Saturday, March 14, 2009

Yaupon - One necessary component of the understory

We are The Woodlands. I know, we are a master planned community, and we have a forest. I think I would have preferred a name such as "The Forest", but that would not be inclusive of the savannahs we have, so "The Woodlands" is probably more appropriate. We do have savannahs alongside our creek beds.

Today we focus on an understory tree or bush of the forest, the Yaupon.
It is flowering time for this tree. Time to start making berries again. Technically, the Yaupon is not considered a bush, even though it has some characteristics of one. This is an understory tree that sets us apart from the piney wood forests.

This decorative plant is notorious for its density, its sharp branches, and its very red berries. It's density is great for protecting wildlife. It is the reason we have so many deer and other animals in this area. The tree propagates through its roots and its berries. But the seeds are not easy to sprout without birds carrying them and excreting them in various locations. Once established, one tree spreads and thickens in a few years, providing a barrier to light and helps reduce sound from carrying through the forest at ground level. Two birds are really good at spreading their seeds - the Robin and the Cedar Waxwing. These migratory birds come through here each Spring and Fall, eating the berries in both directions, but primarily when returning from the south. The berries seem to be the favorite of Robins until they are able to find some protein in the grass. Cedar Waxwings are more known for their voracious berry appetite, but usually the Robins arrive earlier than the Waxwings.
Its berries are not only for the birds! There are several creatures like the squirrel, which forage on these berries. In the Spring, some of the berries can go uneaten and they turn into hard black seeds. A few birds will eat these seeds, another means of propagation.

One can reforest an area by transplanting the small shoots coming off of roots, or making cuttings. Actually, this method may be preferred over seeding or buying the plants and planting them because one can choose which gender to have. If one plants a cutting of a Yaupon with berries, one will have berries on the result. Some say to use a root stimulator to get the cuttings to grow some roots. The primary strategy is to plant when the season turns cool, in early December or late November. That will give the tree some time to root before the heat puts much stress on the emerging root system.

When reforesting, please do not forget to add this plant to the landscape.

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