Trees and Shrubs
Like most vegetation, the abundance and assortment of trees and shrubs in Texas is tied to the quality and quantity of soil and water. In West Texas, where annual average rainfall totals are often in single digits, only drought-resistant desert shrubs survive the arid conditions, and the main tree species—juniper and ponderosa pine—are found mostly in the higher elevations. As environmental conditions improve toward the east, tree species expand to include mesquite, live oak, and pecan as well as colorfully named shrubs such as blackbrush, whitebrush, and greenbriar. The East Texas forests consist mainly of pine trees, with a healthy mix of oaks, elm, and hickory.
Grasses and Cacti
Texas leads the United States in numbers of grasses, boasting more than 570 species, subspecies, and varieties. Cacti are not nearly as diversified (merely 106 species), yet they also represent a noteworthy aspect of Texas’s ground-level vegetation. Found mainly in far West Texas, these spindly yet captivating plants—including the flowering prickly pear, agave, yucca, and even the hallucinogenic peyote—come in a fascinating variety of size, shape, and color.
Texas’s grasses, meanwhile, are less viscerally intriguing and more botanically appealing. Although a fair number of native grasses have been lost to overgrazing, the several hundred remaining varieties endure in spite of Texas’s variable weather and topography. Tolerant species such as sideoats grama (the official state grass), Texas grama, buffalo grass, and Indian grass still provide meals for livestock, while their hardiness also helps contain soil erosion.
Wildflowers in Texas are akin to fall foliage in New England. For most of March and April, nature puts on a brilliant display of iridescent blues, dazzling reds, and blinding yellows across fields and along highways throughout the state. The prime viewing area is the Hill Country, where landscapes are painted with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, Mexican poppies, and black-eyed Susans.
The scenery is just as good in East Texas, home to blooming azaleas, yellow jasmine, dogwoods, and wisteria. Texas’s arid and sandy regions don’t offer quite the same visual spectacle, but daisies, cacti, and yucca in West Texas offer dashes of color to the monochromatic natural surroundings.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition