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, December 30, 2015
You can’t buy ”Cross Timbers” heritage anywhere, but you can preserve it
This natural north Texas area is called “Cross Timbers” by ecologists.
Timbers Park is a 70-acre park in the south of Denton. As yet it
hasn’t been deluged by soccer fields and joggers, but it’s going that way.
It seems that many people think the term “Cross Timbers” is merely
a made-up name.
Actually, Denton is 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. Which makes
Cross Timbers Park very special.
The origin of the name 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 (whoavoided dangerous river crossings) had to
cross bands of forest as they traveled between the rivers, heading west. Thus
In 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 were forests. In the 18th and 19th centuries in
fact, the Cross Timbers was a well-known geographic feature marking the eastern
edge of the American grasslands.
Nowadays, 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. 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 –
Even though 19th-century naturalists generally put the range of
the Cross Timbers region over a large stretch of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas –
the native ecosystem is now found in only a few large parks, preserves and
isolated patches of countryside and floodplains.
Many kinds of plants thrived in the Cross Timbers, but almost all
the natural canopy trees were species of oaks. Among them were millions of
tough smilax vines (those pesky, thorny vines also called catclaw vine or
greenbrier).But vegetation would not exist
at all in this type of soil if “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.
The Cross Timbers is tied to the sandstone geology, and is limited
by the local climate; rainfall being the biggest factor. This area (which includes
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 and wildlife is still very fragile.
Despite a growing awareness of the Cross Timbers’ heritage , what
little remains is being demolished at an alarming rate.The opportunities for tourism revenue are still
huge however. Few regions present better opportunities to integrate heritage
conservation than the Cross Timbers.
So, as you look around Cross Timbers Park, glimpse an Eastern
Bluebird perched on a limb, hear a hidden Woodpecker or Chickadee, and teach your
child about real-life nature, think of all that came before us, and all that
Cross Timbers used to be and it’s immense educational opportunity, without a
flood of things like picnic tables and swing sets.
Owen Yost, in addition to blogging, is a Landscape
Architect emeritus from here, who‘s worked in north Texas for over 30
years.He is a member of the American
Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), International Society of Landscape
Architects, the National BirdFeeding Society, National Wildlife Federation and
the Audubon Society. He was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award by the
Native Plant Society of Texas. His design office is at firstname.lastname@example.org