CHAPTER V -  Upland Woods

A savannah is a grassland with a few scattered trees--more woody than a prairie.  If you could take a time machine and visit Brazos County before permanent settlement, you would find exactly that.  Early settlers found the prairies and savannahs good for agriculture.  At one time  Brazos County was almost entirely planted in cotton.  When the bottom fell out of the cotton market in the late 1800's and early 1900's, many farms were left to lie fallow.  Native grasses returned, as did woody species.  With naturally-occuring fires suppressed and the native grazers eliminated, the grasslands became more woody over time, resulting in the closed-canopy woods present in much of the county today.

As we enter the more dense, upland Post Oak Woodlands, Winged Elm, Ulmus alata, joins Post Oak as a major part of the canopy. This elm has smooth, pointed leaves and corky wings along the twigs. This makes it easy to tell from the Cedar Elm present in other areas of the park.

The Winged Elm flowers in early spring. Its pollen is highly allergenic.

Here we can see the developing fruits which are called samaras. They mature quickly and fall almost immediately.

The Post Oak Woodlands has a definite understory layer. Much of this layer is composed of Ilex vomitoria, the Yaupon Holly. Yaupon is aggressive, and has contributed significantly to the process of thicketization in parts of Texas. Hollies are dioecious, which means that the male and female flowers are on separate plants. This plant is male-- its flowers have functional anthers.

This is a female plant. The stamens are sterile, but they gynoecium is well- developed.

The bright-red fruits add color to the fall and winter landscape, while the leaves remain green all year.

Another showy member of the understory community is Beauty Berry, Callicarpa americana. During spring and summer, it doesn't look like much, but in the fall it can be the most conspicuous thing in the landscape.

Unfortunately, the beautiful fuchsia berries aren't edible.

For edible fruit, we have to turn to the Farkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum. It's in the same genus as the blueberry, and is the only member of the generally acid-loving Ericaceae that grows naturally on the local basic soils.

April sees the bushes covered with hundreds of tiny white bells.

By autumn, these blossoms will be replaced by bluish farkleberries. They look very much like small blueberries. Fruit quality varies greatly from plant to plant and from year to year. Even when plump and sweet, they tend to be a little seedy and not very flavorful.

Another group of plants with edible fruit is the Hawthorns. This is Crataegus marshallii, the Parsley-leaved Hawthorn. The Hawthorns are difficult to work with taxonomically because they hybridize readily and can reproduce apomictically, creating populations with unusual characteristics and uncertain affinities.

The white flowers can really stand out in the shade of the understory.

Hawthorns are small trees or large shrubs. As you can see, they have long, very sharp thorns. This is C. crus-galli. It is recognizable by its very shiny leaves and its extremely long, wicked thorns. In the fall, Hawthorns produce crops of small red pomes. They are tart but tasty, and make a very good jelly. They are an important food source for the many species of birds in the park. Commercial examples of pomes are apples and pears.

As we continue through the woods, our path leads us into and out of little open, sunny patches.

Chapter 6 - Mesic Woods

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