March is a good time to notice Live Oaks! These are the most common shade trees in Austin. If you’re not from Texas you may be alarmed to see our native Live Oaks, Quercus virginiana var. fusiformis, dropping their leaves in March. Don’t worry! Live Oaks are semi- evergreen, so they keep their leaves all winter. They drop their leaves in March and grow them back right away. My friend who grew up in San Antonio told me that he remembers raking up leaves from the two Live Oaks in their front yard during every spring break. Their semi-evergreen nature inspired their common name- they are ‘live’ when other trees are bare. Huge, long-lived and sprawling, these trees are icons of Texas’ history.
Monterrey Oak, Quercus polymorpha is another favorite well-adapted shade tree and is also semi-evergreen. It looses its leaves more gradually. It seems like they drop one leaf everyday during the winter until they are bare in the spring. Their leaves grow back right away too. Fast-growing, drought tolerant and reliable, this native of Northern Mexico and South Texas is a new favorite among Austinites. It’s narrow, lolipop shape makes it great for small yards.
Another common shade tree that is perfect for urban yards is our native Cedar Elm, Ulmus crassifolia. It has a tall, thin shape to fit into narrow spots. Its leaves turn bright yellow in the fall before they drop. Young Cedar Elms have weird, corky growths on the stems that are called ‘wings’. The wings make the young trees look like ugly ducklings at the nursery but I promise that little weird tree will turn into a beautiful swan when it grows up.