The best little prairie

“The prairie, in all its expressions, is a massive, subtle place, with a long
history of contradiction and misunderstanding.  But it is worth the effort at
comprehension.  It is, after all, at the center of our national identity.”
– Wayne Fields, Lost Horizon, 1988

A near forgotten prairie sits almost tucked away in a corner that seems a few steps back in time, guarded by ancient Post Oaks as they stand sentinel over this highly endangered natural area. In my opinion, this is one of the best little prairies in the county, and the owners really should consider getting this place restored and preserved; as it would be a shame to see it get destroyed for economic purposes. I visit the place a handful of times per month and have been keeping an informal (and incomplete) floral survey.  To date, I’ve noted 60 species, of which 53 are prairie species.

The place has been suppressed of fire for quite some time, as noted by the numerous Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which have crowded many of the old-growth Post Oak (Quercus stellata) on the site, suppressing the growth and development of their associated grasses and forbs in the understory.  It is in those areas that, after prescribed fire is applied for a few years, many dormant prairie species could come back, and there’s no telling how much the diversity would increase.  Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) dominates most the prairie, living up to is classic reputation as the king of the southern uplands.

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This place has potential, it has remnant prairie beauty, it has history – a quiet and storied past – and it holds hope for the future; all inside two acres. It is those two little acres that could start a much-needed prairie and oak savanna restoration movement in this northern Cross Timbers region of Texas. It has never been done before that I am aware of, and it’s never too late to start.  The hardest work will be trying to turn the ol’ tide of ecological apathy that has cemented into the minds of many.

Some people might think, “Oh, it’s just two acres. Why save it?”  Do people want to see this historic place totally wiped out by a land-scarring oil pad?  That scar will last for hundreds of years, the prairie will be gone forever, and those oil jobs will last but a handful of weeks – nothing gained there.  This restoration would be the biggest little two acre project to occur here, and very few people these days even know what a prairie is or looks like.  Some see cattle ranches that are dominated by Little Bluestem and few other  grasses and think that is a prairie.  Not so, those are just grasslands.

Prairies are a complex ecosystem of grasses, forbs (wildflowers), wildlife (including thousands of species of insects), and a constantly changing above and below-ground dynamic array of processes and functions, many of which are largely unseen, but they are fundamental to a prairie’s existence.  As Paul Gruchow wrote, “The prairie is a community.  It is not just a landscape or the name of an area on a map, but a dynamic alliance of living plants, animals, birds, insects, reptiles, and microorganisms, all depending upon each other.  When too few of them remain, their community loses vitality and they perish together.  The prairie teaches us that our strength is in our neighbors.  The way to destroy a prairie is to cut it up into tiny pieces, spaced so that they have no communication.”

So why not save this little place?  Conserving endangered ecosystems like this one instead of taking the easy way out by bowing to economic dictates shows true character in the people who make it happen and make a stand.  It would be a damn shame if it didn’t happen.  There is so much we still don’t know about prairies, as more than 95% of the prairies were destroyed by Deere’s plow forever before we had a chance to truly study and understand them and try and figure out the myriad of ways in which they work.

Culturally and ecologically, this is the foundation of our America! These prairies, the distillation of four billion years of life, are a unique entity found nowhere else in space or time. We have not treated our prairies well, even as we have reaped their benefits. To risk losing the few remaining prairie landscapes would be to permanently impoverish us as a people. Celebrate and nurture our prairies and their human and biological heritage. Steward them well even as we benefit from the richness and productive abundance bequeathed by this graminoid legacy. Our future success as a society will in part derive from the degree to which we recognize and fulfill our obligation to ensure our grandchildren and their grandchildren have the opportunity to interact with and benefit from these wondrous grasslands.” – Doug Ladd

Note: Over 85% of the original Cross Timbers and Prairies vegetation and wildlife have been lost due to agricultural uses, housing subdivisions, introduction of exotic plant species, oil and gas exploration, and overgrazing.

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4 thoughts on “The best little prairie

  1. Love this Jameson! I love the prairie remnants, and i spend as much time as possible at the LBJ Grasslands, while also trying to recreate a small pocket prairie in my own yard. So far, in a little over two years, ive had some success and a few failures. But it is definitely worth it, to see the diversity of insect and small animal life (including cottontail rabbits this year), that have taken up residence it our small prairies. I know the Prairies were the most diverse and healthy ecosystems that God ever created, and in mans attempt at “progress”, we have nearly wiped the most vast ecosystem off the face off the earth. Ill just say that im glad its in the capable hands of you, and other students of our Prairies.

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