Monday, November 24, 2008

So you want tree color in The Woodlands Texas - Fall Color Ratings

Color generally means hardwood and decorative species, but let's make it deciduous native trees as our focus. Color is not only possible here, it is very achievable with the right mixture of trees. We have many natives and should use them wherever possible to maintain the ecological relationships about us. Let's view some of the trees in our neighborhoods and parks as examples to plant for color. These are but a sampling. I hope to add more as I have time. Note that photographs are captioned beneath the photo. Click on the photo to see a larger view.

A sampling from leaves picked up off the ground underneath those trees having color.

Yaupon provides the red berries for a festive season. This year, the squirrels are more into berries. This may be a fallout from the loss of so many acorns and pine cones. Bit for sure, this small tree add much color to our neighborhoods in the fall and winter. A 10 on my fall color scale.

The Sycamore provides varying color depending on the location in the sun. This one is surrounded by trees and gets less sun and less exposure to frost than some of the trees out in the open. A 6 on my Fall color scale color scale.


Redbud. This magnificent tree shows off its color each Spring and Fall. A 8 on my Fall color scale.

Bald Cypress. Although the color is not bright, it is uniform and showy. A 9 on my Fall color scale.

River Birch. With it ornate bark and lively yellow colors, this tree is one of my own favorites. A 9 on my Fall color scale.

Shumard Oak. A 10 on my fall color scale.

Pecan. Spectacular yellows are found in the forest with this tree. It's dramatic yellow leaves contrast to the deep green of the forest. A 10 on my fall color scale.

One of the most beautiful missing here.

The problem we face these days is the public admiration of our beautiful outlawed tree, public enemy number one, the Chinese Tallow. This invasive tree, we often love, is not presented as an alternative for planting. See the related article in this blog.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How did our trees fare from the fury of Hurricane IKE?

Here in The Woodlands, there was really a big mess after the storm. Right afterward, one could hardly go from one place to another. Day by day, more trees were cleared from the road and put to the side so that traffic could pass. Residents helped some where they could to make the roads passable.

Mobility was the primary issue of course, but our interest here is mostly on what could have been done to prevent the loss of trees or damage to the houses. All in all, I believe nothing could have realistically been done. There were some interesting things learned however.

Trees are usually top heavy around here, especially pines. Many of our pines grew up surrounded by the forest, especially peer trees as they all reached towards the heavens competing for light. Tree branches would die underneath the canopy as the trees aged, leaving the trees to spread out and mature in high places. The twisting winds of a direct hit of a hurricane generates many rotational currents that often twists the tree. So the top is broken off, like spinning off its top. The failure of the trunk will occur wherever the weakest point is located, often leaving 1/2, or 2/3 or 1/3 or even less of the tree above the ground. I show an example of this phenomenon in the accompanying photographs. No type of tree was exempt from falling. Some, including the pine tree were uprooted. I saw about every kind there is, down on the street or down in a yard. Our parks were heavily affected with many downed trees.

There were many trees damaged or fallen by the strong winds. Each homeowner had the responsibility to clean up the yard, front and back. Often, there were broken branches to be sawed into manageable size pieces of wood. A chain saw came in handy for that purpose. But afterward, it seemed to take forever before the trash trucks came by. Many homeowners had their yard maintenance contractors haul away the refuse. One reason for that was that the grass was going to die under the refuse. It was better to pay the contractors to haul the stuff away. Putting the refuse on the street was prohibited since it would stop the water drainage systems, which in fact actually happened during the storm. Neighbors pitched in to help each other to clear the storm drains during the height of the flooding and after the hurricane already passed through. So many limbs and leaves had washed into the storm sewer entrances, causing major street flooding.

Afterward, we had to clean up the small stuff which turned out to be a major chore also. It was amazing how many small stems and dead branches were broken by the winds and scattered on the ground.

One additional observation about the damage was what happened to the Yaupons. The wind swirled them around like a mix master. They entangled their limbs with each other and the winds made them lean in different directions than they did before. We thought they were far enough away from the house only to find out that some of the taller branches leaned close to the ground and reached all the way to pound the side of the house in the strong winds. Today, I have still have branches laying low to the ground that used to be high in the canopy and am trimming them back. In the middle part of the canopy where the Yaupons normally reach, the branches of other trees fell, such as pines and oaks. Getting them down out of the Yaupons was a chore. I just finished that chore!

One more observation that is worth considering for the future - if you cut your vines in your trees and leave them to decay naturally, a hurricane will change your mind for the future. The vines are very very slow to decay up in the trees. I ended up with bundles of old vine stems that became sails in the wind. That caused some of the trees and Yaupons to completely change their configuration, entangling many of the limbs. The good thing was that the Yaupons were very bendable. They swayed and danced with the wind regardless if the wind was twisting or straight lining with the wind.

One piece of advice - always trim the stuff away from the house at the beginning of the summer. That is needed to let the house breathe properly as well as protect the house from incurring damage due to tree or plant limbs too near the house. Also, board up windows vulnerable to tree limb damage even if the limbs seem far enough away, within reason of course.

In short, we love our trees and would be highly upset if anyone cut them down because they are a threat in a hurricane. We all know they are a threat in hurricanes, but we lost not one person here due to our trees! We are The Woodlands. Your trees are ours and ours are yours. Property value is dependent on you being a responsible caretaker of our forest. We do have covenants that include protection for our elder trees (these are part of a legal obligation every homeowner has agreed upon in buying a home here).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tree identification by bark

I have taken the identification of trees in The Woodlands Texas a step further by photographing and documenting several species of local trees, found mostly in local parks. This is a living article and will be expanded as I find time.

The bark of a tree is an indicator of the type of tree, but it is very difficult to identify the exact species by its bark, although we will often find several variations of bark for the same type of tree, revealing the actual species. Look for the color and texture of the bark. Our goal is to be able to walk through the forest without looking up and calling the tree by its probable name. The leaves will usually make the final distinction in "name that tree".

Bark on trees here in The Woodlands is typical of Southeast Texas forests. One will find a great deal of white on the bark and often evidence of Woodpecker damage. The softer woods will typically have more damage than the hard woods. If you are interested in the use of bark, there is a fairly lengthy internet article produced by the US Department of Agriculture at this link.


Smooth bark: Yaupon, Magnolia, Crepe Myrtle, American Holly

Checkered bark: White Oak, Willow Oak, Chinese Tallow

Flakey or Peeling bark: Pine, Cypress, River Birch, Sycamore

Grooved bark: Sweetgum, Live Oak, Pecan

Deeply grooved bark: Persimmon, Weeping Willow

Directory in alphabetical order
American Holly
Bald Cypress
Chinese Tallow
Crepe Myrtle
Crepe Myrtle2
Live Oak
Loblolly Pine
Texas Persimmon
River Birch
Red Mulberry
Southern Magnolia
Weeping Willow
White Oak
Willow Oak

1-2 Sweetgum
Native Indians used to chew the bark of this tree; it was their chewing gum.

1-4 White Oak
The bark of this tree was used by American native Indians to treat Diarrhea and other intestinal problems.

1-5 Loblolly Pine
Pine bark has been found to be a good antioxidant. An extract from this bark is used as a natural treatment for the heart and cancer among other. The chemicals believed to affect certain diseases in humans will vary in each pine species. Refer to this article for more information.
1-6 White Oak

1-7 Chinese Tallow

1-9 Southern Magnolia

1-10 Texas Persimmon
The bark of the Persimmon has medicinal attributes, especially for diarrhea and dysentery.

1-11 Willow Oak

2-14 American Holly

1-13 Weeping Willow

1-14 Yaupon

1-15 Elm

1-16 Crepe Myrtle

2-2 Red Mulberry

2-7 Pecan

2-21 Crepe Myrtle

2-23 Bald Cypress

2-24 Leaves Live Oak

2-25 Live Oak

River Birch


Related Articles

  1. Tree Identification by leaf

Friday, March 28, 2008

Public enemy #1 in The Woodlands Texas - Chinese Tallow

This tree must leave and leave now from our local ecology. In the Houston area, it is now the most populous of all trees and it is not native. There are approximately 1/2 million trees in our region and each adult tree is capable of generating 100,000 seeds in one year. This is an ornamental tree that is very destructive and is now outlawed from being sold in tree nurseries. It initially arrived from an idea that Benjamin Franklin had many years ago. He saw benefit in the plant, but it seems he did not understand the consequences of introducing it to our American forests. The tree is almost indestructable. It takes every opportunity to multiply, from weak or damaged ecological areas, to prairies and areas without trees, to just plain dominance with its killing chemicals, overtaking other weaker species. Yes, the tree has toxic leaves, toxic sap and toxic seed pods that serve as a herbicide to eliminate other plants. The green seeds and leaves are toxic to humans and animals as well. It changes the chemistry of the soil to spread its roots and sprout through its root system as well as through its seed pods. It creates mono-specific forests this way. That is, it becomes the exclusive species of the forest. I have an example in the photograph to the left, located on Reedy Pond in Indian Springs.

This is the ornamental tree we do love in the fall, because it turns such bright red and yellow colors. Sorry folks! But this species has to go!

The Woodlands Association has a program in place to remove these trees from common areas, but we must take care of the problem in our own backyards. How do we accomplish such a feat to protect our forest? The roots become a serious problem in everyone's yard that is infested with this prohibited species. I cannot see any other way than placing the responsibility on the RDRC groups, but first they have to amend the codes to have that authority. Any other ideas how to get these out of our backyards? Our trees are our most important shared asset! My tree is your tree and your tree is mine. Whatever I see in your yard I appreciate and what you see in mind you appreciate.

Some photos from Forestry Images1:

How do you rid your yards of these? A chain saw is of course a good tool to use. However, I just used a tree cutting saw; it worked for a small and a medium sized tree. First you need to trim the limbs off and top it. That leaves a tree trunk to cut down. I will have a professional bring down the big tree I have. I cut two trees down in my yard and have two more to go. I found that a smooth cut is less useful than a chopped cut. The last tree that I cut down, I sawed to the core, then chopped the peripheral material out and then pulled the tree trunk down with a rope. That left some jagged surfaces on the stump, which helped me to kill the root system. To kill the roots, I took vinegar and cleaned my coffee pot with it. Then I took the hot vinegar and poured it carefully and slowly into the newly sawed stump. The vinegar was soaked up quickly by the tree remains. That should keep it from regenerating itself.

Disposal questions have been answered by the association, waste management, and two experts on trees. We can recycle the limbs, leaves, roots in the normal method. Our hot composting process for all practical purposes breaks down most of the allelopathic substances produced by plants, including this tree.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Arbor Day in The Woodlands 2008

This year, the event was in Stirling Ridge Shopping Center. There were nine varieties of trees given to each individual who was willing to stand in line and wait for them. There were festivities to encourage participation by youth and the usual booths by various associations, nature groups, Stirling Ridge Village, Brickman Group (contracted to care for our green spaces) and of course the development company. Each year I participate in this and have trees in my yard and green space behind my house to show for it.

All of the seedliongs were planted immediately this year because if you wait, some of them will become dehydrated and weak. The seedlings are generally easy to plant. We add humus to the natural soil to improve water retention and porosity of the soil, to encourage growth and help survival in the summer months. It takes two years of care after planting to keep the death rate down. Still even with moderate care, I lose about 50% of all seedlings I plant. I even automatically water the green area to encourage reforestation. That keeps the soil moist enough in the summer months to prevent death of the more hardy seedlings.

24 Bald Cypress trees were planted this year along a nearby pond and 24 Loblolly pines behind my home. I hope the two Redbuds survive this year. They did not survive last year. For these beautiful East Texas trees, one needs to slice the root ball to prevent balling constraints and encourage new root growth.

No Willow Oaks this year because I have a beautiful one in the back and they grow huge. I did not plant any White Oaks because they are also big trees and besides, I have several of them. No Chinquapin Oaks this year. I have one about 12 feet tall that I planted in a prior Arbor Day planting. It is prone to webworms, so I am not encouraging anyone to plant them. I did plant a Magnolia and two Pecan trees in the green area.

Arbor Day here means a great deal to our community and is a great family event for children to learn the value of planting trees and be able to watch their planting grow over the years. There is nothing like having a five- or six-year-old child be able to plant a tree and see it grow to maturity. A stake beside it to commemorate the day would be beneficial also.

Many thanks to the sponsors of this year's Arbor Day! The Garden Club volunteers had good suggestions and were willing to help anyone who asked for information as one passed through the distribution line.

Announcement of Arbor Day

I can't believe it is already here again! The event this year will be hosted at Sterling Ridge Shopping Center on Woodlands Parkway at Kuykendahl from 10AM to 2PM. This is the opportunity for every resident here in The Woodlands to add to the forest. Just go get your seedlings and plant them within a few days afterwards. It is not difficult to plant them and you can watch them grow. I have one pine in my yard that I planted 8 years ago and now it is towering above the house. I also planted numerous other trees and have watched them grow over the years. This year will be no different. I will plant in green areas near my home. Be sure you plant your trees in a place where they will not threaten the house or fence in years to come. Keep them 2+ feet away from the fence. Remember that the trunk grows out as well as up. I would not plant a tree closer than 8 feet away from the house, but some people like to have some trees close. Remember that the limbs of some species will reach over your house, such as a White Oak. They provide good shade to reduce electricity costs.