What makes the Sanctuary such a great place to investigate is its arid sandylands, a xerophytic plant community which occurs on sandy ridges of the upper bottoms. Here desert plants such as prickly pear cactus and yucca are found with widely scattered longleaf pines and drought-resistant oaks. Although sparsely vegetated, the arid sandlylands displays the greatest variety of wildflowers in the Thicket. In other areas of the Sanctuary there are low areas with ponds and baygalls with lush wetland vegetation. Rare orchids and carnivorous plants grow in the Sanctuary among ferns and sphagnum moss.
The ecological value of this site is based on its rare plants and unique botanical assemblages. Four globally endangered species, and 12 species that are uncommon to southeastern Texas inhabit the preserve.
The globally endangered Texas trailing phlox flowers in early spring on the Sanctuary's upland sandhill communities. Found on similar habitats is the white fire-whell, which is currently known worldwide from one other population also in Hardin County. A southeast Texas rarity is the tiny, carnivorous purple bladderwort, which floats on some of the preserve's ponds.
Several distinct communities intermingle throughout the Sanctuary; arid sandylands, beech-magnolia forests, baygalls and floodplain forests. Perhaps the most famous community is the one for which the preserve is named, the arid sandylands. These deep, porous, sandy hills formed by ancient river deposits maintain a desert-like habitat on the upper terraces of the Village Creek flood-plain. An arid landscape supports one of the last remaining stands of open, xerophytic longleaf pines in Texas. Various pines, oaks and hickories along with prickly pear cactus, yucca and over 340 species of wildflowers comprise one of the most diverse communities in the Big Thicket region.
Occupying the transitional slopes between the high sandy terraces and the floodplain below are hillside forests dominated by beech trees, southern magnolias and loblolly pines. The understory, partially comprised of American holly and sweetleaf, is highlighted in the spring by flowering azaleas and dogwoods.
The Sandylands Sanctuary, a gift from temple Inland and Time, Inc., is named for Roy E. Larsen, past vice-chairman of Time and a life-long conservationist. The preserve now consists of close to 2,400 acres and additional leased property along the west bank of Village Creek. The Sanctuary is managed by the Nature Conservancy of Texas, the State Chapter of a private national land conservation group dedicated to the preservation of ecological diversity through the protection of natural areas. With the support of the private sector, individuals, foundations and businesses, The Nature conservancy has protected nearly 5.5 million acres of land since its establishment in 1951 including over 210,000 acres in Texas.
The Sanctuary is open daily during daylight hours and there is no charge to check out the scenic six miles of nature trail. This and the beautiful canoe trip down eight mile of Village Creek attract hundreds of visitors annually. Interpretive information is available at the Sanctuary. Guided tours can be arranged by contacting the preserve manager in advance at (409) 385-0445.
The Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary is located on Hwy. 327. coming from Silsbee, turn left at the red light at the intersection of Hwy. 327 an Hwy. 96 in Silsbee. The Sanctuary is located on the right, just before you reach the Village Creek bridge.
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