Shallow tea-colored creeks wind among dogwoods and pine forest. An insect struggles in the hairy hold of a pitcher plant, soon to be nutrients for a carnivorous plant. A Louisiana pine snake tucks into a pocket gopher cavity as wildfire sweeps the landscape. And a rare red-cockaded woodpecker methodically raps away in search of its next meal.

The Piney Woods of Houston Wilderness -- Starting at the top of the ridges, longleaf pines dominate.  This pine grows long and narrow and is typically surrounded by a carpet of grasslands.  Wildfires help maintain the longleaf, as well as the open savanna habitat that surrounds it.  Because it has a heavy seed, it is not likely to spread too far simply because it is not easily dispersed by the wind.

Further down the ridge and closer to the creeks, loblolly pine, interspersed with shortleaf, dominate.  These fast growing pines have a light seed that is easily transported by the wind.  But they are a poor match to the wildfires that keep them confined.  In the river bottoms and along creek edges, safe from fire, oak and other hardwood species flourish.  Along the descent of these ridges, occasional seepage bogs in the longleaf pine sandhills harbor a mix of orchids, insect eating plants, and other rare flora; and scattered rare barren habitats provide a sunny spot in an otherwise green and brown world.

This is what the Piney Woods in the Houston Wilderness area of East Texas historically looked like.  Today, the longleaf remains only in remnant stands and the loblolly and shortleaf pine are much more common due to the suppression of wildfires and the over-harvesting of longleaf.

It is here, on these ridges, that the Piney Woods of our area are making their stand; and with the help of many partners, possibly a return to their historic majesty.

To read more about Piney Woods, download its section of the atlas by clicking on the atlas icon.


Lake Houston Park

W. Goodrich Jones State Forest

Lake Livingston State Park

Huntsville State Park

Montgomery County Preserve

Sam Houston National Forest  

Download Houston Wilderness' List of Ecoregion Sites for information on sites in all 10 ecoregions.


1) The Piney Woods is the southwestern-most remnant of what was once a huge contiguous pine forest that ran from East Texas through the southeast all the way to the Appalachian Mountains.

2) In 1933, with the Great Depression destroying the demand for timber, the Texas legislature invited the federal government to establish the Sam Houston National Forest. Through this project, the government conserved 163,000 acres of pineywoods that are now part of the Houston area.

3) The Piney Woods serves as Houston’s top recreational area – campers, anglers, horseback riders and hikers all enjoy this diverse forest.

4) Many species of trees call the Piney Woods home, including loblolly, shortleaf pine and mixed hardwoods.

5) The legendary pine of old growth southern forests is the longleaf pine, which bears large cones and longer leaves than the loblolly.

6) The Lone Star Hiking Trail, one of the many recreational areas in the forest, boasts 128 miles of nature for hikers to enjoy.

7) The red-cockaded woodpecker, a cardinal-sized bird, draws bird watchers from all over the world.

8) The forest gets nourishment from fallen trees that decompose – the fungi provides food for spiders and insects, which are the main food source for birds in the area.

9) On the western lobe of the Sam Houston forest, resident bald eagles nest in the tall pines and soar over the shores of Lake Conroe.

10) In the understory of the forest, blackberries, dewberries, wild plums and persimmons provide food for wildlife.


Banner photo by Marc Reid