Do the right thing, be sure to pick the right tree

Desert willow. To help you look for native trees Texas A&M has compiled a list of native trees for El Paso on their website.

By Rick LoBello, Board Member

Did you know that planting non-native trees can have serious impacts to our environment? Non-native trees can change ecosystems and habitats. They can reduce or impede water flow leading to flooding and they can change the pH or chemical composition of the soil. Many species of wildlife are specialists that require specific native plants for food as well as habitats. The Acorn Woodpecker is a good example. Acorn Woodpeckers need dead oak limbs or snags for storing acorns so when oak woodlands disappear and are replaced by other species Acorn Woodpeckers can no longer survive in those areas.

Acorn Woodpecker

Thanks to the Chihuahuan Desert Education Coalition, Frontera Land Alliance, El Paso Rock and Cactus Club and the West El Paso Rotary Club, our education partner, the Zoo, was able to give away 190 desert willow trees the weekend of April 16 during our Eggstravaganzoo & Party for the Planet event. Desert willows are native to our region and planting native trees is one of the most important decisions all of us can make in helping to protect our environment.

All around the world and in the US planting trees is being encouraged to help combat climate change, enhance the quality of life in cities and help restore biodiversity. Unfortunately many nurseries selling trees focus on species that are not native. What most people don’t know is that when we landscape with plants that are non-native species we actually help to speed up extinctions and impede the overall health of the ecosystem.

Eucalyptus is a perfect example. This tree is native to Australia, grows fast and straight and is an important food source for koalas. It is also a commonly grown tree in the lumber industry and is touted as a way to increase carbon storage. But unfortunately it has little value to native wildlife and contributes to depleting water supplies. Years ago I bought several eucalyptus trees locally because they were affordable and fast growing. What I did not know was how their branches easily blew over during rainstorms and ended up falling on my house. When I finally gave up trying to live with them it took a lot of effort and I ended up hiring a tree removal expert who charged me hundreds of dollars to pull it up from the roots.

Mesquite tree

There are plenty examples of how non-native trees and other plants are impacting our environment including how salt cedar contributes to the decline of wetland communities as habitat for wildlife.

Picking the right tree

Finding native trees in El Paso to landscape with is not easy. Many stores that include nurseries focus mainly on trees that they can easily get including trees grown in other parts of the country that are not close to being native to our region. Fortunately every year there are native plant sales at Keystone Heritage Park and the Centennial Museum at UTEP and there is a least a nursery in La Union, New Mexico called Sierra Vista Growers that focuses on native plants.

Box Elder

To help you look for native trees Texas A&M has compiled a list of native trees for El Paso on their website.

Top – Ken Bosma, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Second from Top – Allan Hack, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Middle and Cover – Karen, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Bottom – Don Loarie, Wikimedia Creative Commons

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