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Big Thicket Plant Ecology

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Originally published in 1979, Geraldine Ellis Watson's Big Thicket Plant Ecology is now back in print. This updated edition explores the plant biology, ecology, geology, and environmental regions of the Big Thicket National Preserve. After decades of research on the Big Thicket, Watson concluded that the Big Thicket was unique for its biological diversity, due mainly to interactions of geology and climate. A visitor in the Big Thicket could look in four different directions from one spot and view scenes typical of the Appalachians, the Florida Everglades, a southwestern desert, or the pine barrens of the Carolinas. Watson covers the ecological and geological history of the Big Thicket and introduces its plant life, from longleaf pines and tupelo swamps to savannah wetlands and hardwood flats. "This is THE work on the plant biology of the Big Thicket."--Pete A.Y. Gunter, author of The Big Thicket

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Chapter 1 Key to Understanding

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1

KEYS TO

UNDERSTANDING

MANY THICKETS

Few areas in the United States have inspired such claim and acclaim as the Big Thicket of Southeast Texas; and seldom are such claims so controversial and so contradictory. While the controversies can generally be laid at the feet of those who want to use all its natural resources for personal and corporate profits, contradictions come from reliable, well-intentioned sources as well. Considering the complex nature of the Big Thicket, it is not surprising in this age of specialization that each person who investigates the Thicket sees it in the light of his own experience and interests.

The Big Thicket has had many interpreters: The folklorist traces its legends and pins its boundaries down to the bear hunters’ happy hunting grounds in the “Old Hurricane Section.” The promoter envisions hordes of tourists and skyrocketing land values. The lumber man with an eye to the fantastic growth rate of pines, views the

Thicket as wasteland and useless ornamentals such as magnolia and dogwood trees taking up space where the more profitable pine trees could grow. The biologist discovers opportunities for the study of ecological succession. Canoeists, hikers, birdwatchers, sportsmen, lovers of wilderness and solitude—each has found in the Big Thicket the fulfillment of his own particular need and has defined it accordingly.

 

Chapter 2 The Ecological Big Thicket

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2

THE ECOLOGICAL

BIG THICKET

GEOLOGICAL HISTORY

The Ecological Big Thicket occupies a tilted topographical basin in the middle Neches River watershed. It is young in age by geological time. Its surface formations were deposited in the Pleistocene and

Holocene epochs of the past few millions of years. There were four major glacial stages during the Pleistocene epoch and, as the great ice masses grew or melted with the changes of climate, sea level fell or rose accordingly. The glaciers did not reach the southern United

States, but their influence on sea level and climate was responsible for the landforms of Southeast Texas and determined the nature and boundaries of the Big Thicket.

The geological formations (see maps 2 and 3) of the Thicket were deposited by streams as alluvial plains and deltas in the high seas of the warm interglacial periods. Each period of deposition was followed by lowered sea level and erosion of the exposed land by streams. The southern ends of these layers of deposition are now exposed as narrow, irregular bands paralleling the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Chapter 3 The National Preserve

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3

THE BIG THICKET

NATIONAL PRESERVE

The 3.5 million acres of Big Thicket country are laced with roads and dotted with cities, villages, and farms (see map 1). Much of it has been bulldozed to bare dirt and planted with pine farms or has been altered so radically that little is left that could qualify for preservation. Also, the economy of Southeast Texas is wholly dependent on forest products and taking a too-large portion of the land out of timber production would cause economic distress in an already economically depressed area.

Recommendations were made for the preservation of areas from

10,000 to 300,000 acres at different times. The history of efforts to secure a Big Thicket Preserve is not covered in this work for it is dealt with in other publications, such as James J. Cozine Jr.’s Saving the Big

Thicket (University of North Texas Press, 2004). Eventually, in 1974 all interested parties compromised and a bill was passed in Congress setting aside a National Preserve of 84,550 acres in nine widely separated units and three stream corridors (see map 7).

 

Chapter 4 Man in the Big Thicket

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4

MAN IN THE BIG THICKET

INDIANS

Evidence shows that humans have been in this area for at least ten thousand years, possibly much longer. The aborigines were hunters and gatherers and practiced agriculture. Many habitation sites can be found above flood levels and near good water. These sites were connected by a system of trails, which were first followed by the early explorers, later by the traders, and lastly by the settlers, widening them as foot traffic progressed to horse-drawn vehicles to automobiles. Many of the present roads in Southeast Texas follow these routes.

Game was plentiful and there was an abundance of native fruits, nuts, greens, and roots. Corn, beans, and squash were grown and the fields were fired each winter to clear weeds and brush and provide ashes for fertilizer. Fire was also used to drive game. Otherwise, the Indians made little impact on the land.

ANGLO-AMERICANS

Anglo-Americans and Mexicans began to enter East Texas in the

1600s and practiced subsistence farming and ran cattle and hogs in the free-range land. In the 1800s with the advent of steamboats on

 

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