Nature Connection – Habitat 101.5 – “Crosstimbers”

What the heck is a Crosstimbers? That’s not a habitat!

I heard you say it, but listen up. In fact, The Crosstimbers is considered an ecosystem in Oklahoma, and in parts of Missouri and Texas.

Crosstimbers is the name given to the area where prairie lands meet forest. It is home to tracts of prairie, sprinkled among trees, and trees that are shorter, scrubbier and denser than those found in eastern American forests.

Trees of these ‘crosstimbers’ areas include many oaks – blackjack oak, post oak, and chinquapin oak — as well as red cedars, hickories, ash and other hardy species of trees. Crosstimbers is a mix of grassland and forest, where many plant and animal species are found. Climate-wise, the areas receives barely enough rain to sustain a forest. Thus, the species of trees found there are more drought tolerant . These trees often survive the heat and lack of moisture of summer by dropping their leaves and becoming dormant until moisture returns.

The ‘Crosstimbers’ was a region of the North American continent known well to explorers of the 1700s and 1800s. They noted the region on maps, and recorded their encountersin journals so that others could replicate their journeys.
The Crosstimbers meant a change in the density and composition of forest. Fact was, these trees were much harder to get through – their limbs and branches hung low to the ground, sometimes creating a tangle that was impossible to navigate with wagons, and often even with horses. An axe and saw were essential tools to travel these areas, and whenever possible, the explorers sought the small tracts of prairie that made progress to the west easier.

Today, the boundaries of this area known as the Crosstimbers don’t fluctuate like they once did. Human habitation, and the use of controlled burns, prevent trees from encroaching on the prairie lands now used for farming or ranching.

Trees found in rockier Crosstimbers regions are often hundreds of years old. Eastern Red Cedars have been documented at five hundred years old on some rocky hillsides above rivers and lakes. Post oaks are estimated at three to four hundred years old on many landscapes in the region.

Most of these trees don’t look that old. Their trunks are not excessively wide, and they aren’t necessarily very tall. Living in regions where rainfall can be sketchy stunts tree growth. The bark on older trees is almost twisted, and so many limbs have died and dropped off over time that the lower trunks of the trees seem to be covered with knobs.

Crosstimbers is a real ecoregion. Look for it in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

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