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Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz
The Longhorn Pecan
Nature has a remarkable way of healing the scars inflicted by man if she's just left alone for a while. Witness Buffalo Bayou downtown. It's still too polluted to eat any fish from the waterway, but there are fish there. Many fish. Big fish. As well as alligators, migratory shorebirds, and some of the biggest, scariest turtles in Texas. All this is possible because man has turned his back on the waterway he damaged and focused his attention elsewhere. The same is true for the The Longhorn Pecan. It is the descendant of a great stand of pecan trees between the coastal plain and the Katy Prairie. That same stand of trees produced the "Peaceful Pecan"– a tree famous because in its shade in 1837 the Cherokee Indians and President Sam Houston signed a treaty back when Houston was the capital of Texas. Today the tree stands alone with man having built round, above, and below it. "Longhorn" isn't a species of pecan tree. The name comes from the Longhorn Café. The tree is firmly lodged in the restaurant's back patio, its roots covered by bricks, surrounded by the Lancaster Hotel and the Calpine Center. It was the construction of that tower that gave the tree its 15 minutes of fame. Previously, it was hemmed in by the Rice Rittenhouse parking garage, so the only people who knew this historic tree was left in downtown were the people at the Longhorn. When the parking garage came down to make way for the Calpine Center, people outside saw it and started asking questions. They marveled at the way the brave tree seems to defy the smog, the cramped conditions, and all the other insults thrown at it. It wouldn't be accurate to say it thrives, but it at least survives. Most of the foliage is gathered at the top as the tree stretches skyward in search of natural light. Thanks to Hines, the people who developed the Calpine tower, the tree may finally get a chance to experience some lateral growth. Construction workers carefully placed scaffolding and other protections around the tree during construction, and now that the tower is done, the tree is a little less cramped. The tower also helps with sunlight. The Calpine Center's windows reflect natural light that was previously absorbed by the concrete parking decks. But at 32-stories, the Calpine Center is much taller than the former parking garage, and will keep the precious morning sun to itself. By now the Longhorn Pecan is estimated to be about 60-years-old. That means it will end its natural life cycle in about a decade. If you have the chance, try to see this piece of natural history before it dies.
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