This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
In the fir forests, the dogwood, which is also quite frequent in Arkansas, forms the principal part of the under-brush. It is from eight to ten feet high, and in the month of March bears a great quantity of large snow-white blossoms. Another small tree is the Ungnadia speciosa, which in Spring is covered with thousands of pale lilac butterfly blossoms, growing in great clusters. There is also a beautiful evergreen shrub with shining leaves, the Ilex cassine. In Spring time these fir forests present a beautiful sight mingled, as they are at that time, with the fresh green of the under-brush, which is covered with myriads of snow-white and lilac tinted blossoms.
The oak of the eastern part of the State is Quercus cinerea. Near Marshall and in the limestone and freestone counties it forms small woods that run into the evergreen forests. In the extreme north of the State the so-called cross-timbers form woods by themselves. These are the narrow belts, often not a quarter of a mile wide, which run for fifty and more miles right across the dreary prairie, and consist of these oaks and osage orange ("bois d'arc").
In the east the Bermuda grass prevails; on the coast thrives the salt grass in bunches. Around Galveston grows a low cedar, the Salt Cedar, probably imported, as it is not found anywhere else. It is proof against all storms, and flourishes on the sand bars. On this account it is planted on the seashore, and gradually catches and retains the soil washed in by the sea, thus forming an embankment on the shore.
In floral splendor eastern Texas cannot compare with the rest of the State. However, it is blessed with many very pretty flowers, lilies of various colors, verbenas, etc. Peculiar to the east are Ruellia tuberosa, Verbena aubletia and bipinnatifida, Linaria Texana, Cynthia dandelion, Lupinus subcarnosus. Oranges, lemons, Oleander, and other representatives of the vegetable kingdom have been introduced, but now spring up self-sown. There is no trace of cacti or palms in eastern Texas, and altogether we feel here more as though we were rather in a Northern than in a Southern State. . The central zone of Texan vegetation may be divided into two parts, the region of Oaks and that of Mesquite trees. The first extends from the Trinity to the Colorado river, the second from the Colorado to the Medina. In both regions a mixture of the two trees may be found; in the first, however, Oaks prevail; in the second, Mesquite trees. Vast forests of either tree cover hill and dale for miles and miles. Only along the river bottoms a richer flora appears, where we no longer meet with the all-prevailing cinerea oak and Mesquite tree, for here appears Quercus obtusiloba, post oak, used principally for posts and fences, thirty to forty feet high, running up a very straight trunk, always growing in groups, never alone, and never amongst other trees.
It thrives best in sandy soil, and is found all over, on the prairie, on the upland, and also running up high into the mountains, as for instance, near the German settlement of Fredericksburg, where thousands of square miles are covered by it. Next to this in the central zone the live oak, Quercus virens, is of importance. It would not be recognized as an oak by the casual observer, so little does it look like one, but the fruit indicates the tree. The live oak is one of the finest trees of Texas, and in moist places attains a truly majestic height. This imposing appearance is increased by long gray moss drooping from every branch and twig. Although this is called moss, it really is not, but belongs to the same genus as the pineapple.
The botanical name is Tillandsia usneoides. The long thread-like stems of ashen hue bear narrow leaves an inch long, and of the same color, placed opposite each other. The blossoms start from the angles of the leaves, and are also grey. A single live oak is often covered with a thousand pounds of this epiphyte. The oak leaves remain green during the whole Winter, and fall off in April to make room for the new ones. The trunk generally attains great thickness, and the branches extend from it to a distance of thirty to forty feet. The dense foliage affords abundant shade. The live oaks grow throughout central Texas, not as woods by themselves, but rather in groups in the open country, with dense under-brush, and go as far as the Gulf. As for instance, on the Caney river, where with other trees they stand in forests. Sometimes a solitary and fully developed oak is met with on the prairie. The region of live oaks extends far into the mountains. They are said to reach the age of upwards of a thousand years.
Their wood is as firm as iron, and therefore much in demand for railroad sleepers.
Another oak, the red oak, Quercus rubra, appears in vast quantities and mostly in the form of woods. An insignificant looking tree with dark green foliage; the trunk so little straight and so much branched that its wood is only good for fire wood; the bark is good for tanning. It prefers to grow on the mountains, and is found to cover their very tops. Quercus coccinea is similar to the red oak, and appears among the red oak woods. Its bark is also good for tanning.
Quercus cinerea, of eastern Texas, mentioned above, is still met with in groups west of the Brazos, and is the first of all oaks to bloom in the Spring.
Generally on the high ridges of the mountains, and rarely in the valleys, we find the white oak, Quercus alba, with trunk and branches as white as the birch, of snowy whiteness in fact, and its smooth bark peeling off in rings. Light green foliage, leaf large and deeply dented, and good sized acorn. Its wood is white and beautiful, and much liked for furniture. This oak does not grow higher than twenty feet here, is of sparse foliage, and never makes a strong tree.
A remarkable kind of oak is Q. macrocarpa, found only in the valley of San Saba, growing as high as sixty feet, and bearing an acorn as large as a pigeon's egg. Its wood is in good demand.
Finally we must mention Q. parva, a dwarf oak, seldom higher than five feet, with small leathery evergreen leaves with thorny edges, and a very small acorn, bearing abundantly; it likes to grow amongst the live oaks, and forms in the higher valleys extensive brushwood.
Next to the Oak, the Mesquite, Algorobia glandulosa, is the principal and most characteristic tree of central Texas. East of the Colorado it appears but rarely, and in the shape of brushwood only; west of the Colorado its forests are immense, reaching as far as the Guadelupe, and between the Guadelupe and the Medina, hill, dale and mountain are covered by the Mesquite, and almost no other tree meets the eye. The Mesquite hardly ever exceeds two feet in thickness, and grows about thirty feet high, has a splendid, somewhat tropical look, leaves of a light green color, light and drooping, blossoms in yellow clusters, and of very pleasant odor. Its habit is very similar to that of a weeping willow. The fruit is a pod of five to seven inches in length, containing from ten to twenty seeds. The outer skin of the pod is of the nature of paper, the pod itself is filled with pulp, which envelopes the bean-like seeds. Hence its value for fodder for cattle. The pods are eaten by horses and cows off the tree, and quantities of them are collected and saved for Winter. In Jamaica and in Australia the English government has, for the sake of this fodder, introduced the Mesquite tree, and it is said with very good success.
The trunk exudes a rosin which is not inferior to gum arabic, and is collected and exported. The wood is of two colors, the inner part is reddish-brown; the outer, nearest the bark, light yellow, and makes nice ornaments for furniture, and is worked into boxes, etc., but is mostly used as fuel, burning slowly and giving out a great deal of heat.
In the mountains the Virginia cedar, Juniper-us Virginiana, forms vast forests. It is also found in the valleys here and there on rich soil, but of entirely different habit, rising up straight and slender with few branches, whilst on the heights it seldoms exceeds twenty feet and has a broad top. On account of its durability the wood is much used for building, and principally for fences.
Besides the trees enumerated, there is the hackberry and the black walnut in woods, or mixed with other trees, and here and there as solitary trees.