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Drought Leads To Change In Tree Canopies

There is a bumper crop of nuts falling from trees here in the Houston area this fall. Experts say it's a combination of the trees' natural cycle and to stress from the drought. They also say while trees learn to adapt, the canopy's composition will change.



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Conservative estimates are that statewide, over 300 million trees were lost from last year’s drought. Paul Johnson is with Texas A&M’s Forest Service. He says problems resulted from that historic weather phenomenon.

“When you go back and even compare to the drought of the 50s, it was a little bit longer, but it wasn’t as dry or as hot. And so for many of our trees, that was the hottest driest period of time that they’ve ever seen.”

The response to rain after a drought was dramatic, affecting trees that rarely deal with the severe change in the weather. Johnson says as a result, the variety of trees in Houston will change.

“In the Houston area, the pines really suffered; the water oaks really suffered. Those are species that were dependent upon a higher level of moisture. So you lose those, but the other species that are more tolerant can hang around. They start to fill in that space over time.”

Tom Cox is founder and CEO of Environmental Design here in Houston, a leader in the transplanting of trees all over the world. He’s amazed at how the drought affected the canopy.

“We had an anomalous weather condition that approaches, or exceeds the greatest drought that Texas has seen, in some spots. And, if you go to Memorial Park in Houston and you stand under an oak tree, you will see this phenomenal reproduction of acorns.”

And while the nuts and seeds are the trees’ natural response to drought, Cox says the change still worries him.

“And I think what likely will happen in Houston, is that we will not have the kind of canopy that we have or have had in the past, that it’s gonna air more towards either arid or semi-tropical. Does that mean we won’t have trees? No, it mean we’ll have different trees. And live oaks can survive in that condition.”

Thanks to the strong tie between trees and people, A&M forester Paul Johnson says we will have an urban forest into the future:

“It reinforces that we have to do something a little bit more once in a while, to help them get over those really tough times. It’s probably not a big deal for our trees that are established and big and growing well. But when it really gets into an extended period of dry, then just a little bit of help can go a long ways.”

The pecan harvest in Texas is expected to be 65 million pounds this fall, compared to the average harvest of 50-55 million.