma redbud –– each of which is a “DFW Regional Champion” in size. Among these, only the green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis) and redbud are native to the Fort Worth area –– the “Oklahoma” redbud is a thick-leaved form that occurs natively in central Texas as well.
Acacia farnesiana Sweet acacia Native to south Texas, planted here
Acer negundo Ash-leaf maple, box elder Native here, naturally occurring
Ailanthus altissima Tree-of-heaven Non-native, naturalized
Albizia julibrissin Mimosa Non-native, naturalized
Broussenetia papyrifera Paper mulberry Non-native, probably planted
Bumelia lanuginosa Chittamwood, gum bumelia Native here, naturally occurring
Carya illinoiensis Pecan Native here, naturally occurring
Catalpa speciosa Catalpa Native to e USA, naturalized
Celtis laevigata Hackberry Native here, naturally occurring
Crataegus mollis Downy hawthorn Native here, naturally occurring
Firmiana simplex Parasol tree Non-native, naturalized
Fraxinus berlandieriana Berlandier ash Native here, naturally occurring
Maclura pomifera Bois d’arc, osage orange Native here, naturally occurring
Melia azederach Chinaberry Non-native, naturalized
Morus alba White mulberry Non-native, naturalized
Morus rubra Red mulberry Native here, naturally occurring
Platanus occidentalis Sycamore Native here, naturally occurring
Populus deltoides Cottonwood Native here, naturally occurring
Prosopis glandulosa Mesquite Native here, naturally occurring
Quercus muehlenbergii Chestnut oak, chinkapin oak Native to Texas, planted here
Quercus macrocarpa Bur oak Native here, naturally occurring
Quercus buckleyi Texas oak Native here, naturally occurring
Quercus fusiformis Live oak Native to central Texas, some hybrids planted, smaller trees native?
Salix nigra Black willow Native here, naturally occurring
Sapindus drummondii Soapberry Native here, naturally occurring
Ulmus americana American elm Native here, naturally occurring
Ulmus crassifolia Cedar elm Native here, naturally occurring
Dasylirion texanum Texas sotol Native to south & central Texas, planted here
Forestiera pubescens Elbow bush Native here, naturally occurring
Ilex decidua Deciduous holly Native here, naturally occurring
Lagerstroemia indica Crepe myrtle Non-native, planted
Lantana camara Lantana Native to south Texas, planted here
Leucophyllum frutescens Leucophyllum Native to south Texas, planted here
Ligustrum lucidum Glossy privet Non-native, naturalized
Ligustrum quihoui Quihoui privet Non-native, naturalized
Ligustrum sinense Chinese privet Non-native, naturalized
Lonicera fragrantissima Breath-of-spring honeysuckle Non-native, naturalized
Parkinsonia aculeata Retama, Jerusalem thorn Native to south Texas, planted here
Sophora affinis Eve’s necklace Native here, naturally occurring
Yucca flaccida Yucca Non-native, planted
Yucca sp. Yucca Non-native, planted
Yucca sp. Yucca Non-native, planted
Smilax rotundifolia Catbrier Native here, naturally occurring
Rhus toxicodendron Poison ivy Native here, naturally occurring
Ampelopsis cordata Racoon grape Native here, naturally occurring
Parthenocissus quinquefolia Virginia creeper Native here, naturally occurring
Guy Nesom, www.guynesom.com
Last update 24 November 2013