Wildflower Center’s arboretum ready to be climbed and studied at festival
Along 16 acres southwest of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center buildings, a grove of trees is getting ready to be climbed, celebrated and studied. Next weekend, the Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum will host its first public event during the center’s Tree Talk Winter Walk.
Think of an educational party all about trees, and that’s what you’ll get at the Tree Talk Winter Walk. Guided tours will introduce the public to the arboretum. Experts will give talks about oak wilt, tree care and tree identification and do a demonstration of how to plant a tree. Lessons on how to draw trees also will be offered.
Kids can climb up trees using a harness system with the help of arborists They Might Be Monkeys! They can build a fort out of tree branches and go on a scavenger hunt of the grounds looking for distinctive trees. They can swing in several tree swings, including those that are handicap accessible. With help from Tree Folks, Texas Forest Service and Capital Area Master Naturalists, kids can learn how to count tree rings, study birds’ nests and learn fire prevention.
And after working up a sweat climbing and studying trees, hot chocolate and marshmallows at the fire pit will be offered.
Past Tree Talks and Walks have been scattered around the center, but with the new arboretum, everything can be in one place.
“We’ll be taking full advantage of the new site,” said Alice Nance, the center’s education manager. “It will be festive and fun.”
The arboretum offers an 8-foot-wide, handicap accessible trail from the center’s buildings to the trees, which are less than a mile away from the main buildings.
When planning the arboretum, the center cleared away the brush and discovered a mature canopy of trees. Picnic tables and benches now sit underneath that canopy for visitors to enjoy.
Throughout the arboretum, new trees are being added to complement the existing ones. In places trees are grouped based on climate or the type of tree. Along the path on the way to the main part of the arboretum is the xeric collection of trees that are designed for hot, dry and rocky areas.
Farther down the trail, the Hall of Heroes celebrates famous Texas trees that were in Ralph Yznaga’s book “Living Witness, Historic Trees of Texas.” The Wildflower Center has traveled to where these original trees are or were, collected acorns and is growing the descendants of these trees. It will plant one of the descendants by the sign of the historic tree. It already has planted one for the Treaty Oak.
Specimen trees line a 0.8-mile loop in the arboretum. These are large, iconic tree types such as pecan, American sycamore and American elm. In this loop, large original trees share space with newer trees that have been planted especially for the arboretum. All the new trees were chosen to be smaller than the existing trees to avoid competing for resources.
Another area shows smaller trees that would be good for a yard with a lot of power lines.
The center kept some of the trees on the edge of the arboretum that have died from oak wilt to show visitors what it looks like and to educate them about its dangers. “This area used to be full of oaks that died, too,” said the center’s senior botanist, Damon Waitt. To protect the other oaks from getting the disease, the center dug a trench around the arboretum, uses approved fungicide and carefully monitors the trees.
Another part of the arboretum showcases the 54 different kinds of oaks found in Texas.
Unlike other areas of the center, the arboretum is one area where the center doesn’t care if you’re climbing a tree or running through a field of wildflowers in spring. “We want them to get out and do stuff,” Waitt says.
While the arboretum is new, the center has always had a tree focus, Waitt says, “but it’s been distributed. Now, we’ve centralized it.”
The arboretum also doubles as a professional training area for arborists and the forest service.
With the rain we’ve had this month, Waitt says it’s a perfect time to buy a tree and plant it. More than 76 trees and shrubs ideal for Austin will be for sale during the event.
Even with the beautiful canopy of trees, you won’t see the arboretum in its full glory. You’ll have to come back in 35 years when the seedlings the center has planted will be mature trees.