Biodiversity on the Fondren Diversion Channel

Biodiversity on the Fondren Diversion Channel                                                  Great White Heron
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So let it be when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
–William Wordsworth

  Bull Thistle            

Diversion channels are part of the Houston landscape, deep channels intended to help direct rain water into the bayous away from our neighborhoods.  One such channel is the Fondren Diversion Channel, located in southwest Houston, running mostly parallel with Fondren Avenue and entering Braes Bayou just east of Fondren, near Fondren Middle School.

  Green Milkweed

Fondren Diversion Channel has a paved path from South Braeswood to Willowbend, part of Houston’s hike-and-bike network.  South of Willowbend, where there is no pavement, particularly between Willowbend and West Bellfort, there are a number of native species that are not found north of Willowbend, where one finds rudbeckia, Indian blanket, and bluebonnets. The area south of Willowbend has many rudbeckia, but few gaillardia or bluebonnets.  The areas north and south of Willowbend also share Berlandier’s flax, scarlet pimpernel, and Herbertia as well as the ubiquitous ruellia and showy evening primrose. Between Bankside and Willowbend, where there is no pavement but is traveled fairly heavily with foot traffic, there are three or four green milkweed, a few passion vines, a few wine cups, and plentiful spiderwort.

It is south of Bankside, however, where there is very little foot traffic because there is no access to apartments or single-family residences, where one sees the larger number of plants and species. In this area, the green milkweed, rosinweed, and passion vine are numerous.  Plants I have seen nowhere else on the diversion channel are several patches of clematis and an indigo plant as well as a patch of white spiderwort.The other spiderworts on the diversion channel are the familiar pink to bluish purple. There are also some isolated wine cups.

  Wild Indigo

The indigo plant has persisted in an area that appears to suffer abuse from patrons of the nearby storage facility, which is also where the white spiderwort is located. Mexican hat and rudbeckia are plentiful in this area. I do not know that there is a direct correlation between foot traffic and plant diversity, but there is at least the possibility of correspondence.

There is a plan to create a paved trail south of Willowbend to Willow Waterhole Bayou, just south of West Bellfort.  This trail then will be extended to Willow Waterhole, a new destination park for Houstonions. Such a trail will help to connect a large number of people with the Bayou system of trails, especially those in Braes Oaks and Westbury. These connections are important; I am concerned, however, about what will happen to the species that are present already in this section of the diversion channel.  It has been suggested that native plants will be planted, which is a great idea.  In the portion of the channel that is already paved, the area between Willowbend and South Braeswood, however, there is much less diversity of flora.

This area suffers, I believe, from lack of education, people who may be well-meaning or people who are simply thoughtless in their abuse of the environment. Many people use this area as their personal dumping ground rather than using trash dumpsters that are provided at the apartment complexes. Clients of the storage facility between Bankside and West Bellfort dump their unwanted chemicals along the fence, this area currently reeking of oil. In the past, chemicals that function as herbicides have been dumped here. Last January (2018) during the cold snap, someone dumped a substantial amount of petroleum-based product into the diversion channel or near enough to the channel or one of the storm drains that run into the diversion channel the create a sheen on the entire channel along this stretch between West Bellfort and Willowbend.  In the channel, fish are fairly numerous, but they completely disappeared for more than three weeks.  The turtles, apparently, doing what turtles do when it gets cold, were gone only until the weather warmed, apparently unharmed by the dump.  The numerous water birds that spend time on the channel were also affected, some leaving the area, others with parts of their bodies noticeably coated in oil.  I notified 311 of the problem, but by the time they were able to investigate, the source of the dump had disappeared.
 “Oops! got a little close on that one.”

The county has a mowing regimen, about three times a summer it seems.  Each time they mow, they cut the foliage short, often reducing the ability of the plants to create seeds. The passion vine, for instance, rarely gets a chance to blossom, and when it does, it is mowed before the fruit is able to set. The indigo plant never gets to complete its seed-producing cycle. Pecan seedlings are destroyed.  In addition, a neighbor, I presume one who is well-meaning, has begun mowing regularly the top of the bank from Willowbend to Bankside.  In the past, a swath of only about two or three yards has been maintained this way, the area next to the fences at the back of the townhouse complex on the east side of the diversion channel. Lost are the pecan seedlings; the spiderwort, despite their being in bloom, are mowed to the ground; the green milkweed, just beginning to blossom, gets mowed. In addition, the county mowers are often careless, significantly damaging some of the trees that have been planted along the channel.

In addition to the paved trail being added to this segment of the diveresion channel as well as the preservation of native species that are already present, I wonder if an educational signage program would be helpful, one that identifies what the plants are, their role in providing nectar and serving as host plants, as well as identifying how the roots provide drainage that have the potential to help mitigate flooding. I prefer to think ignorance and thoughtlessness rather than malice are the reasons for damage to the ecosystem.  If I am correct, a system of signage that educates would help address the issues that face Fondren Diversion Channel and, I suspect, the other diversion channels that are part of the Houston landscape.

“O if we but knew what we do / When we delve and hew.”
–G. M. Hopkins


Green Milkweed (Asclepias veridis)

Host plant for Monarch butterfly Nectar plant for numerous species, including native bees, honey bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds Essential for the migration paths of the Monarch butterfly, whose numbers are dwindling, in part, because of the loss of suitable habitat for nectar and for egg deposits. Roots: a deep taproot, thereby increasing soil friability, helping with drainage during rain events.


Bull Thistle (Cirisium horridulum)

Nectar plant for numerous pollinators, including native bees, Monarchs and other butterflies, and hummingbirds. Host plant for Little Metalmark butterfly, Painted Lady butterfly. Deep taproots that help develop and maintain soil friability, thus helping the soil absorb water during rain events.

      Whistling Ducks


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