Sunday, November 18, 2007

As the Leaves Fall, we see what we did not in the summer

Change of Color
Frost and low temperatures will cause the leaf to lose its chlorophyll, the green pigmentation in the leaf. Yellow and orange pigmentation are well known, but the red chemicals remain a mystery. This article by Live Science describes the natural process of color change in some detail.

New information about trees and the fall foliage.
The chemicals in a leaf which cause our brilliant fall colors actually reside in the leaf all year. But in the fall, when the chlorophyll goes away, the colors remain behind and then wow! Depending on the variety of tree, we can see bright colors on some and no color on others. This article describes why the trees need these chemicals (colors) to survive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tree Identification in my backyard by Leaf

I have begun to identify trees around the immediate area of my home and have started reaching out into the neighborhood and forest. There are more than 20 species in my yard alone! These Photos are mine. I will publish what I discover as I do more field trips in this area. My expectation is that this will eventually become a guide for easier tree identification as I expand the number of trees identified. You are invited to help me with this. This document will remain a resource for all of us as long as this blog exists (hopefully for many years). At the beginning, I am only supplying some leaf photographs here. I have added bark. I will add blooms and fruit later as time and season allows. I figure this should be a great resource for residents, visitors and scouts in East Texas.


  01. Live Oak
  02. Southern Red Oak or Spanish Oak
  03. Water Oak
  04. White Oak
  05. Willow Oak
  06. Sawtooth Oak

  01. Bald Cypress
  02. Chinese Tallow
  03. Crepe Myrtle
  04. Dogwood (Flowering)
  05. Loblolly Pine
  06. Magnolia
  07. Pecan
  08. Red Bud
  09. Red Mulberry
  10. River Birch
  11. Sycamore
  12. Sweet Gum
  13. Texas Persimmon
  14. Yaupon
  15. Wax Myrtle
  16. Winged Elm
  17. Seep Willow

The photo here represents a very common tree, the Live Oak. It is green all year. and develops into a very nice tree when exposed to the sun. Great for blocking light, shade and providing privacy all year long.

Some people regard this tree as a nuisance. It's fruit is a thorny little ball that if you go barefoot outside, will create an "ouch" or two. It is known as the Sweetgum and its fruit the "Gumball". It is a natural part of our local forest and does well surrounded by other tall trees. It's top tends to die back when not protected by the other forest trees and without the swampy nature of our forest, but I have not yet resolved the exact nature of it's problem in that respect. The gumballs contain a chemical Shikimic acid that may be useful for fighting Bird Flu in humans. It is one ingredient of Tamiflu®. The pods are also useful for Christmas decorations and bottom fill for potted plants.

Chinese Tallow

is an invasive species and not a natural inhabitant of our forest. It's roots stretch out on the surface and deprives the other forest trees of precious water and soil space. It has pretty fall foliage as exemplified by this early fall color change. It's dried pods can be annoying when walking outside barefooted. The Woodlands Association suggests the removal of these trees from our yards to encourage the natural reforestation processes of our area. The trees will grow quite tall in competition with the other trees of the forest.

Our East Texas forests have two varieties of Persimmon trees, the American and this one which is the Texas Persimmon. The fruit looks tempting to eat and it can be used for food if timed correctly. The birds and squirrels will eat the fruit voraciously. It is what I call a pucker fruit. Taste it prematurely, and it will suck every last drop of water from your mouth or that is, it feels that way! Typically, one will find this tree in forested areas but where it can have sufficient sunlight to prosper.

One of the most beautiful and grand of our native oaks is the White Oak. It produces acorns in abundance and grows to tremendous stature, providing excellent shade in the summer. Our squirrels love this tree! They bury the acorns in the fall and proliferate the tree in abundance.

Winged Elm
blooms early in the Spring and soon afterward throws its seeds all over the place. Therefore, it is a rather messy member of our forest when growing in our yard. It proliferates and some people will end up with this tree dominating their yard. It has to be controlled or it will be the entire forest in your yard. It loves to propagate in flower beds. Its large branches are difficult to cut because the bark is tough and and normal long tree limb shears will not cut them easily.

Wax Myrtle

is more of a bush than a tree but it grows very fast is quite useful to build barriers for noise and lights. It does not shed its leaves in the winter. If trimmed to be a tree, it will grow to be a small tree. It can be manicured and shaped and thus the many area flower beds with this native bush.


is a native small tree or bush that fills the forest with underbrush. The Robin migrates through here in the Spring just because we have its berry to help them move further north. It's red berry is considered a Christmas token, giving us a natural clustered native red berry on our doorsteps each year. This bush can be manicured and shaped to produce interesting configurations of green clumps in our yards. There are poodle shapes, ball shapes and even animal shapes produced with this plant. Some people consider this plant invasive. It is not an invasive plant. It does propagate by its roots as well as its fruit, but it is natural here. I encourage residents to use it as nature intended, as a living quarters and protection for small birds and animals, and food for various creatures and birds of the forest. An ancient Indian black tea can be made from its leaves.

Crepe Myrtle

is well known for its ornamental blooms during our hot summer here. It is a native plant and grows profusely in our climate. To keep the blooms concentrated and within easy view, many gardeners cut them way back in the late fall or winter. This encourages new growth at people's height. Otherwise the blooms can be 20 feet high.

Bald Cypress

is not a native tree, but was brought here about 1620 by early settlers. Since then it has taken hold and seems to be a natural member of the forest. It resides on creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds. We see them in yards and on ponds here. Their root structure at the base of their trunk is a means to balance themselves in the swamp. Those roots help protect baby fish. It is a coniferous tree and grows enormous but slowly. Native Indians used to prefer them for dugout canoes. Today its wood is a popular construction material.

Loblolly Pine

is usually the big guy in the forest. Our area was once a timberland, cultivated and harvested for its pine and hardwoods. Grogans Mill was a place for cutting the timber into usable wood for construction. Green Pine Tea from its leaves is known as a survivor tea, for mariners and outdoorsmen. Pine tar has been used for hundreds of years. Check the link for landowners page and see its many uses.

Water Oak
is a magnificent fast growing tree when it has plenty of sun, good soil and space. This one is amongst other forest inhabitants and is therefore a slow grower and competes for every ray of sunlight with its neighbors.

Southern Red Oak or Spanish Oak
is an interesting tree to identify by leaf which is not necessarily the same for all parts of the tree. The leaf structure varies and will look somewhat different in the same tree, especially between high places and low places.

Southern Magnolia
is such a grand and ornamental tree. The squirrels and birds love to eat the seed pods off this tree. It's very dark leaves makes it a unique resident in our yard.

Willow Oak grows to 80 feet tall with small acorns

Sawtooth Oak

Seeping Willow (Eastern Baccharis), a bush more than a tree but part of the forest
Very common with little white flowers in early summer.

Pecan (species not yet identified)

Single Pecan leaf

Red Mulberry

Redbud - beautiful early Spring tree flowers and full bodied tree

River Birch is easily identified by its unique peeling bark

The rapid growing Sycamore tree has a reputation to hold. It has about the largest leaf in the forest and it tries really hard to be the largest tree! If you have one in your back yard, you know what leaves are! You have mountains of leaves at this time of the year. You also have lots of shade in the summer and the tree may only be 6-7 years old. The balls among the leaves of the tree make it easy to identify.

The Flowering Dogwood is the princess of the East Texas forests. She reigns in the very early Spring and in the height of color in the Fall. In the Spring she is decked out with white flowers. In the fall, she turns a deep red and is a standout in any crowd, especially among evergreens.