The water leaking from the Hensell aquifer continues even during dry periods giving moisture to grow beautiful maiden hair ferns along the outcrop. The taller grass-like plants are sedges. Along the creek are a number of water loving- wildflowers, grasses and trees. During floods, the place you are standing might be more than ten feet under water. When the floods subside plant life continues as before.
The Live Oak Trail meanders through a shaded pathway of pecans, black cherry trees, many other native trees as well as grasses and shrubs. The trail continues along the creek where you can observe the plant life and listen to the sounds of mockingbirds, cardinals and many others. As you continue along the path there are many sights to take in.
Live Oak Woods
This part of the trail leads you into a tree forest area. Trees use
shade to reduce the competition from ground cover plants
and to reduce potential fuel for wildfires that might destroy
them. Here is a small remnant of a live oak forest whose
canopy has shaded out most of the light needed to sustain
much plant growth at or near ground level. The small spindly trees are mostly hackberry trees that are desperately trying to reach the sunlight. These hackberry saplings were planted by birds, whose droppings contained live hackberry seeds. There are few grasses or forbs growing in the understory. Keeping out these grasses and forbs limits potential wildfire fuel; therefore, wildfires had difficulty penetrating the forested areas. This battle for control of territory by trees, grasses and forbs has been waged for many millennia. Trees also defend against fires by growing a thick bark that resists fires.
As you exit the wooded area you find yourself in the grassland prairie. A mixture of grasses and wildflowers, once covered vast areas of Texas, including the Texas Hill Country. Mixed grass prairies were the dominant habitat of the Hill Country prior to European settlement in the mid-nineteenth century. Prairies in this area were more related to savannah habitats where grasslands and mixed woodlands were competing. The prairie grasses contained both long and short grasses, including big and little bluestem, switchgrass and various gramas. Prairies depend on periodic wildfires to keep the trees from invading their territories. Grasses send down deep root systems to channel water into the sub-stratum, as well as keeping the soil loose, yet free from erosion. Prairies have both grasses and annual and perennial wildflowers, or forbs. Post-settlement land practices did not include periodic burning; therefore; grasslands lost their battle with the invading trees. Today less than one percent of the once vast prairie lands in Texas remain. Notice the harvester ant mound near the trail. Be careful that these ants do not sting you. These ants are in decline in the Hill Country partly because of pressure from imported red fire ants. Unfortunately the Texas Horned Lizard (Horned Toad) is also in decline because the harvester ants are one of this reptile’s favorite food sources. Horned Lizards were once very common in this area.
Post Oak Savannah
Blackjack and Post oaks are trees that form open forests in higher, dryer sandy areas of the region and state. Upland sandy soil areas are often inhabited by post oak and blackjack trees as you see along this narrow corridor. The open field south of the fence was likely once dominated by these two oaks. Post oaks and blackjacks do not often form dense canopies like live oaks and other riparian trees. Grasses, briars, and low brush can survive in this more open woodland setting. Mature post oaks and blackjacks have thick bark to help them survive wildfires.
Cactus and Succulents
On the south side of the Live Oak Wilderness trail you will find the Nature Center’s Texas Cactus Garden. The garden was built by a local Eagle Scout as part of his Eagle Project. The garden contains numerous species of Texas cacti and succulents.
Recent sediments of a few to tens of thousands of years directly overlie sediments over 112 million years old creating a gap in the rock record of over 100 million years. The cliff along the edge of the lake is composed of Pleistocene and recent sediments deposited by Live Oak Creek. Buff-colored sandy and silty loam deposits overlie a basal conglomerate of pebbles derived from the Cretaceous sediments that are being eroded by Live Oak Creek in its upper reaches. At one time this area of the lake was part of a gravel pit that supplied road construction materials to the area.
Further down the lake shore (See marker) there is an unconformity surface between the gravel bed and the red claystone. The Recent gravel sediments are a few to tens of thousand years old overlying red claystones of the Hansel! Formation which are approximately 112 million years. There was either no deposition ofsediments or those sediments that were once here were eroded over time leaving a large time gap in the rock record.
Beavers live in our area and create “hour-glass”-shaped marks on trees Found near the water’s edge. Beavers made the gnawing marks on the juniper trees. They typically make an hour glass shaped cut on the trees they choose to harvest. They apparently did not realize the wide canopy of the juniper is supported by other trees. Imagine the frustration of having gnawed on a tree and it didn’t fall. We also have nutria, which look like beaver, in the lake. Nutria have a thin, rat-like tail instead of the flat beaver tail. Nutria are exotic mammals introduced into Louisiana for possible fur business. The scheme didn’t work. Now we have nutria spreading across the country. Turtles are seen frequently in the area.
The marshy area below the dam is home for water loving plants, dragonflies, and wading birds. The plants that live in the marshy area below the dam don’t mind wet feet. Sedges and rushes don’t have a problem growing in standing water. Fall Aster, wild Golden Glow, and Cardinal Flower are wildflowers that prefer moist areas along a creek. Dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in the vegetation along streams like Live Oak Creek. The larvae of these insects can remain in the water for up to several years before emerging as an adult dragonfly or damselfly. In the summer months look for the Green Heron prowling among the plants in search of a frog, crayfish or fish for its next meal. In the winter months another marsh bird, the Sora Rail, lives in thick vegetation and spend their nights hunting for aquatic insects, amphibians and crustaceans. Its’ distinctive descending whinny call can be easily heard but actually seeing the little marsh-walker is much more difficult. As you walk along the creek edge, always be alert for the many forms of wildlife that depend on the marsh for survival.
Continue on the Liveoak Trail and cross the wooden foot bridge. If you have not taken the Vista Loop, take a right at the Vista Loop sign. A description of what you will see on the loop can be found under “Vista Loop Trail“. Also, do not forget to visit the Pollinator Garden next to the Park pool!! Enjoy!