By Myra Lee Adams Goff
In the Central Lowlands, the Hills, and Edwards Plateau, where Comal County is located, the average rainfall is 28 inches a year. Along with elevation and content of soil, these conditions determine the types of trees that grow in the area. New Braunfels was once called “The Oasis of Texas” and this oasis produced many famous trees.
On the east side of Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church stands a large live oak tree. Under this tree a concrete marker proclaims “Folklore says that here, in the dawn of Texas history, stood an Indian village on which one of the early missionaries lingered many days; that here a vision of the chief’s daughter freed the first German in Texas. Tradition says that under this tree Mass was offered by the Abbe Em Domenech in 1849”. This memorial was placed by the Texas Historic Landmark Association organized by Adina De Zavala, granddaughter of Lorenzo De Zavala and she was responsible for placing 38 historical markers around Texas. Everett Fey, of the Sts. Peter and Paul Archives Board, said that church officials don’t deny, but can’t prove the legend.
Another and perhaps the most well-known tree in Comal County is Founders Oak in Landa Park. According to park officials, this large Texas Live Oak is believed to be approximately 308 years old, so it was already well over 100 years old when the settlers arrived. When Texas celebrated its Sesquicentennial in 1986, early settlers were honored with this living memorial and a sesquicentennial marker.
Trees in Landa Park
Founders Oak is one of 54 different species of trees in Landa Park thought to represent trees in Comal County. Much of the information gathered about the trees was from Bill and Delores Schumann, for which the area called the Arboretum, is named. In 1981 the Guada Coma Garden Club hired a botanist to identify the trees. Harry Landa, one of the early owners of the property, opened his private park in 1898 and all of Landa Park became a public park after the city purchased it in 1936.
In Landa Park there are six different types of oak trees. One of those species, a Lacey Oak with a circumference of 114 inches, has the distinction of being the largest oak tree of its kind in the nation. Three other trees in Comal County hold distinctions for size – a national champion Juniper Ash with a circumference of 139 inches, a national co-champion Mountain Laurel with a circumference of 58 inches and finally an Evergreen Sumac, a co-champion with 31 inches circumference.
One of my favorite trees in Landa Park and located throughout Comal County is the Anaqua tree. Several trunks cord together giving the appearance of a single trunk. The Anaqua grows well along streams and hillsides. White flowers in the spring lead to orange-yellow berries. In the Spanish Mission Era, priests used the berries to make communion wine. The flexible wood was used for wagon wheels. The Parks Department guide states that the early German settlers called the tree “Vogelbeerenbaum” meaning bird berry tree since many birds enjoy the berries.
The Seele Elm
Another famous tree in New Braunfels was the Seele Elm. Below Sophienburg Hill, Rev. Louis Ervendberg conducted the first church service for the immigrants in this large elm forest. It was also under one of these trees that Hermann Seele held the first school for the children of the immigrants in August of 1845. By November of that year, because of cold weather, the school was moved into the log German Protestant Church (later First Protestant Church).
One by one, the elms died until one remained. Seele recalled that he taught school in the elm forest, so this particular tree was the last left and not necessarily the tree that Seele taught under. The tree was finally removed in 1955 and part of the trunk was given to the Sophienburg. A plaque in the pavement marks the spot where the elm forest was located.
Personal Tree Stories
Just think about this. Very few trees become famous, but we all have personal stories about trees, whether climbing one, falling from one, making a tree house, swinging from one or just remembering one. Trees grew up with us. Often trees are planted to commemorate an event, an anniversary, a birthday, or the birth of a child.
Here is a story about a tree that I have personally known: In the middle of the driveway between the two houses where I grew up (and still live), was a large elm. It was also a part of an elm forest, as much of Comaltown was. As a young child, my neighbor was a boy my same age named Bobby Govier, about whom I have written before. We had a game that we invented. After chewing a big wad of bubble gum, we would stick it on the trunk of this tree and then decorate the wad with seeds and rocks to make faces, some happy, some sad. When the tree finally succumbed, it was still decorated with these faces.
What trees have you known?