The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Trees of Texas
Ro Wauer, © 2003

The new book - Trees of Texas by Carmine Stahl and Ria McElvaney - is a winner! This book is a very different from any of the other tree books for Texas because it contains life-sized images of leaves so that anyone can easily compare them with the real thing, making tree identification easier than ever before. The new Trees of Texas will be extremely helpful for students, teachers, field naturalists, and just about anyone interested in identifying and learning more about Texas trees.


This book uses a very simple two-step process for tree identification. I tried it with leaves from my yard and found it very, very easy. For instance, one of my yard leaves contained several large pointed leaflets (compound leaf) with rough edges. The book's key to leaf shapes instructed me to turn to pages 182-197. I then compared my leaf with the images on those pages, and I readily found a match on page 186: Mexican buckeye. Page 186 not only contains exact images of the leaf, but also of the tree's flowers and seed-pods, along with a descriptive narrative.


The author's narrative: "Mexican buckeye produces rich foliage and pretty spring blossoms that resemble the fuchsia clusters of redbud (p.127) flowers except that they are larger and sparser. The interesting seed-pods consist of three compartments, each holding a round, marble-sized black seed. These seeds are toxic to humans, but rural children found a use for them long ago - as marbles...This attractive small tree often develops a shrublike form with several trunks. Despite its common name, it is not a true buckeye (p.211) but rather a cousin of the western soapberry (p.178)...Mexican buckeye thrives in Central, South, and West Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico. It has recently received more recognition as an ornamental, and today its admirers often plant it in landscapes outside its native range." Good information, but not too technical or detailed.


This new book contains more than 200 Texas trees, all with images and narratives like the one above for the Mexican buckeye. The majority of the 200 species are native trees, but several "naturalized" trees are included as well. But there is more. The book also includes extensive lists of "Tree Families," with all of the known Texas tree species, as well as a second list of the "Scientific and Common Names." Additional lists include "Introduced Species," 25 species; "Trees by Region," including all ten vegetation regions of the state; "Butterfly Host Trees," only nine, such as hackberry, ash, and willows; "Light and Water Requirements;" "Recipes for Wild Edibles," including pecan pie, acorn bread, mayhaw jelly, and yaupon tea; "Glossary," and "Bibliography." The bibliography includes books and an extensive list of electronic sources. I checked out some of the web pages and discovered tons more of really great information about trees and plants in general.


The two authors include a naturalist and forester, Carmine Stahl, who recently retired from Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, and Ria McElvaney, an attorney and illustrator. The idea for the book originated with Ria's frustrations in her attempt to learn more about trees. Trees of Texas, with a subtitle "An Easy Guide to Leaf Identification," was published by Texas A&M University Press. It contains 338 pages, 270 b&w photos, and 18 color photos. It is available only in hardcover at $29.95. It should be available in most bookstore, or it can be ordered direct from Texas A&M University Press at 1-800-826-8911.


I personally recommend this marvelous, new book to anyone with even the slightest interest in what trees grow in their yards, students interested in good grades in science or plant taxonomy, or those of us with a curiosity about our great outdoors. - Ro Wauer

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