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Expert Sees Value In Texas' Understory Plants

A thick layer of mulch overlaid with wooden pallets protects a tree's root system from soil compaction.
A thick layer of mulch overlaid with wooden pallets protects a tree's root system from soil compaction.

Published March 30, 2000 By JAY WEBB

 

The flora of North Texas doesn't always get the same respect as the mesquites of West Texas or the pines of East Texas. But the cedars and oaks along our backyards are valuable to members of the Native Plant Society of Texas.

Local plants and trees will get some deserved attention from horticulturist Bill Seaman when he speaks about "Native Trees to Plant, Native Trees to Preserve" for the Collin County Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. The group meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney.

"When you deal with society, you have people interested at different levels," says Mr. Seaman. "There are gardeners that don't want anything that isn't native to their county, some that don't want anything that isn't native to their region, and there are those who take as many plants as they can get.

"Then there are gardeners who think back to when Texas included parts of New Mexico and Colorado."

Being a native Texas, Mr. Seaman understands these different gardening obsessions and knows so much about the various plants that he can help put together the ideal landscape package for a home or business.

He works for Arborilogical Services, Inc., a tree-care company whose major business comes from pruning and trimming trees. The company also provides more specialized services, including the application of pesticides and protection for trees at construction sites.

One of the key points of his lecture is how to preserve understory plants - those that grow under the tree canopy and higher than ground vegetation - in landscaping. This includes small trees, like Mexican plum and redbuds.

One example of a scarce plant that is often removed from lots, despite its high landscape value is the rusty blackhawed vibernium. Mr. Seaman says this "landscape jewel" can cost $125 at a nursery.

"It's relatively slow growing and very valuable in landscaping because it has wonderful white blossoms in the spring and glossy green leaves in the summer that turn orange in the fall, and produce abundant fruit," Mr. Seaman says. "A lot of times it will grow in the understory, and as a result it's taken out."

In the process of building a house, people often remove valuable natural landscape plants. Mr. Seaman explains how important these can be as habitat and food sources for wildlife.

"Basically, what I'll do is give a slide presentation of some of the native plants that have qualities that make them worth growing in the suburban landscape," Mr. Seaman says.

Part of his presentation explains how homeowners can put in sidewalks and driveways while preserving the trees already on the lot.

"Everything is done to see that those trees are beneficial for the site, he says. "We do everything possible to protect those trees - anything from fencing and mulching to very extensive preparation compensating for any great change (in a tree's surroundings)."

Mr. Seaman knows fascinating tidbits about any number of plants. The yaupon holly, for example, got its scientific name (Ilex vomitoria) because American Indians used the seeds to brew a medicinal tea that would induce vomiting.

The slide show will be preceded by a tour of the Heard's 3-year-old front garden.

"The Heard Museum is a great place for native plant material, because the whole front garden is native plants," Mr. Seaman says. "It's great to see what they look like as mature plants."

  • DETAILS: Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary, 1 Native Place, McKinney. Free. 972-423-6574.

About the author

Mr. Jay Webb

Mr. Webb is a staff writer of The Dallas Morning News.

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