It was a cool August 1st in the year 1902 that the world famous pioneer Texas botanist Julien Reverchon would have been found collecting plants by horseback in the sandy soil east of what was then Dallas. One of the plants he collected that summer day was that of the Smooth False Buttonweed Spermacoce glabra. 112 years later in 2014 and modern day North Texans are probably not familiar with the sight of the plant, one whose native habitat of swamps and wetland areas no longer exist in Dallas. Not a rare plant points east in the Mississippi Valley but exceptionally rarely seen in the Trinity drainage and especially Dallas County. A species thought to be extirpated, a local extinction due to habitat loss and lack of sightings. Reverchon's collection site, the once well known to every Dallasite, Buzzard Spring does not even exist. Destroyed through channelization, infill and development, the ancient swamp became urbanized and forgotten from memory.
Many contemporary Dallasites associate the name Reverchon with a park bearing the same name on the popular Katy Trail. Few know that the man behind the name forever changed how Dallas was viewed abroad as a growing town of refining culture and class. Julien Reverchon's observations and collections drastically changed how the North Texas landscape was seen and written about in late 19th century dissemination and publication.
|The long lost Spermacoce glabra rediscovered at Big Spring 2014|
It was here on the family farm, later coined Rose Cottage that Julien Reverchon began his study and collection of plants in Texas. At the time North Texas was still very much a frontier with Indian raids, cattle drives and true wilderness out the front door of any home on Main Street. The natural environs around North Texas were completely undocumented and explored to any degree. The rough hewn lines of surveyors marks on maps and the occasional fence were the only boundaries of note.
|A bumblebee visits a Milkweed at Big Spring, Dallas, Texas as a summer thunderhead rapidly builds 5 miles to the north over White Rock Lake, July 2014|
Thousands of plants were collected and distributed by Reverchon to universities of high standard at the time. These plants, many of which were unknown at the time became groundbreaking additions to collections being studied for pharmacutical and medicinal use. One such field trip to collect plants was August 1, 1902.
|Closer view of the BRIT archived herbarium of Julien Reverchon, with notation "sands east of Dallas". Photo courtesy Master Naturalist Jim Flood|
|Bank of America Building as seen from Big Spring|
The record of Reverchon's trip that day in August 1902 was immortalized in plants collected in the field. To preserve their form and color, plants collected in the field are spread flat on sheets of newsprint type medium and dried, usually in a plant press, between blotters or absorbent paper. The specimens, which are then mounted on sheets of stiff white paper, are labeled with all essential data, such as date and place found, description of the plant, soil and special habitat conditions.
|Hurricane #2 track over Texas summer 1902|
Bumper crops parallel bumper conditions of native flora as well. A great period for documenting the water loving swamp plants of Dallas. Many of the plants that Reverchon collected were native grasses, sedges and plants that were studied for medicinal uses and agriculture.
Solving the puzzle of Buzzard Spring
The complete picture of what Reverchon collected that day in 1902 requires some detective work to trace. Scattered across herbarium collections in Texas, Missouri and Massachusetts the puzzle pieces were hard to pull together. When Jim Flood contacted me about his rare find at Big Spring of Smooth False Buttonweed and that Julien Reverchon had collected the same species at a vaguely described spot east of Dallas, the hunt was on for more information. The off-chance to tie the collected species together in the same creek drainage was a distinct possibility.
|Searching the herbariums across the country provided lists of species collected by Reverchon on August 1, 1902|
|Allionia nyctaginea var. ovata (Pursh) Morong tag labeled by Julien Reverchon at Buzzard Spring, Dallas, Texas August 1, 1902 from Tropicos, botanical information system at the Missouri Botanical Garden - www.tropicos.org|
|Allionia nyctaginea var. ovata (Pursh) Morong collected by Julien Reverchon August 1, 1902 at Buzzard Spring Dallas Texas herbarium plate from the botanical information system at the Missouri Botanical Garden - www.tropicos.org|
Looking back through Reverchon's collection records he has visits to gather plants here at Buzzard Spring and the woods beyond dating to as early as 1876. Nearly three decades of regular visits to this spot, well documented through his collection. 1876 was a banner year for Reverchon discovering a dozen new plant species. Further work in the years to come added on that groundbreaking work.
|Allionia gigantea Standl collected at Buzzard Spring by Julien Reverchon August 1, 1902 from the botanical information system at the Missouri Botanical Garden - www.tropicos.org|
The land was first settled by the Beemans who owned near continuous tracts of land between what is now Fair Park and the Trinity River Audubon Center. One recollection from the early settlement of Buzzard Spring comes courtesy of historian MC Toyer from a memoir passage of JJ Beeman describing the lake area in the 1840s. The blockhouse mentioned would be just south of present day Military Parkway on the west side of White Rock Creek and behind the Beeman Cemetery east of Dolphin Road:
John's family and mine lived in the block house until we built another house close by. I had selected me a place about a mile southwest of the block house and built a house in the timber where there was a fine pool of water with plenty of fish in it. By this time we had become somewhat careless and would venture further than we had before, so in order to be convenient to my work I built a camp and moved to the place before I built the house-- James Jackson Beeman, Memoirs.1886.
Buzzard Spring fed into what we now call the Great Trinity Forest, a vast urban bottom land that so few current Dallasites have seen with their own eyes. Some of the plants collected by Reverchon in this area no longer are known to exist in Dallas. Or are they? They have not been seen by anyone alive in generations and all but forgotten.
As Dallas growth marched east at the turn of the last century, Buzzard Spring and Wahoo Lake were filled in and dewatered. Gone forever.
Rediscovering Reverchon's Work Through Botany At Big Spring
|This photography event at Big Spring was through the North American Nature Photography Association one of the cornerstone initiatives to expose more people to the Great Trinity Forest|
|Spermacoce glabra in full bloom at Big Spring in the Great Trinity Forest July 2014 |
|Master Naturalist Jim Flood|
It seems rather impossible for many to understand Jim's important contributions to the well-being of the Great Trinity Forest and how his foundation of efforts over the years will most likely serve as a launching pad for the future.
|Spermacoce glabra Dallas, Texas July 2014|
|Eastern Bluestar Amsonia tabernaemontana at Big Spring 2014|
Biodiversity at 265+ plant species and counting
|Master Naturalist and DFW Texas Stream Team coordinator Richard Grayson walking among the thigh high wildflowers at Big Spring in the bottoms. The Eastern Bluestar plants are just to the right.|
|Non-flowering Eastern Bluestar at Big Spring's large wildflower meadow 2014, Brett, Sarah, Aaron in the background 2014|
|Brett Johnson, Paul White, Aaron Schad, Sean Fitzgerald|
From this eclectic mix of individuals a greater understanding of Big Spring has emerged and will continue to expand in the future. Quarterly plant and wildlife inventories, water testing and future planned projects merely scratch the surface. The ability for these citizens to do things the right way, the first time is just what Big Spring needs.
Working More People Into The Fold
One of the many cornerstones laid with work this past winter were plans to draw more people into the mix at Big Spring and the Great Trinity Forest. It seemed like a simple idea to broaden the horizons of many who had never experienced the vast areas of the Great Trinity Forest, off the beaten path. How to do that is a bit complicated with larger groups.
|Sunset over Big Spring after a heavy late day thunderstorm|
photography organization called NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association. Through the website and the organization, Sean suggested cherry picking the very best weekends at the peak of bloom for sites around the Great Trinity Forest.
|Barred Owl seen at the NANPA Photo-Hike Buckeye Trail|
|NANPA event in the GTF, checking out a Barred Owl|
We had some candid discussions about how to best get more people aware and interested in the Trinity. If you look at what product is turned out every year for things like the Trinity River Photo Contest, you realize that the photographers and public in general have yet to really get down into the forest and experience the real nature that resides there. So much goes unseen and undocumented down on the river with only a few sets of eyes even visiting these grand places. It's a shame because vast stands of flowering trees and fields of wildflowers go to bloom without ever being enjoyed or visited.
These well attended events this spring exposed many dozens of people to the Great Trinity Forest and to places few have even seen before. Their photos, shown in a gallery of over 100 images Big Spring NANPA event highlight through the eyes of dozens, the beauty and nature at Big Spring. The main website is here NANPA Photography Group of North Texas.
The desire to preserve what’s authentic, what holds substance and what aspires to the whole shines through the experience of those who visit. The future looks brighter than ever for Big Spring. A picture is emerging of knowing a place intimately that only the giants of Texas history like Julien Reverchon ever knew. The pioneer spirit is still alive here. Those belonging to it more fully and to take responsibility for its preservation feel it in the work they do.
|Ground fog developing in the pre-dawn light across the millions of wildflowers at Big Spring. Thirty second exposure in near total darkness at 5am.|