The $7 million dogwood blossom


Not perfect — there is a brown spot on it; but beautiful, surpassingly rare, a creature of the serendipity of nature, it is a natural dogwood blossom in Dallas County, Texas:

Dogwood blossom in Dogwood Canyon, Texas

What we came to see – the magical dogwood blossoms.

On April 5 Kathryn and I joined David Hurt and a jovial band of hikers for a trip into Dogwood Canyon in Cedar Hill, Texas. The physical formation of Cedar Hill upon which the city of the same name and several others stand, is one of the highest spots between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. It is an outcropping of chalk, a formation known as the Austin Chalk, that runs from Austin, north nearly to the Oklahoma border.

This rock formation creates a clear physical marker of the boundary between East and West. Dallas is east of the line, Fort Worth, Gateway to the Old West, is 30 miles farther west. On this outcropping is married the plains of the west with the oaks and forests of the east. Within a few miles of the line, the botanical landscape changes, cowboy prairie lands one way, forest lands the other.

On the chalk itself, the soil is thin and alkaline. The alkalinity is a function of the chemical composition of the chalk underneath it.

Dogwoods love the forests of East Texas with their acidic soils. Early spring produces fireworks-like bursts of white dogwood blossoms in the understory of East Texas forests. Dogwoods die out well east of Dallas as the soil changes acidity; driving from Dallas one can count on 30 to 60 miles before finding a dogwood.

Except in Dogwood Canyon. There, where entrepreneur David Hurt originally planned to build a family hideout and getaway, he found a stand of dogwoods defying botanists and the Department of Agriculture’s plant zone maps, blooming furiously in thin alkaline soil atop the Austin Chalk.

(continued below the fold)

Truth be told, David already understood the land to be special by the time he found the dogwoods. The canyon provided thousands of years of residential space and building materials to golden cheeked warblers. It features trout lilies, a local orchid of surpassing beauty and evolutionary timing, and another orchid that may have found a way to live without chlorophyll in partnership with some fungi. In short, it’s a unique piece of land valuable to birds and birders. Hurt and friends from the Audubon Society spent more than $7 million to take over the land and protect it. Within a few years it is planned to be home to a facility to bring nature to urbanites and students, at their own backdoors.

Now, a few times a year, the Audubon Society lets in a few aficianadoes to see the place.

David Hurt shows poison ivy and Virginia creeper, Dogwood Canyon, Texas

David Hurt shows poison ivy and Virginia creeper, and how to tell the two apart; Dogwood Canyon, Texas.

Visitors meet on a roadway to hike in. Hurt narrates the story of how he almost built on the land, and how he came to be the prime mover in a conservation effort. He points out the rare plants, the common ones, and tells stories of how patience and being a Texan with roots in the land helped convince land owners to become land donors to conserve the land.

Kathryn and others wait to cross a small stream on the trail.

A half-mile, down a run, up the other side, down and up again. Hurt stops next to a ladder oddly placed beside the trail and lashed to a tree. “Here it is,” he quietly says. “Look up.”

Dogwood trees blossom a week or two before the leaves pop out, but by the time our group gets to the canyon, leaves already partly block the view of the blossoms from below. Suddenly the wisdom of the ladder in the forest wild becomes clear. A quick climb, and peeking just above the canopy, one sees the splash of the dogwoods in the forest. Dogwood blossoms perfume the air above the canopy, sweet and heady.

18 feet up, a floating carpet of dogwood blossoms - Dogwood Canyon, Texas

18 feet up, the blossoms reveal their charms.

Worth the hike, worth the climb, worth the $7 million.

America’s conservationists are aging. The average age is rising of the membership of the Audubon Society, of the Nature Conservancy, of the National Wildlife Foundation, of almost all of the nation’s conservation organizations. Education programs planned for places like Dogwood Canyon, Texas, are hoped to spark a prairie fire of concern for protecting and preserving our natural resources and natural beauty.

David Hurt describes features of dogwood blossoms, Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, Texas

David Hurt points to features of the dogwood flower.

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6 Responses to The $7 million dogwood blossom

  1. […] perhaps a warbler, that I just don’t know (good reason to go spend time at the local Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, […]

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  2. […] The $7 million dogwood blossom [now $8 million] […]

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  3. […] The $7 million dogwood blossom [now $8 million] […]

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  4. TomJoe says:

    Perfect = Photoshoping the brown spot out!

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    That would be good news if so.

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  6. Dorid says:

    “America’s conservationists are aging. The average age is rising of the membership of the Audubon Society, of the Nature Conservancy, of the National Wildlife Foundation, of almost all of the nation’s conservation organizations.”

    I’m not sure if that’s just the official, dues paying membership… If you go to volunteer activities around here there are loads of 20 somethings and a bunch of kids as well. It seems at least in Northern New Mexico that conservation is alive and well. I’m wondering if there is a shift from national organizations to local.

    Here in Albuquerque/ Santa Fe there are a large number of groups doing service projects: Albuquerque Wildlife Federation, Wild Earth Guardians, New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance are the top 4 around here… then of course our government agencies have a number of volunteers that turn out for events run by the Forestry division, Open Spaces, and US Fish and Wildlife. And we have a number of kids in Roots and Shoots groups, school supported groups and church supported groups out doing work on habitat restoration, invasive species removal and so on. Then we have groups for specific animals (wolf rehab groups, Prairie Dog Pals…) and there is a lot of youth involved in that.

    Is it possible that the involved youth today are not paying dues then sitting back and getting their monthly mailings, but are instead giving time to the organizations and causes they are supporting?

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