By Carol Jones
I hope you have noticed the fresh spring green trees covered with white flowers dotted through the woods along the local highways and in the parks and refuges that are replete with native vegetation. There are several small trees and shrubs that are in full bloom right now. All are midsize and grow in full sun or partial shade. The Columbia bottomlands forests are home to several native understory trees that have just finished blooming or are in full bloom right now. These native trees are an important resource for many avian families during migration as well as for our year round resident birds and mammals.
One of these is a hawthorn. It is currently in bloom and can be seen in the fence rows and through the thinner woods. Actually there are three hawthorns found in this area; Green, Parsley and Texana. This beautiful tree is usually very uniform in its growth and makes a perfect little tree up to about 25 ft. As the name implies, thorns appear all along the limbs. They bloom after leafing out and the individual blossoms are spread uniformly over the outside extensions of the limbs, so the trees are green with white edging. The fruit reminds me of a tiny crab apple as they turn red when ripe. It is the larval host for several of the hairstreak butterflies.
yaupon holly with red berries
We have two types of yaupon and they are both blooming now as well. The evergreen yaupon, ilex vomitoria, commonly named yaupon holly, has small white flowers all over the plants. Only the female plants will produce red berries in the fall. It is the host plant for Henri’s elfin butterfly. They can be grown into a dense hedge so if you want a barrier consider using this native yaupon. It is tolerant to all of our variable climatic conditions. The other yaupon is ilex decidua or possumhaw holly. This yaupon also has male and female plants with the females bearing lots of bright red/orange berries on bare branches in the winter. The flowers are rather inconspicuous because they are under most of the leaves whereas the yaupon holly bears its flowers on the stems between the leaves. Possumhaw is also known as deciduous holly because it drops its leaves in the fall like many of our deciduous trees.
All of these trees provide nectar for bees and other insects during their blooming period and the ripe fruits attract various birds and mammals. Perhaps this past winter you were lucky enough to witness a flock of Cedar Waxwings come through and strip a tree or shrub of its berries. Simply Amazing!
These trees are very important to our native landscape so I hope you will consider adding one or more to your yard. At the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory we have examples of all these plants and we would be happy to show them to you. Come and see us anytime. GCBO is located at 103 Hwy 332 W, Lake Jackson.