Just a few miles southeast of downtown Dallas is The Great Trinity Forest, an urban park occupying the flood plain of the Trinity River. In this park, a mile-long trail lightly tracks through the damp forest floor and marshland to a large stand of Texas buckeyes (Aesculus glabra var. arguta) near the river bank. This area represents one of the furthest west communities of A. glabra var. arguta, with most populations occurring from eastern Oklahoma to Ohio. In Texas, you can also find this species in the Hill Country, the deep Piney Woods forest, and along the Red River. This buckeye is a pretty uncommon species for this area, so when I heard they were blooming locally, a hiking trip was in order.
The trail is maintained by the Texas Master Naturalists and begins in a cul-de-sac with a nice pavilion and iron bridge. Unfortunately, there was no signage to describe where we were and what surprises lie in the forest beyond the levee and utility right-of-way.
I understand that there is probably an engineering reason behind keeping the levee mostly clear of extraneous foliage and cut pretty short, but it would be absolutely fantastic if this giant, stretching berm was grown wild with native plants.
You can really see how often this area floods. We are downstream of the majority of Dallas-Fort Worth development that contains hundreds of square miles of paved surfaces, leading to intense flooding along the Trinity.
Few plants are blooming this early in the season, but these little violets were scattered around on the forest floor.
It seems no land is spared the spurge of the invasive wild hogs in Texas.
Dallas is just about the furthest western range for the eastern swamp privet. I was fascinated with these yellow blooms that precede the spring vegetative growth.
We were beginning to get a bit anxious in finding these buckeyes, and the tunnels of vegetation never seemed to end. Soon after, we came to the banks of the Trinity River, swollen from recent rains.
Just off the bank of the Trinity we spotted the first buckeye, blooming in the distance, the yellow blooms acting as luminaries on a gray day in the forest. Then, I looked toward the ground and discovered many smaller buckeyes that have sprouted and are displaying a few sets of leaves each. You can see the work of the Texas Master Naturalists here. First, by cutting back the invasive ligustrums, they have cleared the ground for new buckeye seedlings to take root. And once these new buckeyes have germinated and sprouted, they are marked with pink tape so they can be recognized all year, even when their distinctive leaves have dropped.
It is really special that a great population of these yellow Texas buckeyes exists in an area that has been so widely and extensively developed. Great efforts have been made to preserve and grow the population by volunteers who keep the invasive species at bay and properly mark specimens. I would encourage anyone to visit this easy trail if you're interested in seeing an uncommon Texas native in habitat.