Southeast Texas gardeners sometimes face a problem foreign to those elsewhere in the Lone Star State. It's how to find trees that can handle lots of rainfall--and the occasional hurricane. In July 1979, Tropical Storm Claudette dropped 45 inches of rain near the southeast Texas town of Alvin in a single day. While that remains a U.S. record, gardeners in the region continue to need trees that love to sink their roots in moist or wet soil.
Cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) is a rapidly growing, easy-care evergreen. A member of the rose family, it grows wild in southeast Texas in woods, thickets, and open fields. Reaching up to 36 feet tall, cherry laurel has elliptical, glossy green leaves pointed at both ends. The leaves, twigs and seeds are toxic if ingested.
Between February and April, 2-inch long clusters of small, creamy white flowers appear between the leaves. Bluish-black berries follow, drawing birds. They remain on the trees through the winter. Cherry laurel, advises the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, makes an effective screen when planted as a hedge. It likes sunny to partly shady locations with moist, loamy, well-drained soil. Trees in wet, heavy clay are susceptible to root rot.
Another fast-growing tree, river birch (Betula nigra) reaches 30 to 50 feet. Its multiple trunks and weeping branches create a gracefully spreading crown. River birch's smooth silvery-gray surface bark peels away to expose a reddish-brown trunk. Its green leaves provide yellow autumn color before dropping.
This is the only North American birch that tolerates the hot, humid summers of the southern United States, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It's useful for erosion control along stream banks and floodplains. Plant river birch in a partly shady location with consistently moist and slightly acidic, sandy or loamy soil. Wait until sap ceases flowing in the summer before pruning the trees.
Southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides), also known as cigar tree for its cigar-like seedpods, belongs to the trumpet creeper family. Reaching up to 40 feet high with an even greater width, it grows wild along stream banks and in low-lying woods. Its short branches have light green, heart-shaped leaves. In May and June, they bear clusters of up to 20 trumpet-like 2-inch flowers. Yellow and purple spots and purple stripes mark the throats of the white blooms. Southern catalpa is a popular shade and ornamental tree. Plant it where fallen flowers and leaves won't be noticeable. It needs a partly shady location with moist to wet soil.