Preserving History with Legacy Trees

By Crystal Simmons

When Harris County Precinct 4 Arborist Laura Carlton plants a tree, she not only considers its future but also its history.

With Texas A&M’s Famous Trees of Texas as her guide, Carlton travels the state collecting acorns, seeds, and cuttings from trees present during significant historical events, such as the Galveston Storm of 1900 or the historic retreat of General Sam Houston. Her goal? To keep the legacy of these famous trees alive in Precinct 4 parks.

“These trees have stood for hundreds of years and hold irreplaceable genetic and historic significance,” says Carlton. “But we have no idea when a lightning strike, hurricane, or disease could take one down. Since we began collecting, four historic trees are no longer standing and three are showing significant limb failure. Precinct 4 ensures these and other historic trees in Texas live on through their descendants.”

Growing the Legacy Trees Project

Plans for a historic tree program began in 2015 when Commissioner received a historic tree donation from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Since then, Precinct 4’s collection has grown to 30 of the 51 historic trees listed in the Famous Trees of Texas guidebook.

As the need for trees in Precinct 4 greenspaces grew, Commissioner expanded the historic tree program to include fruit and nut trees, mass tree plantings, trail beautification, volunteer opportunities, and educational events. With the additions, the program needed a new name. In 2018, Precinct 4’s Legacy Trees Project was officially born.

“Legacy trees are not just historic trees. They are also heirloom fruit and nut trees that will one day provide nourishment for residents and wildlife along the trails,” says Carlton.

Today, more than 1,700 legacy trees grow along the Spring Creek and Cypress Creek greenways.

“Several native edibles have already produced crops and provided a habitat for nesting birds,” says Carlton. “Just the other day, a tree we collected in 2015 showed five maturing acorns. I think this speaks to the overall purpose of the project.”

Become a Volunteer

Want to get involved? Become a volunteer! Precinct 4’s Legacy Trees Project offers opportunities to plant trees along the greenways. Precinct 4 residents can also volunteer to care for native edibles or historic trees.

For more information, call 281-353-8100 or email Legacy Trees at