Written by an area Landscape Architect and birdwatcher with over 30 years of experience with landscaping in north Texas: what works and what doesn't. Emphasis on attracting birds to north Texas yards, and reducing required yard maintenance. Tips, trivia and proven advice for a natural, low-cost approach for this unique and sensitive part of the country.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013
This area is called "the Cross Timbers" Why??
Most of this
area is called “Cross Timbers”. It seems that many people think that the term
“Cross Timbers” is merely a made-up name. Wrong!
mostly in the Eastern Cross Timbers –the popular name for this area in
“pioneer-speak”. Unfortunately, there is hardly any real “Cross Timbers” left
today, having been plowed under and paved over to accommodate subdivisions,
shopping malls, highways and the like.
origin of the phrase can be traced down several paths, depending on who’s
talking. The most popular, however, has its roots in the natural geography and
vegetation of this area. Most forests here run in north-south bands.Rivers, on the other hand, run roughly
east-west. The result was that pioneers (who fervently avoided dangerous
river crossings) had to cross bands of north-south forest as they traveled between the
rivers, heading generally west. Thus the name:”Cross Timbers”.
academic, ecological terms, this area was a “savannah” which is defined as a
grassland prairie spotted with trees. (Mostly post oaks and blackjack oaks in
this instance). In many areas the characteristic trees were so thick that they
became forests. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Cross
Timbers was a well-known geographic feature marking the eastern edge of the
however, there are embarrassingly few remnants of the Cross Timbers left. Much
of the original soil has been “urbanized” by extensive construction, farming
and introduction of non-natural soil. Even though 19th-century naturalists
generally put the range of the Cross Timbers region over a large stretch of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas – the original ecosystem is now found
in only a few large parks, preserves and isolated patches of countryside and
kinds of plants thrived in the Cross Timbers, but almost all the natural canopy
trees were post oaks and blackjack oaks. Amongst them were millions of tough
smilax vines (those pesky, thorny vines also called catclaw vine or
greenbrier). The combination was almost impenetrable, causing the 19th century
author and statesman, Washington Irving, to call the Cross Timbers “forests of
But vegetation would not exist at all in this type of soil, if
compaction and “traffic” were not limited in some way. The Cross Timbers soil is sandy,
porous, unstable and nutrient-poor. Consequently, the natural vegetation is
fragile and easily killed.
Cross Timbers is tied to the sandstone geology, and is limited by the local
climate; rainfall being the biggest factor. The area (which encompasses Denton) gets between 23
inches and 43 inches per year. Coupled with high summer temperatures and
frequent droughts, this area is ideal for the native oaks. When artificial
irrigation is introduced, many other plants will survive here, although
vegetative life is still very fragile.Under sprinkler systems, much of the native vegetation may suffer from overwatering.
a growing awareness of the Cross Timbers’ ecological and historic importance,
what little remains is being demolished at an alarming rate.In the words of author Richard Francaviglia“…developers are often either ignorant or
arrogant. Thus, the Cross Timbers yields to the bulldozer in many locales,
especially in the suburban areas where the prime real-estate sites...entice
developers.” (Dr. Francaviglia authored ‘The Cross Timbers’ and ‘A Natural and
Cultural History of the North American Cross Timbers’).
Francaviglia also noted that in some areas some land developers are preserving
remnants of the Cross Timbers as they carefully develop sites. Also, the
opportunities for tourism revenue are huge. “Few regions present better
opportunities to integrate heritage tourism with conservation than the Cross
Timbers.Descriptions of this region’s
forest abound in the historic literature and the Cross Timbers was often THE
most prominent feature on historic maps of the period 1830 – 1880.”
as you look around a remnant of the CrossTimbers,
glimpse an Eastern Bluebird perched on a limb, see a Red-tailed Hawk soar, hear a hidden Warbler or
Chickadee, and photograph a mass of Bluestem grass, think of all that came before us, and
imagine all that the Cross Timbers used to be.
YOST, in addition to being a blogger, is a licensed Landscape Architect emeritus
who has lived and worked in north Texas for over 30 years. He is a member of
the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Federation
of Landscape Architects, National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society.
His office is at Yost87@charter.net in Denton.