The Nature Writers of Texas

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

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Early Spring Sightings
by Nick Mirro, from the magazine 75206, March 2007

One of the great things about Texas is that we get a real jump on the rest of the country. Happily, our spring seems to arrive right in the middle of everyone else’s winter. Many Village plants and animals are already back in business and well on their way to beautifying our landscape. A glance outside will reveal that a few of our highly envied trees are already wide awake and in full blossom. Right now is really the perfect time for a first spring foray out onto the property. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at three Village icons and include a must see for some quick aroma therapy.

Trees here start flowering in late February, a truly astounding thing to a one-time New Yorker. The award for the most recognizable sign of spring goes hands down to the eastern redbud, easily the most well known member of the pea family - pea pods appearing in late summer! Eastern redbuds can be easily found, growing nearly everywhere in The Village. Their showy bright pink flowers officially ring in the new growing season and easily give them away. While they are sticking out like sore thumbs, it is the perfect time to go in for a closer look. They are all quite small (10 - 20 feet tall) and being dark grey to light black, easily standing out, even without flowers. When you learn to recognize redbuds just by their bark and shape, you’ll really have put a good first dent in learning our trees - since there are just so many of them.

Redbuds do not get the award for the earliest tree to bloom in The Village. This goes to a truly spectacular specimen. When in school back east, we learned of Dutch elm disease and how it ravaged the population of one of North America’s truly ancient and majestic trees. American elms, white oaks and white pines were the very fabric of temperate North America for hundreds of thousands of years. American elms survived repeated ice ages and countless eons of competition, only to be done in sadly in a few short years by a fungus imported from Europe. Though I had heard that populations of American Elms existed in Texas, it was not until I arrived at The Village in 1993, that I actually saw one.

To say that my hopes were not high is an understatement. I expected a sickly looking remnant of this once great icon, but instead was astonished by what I found. It was as if there was a wall on the northern border of Texas, south of which no fungus carrying elm bark beetles could cross. I was thrilled to learn that many American elms in this state are entirely unaffected and grow to a towering 120 feet tall, on their way to a lifespan of occasionally over 300 years. I almost fell over backwards when I set eyes on my first American Elm - growing of all places on the bank of our east lake. Though not the tallest - we have some truly towering cottonwoods - it is unmistakably the greatest tree on our property. From the middle of the dam bordering the east end of the east lake, look out over the water, just to the left of the fountain. It’s the only tree with an astounding 80 foot wide crown.

Next may I direct you to the tree with the most beautiful flowers on our property. Finding it is a bit tricky, though it is easily the tallest of our trees. Again at the east lake, it is at the south-most point of the trail. This is where Village Bend Dr. and the walking trail are side by side. Look up and behold the giants of the Village - Cottonwoods. These normally streamside leviathans should just be going into flower now. If you can get close enough, carefully pluck off one of its dangling jewels and marvel at what few see and appreciate up close. They won’t last for more than another week or so and will be gone for another year.

Finally for this month, take a walk out on the dam bordering the east end of the east lake. On the dam (a little closer to the side with the spillway) you will see several small trees with clouds of white flowers. If you brought a blanket and your significant other, prepare for a really great day. These eye-level ornamentals are marvelous Mexican plums - thank you Village grounds keepers! Once near them, their charm will pull you in very close. Take in a long deep breath and experience something exceptional. Winter is over.

To have your pics and descriptions of wildlife sightings included in this column, email them to See you next month and happy viewing!


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