Central Texas Tree Species SelectionWritten by Donald Gytri, Project Arborist I
Some non-native tree species, like crepe myrtles, have little negative affect on the native landscape. Non-native species (Chinaberries, Ligustrum, white mulberry etc.) that cause ecological harm, are known as invasive species. Often, invasive tree species grow fast, spread easily, and can quickly dominate native landscapes. They push native species out and minimize diversity, creating monocultures. The plants and animals of a particular area have evolved alongside native trees, using them for food, shelter, and a variety of other purposes. In places that are dominated by invasive species, these native resources are less abundant and the overall health/population numbers of native species suffer.
Invasive species typically have shallow roots with few branching fibrous roots. Reduced root structure due to invasive species spread can lead to erosion. The eroded sediment can then be released into nearby streams and rivers, increasing their turbidity, and hampering their water quality. Invasive species cause countless similar problems. It’s estimated that invasive plants cost the U.S. economy $120 billion annually in lost crop/livestock production, control efforts, property value damage, and reduced export potential. Many of these invasive species are trees. Everything is connected; any changes big or small could have drastic ecological consequences.
The moral of the story is to plant native and/or non-invasive trees; there are many to choose from for a given area. “The right tree in the right place” is a common saying among arborists, and part of finding the “right” tree should include research on those that are native to and/or grow well in your area. Texas A&M’s “Texas Tree Planting Guide” is a good place to start. After selecting your county and desired tree size, you will get a list of suitable native/non-invasive species to choose from. Texas Parks and Wildlife’s list of native plants are categorized into the 10 Texas ecoregions and is also an excellent resource.
One of the most popular planted native tree species in central Texas is the live oak (Quercus virginiana). While live oaks are a great choice, keep in mind the importance of diversity. If your neighborhood largely consists of oak trees, consider planting something from a different family of trees. If a pathogen like oak wilt spreads to your neighborhood, it would be good to have some non-oaks (or an oak wilt-resistant oak, like a Burr oak) so you don’t lose every tree on your property, all at once. Aside from oaks/oak wilt, with the amount of trade/travel into and out of the country, foreign pests and pathogens are always knocking on our door. Don’t put all your eggs in one tree family/species basket!
Cedar elms (Ulmus crassifolia-pictured right) are one of my favorite shade trees that are native to our area. They thrive in a variety of soil types, are drought resistant (but can also tolerate wet soils), provide ample shade, and have beautiful fall foliage. They’re tough, grow at a moderate rate of 13-24 inches a year, and their seeds attract a variety of wildlife.
Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis- left) are another one of my favorites. Like cedar elms they can thrive in a number of different soil types, grow at a moderate growth rate (13-24” a year), and also provide nutritious food for wildlife. An added benefit: they produce nuts that humans can harvest and enjoy!
Although Mexican sycamores (Platanus Mexicana- right) are not native to our area, they are and excellent choice (and are not considered invasive). They are THE fastest growing quality shade tree; 5 feet a year or more is not uncommon. They have beautiful showy bark/foliage and thrive in a variety of soil types. Also, they are far more drought tolerant and insect/disease resistant than their American counterpart!
Eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana-left) are an often-overlooked option. This evergreen juniper (not actually a cedar as the name implies) can grow in many soils, even in rocky barren soils that few other trees can grow in. It is the most drought tolerant conifer in North America and can withstand both the Texas heat and more cold weather than Texas has to offer. They can function as a standalone specimen or in groups and/or as a screen or wind break and provide excellent cover/food for wildlife.
If you need help selecting or planting a new tree or need assistance with any tree and/or development related topics, feel free to contact Tree Mann Solutions for advice. We are here to help Texas “Save Time, Money, and Trees”, and we love doing it!