To wildlife, vegetation is an integral component of their habitat, whether it be for food, cover, or both. Vegetation forms the basic framework of wildlife habitat in Northcentral Texas. Plant life in combination with topography, geology, soils, rainfall patterns, animal population, seasonal temperatures, and land use by man determines the ability of the land to support populations of native, migratory, and introduced wildlife species. A general knowledge and understanding of plants and their function in wildlife habitat is fundamental to understanding the land and animals that live here. All animals require habitat but not all require the same type. White-tailed deer, for example, are very adaptive and can survive and flourish in a wide range of habitat types, plant communities, or agricultural areas. Most neotropical songbirds, on the other hand, require specific plants or habitat types for reproduction and survival.
The following terms are presented to provide a better understanding of plants and the many important rolls they play in habitat for wildlife in Northcentral Texas.
Grasses - flowering monocotyledonous plants that grow from an embryo containing only one seed leaf and having leaves with parallel veins. Grass species found in Northcentral Texas may be classified as annual or perennial and cool season or warm season. Examples: Little bluestem (warm season perennial), Texas wintergrass (cool season perennial), crabgrass (warm season annual), and rescuegrass (cool season annual). Grasses are important food items for many wildlife species and provide nesting habitat for others. Ground cover provided by grasses reduces soil erosion and provide cover for wildlife.
Forbs - forbs, also called weeds or wildflowers, are flowering dicotyledonous broadleaf herbaceous plants that grow from an embryo containing two seed leaves and without parallel leaf veins. Forbs may be classified as annual or perennial and warm season or cool season. Examples: Common forbs found in Northcentral Texas are bluebonnets (cool season annual), native sunflowers (warm season annual), Engelmanndaisy (cool season perennial), and Maximillian sunflower (warm season perennial). Forage and seeds provided by forbs are important food item in the diets of many wildlife species. Forbs provide cover and protection from predators.
Trees - perennial woody plants with a main stem or trunk usually growing over 10' tall and with multiple branches from some point above the ground. Examples: cedar elm, Texas ash, post oak, cottonwood, pecan, and willow. Trees proved forage for browsing wildlife species, nesting and roosting sites for birds, cover, and food from seed, nuts, and fruits.
Shrubs - perennial low growing woody plants with multiple branches and stems. Examples: coralberry, skunkbush sumac, elbowbush, and Mexican buckeye. Shrubs provide forage for browsing wildlife species, nesting sites for birds, food from seeds and fruits, and cover for many wildlife species.
Vines - annual or perennial climbing plants with a main stem growing along the ground or onto surrounding plants for support. Examples: grape, Carolina snailseed, white honeysuckle, greenbriar, and poison ivy. Vines provide important cover and structure to wildlife habitat, providing nesting sites for birds, forage for browsing wildlife species, and food from seeds, fruits, and berries.
Annual - plants that grow from seeds and completes their growth cycle in only one growing season. Reproduction is by seeds only. Examples: Many native perennial grass species have been replaced by annual species due to long-term land abuse and overgrazing by livestock. Grasslands and prairies that once supported perennial native grasses such as little bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass now support non-native annual brome species or perennial cool season species such as Texas wintergrass. Examples of native annual forb species include annual native sunflower, partridge pea, coreopsis, croton species, and broomweed. Seeds produced by annual forbs are an important food source for many species of birds and small mammals. Annual plants provide habitat for insects that are important in the diets of many wildlife species. Ground cover provided by annual plants also helps reduce soil erosion. The plants also provide cover for wildlife and protection from predators. Growth of many species of annual forbs can be grown without planting seeds by conducting winter fallow disking(PDF 259.1 KB) or other soil disturbances
Perennial - plants that grow from their root system and live for several years. These plants die back to the ground and then produce new growth (culms) from the axillary buds at the culm base the following year. Perennial plants are drought tolerant. Examples: Grasses such as little bluestem, Indiangrass, sideoats grama, buffalograss, and Texas wintergrass are examples of native perennial grasses. If not overgrazed, perennial grasses provide cover for many wildlife species and nesting habitat for ground nesting birds. Forbs such as wild onion, western ragweed, prairie verbena, Illinois bundleflower, and spiderwort are examples of perennial forbs. Forbs are an important food item for white-tailed deer and many other species of wildlife. Food may obtained from the leaf and stem parts of these plants or their flowers or seeds.
Biennial - plants that live for two seasons, producing leaves and growth the first year and flowers and seed during the second year before dying. Examples: standing cypress, stork's bill, wild lettuce, and plantago.
Warm-Season Plants - annual or perennial plants that begin growth during the spring, and grow to summer or fall until frost. Many warm season plants provide important food sources for wildlife during the spring and summer and seeds during the fall. Examples: silver-leaf nightshade (perennial) and broomweed (annual).
Cool-Season Plants - annual or perennial plants that begin growth during the fall or winter and grow to spring or early summer. Many cool season plants provide important sources of food for wildlife during the winter months after deciduous woody plants lose their leaves. Examples: bluebonnets (annual) and Texas wintergrass (perennial).
Deciduous - woody non-evergreen plants that do not retain their leaves during the winter months. The East Cross Timbers, Lampasas Cut Plain, and West Cross Timbers regions are dominated by deciduous woody species that provide browse and cover for many wildlife species during most of the year. During winter months, however, deciduous woodlands often lack sufficient browse, food, or cover to support high populations of white-tailed deer or other wildlife species. Examples: post oak, blackjack oak, Texas oak, elbowbush, flame-leaf sumac, blackhaw, and hawthorn.
Non-deciduous- woody evergreen plants that retain their green leaves throughout the year. Non-deciduous woody plants provide year round cover for many wildlife species. Most non-deciduous woody species have low palatability as browse for white-tailed deer. Their value on the landscape as cover for a wide variety of other wildlife species is important. Examples: live oak, blueberry juniper, and agarito.
Monoculture - growth or plantings of one species of vegetation. Examples: Fields planted to plants such as coastal bermudagrass, old world bluestem Kleingrass, or agricultural crops (wheat, oats, hay, etc) growth for grain or forage production. Monocultures of native or introduced grass species proved minimal habitat benefits for wildlife.
Native Plants - plants that have evolved and are naturally occurring in an area or region that are adapted to the existing soil and climatic conditions.
Naturalized Plants - plants that are not native to a region but have adapted to the area of introduction and reproduce. Examples: Brome, King Ranch bluestem, Johnsongrass, fescue, and beggar ticks.
Improved Grass Varieties- grass species that have been grown from plants from one area (cultivars) and introduced into another primarily for livestock grazing forage. These may include native or non-native species. Examples: Alamo switchgrass, old world bluestem, King Ranch bluestem, and Haskell sideoats grama.
Invader Species - plant species that have high adaptability for growing in a wide variety of soils. These species often replace native plants or occupy soils that once supported native grasses, forbs, or woody plants. Invader species increase in density and distribution when native species have been depleted from overuse by livestock, drought, or changes in land use. Lack of naturally occurring fire also contributes to the increase of these species. Examples: pricklypear cactus, mesquite, and brome grasses.
Plant Succession- primary succession is the process of plants or a plant community occupying a previously unoccupied site. Example: newly exposed rock surface or fractured surface. Secondary succession refers to one group of plants replacing another due to disturbance, including natural or man-made processes. Examples: root plowing rangelands and winter fallow disking.
Climax Plant Community- a stable plant community that is self-perpetuating and in equilibrium with the physical habitat. Examples: tall-grass prairie or post oak-blackjack oak woodland.
Mast - nuts, acorns, seed, fruits, or berries produced by woody plants. Examples: live oak acorns, plums, bumelia berries, grapes, and pecans. Fruits of plants such as pricklypear cactus may also be classified as mast.
Browse- the leaves and tender twigs of woody plants eaten by herbivorous animals. Browse is an important component in the diet of white-tailed deer. Excessive browsing due to high populations of deer or livestock (sheep, goats, cattle or exotic ungulates) may result in a "browse line" forming on woody vegetation where all leaves and twigs from ground level to 4 feet are eaten and removed from the plants. Examples: In Northcentral Texas, important browse species include oak species, cedar elm, coralberry, rough-leaf dogwood, flame-leaf sumac, greenbriar, bumelia, hackberry, Texas ash, western soapberry, yucca, lotebush, redbud, Mexican buckeye, elbowbush, poison ivy, deciduous holly, and skunkbush sumac.
Riparian Zone - that area adjacent to or near a stream or water course containing alluvial soils and woody vegetation adapted to wet environments. Most riparian zones contain a wide diversity of plants and are subject to periodic flooding. Many wildlife species live in riparian zones where food, cover, and water is available during most of the year. Riparian zones often support growths of tall trees that provide important roosting and nesting sites for many bird and other wildlife species. These areas should receive protection from overgrazing by livestock during the winter months. Examples: streamside of creeks or bottomlands associated with large rivers.
Understory - the area beneath and between tall trees in woodlands or riparian zones. This area often supports growth of woody shrubs, vines, or small trees of overstory trees adapted to near closed canopies or low light environments. Understory vegetation is important to many species of wildlife for cover, nesting sites, and food. Examples: growths of red mulberry, blackhaw viburnum, greenbriar, or coralberry in the understory of post oak woodlands.
Native Prairie - a climax plant community containing a variety of native grasses and forbs. Much of Northcentral Texas in the Blackland Prairie, Fort Worth Prairie, Rolling Plains, Edwards Plateau, and Lampasas Cut Plain was historically native prairies or savannahs. Native prairies areas were also present within the East and West Cross Timbers. Few native prairie sites remain today although there are extensive grasslands on many private ranches in the northern portion of the Fort Worth Prairie and on ranches locations in the Lampasas Cut Plain, West Cross Timbers, Edwards Plateau, and Rolling Plains.