How many Houston trees will die?

Live oaks sheltering tangles of yaupon, lazy, curving brown bayous, and humidity like the beach before a thunderstorm normally define Houston. Rainfall around 50 inches a year, liberally doled out on 100 or so days around the calendar keep our city green.

Not this year. Until the 5 inches we got on October 9th, Houston only had about 13 inches since the beginning of 2011, according to the National Weather Service. The puts it in the most severe category of the Palmer Drought Severity Index, -4. If you look at the maps, our whole state and parts of our neighbors are in severe drought.

For most people the heat and drought is an inconvenience. They have to reprogram their sprinklers to run between 8 pm and 10 am on the two days a week their address gets. Maybe we spend less time outside. Wildlife suffer more, die when their waterholes dry up and others can’t be found. Inside the city limits, I would guess many animals can still find bayous with water, or puddles from those sprinklers.

But our trees are dying by the millions. When I drove through Memorial park a few weeks ago, it looked like autumn with fall color had slipped south. But no, these trees are dying, or dead. All through the park, brown leaves hung limply. Which trees are dying? Is it the oldest ones, the ones deepest into the woods, a certain species? No pattern was immediately evident, but trying to figure this out might make for good science projects.

We filled in our pond and flattened our raised gardens, then covered them with sod before we sold our house. This meant lots of watering last June. We did it for the sod, but I’m hoping that repeated soaking gave our trees what they needed to survive whatever care the new owners show them. The live oak in the front yard and the water oak in the back yard probably date from when our street was first settled, in the early 1950s. It would be tragic to lose them.

Still, we ask if the trees that are still green are healthy enough to survive insect attacks? Did this last rainfall fix everything? When will we have the answers?

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Environment, Houston, humidity, Natural areas, Weather and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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