Buffalo Bayou is one of the
few bayous left in central Houston which was not reconstructed with
concrete in the 1960s and 1970s. It contains an incredibly diverse urban
ecosystem supporting dozens of native species of flora and fauna.
The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is working to promote native plant species,
improved water quality and low-impact development, for the restoration
and sustainability of the Bayou as a healthy ecosystem.
Silty banks are what come to mind for most of us when we think of Buffalo
Bayou’s bank geology. Actually, the Buffalo Bayou watershed is
located just above the Beaumont Formation, the youngest of the Pleistocene
age geological formations in the region. This formation consists of
clay, silt, and fine sand arranged in spatial patterns that reflect
the distribution of fluvial and coastal mudflat marsh origins. The tidal
influence and velocity of storm flows re-suspend the clay particles
from the Bayou bottom, decreasing water clarity and silting over the
The Bayou’s riparian zone structure is a function of climate,
parent materials, relief, organisms and time interacting together to
build up and erode away the banks. During flooding events, the sediment
suspended in the water column rises over the banks. As the water rises,
it also slows down. This reduced velocity enables the sediment to fall
out of the water column, silting over the banks. A single flood can
deposit a foot or more of sediment within the corridor. These young,
steep, soft banks are highly susceptible to erosion.
Barker’s Reservoir conducts controlled releases of water at typical
velocities of 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) into Buffalo Bayou on
an on-going basis. This constant flow is not an historical water pattern
in the bayou. Some of the impacts to the Bayou of this controlled flow
include bank scour (banks void of vegetation) and bed scour (undercutting
of the bank) which both contribute to accelerating bank erosion.
The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is working to promote native plant species
along the bayou and eliminate invasive species through its Vegetation
Management Plan (VMP) (hyperlink). Stroll along the bayou trails and
you are likely to find diverse flora representative of riparian and
wetland zones, prairies, and bottomland hardwood forests.
Sunflowers, sedge, black willow, roughleaf dogwood and yaupon holly
are examples of the plants within the riparian zone.
The trails provide a chance to see over 100 representative species from
three ecosystems, including sunflowers, Texas vervian, bluestem, paspallum,
bottlebrush, mulberries and beebalm. The linear trail system allows
users to pass over Cypress tributaries and into pocket praries of native
grasses and flowers, to scenic overlooks of the Bayou from within a
rich riparian zone of cottonwoods and inland sea oats.
Time and time again the diversity and natural beauty of the Bayou’s
flora will surprise and amaze the unsuspecting. Some of the more common
flowers you can see are the passion-flower, lantana, Turk’s cap
and bidens. Flowering plants not only make the corridor colorful but
they provide important habitat sources for insects that rely on flowers
to lay eggs for food and mating. Conversely, many flowers depend heavily
on those insects for pollination.
On your next walk along the bayou, keep your eyes peeled for graceful
blue herons, two foot loggerhead turtles and even an occasional alligator.
Year-round birding enthusiasts and the general public enjoy an array
of native and migratory birds that use the coastal bayou system for
shelter and food. Birds to look for throughout the year include osprey,
cardinals, herons, hawks, and kill deer. Migratory birds relying on
the linear habitat of the bayou include wood ducks, purple martins,
warblers, cedar waxwings, and sparrows.
Not only do we have birds in our skies but we also have one of only
a handful of non-migratory bats populations in the world, the Mexican
free-tail bat. At dusk, you can observe over 150,000 bats flocking into
the night sky to feed on mosquitoes and other insects. Smaller but equally
important are the numerous species of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies
that fill the air to observe and photograph. Best bat viewing is under
the Waugh Bridge.
Terrestrial and canopy fauna include snakes, squirrels, raccoons, and
possum. In the water you can find at least three species of turtle –
the red-eared, loggerhead and soft-shell. You may also catch a glimpse
of our bayou alligators. Although reclusive, many people make the rare
spotting on sunny days.
For more information, see our conservation