TREES OF HUNTSVILLE AND WALKER COUNTY, TEXAS, & BIG TREE REGISTER
Guy L. Nesom
TEXAS RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
WALKER COUNTY HISTORICAL COMMISSION
Published by the Sam Houston State University Press, February 1998
Pineywoods and Blackland Prairies
Geographic Distribution of Huntsville's Trees
An Early Visitor
1850s to 1870s
Turn of the Century (about 1890 to 1920)
1920s to 1960s
Huntsville's Trees in 1998
Trees and Huntsville Street Names
Huntsville's Trees in the Future
1. Most Common In-Town Species
2. Species Most Commonly Planted In the Last 20 Years
3. Species Most Commonly Sold In 1996/97
4. Recommended Species for Huntsville
5. Recommended Species for Nacogdoches and Houston
6. Tree Sources -- Local and Regional
4. Urban Trees
Values of Urban Trees
Urban Tree Health
Huntsville's Tree Policy
A Tree Ordinance for Huntsville
BIG TREE REGISTER
History of the Big Tree Register
How to Nominate an Entry
Big Trees In Texas and the United States
Big Tree Nomination Form
Index To Tree Species
Big Tree Champions
TREES OF HUNTSVILLE AND WALKER COUNTY - INTRODUCTION
Woods and trees meet the eye almost everywhere in Huntsville and Walker County. Different eyes see different values in trees, but all agree they are a source of beauty and pride.
The presence of many trees within a city is a good indicator of a higher quality of life. Old trees inside the city, where spreading neighborhoods and commerce might have eliminated them, indicate a respect for beauty and tradition. Urban trees also help in lowering summer temperatures, providing clean air, reducing runoff and erosion, increasing property values, and providing food and habitat for birds and other native animals that we like to see.
Both Huntsville and Walker County have a wonderful potential to emphasize the beauty of the wooded environment, because its greatest economic value is barely tapped. This area could provide forest-based outdoor recreation to the people of southeast Texas. As the huge Houston metroplex quickly approaches our southern boundary, we can keep and enhance what we value and have it form a major part of the economy. Many good opportunities to start on this, though, won’t last much longer.
This little book is written with the hope that it will bring attention to the beauty, interest, and possibilities that woods and trees give this area. The Big Tree Register (the second part of the book) documents efforts to locate and record the largest individuals of tree species found in Huntsville and Walker County.
Piney Woods and Blackland
Prairie: Sand and Clay
Both Walker County and the city of Huntsville are divided between sand and clay surfaces, generally corresponding to pineywoods and prairie vegetation. The nucleus of the original settlement of Huntsville was built over a prairie site, but the town has grown outwardly into sandy areas. Westward and northward from Huntsville, clay is the most common soil and prairies were once much more extensive -- we have places with names like Pine Prairie, Crabbs Prairie, Round Prairie, Cline's Prairie. Much of this area was a mixture of open prairies and savannas with scattered post oaks, but prairie vegetation in Walker County has now been almost completely lost to agriculture, timber production, and residential or commercial development.
Property acquired in the formation of Sam Houston National Forest (see comments below), mostly to the south and east of Huntsville, rarely strayed off the sandy surfaces closely associated with quick-growing pines. Clay almost always is 1-3 feet below the sandy surface, or sometimes twice deeper on hills, but there the clay usually is red rather than the dark prairie colors. To see true post oaks growing on sand in Walker County suggests that clay is close to the surface.
Over both sand and clay, there are ridges, slopes, flat areas, bottomlands, and creek-sides, and characteristic groups of tree species and other plants are associated with each kind of habitat. The soils even exert a strong influence on what kind of species are in "weedy" areas like roadsides, fencerows, old fields, and city lots. Transitional areas ("sandy clay") also exist, and heavy clay is usually modified to a loamier texture by a long period of forested vegetation.
Sandstone outcrops occur in the northern half of Walker County. These also have a characteristic herbaceous flora, but the trees that grow over the sandstone are more similar to those over the clay soils. Alas for our natural heritage, those larger outcrops, the only known Walker County localities for several fern and flowering species, have been removed by quarrying.
Geographic Distribution of
Walker County is at the edge (southwestern corner) of the forest that covers most of the eastern United States. Knowing the trees in the Huntsville area, you would feel much at home in the woods of Louisiana, Georgia, Virginia, Missouri, or Indiana. Even many of the commonly cultivated species are similar.
A number of our native tree species reach the absolute western boundary of their geographic range in Walker County (for example): sweetgum, red maple, magnolia, cherry laurel, nutmeg hickory, the two hornbeam species, sassafras, fringetree, black oak, white oak, and swamp chestnut oak. It's interesting that some of these species are so common here before disappearing entirely only a few more miles to the west. The predominance of clay soils toward the west is surely connected with this, but other environmental factors that may limit their growth are not so clear or sharply defined. Water, though, is clearly involved: it’s a good guess that Huntsville's annual average 44 inches of precipitation is near the minimal amount required by many tree species. Rainfall increases quickly to the east of Huntsville (48 inches in Livingston, 52 in Jasper) and decreases to the west (39 inches in College Station, 32 in Austin). And, as all who live here know (or at least suspect), the hot season in southeast Texas is hotter longer than anywhere else in the eastern U.S. That long heat has a strong effect on the water available to plants.
Other tree species are very near their western distributional boundary in Walker County (for example): shortleaf and loblolly pine, dogwood, black gum, white ash, persimmon, bitternut hickory, water hickory, river birch, southern red oak, willow oak, and overcup oak.
Some of our common species are Eastern forest trees that reach near central Texas before being sharply limited in their growth and survival (for example): water oak, Shumard oak, post oak, pecan, winged elm, American elm, sycamore, cottonwood, black walnut, red mulberry, juniper, honey locust, green ash, redbud, and hercules club.
A few characteristic tree species of the Eastern forest reach westward into east Texas nearly but not quite to Walker County. American beech and pawpaw both occur further east in east Texas. Tulip poplar, which is as common as sweetgum in much of the Eastern forest, grows as far west as Louisiana but has never been found as a Texas native.
Only three species occur in Walker County as outlyers of a western or southwestern distribution: mesquite, acacia, and soapberry. The first two are small trees found in openings mostly over clay, while the latter is found mostly along streams. None of them is common in our area.
In a broader perspective, almost all of the genera represented among our forest trees (for example, oaks, hickories, walnuts, tupelo gums, hollies, sassafras, dogwoods, redbuds, maples, birches, elms, mulberries, sweetgums, sycamores) have species in Eurasia as well as eastern North America. Many of them also have species in the western U.S. The presence of genera in such widely separated locations reflects a once more continuous distribution of these plants, when continents of the Northern Hemisphere were connected as a single landmass. In fact, most of the woody genera that now grow in the eastern United States apparently came into existence (as known from fossils) between 40 and 70 million years ago (mya). Complete separation of North America and Eurasia between 40 and 50 mya ended direct migration between these continents.
The geographic distributions of individual species, in contrast, usually don't leap across oceans or even across continents, because these evolved more recently, after separation of these landmasses. The close similarity of different species on separate continents (for example, compare the Formosan and American sweetgum) or across a continent suggests that both species evolved from a common ancestor not very different from either.
Trees of some species can grow larger for a longer time and some grow larger at a faster rate, but in general, there is a good correlation between "big" and "old." The fact that a tree is old may not necessarily add to its beauty, but there is a tangible awe to be felt in the presence of a living organism that has been around for a lot longer than you have, especially if it towers over you.
The average age of the oldest trees of any species usually is considerably less than the age of the few very oldest individuals known. Many influences can shorten lives, and urban trees (often growing in stressful conditions) usually have a shorter life expectancy than those in natural settings. Maximum ages listed for various species in the Big Tree Register are taken from estimates given in references on tree culture and biology (Harlow et al. 1996; Burns and Honkala 1990; Shugart 1984).
Information on ages of eastern North American trees, however, is surprisingly sparse. There is not even an estimate for many of our common species, especially the smaller ones without strong economic importance. It obviously is much easier to unroll a tape and measure the size than to take a wood core for a count of tree rings. Aside from the physical difficulties in extracting a core, the rings often are obscure and difficult to count in heartwood, or false rings may be present (echoing distinct wet/dry cycles during a single growing season). Some fast-growing hardwoods, particularly in the South and Southeast, add yearly growth that is hard to see as a distinct ring. Among the oldest individuals, many trees grow unevenly, producing wood on one side but not the other for a long period and then shifting growth to a different side.
East Texas trees with the longest maximum life span are live oaks (1000+ years) followed by white oak, cypress, and sycamore (up to 600 years). Based on these species (and others from other parts of the world), it's a reasonable deduction that the largest species have the longest lives. Most of our relatively large forest trees, however, including the pines, have a maximum life span between 200 and 400 years. Species producing smaller individuals (dogwood, redbud, and American holly, for example) generally have shorter lives.
The oldest known trees in North America are a number of trees of bristlecone pine from Utah and California, which are between 4000 and 5000 years old. A grove of these bristlecone pines from the White Mountains of California is known as the "Methuselah Grove." These relatively small trees live in dry, rocky places and grow very slowly. Often only small portions of the bark are alive at any one time. Trees of Rocky Mountain juniper have a similar habitat and growth pattern and may reach nearly the same age as bristlecone pine. Both of these are obvious exceptions to the generality that the biggest trees have the longest life expectancy.
Giant sequoia of the Pacific coast also are known to reach several thousand years of age, but these are giant trees with straight trunks that may approach 300 feet in height.
Among the oldest known organisms of North America surely are quaking aspens, the beautiful trees of Canada and the western United States with white bark and heart-shaped leaves that quake in the lightest breeze. Aspens occur in Texas in the high mountains of the trans-Pecos region (in Brewster, Jeff Davis, and Culberson counties). The shallow roots of these trees produce "root suckers" that develop into young plants, each of which has the potential to become independent. The parent tree and its root sprouts form a clone, a group of genetically identical individuals. The clones are variable in size, but in areas of the Rocky Mountains, some aspen clones are known to cover up to 200 acres. Individual aspen trees may reach an old age of 200 years, but some aspen clones in Minnesota have been estimated to be up to 8-10 thousand years old. Some lines of evidence indicate that the huge clones of the Rocky Mountains may be much older, perhaps reaching back as far as 2 million years.
There is no published historical account of changes in the general appearance of Huntsville, particularly regarding the trees and shrubs that lend such conspicuous character. There is barely a scattered mention of such even in the large volume on local history (Crews 1976). A great deal of information, however, is found in "A Photographic History of Huntsville and Walker County," a collection of 546 photos in nine looseleaf volumes compiled by the Huntsville Arts Commission in 1979. Complete sets are available in the Huntsville Public Library and the SHSU library.
"A Pictorial History of Walker County" (McLaughlin 1993) also pulls together a collection of 312 old photos reaching back to 1853. Many of these are not duplicated in the "Photographic History" (although there is overlap), and the documentation is better (dates are available for almost all of the photos). The tentative insights from these photographs match those gathered from "A Photographic History."
The following comments on the history of Huntsville's trees are drawn from primarily from "A Photographic History" and "A Pictorial History" and it's hoped this meager fabric of deduction and guesswork will stimulate citizens with a knowledge or memory about such things to contribute to a more substantial account.
An Early Visitor
William Bollaert, an English lawyer well-versed in natural history and highly absorbent observer and recorder, passed through Huntsville in 1843. The population was already about 2500 (Hollon 1956; McLaughlin 1993), only nine years after the city was first established (in 1836) and four years before the first Walker County courthouse was built (in 1847-48, at the same site as the present one). Bollaert saw several schools, a Planters Exchange, Gibbs Grocery, the Huntsville Hotel, and observed that "building is going on and sound of the anvil and hammer [is] heard continually." He noted that "dense pine woods" occurred in some places and that Huntsville was located on a "pine height." On a "roam thro' the woods" he saw "Pine in abundance. Oaks, half a dozen varieties, particularly "overcup oak," the acorn as large as an egg. Hickory, walnut (white and black), dogwood (of which the Indians made their arrows), but in particular abundance is the Laurus Sassasfras, the bark or outside root used as a tea."
Bollaert wrote that "very few of the houses can be seen on account of pine & other trees, bushes, etc." Over the next 30 years, a remarkable change apparently occurred.
1850s to 1870s
Most of the earliest photographs of "A Photographic History" are in series taken in 1873-75, showing views mostly of the town area. For example, there is a vista from University Avenue looking south (photo 010) and several of the downtown area (photo 077 for example). Broad dirt roads, bare yards, and bare fields were everywhere. The whole town was virtually devoid of trees as well as most other vegetation. Scattered tall pines could be seen here and there with a few scattered, young hardwoods. A narrative by Mary Rather (in Crews 1976) refers to "strolls on the boardwalks of the town," which surely were necessary for walking without becoming mud-mired. Rather's descriptions of croquet as "a new and popular game" of the 1870's "played on grassy lawns beneath the spreading elms" and of "children playing together in the large shady yards" sound inconsistent with what is seen in the photos.
It has been suggested that the relatively dense population of that time took the wood at hand for building, heating, and cooking, but would that account for the lack of even small shrubs? Other possible explanations for the bare landscape are clearing for maximum visibility because of the nearby prison system, logging, horses and other livestock kept in town, slow growth on natural prairies, and social conventions that suggested bareness and openness were desirable features. All of these reasons may have contributed, but demand for wood was high. The farm-related population was rapidly increasing by 1860 --- Walker County was the largest cotton-producer of all the counties along the Trinity River --- and sawmills ran all year to meet the local demand for lumber. The first sawmill in Huntsville opened in 1840, and the first lumber house was built in 1841 (Block 1997).
According to Mary Rather, favorite spots for picnics and other outings in the 1870's were "Magnolia Grove" (along Robinson Creek behind the present Huntsville Hospital), Nelson and Harmon Creeks (east of Huntsville, passing through the old state Fish Hatchery), and Ten-Mile Spring (10 miles north of Huntsville on Hwy 75). These seem like long distances from town for a picnic, especially in horse-powered transportation, but surely a big part of the draw of these places, in addition to their beauty, were sources of cool, clean water.
Sam Houston maintained his home in Huntsville until he died here in 1863. His home site in what is now Sam Houston Memorial Park was originally over a clay prairie site with very few trees around 1850. Mrs. Fan Leigh visited the home at that time as a friend of Sam Houston's daughter and many years later (around 1934) put down her remarkably detailed recollections in a map of the area, including locations of the trees. She showed a "wild plum tree" (perhaps Mexican plum), a "plum orchard," a poplar tree (probably a Lombardy poplar), a line of bois d'arcs, a catalpa tree, apple tree, pear tree, pecan tree, and crepe myrtle. Most of these were close around the house. She also remembered a "willow thicket" along the branch on the east side of the house.
Houston also owned 84 acres situated roughly between present-day Sam Houston Avenue, Avenue O, 22nd Street, and 15th Street. This land remained in wooded condition until the early 1920s, when streets were laid out and construction of residences began. George Russell says this was referred to by some locals as the "Big Woods" and notes that large trees of loblolly and shortleaf pine, post oak, sweetgum, and other native species persisted here through the next six decades of development. A dead shortleaf pine at 1421 19th Street was 192 years old (by ring count) when cut down in 1992. Except for the southern end of the "Big Woods" area, where residences have been built within a "second growth" woods, it is now essentially similar in trees to nearby areas much earlier laid bare in the 1870s.
Turn of the Century (about
Five Huntsville churches photographed in 1899 (Pict. Hist. p. 46) showed nothing but bare surroundings. The Sallie E. Gibbs home (southeast corner of 11th Street and Avenue M) had only a few very young trees in the yard (Pict. Hist. p. 18). A 1900 view from the Old Walls Unit to Old Main shows the whole vista with nothing but very young trees (photo 465), but at least some trees were beginning to be in evidence after the previous decades when the landscape was cleared. The same is true for other 1900 photos from other directions with Old Main in the far background (photos 509 and 516). The immediate grounds of Old Main itself in 1918 (photo 067) had one southern red oak about 20-40 years old and a few smaller trees of different species. A slightly earlier view of Old Main, "ca. 1908," from further back shows more young hardwoods about 30-50 years old (in winter condition) and several scattered pines near other college buildings. A picture of SHSU grounds in "ca. 1914" (photo 399) shows a sycamore and southern red oak, both probably 30-40 years old.
One view of the grounds of the "Huntsville Public School" of 1900 (near corner of 8th Street and University Avenue, photo 508) had only a few scattered trees, including a post oak that could have been 20-40 years old and a several other smaller trees. Another view of the same structure (photo 441) sometime between "1893-1906" shows 4 large pines, probably 40-60 years old, as the only trees in the nearly one acre front area. The corner of University Avenue and 12th Street in about 1900-1910 (photo 451) had a number of young street trees apparently about 10-30 years old.
Sycamores were commonly being planted in the town area at least by the turn of the century (various photos, for example 089). A 1905 view of 11th Street (photo 510; Pict. Hist. p. 36), "looking west from about Sycamore and Hwy 19" along a largely residential area, shows a sycamore about 15-30 years old to be the largest tree in the first several hundred yards of view. Another view, however, of a wide residential street at about the same time (photo 506; possibly another portion of 11th Street) shows a good number of moderate-sized trees, possibly hackberries and sweetgums, one or two per house front and almost certainly in a "planted" arrangement. Several chinaberries grew in the front yard of the Randolph residence at Avenue J and 11th Street in 1913 (photo 011).
A water oak about 30-40 years old and other smaller trees were in the front yard of the Sandford Gibbs home in about 1890 (photo 361; Pict. Hist. p. 13). The yard of the May residence in about 1900 also had several water oaks probably about 15-20 years old (photo 211). The front yard of the Oliphant residence in 1911 (photo 170) had two large trees, at least one of them a water oak, probably 60-90 years old. The same house in 1853 (photo 147, one of the oldest in the "Photographic History" collection) shows the same two trees as distinctly smaller but still probably 15-30 years old.
Post oaks have been long-favored inside Huntsville and some of these trees surely were among the few allowed to persist from the otherwise cleared native vegetation in the late 1800s. The Smither residence in about 1900 (photo 179; Pict. Hist. p. 13) had several large post oaks in the yard. The Pritchett residence (1322 Avenue O) had several large post oaks in the yard in the early 1900s (photo 229). Comments by local citizens indicate that some other of the local post oak "stands" (along Old Houston Road, for example) probably were very young in the 1920s and 1930s.
Southern magnolias were planted in the 1890s. Two large ones grew in the front yard of the Thomason home on Avenue J in about 1950 (photo 197), these said to be planted at the same time the house was built in 1891. Another was planted by Col. Tom Ball in about 1894 near the corner of 13th Street and Avenue P (see Big Tree Register).
1920s to 1960s
Tree plantings and volunteers were becoming common in residential Huntsville of the 1920s and 1930s. Relatively small pecan trees were planted around the original Huntsville Memorial Hospital soon after the completion of its construction in about 1930 (photo 180). Judging from the sizes of many of the pecan trees around town in 1997, many others began to be planted at about the same time. Live oaks began to be commonly planted at least as early as the 1930s.
The "M. Stougaard Nursery" (photo 313, perhaps taken around 1936 or a little later) shows stock (as pictured) mostly of small shrubs less than 5 feet tall, unidentifiable except for a group of Arbor Vitae plants. Stougaard, however, was horticulturist for the Sam Houston Park and had access to a range of tree species, which he had been setting into the park at about this time (see comments below, Tree Walks).
Trees in Huntsville in the 1950s still were not nearly as abundant or large as today, but the most common in-town tree species were about the same. Mimosa and Chinese tallow were heavily planted in these years. A number of relatively young street trees, including water oak and hackberry, grew along Avenue I in 1950 (photo 357). An aerial photo of the Elementary School and High School in about 1955 (photo 283) shows scattered small trees about 20-30 years old along streets.
The woods immediately surrounding Huntsville recovered somewhat from the vast clearings from the last half of the 19th century through the early 1900s, only to undergo another period of extensive timbering in the 1960's and 1970s, when large parts of the public lands of Sam Houston National Forest, and others, were clearcut. A set of aerial photos of Huntsville and peripheral areas from various directions taken in about 1960 (photos 335-356) show long vistas of clearings and vegetated areas with young woods.
Huntsville's Trees In 1998
Several lists (LISTS 1-3) have been drawn up to show the most common Huntsville species and those most often planted now and in the past. They seem to be fairly accurate, at least as generalities, although their preparation was somewhat subjective.
The city of Huntsville in 1998 has an interesting diversity of trees, but more than three-fourths of the individuals are divided between ten species (LIST 1). A number of other species also are common (LISTS 1-3). The two most common in-town tree species are live oak and pecan. Live oak is the most commonly planted species of the last thirty years, although its intense popularity has waned over the last 10 years. In addition to these two, a survey suggests that trees of each of the other eight most common species (except pine) are growing on almost every residential block in the pre-1970s part of the city. Pines, water oaks, and other species are very common in some neighborhoods. All of the most common species are capable of reproducing themselves by seeds capable of wide transport and quick germination.
In addition to the ten most common species, a number of others are relatively common in town and easily reproduce themselves as volunteers. All of these are native except three (chinaberry, crepe myrtle, and Chinese tallow). Still other species occur in town in smaller numbers (see Index to Big Tree Register).
Common tree species of Huntsville in 1998 differ sharply between areas of the city that have been "in-town" at least several decades and those areas recently been annexed as the city has grown outward, where natural vegetation remained dominant. Recently annexed areas retain a much closer resemblance to the natural forest tree composition. Over areas of clay, common trees are post oak, water oak, and bois d'arc. Even in town, scattered individuals of these three species (especially post oak) may persist as relicts from the early 1900's or even earlier. Over sandy soils, loblolly and shortleaf pine, sweetgum, southern red oak, water oak, and black hickory may persist in yards and along streets. In these peripheral parts of town and in those still to be opened to residential and commercial development, Huntsvilleans should take advantage of opportunities to preserve native species, especially those that are not so common.
The roster of Huntsville trees, like that of many other Texas towns and cities, is becoming increasingly narrow and dominated by "cultivated" species (commercially obtained and planted ones). Almost all of existing city trees in older parts of town either have been planted or have germinated as volunteers from seeds of previously planted stock. Because of numerous plantings, it's a reasonable prediction that Huntsville's general in-town "green" aspect in half a century will be dominated by live oaks, barring a major shift in climate, an oak wilt epidemic, or changes in attitudes about trees. Pecan, hackberry, and American elm also occupy large amounts of "tree space" in Huntsville, and their gradual loss will provide the major gaps most likely to be filled by other species.
The loss of native species is easiest to see in parts of town where some native vegetation still persists. Post oak, shortleaf pine, bois d'arc, black hickory, and southern red oak are not being replaced by others of their species. Sweetgum, loblolly pine, juniper, winged elm, American elm, and red mulberry volunteer easily, but few of these young ones will be allowed to last long.
Trees and Huntsville
Streets are often named for trees and woods, but these names seem to be especially numerous in Huntsville (68 listed here). Is this just a quick way to find a name, or does this reflect a high value placed on trees? Birch, Bois D'Arc, Cedar Lane, Cedar Drive, Cherry Hills Drive, Cherry Lane, Cross Timbers, Cypress Circle, Cottonwood Street, Creekwood, Dogwood Circle, Dogwood Drive, Elm Avenue, Elmwood, Eucalyptus Street, Forest Lane, Greenleaf Street, Green Tree Drive, Greenwood, Hickory Drive, Hickory Hill, Holly Drive, Holly Springs, Knob Oaks Drive, Laurel Spring Drive, Magnolia Street, Magnolia Way, Mesquite Street, Mimosa Lane, Oak Drive, Oakhill Drive, Oaklawn Street, Oakview, Old Sycamore, Palm, Parkwood, Peach Tree, Pecan Drive, Persimmon Drive, Pine Grove Drive, Pin Oak, Pine Valley, Pine Street, Pine Avenue, Pine Drive, Pinedale Road, Pine-shadows Drive, Pine Valley, Pines Avenue, Plum Creek, Redbud Lane, River Oaks Drive, Royal Oaks, Sweetgum Avenue, Sycamore, Tall Timbers Lane, Thornwood Way, Timberline Drive, Timberwood Lane, Trailwood Drive, Walnut Street, Wild Plum, Willow Bend, Woodland Drive, Woodland Valley, Woodlawn Avenue, Woodmont Drive, Woodview, and Youpon (not "Yaupon") Lane.
Eucalyptus Street (off Hwy 290, just east of the city limits) stands out among all these names, because the 300 species of eucalyptus trees are native mostly to Australia. Eucalyptus has been planted all over the world in areas where temperature are moderate without freezing. In 1968, several employees of Champion International (including Bruce Fulenwider, now of SHSU) had been studying the economic potential of eucalyptus and planted about 30 saplings of Eucalyptus camphora in their neighborhood as a curiosity. These plantings also supplied the street name, which was required about the same time. Nearly all of these trees proved to be intolerant of the occasional hard freezes of the Huntsville winters, and only one remains alive today.
Mesquite Street, at the northeastern corner of Eastham-Thomason Park, surely was named for at least one mesquite tree that must have been there. No longer, though.
Huntsville's Trees In The
The nature of Huntsville's future "urban forest" is decided in large part by what species are now being planted. Many dozens of tree species could be successfully planted and grown here, and there is no need to rely on just a few. Spreading the replacements and new plantings among more species would add interest and resilience to our urban forest. For example, live oaks make beautiful trees, but the increasing frequency of their plantings may lead to problems. Oak wilt has already killed many live oaks where they are a major part of the urban forest (in Austin, for example), and the possibility is real that this disease could reach Huntsville.
Tree species already growing in abundance in Huntsville are obvious choices for further plantings in yards and on streets, because these are among those proven "tough." As a tentative guide toward increasing Huntsville's tree diversity, LIST 4 gives other species that will do well in our climate and soils. This is a selection based on personal observations, conversation with growers, nursery staff, and foresters, as well as suggestions from other published guides for our region. LIST 4 is "biased" toward native species, but there is no reason to insist that trees in an urban environment must be from native species. "Any tree, in the right place, in good health, is a winner" (David Zellar).
In David's observation, "Any tree in the right place" is not as simple as it might sound. Is it to be planted in a yard, a park, or along a street or highway? Should it be a large or small tree? Is it for shade, decoration, or screening? Is fast growth a necessity? Is the potential age of the tree a critical factor? How will the location affect the growth? All should be considered, and the nursery or tree supplier should be able to provide the information.
"Tree planting guides" have recently been published for Nacogdoches and Houston (Nacogdoches Proud 1996; Houston Area Urban Forestry Council 1997). These are compact, easy-on-the-eye brochures that offer suggestions and illustrations for successful species and instructions on planting locations, planting techniques, and pruning. The tree species suggested for the two cities (LIST 5) are similar between themselves and close to those listed here for Huntsville. These brochures are so well done and applicable to our own city that they should be made widely available here. Another information source is an internet “Tree Selector for the Houston and Gulf Coast Area” (www.ghg.net/beyer/).
The list of trees suggested for local planting brings up an immediate problem: relatively few native tree species are sold by local nurseries (essentially those of LIST 3). The most economical strategy for dealers is to stock a few species known to grow well and fast in our area, and of course they will recommend these trees to customers. To get past this bottleneck, customers must be aware of the possibilities for planting and want something besides the standard few species now being sold and set in. Local nurseries should agree to handling less common species, especially if they are available from east Texas wholesale growers. Another problem: only a few (apparently) east Texas growers have a wide range of native species. Local and regional commercial sources of native and other trees for Huntsville are given below.
LIST 1. Most common in-town species
(the ten most common are starred)
* Live Oak Post Oak Box Elder
* Pecan Bois d'Arc Southern Magnolia
* Smooth Hackberry Southern Red Oak Cottonwood
* American Elm Black Hickory Mimosa
* Water Oak Sweetgum Chinaberry
* Redbud Cherry Laurel
* Loblolly Pine Winged Elm
* Catalpa Juniper
* Chinese Tallow Sycamore
* Crepe Myrtle
LIST 2. Tree species most commonly planted in the
last 20 years
(the five most common are starred)
* Live Oak Bradford Pear
* Pecan Shumard Oak
* Southern Magnolia Nuttall Oak
* Redbud Cottonwood
* Chinese Tallow Sycamore
* Water Oak Catalpa
LIST 3. Tree species most commonly sold in 1996/97
(the four most commonly sold are double-starred;
the three next most so are starred)
** Shumard Oak *Southern Magnolia Purple Plum
** Live Oak *Red Maple Weeping Willow
** Silver Maple *Sycamore Red Mulberry
** Bradford Pear Arizona Ash Green Ash
Chinese Elm Redbud
LIST 4. Recommended tree species for Huntsville
Small & Medium Trees
Red Mulberry Sassafras
American Hornbeam Silverbell
American Holly Red Bay
Deciduous Holly Star Magnolia
Juniper Saucer Magnolia
Cherry Laurel Lacebark Elm
Mexican Plum Callery Pear
Rusty Black Haw Japanese Evergreen Oak
Willow Oak Sweetgum
Water Oak Red Maple
Southern Red Oak Black Gum
Laurel Oak Persimmon
Post Oak Loblolly Pine
Bur Oak Sycamore
Shumard Oak Basswood
Live Oak River Birch
Green Ash Hackberry
LIST 5. Recommended species for Nacogdoches (N) and Houston (H)
White Ash (N) Cherrybark Oak (N)
American Beech (N) Live Oak (NH)
River Birch (NH) Nuttall Oak (N)
Carolina Buckthorn (N) Overcup Oak (H)
Catalpa (N) Shumard Oak (H)
Wild Black Cherry (N) Southern Red Oak (N)
Southern Crab Apple (N) Water Oak (NH)
Bald Cypress (NH) White Oak (NH)
Flowering Dogwood (N) Loblolly Pine (NH)
Black Gum (N) Longleaf Pine (N)
Pecan (H) Shortleaf Pine (N)
Black Walnut (H) Juniper (H)
American Elm (NH) Chinese Pistachio (NH)
Cedar Elm (H) Tulip Poplar (N)
Chinese Elm (H) Redbud (NH)
Parsely Hawthorn (N) Sweetgum (NH)
Mockernut Hickory (N) Fringe Tree (H)
American Holly (NH) Texas Persimmon (H)
Yaupon (NH) Mexican Plum (H)
Southern Magnolia (NH) Crepe Myrtle (H)
Red Maple (NH) Southern Waxmyrtle (H)
Chestnut oak (N) Cherry Laurel (H)
Bur Oak (NH)
Tree Sources --- Local and
Almost all of the species in Lists 4 and 5 are grown and sold in east Texas and they are grown from native seeds or stock. The only species on these lists that I have not found for sale are beech, bumelia, basswood, post oak, American elm, mockernut hickory, and red mulberry.
The Plant Environment (retail)
Normal Park & 19th Street
Huntsville, TX (Walker County)
Handles as many as 40 species of trees, including natives. Scenic setting for retail tree purchases.
Stewart's Garden Center (retail)
600 Old Phelps Rd at Hwy 19
Huntsville, TX (Walker County)
JP Landscape Supply (retail)
Huntsville, TX (Walker County)
Indian Mound Nursery
P.O. Box 617
Alto, TX 75925-0617 (Cherokee County)
[6 miles west of Alto on Texas Hwy 21]
This is run by The Texas Forest Service and is open to the public. It produces pine and hardwood seedlings for reforestation, windbreak, wildlife, and resource conservation primarily for private landowners across the state. The emphasis is on various commercial cultivars of pine (loblolly, shortleaf, slash, Virginia), but small numbers of regionally native hardwood species were handled in 1997: bur oak, live oak, cherrybark oak, Nuttall oak, Shumard oak, water oak, pecan, cypress, and green ash.
There are many commercial tree growers in east Texas. Almost all of these are wholesale only, but here is where local retailers can get species that are less common. The few growers listed below are representative, but they are among those with the largest numbers of native species.
A broad listing of wholesale growers and their species they raise is published by the Southeast Texas Nursery Growers’ Association (PO Box 418, Conroe, TX 77305). These also are available on a remarkable internet site (“www.growit.com”), which has the STNGA catalog in electronic form as well as many other listings. Find out where to locate a grower for whatever species you may be interested in.
Sandy Creek Wholesale
Walker Loop (FM 1791), Huntsville, TX (Walker County)
Grows and sells a good variety of native tree species (about 20 species) in various sizes of containers. Among those available are loblolly pine, slash pine, Shumard oak, white oak, water oak, green ash, Mexican plum, sweetgum, pecan, red maple, juniper, river birch, sycamore, redbud, cherry laurel, yaupon, and wax myrtle. Even if you are not going to buy wholesale, it’s still worth asking at Sandy Creek.
Doremus Wholesale Nursery
Rte. 2, Box 750, Warren, TX 77664 (Tyler County)
Handles a wide variety of native species -- perhaps the largest number in east Texas -- including large and small trees. For example, they have hawthorns, silverbell, snowbell, witch hazel, deciduous holly, Georgia holly, Carolina buckthorn, hornbeam, sugar maple, fringetree, red bay, sweet bay, black gum, sassafras, and many others. Seed sources are mostly within a 200-mile radius of the nursery.
608 Railroad Avenue, Whitehouse, TX 75791 (Smith County)
Handles a wide range of native species, derived from stock originating in east Texas or adjacent Louisiana. Among many woody species, Senter's grows and sells bottomland and wet-site species that are commercially uncommon because they provide these for projects involving environmental mitigation and land reclamation. The plants are containerized in various sizes. Larger species include (for example) red maple, wild black cherry, water hickory, winged elm, slippery elm, catalpa, persimmon, juniper, black gum, swamp tupelo, southern red oak, overcup oak, cherrybark oak, blackjack oak, scrubby post oak, sugarberry, and many others. Among numerous smaller species are rough-leaved dogwood, chickasaw plum, smooth and flame sumac, elderberry, sassafras, buttonbush, and wax myrtle.
Tree Search Farms
7625 Alabonson Road, Houston, TX 77088 (Harris County)
Propagators and growers of a wide range of species, with a heavy emphasis on Texas natives. Their 100-mile delivery range includes Huntsville. Their stock includes small trees: sugar maples, pawpaw, redbud, fringe tree, silverbell, snowbell, yaupon, redbay, deciduous holly, Mexican plum, hawthorns, flame sumac, rusty blackhaw, and others --- and larger trees: cedar elm, winged elm, black gum, red maple, hornbeam, white oak, swamp chestnut oak, bois d’arc, and many others.
4. URBAN TREES
Values of Urban Trees
Some values of trees in the city range are obvious. Others are not so easily seen but have been documented in many studies of urban forestry (for example, at the SHSU library: Grey and Deneke 1986; Moll and Ebenreck 1989; Phillips 1993).
* Quality of life
The presence and beauty of trees alone and in combination with cityscapes give a certain peacefulness and help us feel that we aren't enclosed within completely artificial environments. Many Huntsvilleans feel that our quality of life is closely tied to the natural character and beauty of the area. For most of us, this means our woods and trees. Visitors, who contribute directly to the local economy, feel the same way.
* Wildlife habitat
Trees provide food, nesting sites, and protection for hundreds of songbird species and other native animals that now live within Huntsville or migrate through it.
* Cooling and energy
The significance of shade in reducing summer temperatures and cooling bills is understood but underestimated by most of our citizens. Well-placed trees can give energy savings up to 30% by shading roofs and walls. Not only does shading directly lower temperatures but the large amount of water evaporated from the undersides of leaves (process of "transpiration") relieves the local environment of huge amounts of heat.
* Water retention and
reduction of soil erosion
Tree roots increase soil permeability and its ability to absorb water, reducing stormwater runoff. More water retained naturally means less needed by artificial application. By intercepting and slowing the impact of rain, trees can reduce runoff rate and soil erosion by as much as 15%.
* Air quality
Air pollution is not now a major concern for Huntsville, but prevailing south breezes from Houston and Conroe will bring us more and more pollutants, such as ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitric oxide. The efficiency of trees in removing these compounds as well as various particulates like dust, pollen, and smoke is well-documented. This is a problem that can be treated with some success at the local level.
On a global scale, trees and other plants add tremendous amounts of oxygen to the air and remove carbon dioxide. Local vegetation contributes to this, but the equilibrium of these gases in the atmosphere is maintained on a broader regional basis and the direct effects of local vegetation are subtle. Nearly 90% of atmospheric oxygen has been produced by green organisms in the oceans.
* Noise and glare
Traffic noise is already becoming a problem in parts of Huntsville, and trees and shrubs form barriers effective in noise reduction. Residents of the Sandbrook subdivision recently became suddenly aware of this after the wholesale removal of trees from along I-45. Trees and shrubs also reduce glare on roads where concrete and buildings are prevalent.
Urban Tree Health
Current replacement of trees in Huntsville apparently lags behind the loss of individuals from disease and damage. But the most pressing problem for Huntsville trees, in the view of many citizens, is their removal by developers who want merely to simplify construction procedures.
For trees that have survived the "development bottleneck" or that have grown from plantings, many problems remain and their life expectancy is greatly lowered. The greatest threat to urban trees is the condition and amount of soil space available for root growth. The volume of roots required to support a tree is roughly equal to the volume of tree branching above. In Huntsville, placement of underground utilities (primarily water and sewage) often cut off major parts of root system, either killing them relatively quickly or reducing their health and increasing their vulnerability to disease. Trees commonly are planted in spaces too small for growing an adequate root system. We see young trees put in immediately next to sidewalks, curbs, and roads or left in the middle of parking lots, often planted or maintained in tiny spaces completely boxed in by concrete. David Zellar calls these "parking lot bonsai," which usually are failures.
Tree roots normally grow in the upper three feet of soil, but even in relatively good situations only the upper foot of urban soil may have characteristics that allow root growth. Roots require both water and oxygen, but overlays of concrete severely limit the potential for water absorption and aeration. Compacted soil produces the same effect and also makes it more difficult simply for roots to penetrate into new areas. And where leaves fall on hard surfaces like these, nutrients and organic matter are washed or blown away rather than replaced in the soil.
It's simply not a fact that a tree will grow anywhere it's planted. If trees are to be planted after construction, the planned spaces should be filled with good soil rather than building debris and other rubble. And trees closely surrounded by concrete can't be expected to have a long life.
The spread of roots usually goes well beyond the crown, and use of chemicals anywhere in a tree's vicinity will affect it. Dogwoods and other species with very shallow root systems may be damaged even by the herbicide Roundup, which supposedly deteriorates when in contact with soil or muddy water. Roots of different species intermingle, and roots of trees of the same species, especially in oaks, commonly graft to each other so that the group of trees may be similar to a single organism. Chemicals may pass from one tree to the others.
Finally, it's easy to see trunk damage from mowers and vehicles, where even small openings in the bark allow disease and fungi to enter. Neither is it hard to find large trees left isolated in open locations, where they are much more prone to catch lightning strikes and be overturned by wind.
Huntsville's Tree Policy
The city's "Tree Policy" (as summarized in a 1990 memorandum to the City Council from Glenn Isbell, City Engineer, and further condensed here), consists of one city Development Code regulation and three City Council directives from 1989.
* Development Code, Section 1201.8 (1986, revised 1995)
"A person commits an offense if he removes or destroys a tree in the street right-of-way or in any public place without first obtaining a permit from the City Manager."
* City Council Directive, 14 March 1989
Internal operation policy is established for the Engineering Design Department to guide design and location of utilities in environmentally sensitive areas on street right-of-ways (but not on utility or drainage easements). "Consider existing utilities and side of street which will damage the fewest trees in the neighborhood." Trees proposed for removal are "red-flagged" and the property owners are notified and given 10 days to respond with suggestions for adjustments. The City Manager is notified of trees to be removed and the reasons.
The City Council has not determined whether private utility companies (SW Bell, Entex, etc.) must comply with this policy as part of their permitting and construction procedures.
* City Council Directive, 27 June 1989
Improve communication between city and residence/commerce regarding waterline construction by distributing handbills with project information the same day it is "survey-staked."
* City Council Directive, 11 July 1989
1. Adopt "root-sawing as a standard policy to care for trees. To inflict minimal root damage, a clean vertical cut of roots is made before digging a trench.
2. Use a "Tree Classification System" to identify trees for "preservation treatment." Huntsville's system establishes five size classes (including one for "ornamentals") and lists species in each class to be recognized for preservation. Generally, the intent of the classification seems to be to preserve more native species in small sizes, but a revision is needed to make it more realistic and understandable. A clear statement of purpose, including rationale for the form of the Classification System, would be helpful.
3. Set priorities as follows (in the most cost-effective sequence) for alternate construction pathways near trees identified for special treatment.
Bore a channel through tree root systems at about 5 feet depth
(this option is most commonly used now in Huntsville).
Go into private easements where possible.
Go into streets on rare occasions.
A Tree Ordinance for
The management of our urban forest will always be primarily the responsibility of private property owners, but the city can provide direction toward protecting and enhancing the health and growth of the city's trees. Huntsville's Tree Policy and Development Code (below) give us a start, but a "Tree Ordinance" (a set of provisions adopted by the City Council to provide authorization and standards for tree management) would provide an integrated, overall strategy. Basic portions of an ordinance might include the establishment of tree protection zones in streets, parks, and other public places, requirements for spacing and location in plantings, suggestions for appropriate species, removal and pruning specifications, guidelines for tree management on property planned for development or renovation, and guidelines for creation of wooded buffers along major streets. The Huntsville 2020 Cultural Plan (Huntsville Arts Council 1992) also provided recommendations that might be considered in forming a tree ordinance.
Many US cities and towns have established effective tree plans that meet their individual needs. Examples and generalized samples of these are provided in a number of books on urban forestry. "Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances" (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1991) is drawn from California sources but is a rich source of help to any city working toward a tree ordinance. "Tree Conservation Ordinances" (Duerksen 1993) and an "Analysis of Tree Ordinances" (Michigan Municipal League) give information about different types of ordinance sections and provides examples drawn from actual city tree ordinances, and the Inter-national Society of Arboriculture has prepared "A Standard Municipal Tree Ordinance" as a model.
Before any such legal guidelines can be put into place, general attitudes in the city regarding greenspace will have to clarified and matched by a political willingness to move toward "greener" policies. Examples of current attitudes influencing our local trees are not hard to find. In response to criticism for the city's removal of trees along McDonald Creek, Mayor Bill Green ended with this pithy observation (as quoted in the Huntsville Item, 5 October 1997): "Whatever, trees will grow again in Huntsville." Of course this is true, but what trees do we want to keep, and how do we want our city to look right now?
Besides the "Tree Policy" summarized above, a section of Huntsville's Development Code regulates landscaping as well as other aspects of greenspace in new development areas and sites (Planning Commission 1995, amended from the new code of 1986). Although it deals with more than just trees, a summary of Development Code Chapter 12 ("Landscaping, Bufferyard, Park, and Open Space Standards") is given here to bring it to wider attention in a simpler form.
* "Landscape development [definition]: Trees, shrubs, ground cover, vines, or grass installed in planting areas, having a minimum of 10 square feet of actual plantable area and a minimum inside dimension on any side of 18 inches."
* "A minimum of 10% of the lot is devoted to landscape development." The 10% area, however, may be reduced by receiving credit for trees both newly planted and already existing and by placing landscaping "within the setback areas of a site and next to a public street" (see below).
* A minimum of 18 total diameter inches (measured 4 feet above ground) of canopy trees per acre must be provided in a new development. Each tree that is part of the minimum requirement must be within a planting area at least 6 feet from the tree trunk to the nearest edge of the landscaping. The requirements for 50% of the canopy trees may be waived (by the Building Official) if existing trees are preserved and if the plantings meet specifications for planting areas and protection and the "tree classification system" (see "Tree Policy," above). There is no restriction on how close together newly planted canopy trees may be spaced (unless they are to be counted for credit towards reduction of the landscaping area, see below). There is no notice of how much less than one acre a lot may be before there is no requirement for trees.
There is no standard for the preservation of pre-existing trees. For example, the new motel beside El Chico has saved a row of 10-year-old live oaks previously planted by El Chico but has brought the curb within 2 feet of a number of them. Presumably, these were not counted as part of the "minimum tree requirement" nor could they serve as the basis for the "Building Official's 50% waiver."
* A minimum of 10% of the required 10% landscape development shall be developed with non-canopy trees and shrubs.
* "Every development shall employ either an irrigation or sprinkler system or have a hose connection within 150 feet of all landscaping."
* Dead landscape plantings must be replaced by plantings equal to those originally proposed in the landscape development plan or (presumably, if there was no landscape plan) in the original plantings. This must be done within 45 days after notification by the Building Official, unless seasonal considerations make this difficult.
Landscape plans are not legally required, but some have been submitted by larger commercial developments. The recently completed Auto Zone, Chili's, and Blockbuster each have had one. Site plans, however, are required of all new developments and must show at least the location and size of the existing and proposed landscaping.
Developers and owners are not legally obligated to modify or "refit" older sites that were built by specifications preceding the current Development Code. Unbroken expanses of concrete and asphalt were laid as parking lots and shopping areas during the 60s through early 80s. Sam Houston Blvd. and 11th St., Huntsville’s main commercial thoroughfares and major sources of impression for tourists and other visitors, are characterized by these lots and are hardly positive contributors to the town’s image. A conspicuous exception is the current renovation of the old Sam Houston Lodge (Sam Houston Blvd. and 16th St.), where part of the parking lot is being restored to vegetation and landscape.
Required Distribution of
Landscaping in a new development must be dispersed as follows.
* An area equalling 10% of the building area must be landscaped "adjacent to" the building area. As interpreted by the current Building Official, this means "between the building and anything else," such as parking or sidewalk. In this sense "adjacent to" the building essentially means touching it.
* An area equalling 10% of the parking and drives area must be landscaped "interior to" the parking area. As interpreted by the current Building Official, this means "inside the outer perimeter of the parking and drives" and may include islands and inwardly protruding areas.
* "The remaining landscaping requirements shall be equally dispersed in the remaining area of development." There are no objective criteria in the Development Code for "equal dispersal." The judgement is made by the Building Official in order to prevent landscape from being concentrated in the back of the building.
Compare Auto Zone (11th Street, opened July 1997) and Chili's (NW corner of I-35 and Hwy 30, opened April 1997), both of which are said to have met minimum landscape requirements, to see a contrast in how the landscape requirements for plantings and distribution work. As long as the requirements are minimal and subjectively interpreted, developer's attitudes will be central.
Even the basic requirements may not be effective. All five canopy trees at Blockbuster (opened March 1997) are planted about 3 feet from the nearest curb. At Chili's, a number of the elms, cypress, and live oaks also are obviously planted in small areas too close to the landscape edge. Similar examples can be found at other recently completed developments. Lack of adherence to this basic requirement of the Development Code for tree planting thwarts its intent to provide healthy growing environment as well as to give the city a better appearance.
Reduction of Required
A developer may reduce the minimum required landscaping area to 7.5% by planting trees or maintaining already established ones. To receive credit for area reduction, each tree must be within a planting area at least 6 feet from the trunk to the nearest edge of the landscaping. Or, if the crown radius is wider than 6 feet (this would happen rarely, if ever, for new trees), the shortest dimension of the planting area must at least equal the crown radius.
Crown measurements presumably may be taken from the youngest and most narrowly-crowned tree plantings, since neither a minimum starting height nor minimum crown width is specified in the Development Code. The potential size of the crown at maturity is not considered. Because the trees for credit in area reduction are not specified as "canopy" (height of at least 30 feet at maturity), they may include "non-canopy" trees (height of at least 15 feet at maturity) past the minimum standard of 18 inches of canopy trunk per acre.
* Landscaping credit of 10 square feet for each inch of tree trunk diameter is allowed when trunk diameter totals 3 to 12 inches.
* Landscaping credit of 20 square feet for each inch of tree trunk diameter is allowed when trunk diameter totals 12 or more inches. For example, one tree of 21 inches diameter (around 66 inches circumference) preserved on a 1-acre lot would reduce the required landscape area by about 10%. Since a minimum of 18 total trunk diameter inches of canopy trees is required per acre of lot development, and because even newly planted landscape trees are given credit for reduction of the space requirement, slightly more 9% is the largest area that would ever be expected to be landscaped.
Landscaped areas "within the setback areas of a site and next to a public street" count double in area if they meet minimum landscaping requirements. It apparently might even be possible to bring the required landscape area close to 5% by placing most of the landscaping along the street and either setting in some young trees or preserving one or a few large ones. There is no specification of a minimum landscape area after allowable reductions have been made.
Setbacks, ROWs, and
A setback is the "minimum unoccupied distance between the lot line and the principal and accessory buildings." The setback distances in Huntsville (for all types of property) are these: "Front" and "Side Street" = 25 feet; "Side" and "Rear" = 10 feet
Setbacks provide no guarantee of greenspace because the stipulation of "an unoccupied distance" does not require landscaping, not even grass. Some mortgage companies, however, may ask that the front and side setbacks at least be grass-covered. Setback requirements in the Development Code have been established more to ensure access for utility repairs (gas, water, phone) and to provide adequate spacing between buildings (according to Patrick Antwi, City Planner).
Another potential greenspace buffer along streets is available from the city-owned right-of-way (ROW) that parallels the edge of developed roads, from the back edge of the curb or road's edge to the property line. For residential streets, the width of this ROW is 11 feet ("low-density rural") or 9.5/9.0 feet ("high and medium volume"). For arterial and collector streets, this ROW corridor varies from 9.5 to 14.5 feet in width. When this distance is added to the 25-foot "Front" and "Side Street" setback, the minimum potential buffer (which could be "green") between any street's edge and a building should be 34.0 feet (25 + 9.0).
Still another strip of greenspace may be made possible by utility easements. "If a utility is adjacent to a public street, the developer shall provide utility easements of at least ten (10) feet in width along both sides of the street." The Development Code does not require, however, that such an easement (or ROW) be landscaped.
Changes in landscape
The first standards for Huntsville landscaping were adopted in 1981 as City Ordinance 81-48. These were not included in the city's first development code (March 1982), which was then titled "Subdivision Design Standards," but they did appear in the 1986 revision. Significant Development Code changes in landscape and setback regulations since 1981 are outlined here (with the date of change).
* A larger area required for landscape development --- "a minimum of 10% of the lot is devoted to landscape development" (in 1996) vs. "a minimum of 10% of the lot not covered by a building or structure is devoted to landscape development."
* A section added on "Required distribution of landscaping" (in 1996).
* Increase in required planting area: "canopy trees with planting area with radius of not less than 6 feet" (in 1986) vs. trees with planting area of 3 feet.
* Less reduction of landscape area allowed for planting or maintaining trees (in 1996).
* Reduction of landscape area allowed for installation of an irrigation or sprinkler system (in 1996).
* Minimum side street setback increased to 25 feet (in 1996) from an earlier 15 feet.
A vegetated buffer area is required on the outer perimeter of a new development that is situated adjacent to land of conflicting use or different use intensity. A buffer may also contain a berm or fence where "necessary to achieve the desired level of buffering between various activities." "City Council intends that these buffer requirements reduce nuisances between adjacent land uses or between a land use and a public road by separation of land uses through a required buffer. Such nuisances may include dirt, litter, noise, lights, signs, unsightly buildings or parking areas."
Standards are provided in the Development Code for the definitions of land use classes and use intensity and for the required size and vegetation of the buffers. A buffer cannot include an existing right-of-way or easement and is "to be provided on each lot or parcel independent of adjoining uses or adjoining bufferyards." It may be used for a recreational trail as long as its width and vegetation are maintained.
"Buffers shall remain in the ownership of the original owner (and assigns) of a lot or development. Buffers may be subjected to deed restriction and subsequently be freely conveyed. They may be transferred to any consenting grantees, such as adjoining landowners, or an open-space or conservation group, provided that any such conveyance adequately guarantees the protection of the buffer for the purposes of this Code."
Buffer requirements in the Development Code lack the clarity that would allow them to be enforced or unambiguously interpreted. Despite strong concern in Huntsville for preservation and establishment of wooded road corridors, there are no guidelines for highway or roadside buffers (except the brief comments on landscaping "setback areas of a site next to a public street"). Nor is there any guidance regarding the conditions under which a "nuisance buffer" would be required. The only formally established buffer in Huntsville is on Wiesner Automotive property where it is adjacent to Elmwood Drive.
Parks, Playgrounds, and
Open Space Areas
"The developer of residential lots shall dedicate land for park uses at locations designated in the comprehensive plan or otherwise where such dedications are appropriate at a rate of 1 acre per 100 dwelling units or 10% of the total development (as shown on the preliminary plat), whichever is less up to a maximum of 6 acres dedicated for park and recreational purposes."
The Planning Commission may allow a developer to provide money rather than parkland for two reasons.
* Provision of the land is "an undue hardship on the development."
* "The tract size is inadequate for park and/or recreational purposes and a park site is available within 1/2 mile of the development."
The money must equal the assessed value of the required park land and be deposited in a Neighborhood Park and Recreation Improvement Fund established by the City Council. It must be used for facilities to benefit the new development and located within 1/2 mile of it. Missing here is some indication of how "inadequate size" for park or recreation would be determined. How would "undue hardship" be determined?
Land dedicated as a recreation site should have a total frontage on one or more streets of at least 200 feet in depth and no other dimension less than 100 feet in depth. It must be "relatively level and dry."
A developer may dedicate open space area in partial fulfillment of the obligation to provide 10% or 1 acre per 100 dwelling units. Open space includes "land and water dedicated as a means to conserve land and other natural resources or for historic or scenic purposes not required to be dedicated elsewhere." Such areas are not limited to but may include the following.
* Land with existing or potential geological hazards (such as earth slippage or subsidence).
* Land where flooding from stormwater runoff may occur.
* Scenic sites.
* Buffers between lands of incompatible uses.
The phrase "partial fulfillment" is not explained, and there apparently is no legal limit on the hazardous or stormwater area that could be included in the open space.
"If the developer provides private open space for park and recreation purposes and such space is to be privately owned and maintained by future residents of the development, such areas shall be credited against the requirement of dedication for park and recreational land." Written agreements must adequately provide for ownership and maintenance and deed restrictions must ensure that the open space will remain in the same condition in the future.
What could be done to
guide Huntsville's development?
Anything could be done, depending on what citizens want. Some local citizens and organizations are vocal in their desire for a better looking city, but landscaping and development standards in Huntsville are minimal and until "vocal" meets "action," our town probably will continue to be mostly a wishful tourist attraction. Here is an interesting set of pithy books with ideas and attitudes that could guide the kind of development that at least some would like to see: "Caring for the Land: Environmental Principles for Site Design and Review" (Hendler 1977), "Aesthetics and Land-Use Controls: Beyond Ecology and Economics" (Duerksen 1986), "Preserving Rural Character" (Heyer 1990), "Preparing a Landscaping Ordinance" (Martz 1990), and "Parking Lot Landscaping" (Corwin 1978). Also see the books cited above for the development of tree ordinances.
For most of Huntsville's common in-town tree species, there are brief comments below on some of their interesting features. There is a plethora of published "tree books" for anyone wanting a little or a lot more information. Besides books on identification, many can be found on various topics of tree biology, ecology, propagation and culture, and economic uses. A great one is Haislet's (1984) "Famous Trees of Texas." A trip to the SHSU library or Huntsville public library will be rewarding.
* Pecan (the State Tree of Texas) also is a native bottomland and river side species but not often found in natural settings in Walker County. Like other heavily used Huntsville tree species that easily propagate themselves, younger in-town pecans probably have their origin in cultivated trees, but many of the parental trees likely were natives transplanted from nearby natural sites. Relatively few pecan trees are found now in sapling stage in Huntsville, but with the help of squirrels this species commonly volunteers itself in seedlings after good "mast" years. A few pecans also apparently are still being planted.
Many of our "yard tree" pecans are native forms with relatively small nuts and thick shells, but it would be interesting to know how many kinds of cultivars exist in Huntsville yards, since Texas has been a center of the pecan breeding industry since the 1800s. Part of the popularity of planting in-town pecan trees surely was the promise of a harvest of nuts, immediately at hand, before the days when pecans became relatively cheap (the 1970s) because of mechanized harvest and shelling.
An interesting and compact discussion of the biology, place in cultural history, cultivation and industry, and nutrition (with recipes) of the pecan tree has recently been has brought together by Manaster (1994).
* Live oaks are famous for their low, strong, wide-spreading branches. The dark green, evergreen leaves and the dark, nearly black bark make them distinctive from a distance. The popularity seems well-deserved, because they transplant easily and grow with few problems, little or no maintenance.
Live oaks are remarkably fast-growing and these trees begin to acquire some of their appearance of "old" even after a quick 20 or 30 years. Most of the Huntsville "city" live oak trees are no older than about 50-60 years, judging from size, but a few of them probably are older (especially those listed in the champion or nominated categories). The huge trees from east of Dodge are known to have been planted around the turn of the century.
In Walker County, live oaks are at the eastern edge of their natural range in Texas and the species has not been documented as part of the native flora of Walker County. The native trees in this part of the state are part of a "hybrid swarm" between the coastal live oak (Quercus virginiana) and the escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis). A range map of the "live oak complex" (Simpson 1988) shows western Walker County as part of the native range of live oak, and natural populations of the species apparently do occur in Grimes, Madison, and Houston counties. Some of the local live oaks, though, have come from the coastal form. For example, those planted near Dodge at the turn of the century apparently came from native populations in Liberty County.
* Loblolly pines are common in several parts of Huntsville but they are not often planted. Shortleaf pine is found in town much leses commonly. Most of these in-town pines are persisting from natural revegetation after the last cycle of timber removal.
Many residents have removed pines because they dislike the yard "litter" of cones and because of the potential of danger and damage from falling limbs or toppling trunks. The amazingly tall, straight, and limbless trunks result in part from their self-pruning habit -- the side branches die and are dropped off. Pines also are susceptible to quick death from boring beetle damage, particularly when stressed by drought. Isolated trees with high crowns and shallow root systems are prone to being pushed over in high wind. While pines do have liabilities as yard trees, they lend great beauty to those Huntsville neighborhoods where they have been kept and held in esteem.
Although loblolly and shortleaf pine are sometimes mixed in nearly equal abundance in sandy places outside of town, loblollies have been the primary species to grow inside the city. The weaker inhibition of growth to loblolly seedlings and saplings by competition from other species (Burns and Honkala 1990) is the apparent reason for this. Short-leaf saplings also are more intolerant of shading and the species typically grows in the drier, more sparsely vegetated sites in nature. A wonderful example of natural sorting according to the inherent tendencies of these two species can be seen at the hilltop corner of 21st Street and Avenue O, where a group of large shortleaf pines at the very crest is surrounded by loblollies on all sides. These shortleafs surely were established under natural conditions, before the houses were built.
Other large shortleaf pines can be easily seen in the area of Fish Hatchery Road and along parts of Old Houston Road. A good place to see a mixture of shortleaf and loblolly is the TDCJ ("Joe Byrd") Cemetery on the south side of Bowers Boulevard, although loblollies outnumber the shortleafs there.
Hybrids between these two pine species apparently are relatively common over a broad geographic area west of the Mississippi, and it is not uncommon around Huntsville to encounter trees that appear to be intermediate in bark, cones, and leaves. The most common form of these apparent hybrids can been seen in trees with loblolly-length needles but small cones like shortleaf.
* Slash pines are not native to our area but have been planted here and there in landscapes. They are numerous on the SHSU campus. Needles of slash pine are about as long as those of loblolly but in bundles of 2 and 3 on the same tree (rather than 3 or 3 and 4 in loblolly). Slash and loblolly cones also are about the same size but slash cones are on short stalks and curved backward (vs. without a stalk and at right angles to the stems in loblolly). The bark of slash pines is commonly purplish and in large, thin plates more like shortleaf (vs brown and deeply furrowed with age, the plates narrower in loblolly).
* Juniper is also called "eastern red cedar" or just "cedar." These are evergreen trees that are rarely more than 50 feet tall. They grow well in both the sand and clay of the Huntsville area. A good place to see large ones is around old home sites and in cemeteries. The fibrous bark peeling into long strips sometimes looks a little unkempt and they tend to lose their tops (wind and disease) in their older age, but there is something about the dense, richly dark green foliage and geometric shape that suggests they should be treated with respect, especially when they are clustered.
Junipers come in either "male" (pollen-producing) or "female" (seed-producing). The little berry-like cones are covered with a pale blue wax and are eaten by many kinds of birds and other animals.
* Cypress are conifers like pines and junipers, but cypress leaves turn brown and are deciduous in the fall. The seed cones of cypress are spherical and, like those of juniper, are covered with a bluish-gray wax before completely mature.
It's peculiar to see cypress as shade trees or ornamentals in Huntsville (and other cities) on upland sites, because in nature they grow where frequent, prolonged flooding is common. Like cypress, however, many of our urban trees are from species that typically grow in bottomland or riverside habitats (sycamore, cottonwood, silver maple, box elder, American elm, smooth hackberry, pecan, Nuttall oak). Roots of these trees commonly are submerged for long periods and must be able to tolerate low oxygen supplies. This built-in tolerance gives an advantage to trees with root systems in compacted soil, cramped in space, and often covered over by concrete. Remarkably, cypress also is drought-tolerant.
Cypress "knees" (outgrowths from lateral roots) are most commonly produced in flooded habitats but smaller ones appear even from ornamentals in drier sites. These may be beneficial for aeration but are not critical to survival. The extensive root system associated with the knees helps to anchor trees and makes them extremely windfirm.
The largest cypress (City Champion) in Sam Houston Memorial Park was estimated in 1986 to have been planted around 1900 (by count of growth rings from a core sample), but this species commonly produces "false growth rings," perhaps in response to soil moisture fluctuations (Burns and Honkala 1990) and has often been overestimated in age. Photos indicate that very few trees grew in SHMP until M.H. Stougaard began planting saplings on the grounds around 1928. The lake was created in two phases between about 1930 and 1936. The cypress probably was planted around one of these dates or sometime between, making it about 60 or 70 years old now. This tree seems large to be only that old, but similar rapid growth of cypress in optimum habitats is known from other areas. Cypress trees on abandoned Mississippi cropland have reached 70 feet in height in 40 years.
Under natural conditions, height growth in cypress usually ends at about age 200 and many "slowly die back from the top as a fungus-caused rot progresses downward through the stem." Despite this, cypress trees apparently may reach a maximum age of 400-600 years.
* Bois d'arc (pronounced "bo-dark") is "one of the healthiest tree species in North America," rarely attacked by disease or insects and resistant to drought and wind damage. Its heartwood is "the most decay-resistant of all North American timbers" (Burns and Honkala 1990). It often forms long-lived, spreading trees of odd, interesting shapes, good for plenty of shade, and they are worth keeping. Although this species is still relatively common in Huntsville, young trees are rarely allowed to persist in the urban setting.
Sam Houston planted bois d'arc in Huntsville to establish thorny hedges, as was common practice before barbed wire became available. In fact, this species has been planted for hedges, windbreaks, and soil stabilization over almost the entire USA and is currently regarded as "naturalized" (reproducing itself under natural conditions) in 36 states, mostly in the central and southeastern area of the country. Indians also spread the species to produce wood for bows (hence its common name).
The extent of bois d'arc's native range in Texas is controversial. Its current geographic range in Texas includes counties in the east-central part of the state between the Edwards Plateau and the Piney Woods -- largely blackland prairie area as far south as Lavaca, DeWitt, and Bexar counties (for example, the maps in Burns and Honkala 1990 and Simpson 1988). Weniger (1996), however, has concluded that bois d'arc was native in Texas to only 12 counties in the northeastern part of the state mostly bordering or close to the Red River. His study is based on research of pre-1860 witness tree records and historical accounts by early travelers and naturalists.
Bois d'arc trees are common in scattered parts of the Huntsville area where clay is at the surface, particularly at the edges of prairies and along stream margins that run through clay areas. Further out in the county, it appears to be "true" to these kinds of habitats and is often found in relatively inaccessible locations. It doesn't behave like a recently introduced species in our area.
"Bois d'Arc [also] shows up in many places in the Trans-Pecos [west Texas] -- always at Indian campgrounds or caves, which of course were always by water (seeps, springs, creeks). Today, great thickets of Bois d'Arc are found in these areas, seeded from the horse apples carried by these tribes. No one is sure why they had the fruit. Was it just an accessory, picked up when bow wood was cut, or did they use the seed in some way? (Simpson 1988)."
The big, green, ball-shaped fruits of bois d'arc are sometimes called "horse apples" or "osage oranges." These are produced strictly by female trees (male and female flowers are borne on separate trees), but female trees will sometimes produce seedless fruit when no male bois d'arcs exist nearby. The fruits produce a bitter, milky juice, but "livestock, wild mammals, and birds feed on the fruit and disseminate the seed" (Burns and Honkala 1990). Squirrels in Sam Houston Memorial Park make fine meals of the fruits (observation by Carey Jordy, 1997).
* American elm and slippery elm are both found in nature on bottomland and other moist sites but both also are successful city trees. Although they are very similar, they apparently do not hybridize. American elm is a tree with a beautiful shape, good shade, and characteristically long life, and it is considered one of the best "soil-improving" trees because its leaves decompose rapidly and are rich in nutrients. Most if not all of Huntsville American elms, however, are volunteers and are not generally available at local or regional nurseries.
American elms in Huntsville are currently under stress. By early summer, many (but not all) of the local trees begin to yellow, and the leaves have lost so much chlorophyll by August and September that they stand out as "dead-looking" from a distance. Arborists in Houston, where American elms are plagued by the same problem, speculate that "excessive heat" may be responsible. If it's a disease, no one seems to know its cause. It's a beautiful tree and volunteer seedlings are plentiful, but it's hard to recommend the species for planting in Huntsville because of this problem and because of the possibility of Dutch elm disease.
Dutch elm disease has greatly reduced the number of large American elms in natural and urban forests over most of the eastern United States. The disease is a "wilt fungus" that was accidentally imported from Europe in 1930 in a shipment of elm logs. It is introduced into the sap of young twigs and small branches by elm bark beetles. Fortunately, Dutch elm disease is not common (yet?) in east Texas and no effects are apparent in Huntsville. Potentially, though, it could affect all four of the elm species native to our area. Other elm species apparently are not susceptible to the problem now plaguing American elms in Huntsville.
The best of the Asian elm species is the lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) --- nice plantings are on the SHSU campus. Another close relative of elm (in the same family) is the Asian "zelkova" (Zelkova serrata), which makes a hardy and beautifully shaped tree that should do well in Huntsville.
* Water oak is a time-tested tree in Huntsville yards. It makes a beautiful shade tree because the leaves tend to persist through winter and the trunk usually is very straight and lifts the canopy high. It occurs in nature in a variety of habitats and soils and can be grown successfully almost anywhere in Huntsville. It surely is our most common in-town oak species and the most common volunteer oak. Acorns of water oak are small and germinate easily, and the seedling and saplings grow rapidly. In fact, water oak is the fastest-growing of local oaks, potentially reaching 100 feet high in 50 years, particularly when in a relatively open site.
Laurel oak is similar to water oak in many ways, including the habits of holding its leaves through most of the winter. Instead of leaves widest toward the tip, laurel oak leaves are widest at the middle and they average larger. The native range of laurel oak apparently ends slightly east of Walker County, but the large size and beauty of the two laurel oaks planted in Oakwood Cemetery suggests that this species deserves to be among Huntsville's yard trees.
Water oak and laurel oak are closely related, and occasional individuals of water oak may approach the other species in leaf shape. Of two large trees in a yard along 19th Street (1506 19th), one has typical water oak leaves while the other has many leaves like laurel oak. Probably, though, this peculiar individual is just a variant from the local "pool" of water oak genes.
* Willow oaks are native to bottomlands in our area but are not common in Huntsville. Like water oaks, though, these are quick-growers and good urban trees that grow well in water-stressed and oxygen-stressed habitats. Many have been planted on the SHSU campus, a few can be found around the Walls Unit, but the largest trees are in Sam Houston Memorial Park (see comments below). "Pin oak" is a name commonly used in east Texas for this species, as well as for water oak.
* Southern red oak is a beautiful and fast-growing tree and deserves to be commonly planted on streets and lawns. They are most common on sandy soils but also can be found in parts of town over clay. The leaves usually have a long, pointed terminal lobe, a shiny upper surface and much lighter colored lower surface, and their habit of hanging pendulously makes them easy to recognize at a distance.
* Shumard oak and Nuttall oak, both native to our area, make beautiful and relatively quick-growing yard trees, the reason for their popularity in local nurseries (Nuttall oak sometimes not available). The leaves of the two species are very similar and acorns must be examined to be sure of the identification. In nature, though, Shumard oaks prefer upland habitats (moist slopes, usually where clay is not far below the surface), while Nuttall oaks occur natively only in bottomlands. Like cypress and other bottomland species, Nuttall oaks can do well when planted out of their natural habitat
The SHSU campus has many young and healthy Shumard oaks planted over the last 25 years. The two places to see Shumard oaks in a natural setting in town are Gibbs Park (see Tree Walks, below) and "Gibbs Woods" at the southwest corner of Bowers and Sycamore. Shumard oaks, like other species that prefer moist upland sites, have become rare in our area because of the increasing management for pine. Timber management through quickly repeated prescribed burning also removes a number of hardwood species, including Shumard oak, because their thin bark is easily susceptible to fire damage.
* Post oak trees in our area have a straight, thick trunk, thick branches, and a rounded or umbrella-like canopy of dark green leaves that makes dense shade. Many of our largest and most beautiful "big trees" are post oaks, almost certainly survivors of earlier times when prairies and native prairie vegetation were abundant here. These big trees are always over clay, or at least clay is very close to the surface. Post oaks are not planted now, perhaps because of their relatively slow growth or problems in germination. Still, this species deserves to be propagated in Huntsville --- otherwise, we'll see them nearly gone over the next few decades, as development and disease take them out one-by-one.
Scrubby post oaks make small trees, the trunk often leaning and the branches contorted, and they spread by rhizomes in its typically deep sandy habitats. The leaves are "post oak" but usually smaller. Hybrids between the two species are common around Huntsville, but they sometimes grow almost side-by-side and remain clearly distinct. Shrubby post oaks, like blackjack oaks, are rejected by foresters because of their lack of economic value, and they are often removed from yards, maybe because they are seen as deformed. In sandy habitats, though, where it's unlikely that "true" post oak will grow, scrubby post oak makes groves of drought-resistant trees of interesting shapes easily large enough to provide good shade.
* Sweetgum grows in abundance in many kinds of habitats in our area. It is especially common in cutover woods and other disturbed areas around Huntsville because of broad tolerance to different moisture conditions and soils and because of its ability to form root sprouts. "It is not uncommon to find as many as 40 or more stems from seedling to sapling size on the root systems of a single parent tree" (Burns and Honkala 1990).
The Formosa sweetgums on the grounds of the Sam Houston museum are native to Formosa and mainland China -- they have 3-lobed leaves instead of the typical 5 lobes of the native eastern North American species. All species of sweetgum, though, produce the distinctive, pendulous, spiky, "fruit balls." These are complex structures, each technically with a number of separate fruits crowded into the single ball.
Several cultivated varieties of sweetgum are commercially available, including one that doesn't produce fruits, but no form of this native species is frequently planted (if at all) at the present time in Huntsville. Still, these are beautiful, fast-growing, and strongly wind-resistant shade trees, and their orange and yellow leaves are conspicuously beautiful in the fall.
* Sycamore is easily and commonly grown in town but occurs in moist or riverside habitats when found in nature. The sycamore is a fast-growing tree and grows to a larger diameter than any other North American hardwood. While the smooth white bark makes it a beautiful tree, the rain of large, brown, slowly decaying leaves in autumn can be messy. Remember to give this potentially awesome-sized tree adequate growing space, or else soon be forced to consider replacing it (starting over) with a species of smaller potential size. In fact, that probably has been the fate of most of the sycamores planted in Huntsville over the last 100 years.
The "fruit balls" of sycamore are like those of sweetgum --- each technically is composed of a number of individual fruits packed together. Each single fruit produces only a single seed. Unlike sweetgum, though, sycamore balls are not woody and come apart quickly.
* Cottonwood, like sycamore, grows in streamside or bottomland habitats in nature but is easily grown in town. It also is fast-growing and may reach huge size. A few have been recorded to reach 100 feet tall by 9 years of age. At maturity, it is one of the tallest species east of the Rocky Mountains, sometimes reaching nearly 200 feet high. A single large cottonwood tree may release as many as 48 million cottony seeds (hence its name) in May and June and these can be an annoyance. Small problem over a short time for a beautiful tree, and this can avoided by getting a "male" tree, which doesn't produce the cotton. Some Texas nurseries now sell “cottonless” cottonwoods, male trees grown from cuttings. Or, it might be necessary to set in a larger individual already showing its sex, or plant several small ones and wait a year or two to find out which is which sex (50/50 chance for either sex). Seed production in cottonwoods begins at 5 to 10 years old.
* Smooth hackberry (or sugarberry) is a native and sometimes common along river sides, bottomlands, and moister, downhill edges of prairies. The small fruits are eaten by birds, and hackberry seeds have a remarkable ability to germinate in unexpected places, practically anywhere, including the smallest of cracks in concrete and they are common as large trees in many places. It is one of our "toughest" and most dependable urban trees. It grows quickly into a large, high-headed tree and makes good shade, and it is equally (at least) as desirable and valuable as other species currently planted in Huntsville for these reasons. Dwarf hackberry, which is locally native in sandy woods, is not encountered in urban Huntsville environments.
* Southern magnolia's spectacular and fragrant flowers and the large, glossy, evergreen leaves make it a desired cultivar, and it is grown in temperate climates all over the world. The species is at the very edge of its natural geographic range in Walker County. One county east, in San Jacinto County, large natural populations of southern magnolia can still be found. In these, a great amount of tree-to-tree variation exists in flower size and petal shape, leaf size and shape (long & narrow to short & stubby), and the amount of leaf hairiness, all surprising to one accustomed to seeing only in-town trees from cultivated stock, where the same features are much more uniform.
Magnolia seedlings come up in some abundance, when allowed, in areas where ‘planted’ trees are producing fruit and seeds. The bright red seeds are eaten and spread by birds and other animals, and most of the young magnolia trees and saplings in the woods around Huntsville probably have originated from cultivated trees. A few large magnolias along Robinson Creek in the area historically known as "Magnolia Grove" (see Tree Walks, below) are true natives, persisting from the original vegetation. These have distinctly smaller leaves than "in-town" trees of Huntsville. The largest of these Magnolia Grove trees (the City/County Champ) is estimated to be about 115 years old, based on a core sample taken by David Zellar and Guy Nesom in July 1997. Scattered saplings and young trees in the immediate area probably are the progeny of these relict natives.
Southern magnolias occur in wet or damp habitats in nature, usually along streams and in bottomlands where fires are naturally excluded or where they occur only at very low frequencies. Because of their thin bark, young trees are killed by fire and even a low intensity fire may damage the trees enough to admit insects or fungi. Heart rot (a fungal disease) is often a problem for older magnolias.
When magnolias are part of native woods where other large trees are competing for a place in the canopy, the trunks of tall trees can be relatively bare for a long distance under the leaves. Several magnolia cultivars have been selected for characteristics of overall shape but Huntsville in-town trees show little variation in these features. If in the open and without pruning, ours tend to form dense upright ovals with the lower branches often nearly lying on the ground. If side branches are taken off, a canopy head will be pushed up much more quickly. Is the tree to be for shade, a screen, or flowers?
Southern magnolias are usually grown as "showpieces" that potentially occupy a large growing area. Dense shade and decaying magnolia leaves and cones beneath the trees also tend to inhibit grass and other kinds of vegetation.
* Southern catalpa apparently occurred in native habits in Texas only in Jasper and Newton counties of east Texas before 1860 (Weniger 1996). They were being planted as ornamentals in Texas at least by the 1840s and we know that Sam Houston planted it at his house in Huntsville around 1850. These trees are spectacular in flower but the tall habit and large leaves of catalpa make it easy to find even when not in flower. The long, cylindric, dangling seed pods also contribute to the distinctive appearance of these trees. Catalpa has spread by cultivation throughout most of the eastern half of the state, and millions of winged seeds from any flowering tree ensure that this species will continue to appear on its own. A whole row of catalpas, already old enough to flower, has recently been planted along FM 2821 in front of the TDCJ Wynne Unit.
* Cherry laurel is a glossy-leaved evergreen very successful as a city shrub or tree in Huntsville. Trees produce large numbers of fruits and seedlings come up in large numbers wherever a little bit of dirt is available, including vacant lots, wooded lots, lawns, and flower beds. It is relatively common as a native tree of moist woods only one or two counties to the east (Polk and San Jacinto). Like southern Magnolia, its origin in Huntsville is mostly through early plantings. Confirm the identity of cherry laurel by crushing a leaf and smelling the almond odor.
* Box elder is a species of maple but its leaves hardly look like those of typical maple. In fact, young plants are often mistaken for poison ivy, but box elder leaves are "opposite" each other on the stem -- they always are produced in pairs. In nature, this maple grows along streams or in other moist places, but in town it may come up in a variety of unexpected places. Box elders make medium-sized trees producing dense shade. They are fast-growing but sometimes weakened by heart rot at a relatively young age.
Box elder is the most widely distributed of all the native American maples. It is mostly a species of the eastern United States but grows all the way to the Pacific coast and from Canada southward, through scattered localities in Mexico, all the way to Guatemala.
* Red mulberry trees produce large, oval-shaped leaves that often are deeply lobed on young trees but unlobed on mature trees. They are fast growers that make good shade trees, but they appear to be relatively short-lived (for trees). In the woods, they usually remain as part of the understory, even at maturity. Mulberries come either as male (pollen producing) or female (fruit producing). The sweet fruits look like small, elongated blackberries and are a favorite food of birds, squirrels, and other animals. As long as one or two berry-producing trees are in town, seedlings will always be coming up here and there.
* Bradford pear and Callery pear are two varieties of a single East Asian species increasingly planted around Huntsville. Both varieties make small trees. The Bradford pear forms a tight crown (it looks like a "lollipop" tree), while the Callery pear is more openly branched and graceful and closer to the native form of the species. Beautiful trees of this are growing in front of the Estill Building on the SHSU campus and on the west side of the County Courthouse. A contrasting row of young Bradford pears is across the street, across from the Texan Cafe. Although this species is a relatively recent member of the urban community and almost completely restricted to plantings, the apparent volunteer in Eastham-Thomason Park (see below, Tree Walks) suggests that it has the potential to become naturalized, in the sense that it can reproduce itself and spread outside of cultivation. The mass of white flowers of Bradford pear in the spring are much like those of the common pear (with the edible fruit, Pyrus communis) but the very small fruits are not. The common pear also is a Eurasian native.
* Mimosas are low trees with spreading branches, fast-growing in full sun, and most conspicuous in late May and June when covered with puffball clusters of pink flowers. The trees are good for quick shade but they are short-lived and produce brittle wood susceptible to easy breakage and fungal infection. Many mimosas are killed by a hard freeze (nearing zero degrees) --- the last in Huntsville was in 1989.
These trees were was commonly planted in the 1940s and 1950s all over the south-eastern United States, including Huntsville, but it has been cultivated in the United States since before 1800. The species is now fully naturalized and comes up easily in vacant lots, woods edges, roadsides, and fencerows. Perhaps because of more conservative tastes and perception of mimosa as "weedy," it is now rarely planted, at least in Huntsville. As these kinds of full-sun habitats become increasingly occupied and more "civilized," we will see even less of mimosa.
Mimosa is a native of eastern Asia, where other species of the same genus grow. Among our native Texas plants, it is closely related to the creeping herbs known as "sensitive plants," which have leaves that close when they are touched. The delicate, fern-like leaves of mimosa close as dark approaches. The flowers of mimosa and sensitive plants also are similar.
* Chinaberry (an Asian native) is locally common and easily reproduces itself. These are fast-growing, nicely shaped trees with beautiful purple flowers and delicate but densely packed leaves. Although they are short-lived and disease-prone, they are good for quick shade and could be planted alongside other species that will grow more slowly but produce more durable trees in the long run. Chinaberries today in Huntsville are relatively uncommon, perhaps for the same reasons as the waning popularity of mimosa, but walk along the trail in Eastham-Thomason Park to see a number of these trees all in good health. It is native to the Himalayan area and cultivated today in all tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
* Crepe myrtle usually is docile in cultivation -- it needs to be planted and rarely escapes -- but it does produce fertile seeds and sometimes appears in odd places in the middle of the woods, along roadsides, or even in parking lots. Typically, crepe myrtle produces multiple trunks from the base that spread into a rounded or vase-like "crown" and it usually is more like a shrub than a tree. It can sometimes can reach proportions of a small tree, however, especially if grown to a single "trunk" and pruned high. Still, it is mostly decorative since its value as a shade-producer is not great. Flower colors range from white to pink to red and purple.
Crepe myrtle is a native of China; another 30 species in the same genus (Lagerstroemia) are found in southeast Asia and the Australian region. Our species has been cultivated in the US since before 1800, and along with juniper, crepe myrtle apparently was among the earliest plantings by Huntsville settlers. It is found at nearly every early house site in Walker County (fide James Patton) and was among species planted by Sam Houston around his house. Today, still, it is ubiquitous.
* Chinese tallow is an Asian native grown for its ease of propagation, quick growth, and nicely colored foliage. These small trees are peculiarly exotic-looking in early summer when they fill with arching or drooping, orange-yellow cylinders of small flowers. On the negative side, they are disease-prone, short-lived, and highly reproductive. The seeds are spread by birds and seedlings are found almost everywhere in Huntsville, and it is the only woody tree in our area that might in some circumstances be considered a "noxious weed."
Chinese tallow is an alien species destructively invading native ecosystems. The following is quoted from comments on the tallow tree on the World Wide Web site of The Nature Conservancy, which lists it as one of the "Dirty Dozen," the 12 "least wanted species" of Texas. It also is one of the "Dirty Dozen" from North America, with species such as the fire ant, "killer" bees, Johnson grass, hydrilla, and starlings.
"It's easy to see why Chinese tallow was introduced to the United States. The fast-growing tree reaches heights of 30 to 40 feet, sports lovely leaves that turn from green to yellow to red in autumn, and produces seeds with an oil that was useful to industry. Native to eastern Asia, where it has been cultivated for 14 centuries as an oilseed crop, Chinese tallow first was introduced to South Carolina in the late 1700s. In the early 1900s, the Foreign Plant Introduction Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture promoted tallow planting in Gulf Coast states to establish a soap industry. But Chinese tallow is yet another example of a species brought intentionally to North America with unforeseen and unwelcome consequences."
"Chinese tallow has flourished in its new home, spreading from South Carolina to Florida and Texas. Capable of flowering and fruiting at only three years of age and three feet in height, the plant produces an abundant seed crop that is dispersed by birds and moving waters."
"It has been described as the 'happy invader' for its ability to become established in a wide range of environments; it can thrive not only in developed and degraded areas near human habitation but also in more natural wet prairies and bottomland forests. Able to grow in both full sunlight and shade, the tree is also more tolerant of salinity than many native competitors. The final blow? Chinese tallow wields a hidden weapon against competitors: the leaves it sheds contain toxins that alter soil chemistry and make it difficult for native vegetation to become established."
"This jack-of-all-trades of the plant kingdom has displaced native species and changed natural community structures in the lands it has invaded. Formerly natural coastal habitats are becoming infested with stands of Chinese tallow. Large parts of Texas Gulf coastal prairie have been transformed from native grassland or abandoned cropland into Chinese tallow woodland. Although the plant is a serious and growing threat to the native plants and habitats of the Southeast, it is still in demand from nurseries there, many of which continue to stock it as an ornamental. Educating both plant consumers and nursery owners could help control the spread of such invasive exotics as Chinese tallow, which should no longer be used for landscaping."
Native Small Trees
Some of our most beautiful native species are almost never allowed to persist in urban settings (hawthorns, fringe tree, sparkleberry, black haw, and bumelia). Even dogwoods and redbuds are often subject to the same treatment. These are mostly small trees relatively common in surrounding woods that get cleared by developers as "underbrush" or that apparently are unrecognized for their potential beauty by local homeowners. They are often shrubby in recently cut woods but can grow into small trees of interesting shapes. All are well-adapted to local conditions and require almost no special care even during droughts. All produce fruits much loved by birds and other animals.
* Hawthorns - six species native to Huntsville make small trees with beautiful foliage and spreads of white flowers in the spring. All are thorny but these plants are hardly a danger and barely an inconvenience when measured against their beauty. Still other hawthorn species may be available through nurseries.
* Fringe tree is a small tree with beautiful, white, long-persistent spring flowers. To see two beautiful plants of this species, look in the yard on the southwest corner of Hickory Drive and Cross Timbers. Multiple stems from the base are common but it can be "trained" to a single trunk.
* Sparkleberry is a native huckleberry that grows in beautiful shapes and bears small, glossy, deep green leaves. It fills with tiny white flowers in May. It is usually more like a shrub, but older plants may become tall enough and wide-crowned enough to look like a small tree.
* Rusty black haw is a shrub or small tree that requires little or no care. It produces glossy leaves and beautiful flat-topped clusters of white flowers worthy of anyone's yard.
* Bumelia is a small tree (25 or 30 feet tall at the largest) that grows quickly and tolerates a wide variety of soil and light conditions. Its growth pattern is not as precise as Bradford pear, but here is a beautiful native species that doesn't duplicate thousands of other city plantings. The few species of bumelia that grow in the southeastern US are the only Northern Hemisphere representatives of a large family that occurs in South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
* Flowering dogwood is naturally abundant in the sandy woods around Huntsville but less so in habitats over clay, apparently because dogwood seedling survival is much higher on sandy soil than clay and larger trees prefer soils where water drains out relatively quickly. Dogwoods are much less common in Huntsville than are redbuds, which prefer the non-acidic clay soils, but dogwoods will do well in a variety of habitats after they are established. Local nurseries report that dogwoods are hard to transplant but a number of horticultural varieties have been developed and are sold in our region. The trees will grow rapidly for the first 20-30 years, but when no more than 6 years old they may bring out the beautiful flower clusters that are the species' hallmark all over eastern North America.
Besides its beauty, dogwood is one of the best soil improvers among eastern North American trees. Its leaf litter decomposes much faster than other species, making minerals concentrated by the root system more quickly available to the upper soil layers. They also are good "wildlife trees," because the clustered red fruits, which have a high fat and calcium content, are known to be eaten by at least 36 species of birds.
Flowering dogwood is under serious attack by a fungus that causes the leaves to wilt and drop prematurely in the fall and the tree to die within a year or two. The mortality rate is high and no remedies have yet been developed for infected trees, although resistant horticultural strains are being developed. The fungus (Discula destructiva), which was found simultaneously on dogwoods in the Northeast US and the Pacific Northwest, appears to attack trees exposed to a combination of acid rain, photochemical smog, and increased ultraviolet rays. Since the initial outbreak, the fungus has spread from New England to the Southeast US. East Texas dogwoods are not yet affected but it seems likely that the disease will reach here sooner or later. Some predict that the dogwood of natural communities is headed toward the same fate as the American chestnut.
Our flowering dogwood has two close North American relatives, both of which also have four white bracts surrounding the cluster of small flowers. One is a species of the Pacific coast region (Cornus Nuttallii), the other from the mountains of northeastern Mexico (Cornus urbiniana). The bracts of the Mexican species are permanently held together at the tips, so that when the "flowers" are fully open, they look like little open boxes with white, arching-curved sides. The Mexican dogwood grows naturally on limestone soils and probably would do well on Huntsville clay (if we could obtain plants). An Asian species of white-bracted dogwood (Cornus kousa) is now available in several horticultural forms for North American landscapes.
Other dogwood species in eastern North America produce small, more numerous flowers in flat-topped clusters without conspicuous bracts. Another dogwood species occurs naturally in Walker County. Rough-leaved dogwood, typical of wet or moist habitats, has upper leaf surfaces roughened by hairs and fruits that are white at maturity.
The quickest way to see trees and learn how to recognize the different kinds is to walk among them. The best way is to go with someone who can point them out to you. Of course, it's not necessary to recognize different species of trees to enjoy a walk, but it adds a wonderful dimension to outdoor activities. Huntsville could do much more to make walking possible and to make it a pleasure, but there are good places to walk and see a number of tree species. The best tree walks are briefly described here with the trees to be seen at each one. One is along neighborhood sidewalks, two are on the grounds of SHSU and the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, two are privately owned, two are HISD property, three are city parks, and one is the historic Oakwood Cemetery.
* In-Town Sidewalk
Here is an interconnected walk through one of the few parts of Huntsville where sidewalks exist. It goes through a relatively old part of town where some of the natives still persist, but most of the trees are "urban replacements." Every common tree species in Huntsville (LISTS 1-3) can be seen along this walk. The walk is anchored in the area of the Sam Houston State University campus and Sam Houston Memorial Park, which also have good tree walks (see below).
A sidewalk completely surrounds and encloses SHMP, the Gazebo area, and Pritchett Field: 19th Street, Avenue O, 17th Street, Sam Houston Blvd.
Walk along 19th Street from SHMP (at the corner of 19th St. and Sam Houston Blvd.) west all the way to Gibbs Elementary and Gibbs Park at Avenue S. Return the same way.
A complete sidewalk loop exists between 19th Street and 20th Street by going up and down Avenue N and Avenue N 1/2. From the corner of N 1/2, walk east on 20th Street all the way to Sam Houston Blvd. at the entrance to SHSU.
* SHSU Campus
The university campus is a good place to see an interesting diversity of tree species of known age, because planting dates are known for most of them. It's a good place to get an idea of how well they grow in Huntsville and how well they grow in natural clay or soil scraped down to clay. Trees tend to be grouped by species --- clusters of cypress, slash pine, willow oak, Shumard oak, southern magnolia, and others are quickly found. Most have been started over the last 25 years under the direction of Bruce Fulenwider, former forester and now Manager of the SHSU Custodial/Grounds Department.
Plantings have acquired both age and size in the Old Main area and in the "Quadrangle," which had very few trees in the early 1900s (photos in SHSU Peabody Archives). Oaks are now especially well-represented. The white oaks, swamp chestnut oaks, and black gum in the Quad were planted as saplings in the late 1960's by Claude McLeod (Dept. of Biology), who got them from native habitats in Big Thicket Texas somewhere east of Walker County. Acorn-grown saplings from these cultivated oaks have recently been planted south of the Recreational Sports building, and at least one (swamp chestnut oak) is planted in Sam Houston Memorial Park.
The large shortleaf pine near Austin [College] Hall is around 60-80 years old, judging from its size. A graceful Magnolia soulangeana, planted in about 1975, grows on the west side of Austin Hall. A water oak on the north side of the Main Building is deceptively large, only a little over 25 years old. Two large Callery pears planted in the mid 70's in front of the newly refurbished Estill Building show the spreading, more natural shape of this variety. Shumard oaks in the south half of the Quad also were planted in the mid 70s.
Landscaping was part of renovation of the mall (about a year after Old Main burned in 1982 and near completion of Lee Drain Building in late 1984). The live oaks around the "Greek pit," the row of southern red oaks along the southeast side of the Quad, and the clustered willow oaks on the east side of Main Building were among many trees were planted in this area in late 1983 and early 1984. The rows of Shumard oaks around Lee Drain Building were planted from containerized saplings just after the building was finished.
Walk from the Quad toward the library area to see another set of species. The double row of cypress in the mall (between LSC and Frels Hall) were planted about 1980, set in these raised "boxes" to replace sweetgums, which were initially planted but unable to survive there. These boxes are bottomless, but the clay makes drainage difficult and the soil is easily saturated. The lines of southern magnolias further along the walkway (between AB1 and Business Admin) were set in as containerized saplings in about 1970 --- these have small but variable-sized leaves suggestive of a native origin. The huge live oak at the west end of the Business building was saved at the site of an early residence before development of the campus there.
Slash pines are numerous around Lee Drain Building and the Coliseum; these were planted in the 1980s. A cork oak (Quercus suber) grows on the south side of Teacher Education, planted about 20 years ago (ca. 1975) by Fulenwider. It's worth a walk just to see this interesting little tree, a native of southern Europe and north Africa. Several young, healthy tulip poplars, planted as seedlings in about 1990, grow between Lee Drain and the Coliseum. This species is a common native of eastern North American forests, but its natural distribution doesn't quite reach into east Texas -- interesting to see it doing well here. Lovely lacebark elms grow in several places: beside the University Theatre, in front of the Coliseum, and along the east side of AB3 (the City Champ).
On the west side of the Coliseum, raised planters hold dwarf Japanese pines ("man trees," Pinus umbraculifera) surrounded by low, gray-green Fitzer junipers. Taller Hollywood junipers are set in other places nearby. Variation in shape and color of the cypress trees around the Coliseum is striking --- all these are offspring (germinated from seed) of the single largest cypress tree in Sam Houston Memorial Park.
Summary of SHSU tree species: white oak (City Champ), swamp chestnut oak (City Champ), water oak, black oak, live oak, southern red oak, post oak, Shumard oak, Nuttall oak, willow oak, cork oak, shortleaf pine, Japanese pine, juniper (City Champ), Chinese elm (City Champ), black gum, slash pine, loblolly pine, pecan, dogwood, redbud, sweetgum, sycamore, cottonwood, green ash, southern magnolia, soulangeana magnolia, cypress, American holly, and others.
* Sam Houston Memorial Park
This is the site and area of Sam Houston's home, originally situated over a prairie with few trees. The park has undergone a radical character change since the early part of the century. A broad aerial photo made in the "late 1920s," looking east (taken from somewhere over Avenue N or P), shows SH Memorial Park largely under cultivation, with a cluster of pines and a few other scattered trees. SHSU Old Main and the university power plant tower (built 1915) are in the background. The path of the creek through the park is visible but no lake or trail system had been created. This photo is displayed at the Texan Cafe but is not in the recent photographic compilations.
Sam Houston himself planted trees around his house (see comments above), but much of the diversity now in place has come from plantings about 1925-28 made by M.H.Stougaard, the "Custodian and Horticulturalist" for the park from 1928 to 1936, as well as from plantings by Ms. Grace Cox, former Museum Director. The lake with surrounding stonework and the rotunda were completed in 1936 as part of the Texas centennial celebration of independence from Mexico.
Sam Houston Memorial Park is a good place to see sizes attained by trees in 60-70 years. The large willow oaks and cypress are especially notable. A group of large Formosa sweetgums is southwest of the lake near the sidewalk along 19th Street. Two large bois d'arcs framing the western gate entrance to the Sam Houston home are the subject of a recent painting commissioned by the Texas Forest Service. Over clay. Cypress (City Champ), soapberry (City Champ), Formosa sweetgum (City Champ), American sweetgum, bois d'arc, willow oak, water oak, pecan, sycamore, green ash, river birch, redbud, juniper, loblolly pine, American elm, southern magnolia, persimmon, Hercules club, cherry laurel, box elder, Chinese tallow, yaupon, quihoui privet, smooth privet.
* Huntsville High School Environmental Learning Center
Behind HHS lies about 30 acres of woods of the Environmental Learning Center, developed by HISD Asst. Superintendent Clayton Waits to bring outdoor learning more directly into the educational program. The ELC is used by biology and ecology classes and various sites of the "ROPES Challenge Course" are imbedded in the woods, inter-connected by trails. A 200 square foot tree house is high in a water oak across the creek from "Earthly Goods." The ELC is open to the public; a good time to walk is on the weekend.
The area is mostly in natural condition, although almost all of the larger trees were removed before it was purchased by HISD in the mid 1960s. About 1.5 miles of well-maintained trails run through the ELC and pass many species of native trees. A total of 47 trees and shrub species have been recorded for the ELC --- a complete list is available.
Horse Branch, which runs along the northeast side of the ELC, and six wooden bridges provide much of the interest and beauty of the area (the creek now slowed to a trickle, or completely stopped in summer, because of an upstream dam on private property). The creek sides and bottom are sandy from upstream alluvium but the soil is primarily clay, which strongly determines what species grow here.
The largest trees occur along the creek, a result both of faster growth in that habitat and of trees spared from earlier cutting. The most common species with the largest individuals are loblolly pine, American elm, water oak, sycamore, cottonwood, sweetgum, winged elm, white ash, green ash, and bois d'arc. Small basswoods are common along one stretch near the Scenic Overlook, and a few small saplings of cypress (planted) are growing along the creek in the same area. Black willow, boxelder, red mulberry, hackberry, juniper, and yaupon are generally smaller trees but also are common. Common privet is over-common along the creek and almost everywhere else in the ELC. Many of these species can be seen along both sides of the creek from the "Scenic Overlook," a wooden pavilion at a high vantage point on the south bank near the outdoor classroom.
Near the "north bridge" (west of the orchard and garden), on the west side of the creek (over clay), there is a beautiful cluster of large bois d'arc trees with sprawling-spreading branches. The peculiar trifoliate orange also occurs near the creek over clay in various other places in the ELC.
On the slopes west of the creek, toward MLK Blvd., the woods are mostly loblolly pine canopy with a midstory of winged elm, water oak, sweetgum, and scattered white ash. Redbud, forestiera, yaupon, rusty black haw, red mulberry, common privet, juniper, American elm, and trifoliate orange are in much smaller numbers. The old tramway that runs through here has sandy edges, where a few individuals of bumelia and flowering dogwood are growing. A few large southern red oaks and post oaks are scattered through this area, but both species surely once were much more common as part of the natural vegetation here.
Another set of woody species occurs along edges and openings inside the woods at installations of the ropes course, around the edges of the pond, and along the roadsides that cross through the ELC. Common "edge" species are winged and smooth sumac, Chinese tallow, mimosa, swamp dogwood, persimmon, and baccharis.
* Scott Johnson Elementary Environmental Learning Center
A looping trail runs about 1/2 mile through this 5-acre tract at the southeast corner of the school, adjacent to the playground. The area slopes southward toward the headwaters of Tanyard Creek. A printed Trail Guide provides detailed information about the area and its biology.
Loblolly pines are dominant but there are a few, large, intermixed shortleafs and a good diversity of hardwood species that prefer sandy soil. A grove of older southern red oaks adds a beautiful touch. The oldest trees (pines and hardwoods) are about 65 years. Loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, southern red oak, post oak, flowering dogwood, redbud, red maple, black gum, winged elm, black haw, fringe tree, Mexican plum, cherry laurel, wild black cherry, American holly, box elder, bumelia, dwarf hackberry, yaupon, elbow bush, black haw, sassafras.
* "Gibbs Woods"
This area, privately owned by the Gibbs family, is bounded by Sycamore and Bowers on the southeast side of the SHSU campus. It is a beautiful tract and probably the largest and most naturally diverse one remaining within Huntsville, in both its topography and its plants. This wooded area also plays a large role in controlling stormwater in the central part of town.
Gibbs Woods is mostly a loblolly and shortleaf pine woods, but recent thinnings have been done with care, and areas of closed hardwood canopy are scattered through. Sweetgum and water oaks are common. At least 49 species of trees and shrubs are growing here and more than 100 other herbs and ferns. Most of the oldest trees probably are 50-80 years old, with some older. One hillside has red maples and Shumard oaks, both species easily susceptible to fire damage and rarely allowed to persist in natural habitats in our area. Black hickory, black gum, wild black cherry, dwarf hackberry are here but uncommon in most other town habitats. In the area of the Sycamore-Bowers corner (at the hilltop) are bluejack, blackjack, and scrubby post oaks and herbaceous species associated with dry and deep sandy sites. This kind of rigdetop/hilltop habitat has mostly been eliminated from Walker County because of its economic disposition toward roads, houses, and pines, and these species are correspondingly hard to find. Over sand. Other species: southern red oak, post oak, winged elm, cherry laurel, Mexican plum, juniper, red mulberry, bois d'arc, sycamore, yaupon, flowering dogwood, redbud, elbow bush, fringe tree, sassafras, sand holly, Georgia holly, sparkleberry, parsley hawthorn, rusty black haw, winged sumac, smooth sumac, black willow, catalpa, wax myrtle, dwarf plum, buckthorn, persimmon, sea myrtle, bumelia, mimosa, smooth privet, Chinese privet.
* "Magnolia Grove"
This area, privately owned by the Robinson estate, includes Robinson Creek and its adjacent sandy hillsides as the creek flows northward through a deep north-south "valley" between FM 1374 (Possum Walk Road) and the old SHSU rodeo area. The creek is 70-80 feet below the surrounding hilltops, and the relative steepness of the side slopes must be the main factor contributing to the concentration of water. A forested buffer separates the creek from a mowed city sewage easement, which follows along part of its western side. The eastern side slopes up toward Huntsville Memorial Hospital and I-45.
On both sides of the creek, many fern-lined seeps and springs drain into the creek and feed an amazingly clean channel over a sandy bottom with clear, almost cold (in July!) water. Wax myrtle, chain fern, southern shield fern, and royal fern grow in great abundance. The beauty of this spot and the natural water supply made it popular with Huntsville citizens of the 1800s and early 1900s, who knew it as Magnolia Grove. Some of these trees, especially magnolias and black gums, are well over 100 years old and surely have watched over picnics attended by Robinsons, Gibbs, Powells, Smithers, Thomasons, Easthams, and other families from earlier days of Huntsville.
The largest and most abundant trees along the creek are loblolly pine, black gum (City Champ), sweetgum, and water oak. American elm and southern magnolia (City Champ, see comments under the species) also are conspicuous in places. Abundant smaller trees are red maple, hornbeam, winged elm, devil's walking stick (City Champ), dogwood, and American holly. Others (none rare) are wild black cherry, white ash, flatwoods plum, bumelia, red mulberry, sassafras, fringe tree, black willow, persimmon, and river birch. Common shrubs are yaupon, elbow bush, rusty black haw, and strawberry bush. On the drier upslopes are large trees of southern red oak, black hickory, and post oak (shrubby post oak hybrids), as well as water oak and other species also found along the creek.
* Sam Houston Statue City Park
This beautiful area is near a hilltop in sandy soil and has tree species and vegetation typical of our area. A small drainage runs toward the back corner near Hwy 75. Judging from their sizes, most of the large trees probably are 60-70 years old, and it's a reasonable guess that the area was heavily cutover in the early 1930s. The largest and most numerous trees are loblolly pines and sweetgum. Several large shortleaf pines also are here as well as a number of large water oaks. The numerous moderate-sized black gums scattered through the woods are welcome since this species commonly doesn't survive through timber management. Unusual in their nearly complete absence are southern red oaks. Others: redbud, dogwood, winged elm, black hickory, red maple, post oak (apparently scrubby post oak hybrids), wild black cherry, Mexican plum, American holly, yaupon, sparkleberry, wax myrtle (mostly planted as shrubs), and a few small black haws and fringe trees scattered in the woods. 16 trees along the trail toward the statue have numbered, permanent markers and there is a pamphlet at the office to identify them. Number 3 is winged elm (Ulmus alata); 13 is wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera); 14 is rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum).
* Eastham-Thomason City Park
This 43-acre park was established in 1991 in honor of James Hendon Thomason (1891-1955) and Delha Marguerite Eastham Thomason (1893-1983), "descendants of some of the first families to settle Walker County." It has been proposed to increase the size of the park to nearly 150 acres by adding adjacent city-owned land and acquiring other surrounding tracts (Brannon 1997).
A hard-surfaced and easy-walking trail follows the creek from 7th Street northward to Cottonwood Road and passes a number of interesting trees. The area along the trail is a floodplain between two creeks (both creeks are in the park) and was inpenetrably grown with shrubs and small trees before it was opened and developed as parkland. A large amount of privet and honey locust was cleared out (fide David Zellar), leaving scattered but numerous young trees that have grown rapidly since then. These are a mix of water oak, pecan, box elder, smooth hackberry (City Champ, now dead), chinaberry, loblolly pine, slippery elm, and winged elm (City Champ), with several large individuals of bois d'arc. A single Callery pear grows next to the trail about midway along, but apparently this and the other park trees were established under natural conditions (they weren't intentionally planted by people). Other species are red mulberry, cottonwood, black willow, cherry laurel, redbud, American elm, and small honey locust and persimmon. Common shrubs along the trail are winged sumac, smooth sumac, and three species of privet (quihoui, Chinese, and glossy privet).
* Thomas C. Gibbs City Park
Thomas Gibbs (1870-1926) was a civic leader and three times mayor of Huntsville. This 4-acre park was dedicated to him in 1986 by members of the Gibbs family.
This is practically the only place in town to see American basswood (City Champ) and one of the few to see large white ash (City Champ). A number of beautiful buckthorns of moderate size are here, as well as moderate-sized bois d'arcs. All of these occur naturally in the dense clay soil that underlies the park. The basswoods are fertile and could serve as the seed source for many beautiful yard and street trees in Huntsville. The area slopes westward down toward the creek, where the largest trees occur. Rough dogwood is common near the creek and the beautiful little shrub Georgia holly is scattered on the slope. Also here are red mulberry, loblolly pine, water oak, smooth hackberry, winged elm, slippery elm, American elm (see Register), cherry laurel, wild black cherry, redbud, persimmon, and flowering dogwood. Three alien invaders also are very common: Chinese privet, Japanese privet, and smooth privet.
* Oakwood Cemetery
A quiet and historic place, at least part of the site once was an open prairie. The first three graves were established here in 1846 but Pleasant Gray, Huntsville's founder, deeded a 1600 square feet plot to the cemetery in 1847. The original tract has been enlarged by other donations from local residents (Stewart et al. 1992). Prominent citizens from many local families are buried in Oakwood. Sam Houston's grave is at the south-western corner.
Water oak is the most common tree in Oakwood Cemetery but many large junipers and a particularly large black gum (City Champ) are here. Two large individuals of laurel oak (City Champ) evidently were planted here, because this species is native in Texas east of Huntsville and known in Walker County only from these two trees (laurel oaks become relatively common in San Jacinto County). Other species: sweetgum, loblolly pine, bumelia, redbud, wild black cherry, American elm, winged elm, southern red oak, post oak, deciduous holly, red mulberry, southern magnolia, green ash, pecan, mimosa, and hackberry.
On the north side of the cemetery a religious statue marks the burial of a 5-year old child and dedicates an adjacent 4 acres given to the Cemetery Association by the Powell family as perpetual woodland: "This wildwood was dedicated as a sanctuary in loving memory of our dear child Rawley Rather Powell on July 17, 1925." This is a wooded slope with large trees of loblolly pine, smooth hackberry, white ash, American elm, winged elm, water oak, sweetgum, and black gum. Dogwood, yaupon, elbow bush, and beautyberry are in the understory, but it is becoming densely choked with young cherry laurel. When the cherry laurels are removed and the area brought back to a more natural condition, this can hold a winding path through the big trees, a beautiful complement to the historic nature of the place.
Virtually all of the east Texas forest lands, including almost all that later became national forests, were harvested from about 1860 through the 1920s. The years between 1880 and 1930 constituted the "Bonanza Era” of Texas lumbering (Maxwell and Baker 1982). The most intense period of logging was between 1890 and 1920 (Baker unpublished). New milling technologies and the invention of the band saw were directly connected to the rise of many large sawmills in the 1880s. This period was a heyday for sawmills in east Texas and for Walker County, where at least 16 sawmills operated between 1860 and 1890. Ten sawmills operated between 1891 and 1935 (Walker County Historical Commission 1996). A new book details the sawmill history of Walker County and others (Block 1997).
The first railroad through Walker County was constructed in 1872 and ran north-south, passing through the sawmill towns of New Waverly, Elmina, Phelps, Dodge, and Riverside. Huntsville connected to the rail through a short line within the year (Block 1997). Lumber not used locally was delivered to Houston or points northward. Local routes of narrow-gauge trams, which became common only a decade later, made transport easier and speeded the already rapid-paced logging.
The second largest population in Walker County around the turn of the century was the sawmill town of Elmina, about a mile north of New Waverly on Highway 75. The economic center of town was the Oliphint sawmill, which was bought by Foster Lumber Company in 1900 and renamed the Walker County Lumber Company. At its peak in the late 1920s, Elmina supported a population of 700 and a hotel, school, church, bank, post office, a drug store, commissary, and a "picture show." The mill burned in 1931 and essentially nothing now remains of Elmina, but many huge trees passed through the mill during its operation. The Louisiana-Pacific plant now is situated over part of old Elmina.
"Around 1924, the boom era of Texas lumbering began to come to an end. Having exhausted their timber supplies, more and more large mills closed down. The Depression hastened the end for many companies" (McWilliams and Lord 1988). This period of timber harvest proceeded with almost no regard for reforestation as the cutover lands were abandoned by the timber companies. Natural regeneration was effective in some areas but fires and overgrazing kept most of the timber land in poor condition into the 1930s.
The opening of the first newsprint mill in Lufkin in 1940 (Southland Paper) had a large impact on the nature of pine forests in southeast Texas. Until the technology breakthrough that made that mill (and many others like it) possible, the high resin content of southern pines made them unsuitable for paper production. After 1940, use of smaller trees for pulpwood allowed a profitable reduction of the time required to grow a tree to harvest maturity.
Today, about 98% of the forested land of the east Texas Pineywoods is classed as "timberland," and "nearly all timberland in east Texas (93%) is privately owned." "Pine plantations, often established with genetically superior pine seedlings, have become the mainstay of the forest industry land management. Industry regularly practices stand improvements such as release, thinning, and prescribed burning" (McWilliams and Lord 1988). In this “industrial” point of view, the phrase “genetically superior” means “genetically selected for rapid growth” rather than for quality of wood or other characteristics established by natural processes over geological periods of time. The phrase “stand improvements,” likewise, refers to activities increasing the commercial value of the trees.
Creation of the Texas National
Much of the east Texas timber land was exhausted by heavy logging and lack of reforestation by the end of the 1920s. The economy of much of the regional population was directly connected to the timber industry and drastic declines resulted as logging stopped and sawmills closed. Low timber prices left earnings too low to pay property taxes, much less the costs of reforestation. With money available from the Federal government for national forest expansion (strongly supported by President F.D. Roosevelt), Texas Senator John Redditt of Lufkin proposed a resolution "asking the Federal government to establish either national parks or national forests to relieve the unemployment situation in the Piney Woods section of East Texas." Passage of the Redditt resolution in 1933 enabled the Federal Government to purchase private Texas timberlands and brought federal surveyors to east Texas. A large part of the National Forest land in Texas was purchased in 1935 and 1936 from "eleven of the largest lumber producers and sawmill operators in the East Texas area" (Mauk 1949).
National Forests in Texas were first recognized by executive proclamation by President Roosevelt in 1936. The original 791 thousand acres were divided into four units (Angelina, Sabine, Davy Crockett, and Sam Houston). Acquisitions for the National Forest continued over the next decades but the "proclamation boundaries" (or "purchase boundaries"), often all that is shown on generalized maps, still enclose a patchwork of private and federal ownership in 12 east Texas counties. Today, the four Texas National Forests include 637,475 acres.
The present Sam Houston National Forest includes 161,670 acres in Montgomery, San Jacinto, and Walker counties. More than 80% of this was originally acquired from three large landowners: Gibbs Bros. & Co., Delta Land Co., and Foster Lumber Co. At the time of its purchase, SHNF was said to be 80% cutover, 15% culled, and 5% virgin (US Forest Service documents, summarized in a yet unpublished book by R.D. Baker. About 10.5% of Walker County is occupied by Sam Houston National Forest (54,377 SHNF acres / 516,584 Walker Co. acres).
Where To See Big Trees
There is a diversity of woody species in some areas of Sam Houston National Forest and the whole forest is open to public access. SHNF in general, however, is not a prime location to seek old individuals of many tree species, because of the relatively recent origin of the National Forests in Texas (comments above) and because of National Forest policy to cut large amounts of timber on relatively short rotations. About two-thirds of SHNF within a 10-mile radius of Huntsville is 30-50 years old, much of this in pine plantation. Also, Forest Service policies in the 1950’s led that agency to systematically girdle and kill large numbers of relict trees, especially hardwoods, in the emphasis of pine production. A few, small patches of older trees can be found in upland sites in SHNF, but they are unpredictably scattered and difficult to find, and they are not guaranteed any protection from lumbering. A few bottomland areas and the narrow strips along streams constitute the only National Forest land in Walker County that have some status as "old growth" (where trees and vegetation may be left undisturbed to mature past a maximum of 80 years old). Even the bottom-lands and streamsides, however, are allowed by current National Forest guidelines to be "managed" in ways that do not prohibit removal of trees. Some of us hope that Forest Service policies will come to place a higher value on the potential of these public lands for recreation and as places of beauty and havens for native species and big trees, especially as the surrounding lands become "developed" or brought into pine plantations.
Little Lake Creek Wilderness Area (3810 acres of SHNF in Montgomery County) and Huntsville State Park (see above) are westernmost outposts of conservation in the Pineywoods Region of east Texas. Natural processes are the rule in the forests in these two areas.
Bottomlands in SHNF
There are a few National Forest areas in Walker County where native stands of old, large trees can be found, some remaining since the land was originally purchased in the 1930's (see below), and some very beautiful. Almost all of these areas are bottomland forests. Characteristic species of these areas (and found almost nowhere else in our area) are swamp post oak, cherrybark oak, overcup oak, willow oak, nutmeg hickory, and water hickory. Slippery elm, American elm, cedar elm, and green ash also are relatively common. Several easily accessible locations to see bottomland stands of large trees in SHNF are these:
* Winters Bayou bottom, in area of FM 1375 crossing, especially on the north side of the road. [Compartment 75S, Stand 23]
* East margins of West Fork San Jacinto bottom, about 1/4-1/2 mile ENE of the Stubblefield Lake bridge on FS Road 215, 100-800 feet north of the road. [Compartment 46, Stand 09]
* West Sandy Creek bottom, on west side of FS Road 208A, at the northern dead end of the road. [Compartment 24, Stand 02]
* East Sandy Creek bottom, south side of FM 1374, about 100 yards west of East Sandy Creek crossing, just west of junction of FS Road 222 (road toward Lost Meadows Lake and Ranch) or along FS Road 222 about one half mile south of its junction with FM 1374. [Compartment 48, Stand 09]
* Boswell Creek bottoms, northwest side of FS Road 200 (part of “4-Notch Loop”), about one half mile east northeast of junction with 4 Notch Road.
Huntsville State Park is about 6 miles southeast of Huntsville on the west side of Interstate 45. It essentially surrounds Lake Raven and several tributaries feeding it from the north and northeast. It is small- to moderate-sized (2083 acres) as Texas state parks go, but there are lake-related activities, camping, and beautiful walks along easy and accessible trails of varying distance (trail maps available at the office). The park is bordered along part of its northeast section by Sam Houston National Forest (Compartment 57), but otherwise surrounded by private (and now heavily cut-over) timber land.
The park is located on rolling hills of sandy soil. Loblolly and shortleaf pine are the most common upland species, mixed with southern red oak, water oak, sweetgum and other hardwoods; white oak and Shumard oak occur on more mesic, north-facing slopes. Bottomland and streamside vegetation occurs along the margins and floodplains of Alligator Branch, Big Chinquapin Creek, and Little Chinquapin Creek.
The HSP land was purchased from private owners in 1937 and various construction activities were begun by the CCC. The spillway for the newly constructed, 210-acre Lake Raven collapsed during a flood in 1940 and the park was essentially closed until 1950, when it was determined that timber would be sold from within the park to pay for repair of the dam. Selective cutting removed 0.2 million board feet of hardwood and more than 100 times that amount of pine; about 1000 cords of pulpwood were sold. With funds available, the new dam was completed and the park officially opened in 1956.
There are few distinctly big or old trees in HSP. "Between 1880 and 1930, the land had been stripped of its timber" (Steely and Monticone 19xx), and a second timber harvest occurred in the early 1950s. The main entrance road harbors most of the larger trees, which were exempted from the second harvest for their scenic value. Nevertheless, forest regeneration has occurred under relatively natural conditions, and the park is one of the few places in our area to see a range of habitats and large number of species that suggest what natural conditions were like in pre-settlement days. Many species of trees and herbs easily found in HSP are relatively rare elsewhere in Walker County.
Help is gratefully acknowledged from the following: Patrick Antwi, Helen Belcher, Mike Roempke, and David Zellar (City of Huntsville --- a conversation and field trip with David to see champion trees began this project in early summer 1997); Paul Culp (Thomason Room, SHSU Library); Rob Evans (US Forest Service, Lufkin); John Ford (Huntsville High School); Linda Fowler (Peabody Museum, SHSU Archives);Bruce Fulenwider (SHSU); Carey Jordy, Pat Nolan, and Mac Woodward (Sam Houston Memorial Museum); Charles McDowell (SHSU Press); Don Mueller, Pete Smith, and Norma Tanguma (Texas Forest Service, College Station); James Patton (Walker County Historical Commission); Robert Peet (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) George Russell (Educational Videos, Huntsville); Tom Spencer (Texas Forest Service, Huntsville); Clayton Waits (Huntsville ISD); and Richard Williams (North American Hardwood Preservation Society, Longview). This book was finished with help by a grant to TRIES from the Texas Forest Service grant. Contributors to the printing costs for the 2000 free copies have been Champion International, Educational Videos, Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, The Huntsville Item, Larson & McGowin, Inc., Sam Houston State University (TRIES), Walker County Historical Commission, and Guy Nesom.
Baker, R.D. Unpublished manuscript. Timbered Again: The Story of the National Forests in Texas. In preparation by the author.
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Bernhardt, E.A. and T.J. Swiecki. 1991. Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances. California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection, Urban Forestry Program, Sacramento, CA. [Could serve as the "bible" for tree ordinance development.]
Blakely, M. 1989. "Stalking the Champion Trees." Texas Parks & Wildlife, Vol. 47(1):2-8. [Interesting description of the Texas Big Tree Registry and some of the state champions and their finders.]
Block, W.T. 1997. East Texas Mill Towns & Ghost Towns. Vol. III. Best of East Texas Publishers, Lufkin. [This volume includes Cherokee, Harris, Houston, San Augustine, San Jacinto, and Walker counties.]
Brannon, T. 1997. Parks & Recreation Master Plan for The City of Huntsville. The Brannon Corporation, Tyler, Texas.
Burleson, B. 1954. A key to the woody plants of Sam Houston Park and Campus grounds with descriptive flora. M.A. Thesis, Sam Houston State Teachers College, Huntville, Texas. [102 species of native and introduced woody plants and vines in 56 genera - a number of these no longer occur on the grounds.]
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Stewart, L.A.B., V.B. Banes, and A.V. Banes. 1992. Walker County Cemeteries. Walker County Genealogical Society, Huntsville, Texas.
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Weniger, D. 1996. Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides, Bignoniaceae) and Bois d'Arc (Maclura pomifera, Moraceae) in early Texas records. Sida 17(1):231-242.
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