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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

Summer Solstice Notebook

Prairie Notes:
June 21, 2009

1) Skinny Hiking
2) Signs of Summer
3) Summer Wildflower Notebook
3) Summer Caution

1) What's your favorite holiday? Mine has always been the longest day of the year, Summer Solstice Day. Here it is, at last! Don't let the summer heat keep you away from Tandy Hills Natural Area. Summer mornings and evenings on the prairie are magical.

Other than looking at the calendar, how else do I know that Summer has arrived at Tandy Hills? The nude hikers, of course. Reportedly, there is a national tradition of hiking au naturel on Summer Solstice Day. It's descriptively called, Naked Hiking Day.

It's not for everyone, but with 160 acres to romp in, there's plenty of room to discreetly experiment with skinny hiking to see if suits you. Wearing hats, sunscreen and hiking boots is not cheating and strongly advised. I'm not sure if the City of FW has an ordinance against it, but I've not seen any Nude Hiking Prohibited signs posted. It can't be as dangerous as, say, Gas Drilling.

Here's a recent NY TImes story on the subject:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/06/19/us/AP-US-ODD-Naked-Hiking.html

Feeling adventurous? Here's a list of 12 Tips for naked hiking:

http://www.bodyfreedom.org/guide/essays/hiking.html

Disclaimer: FOTHNA does not necessarily advocate everything you read in these Prairie Notes.

2) Another indication of Summers arrival at Tandy Hills is the sudden appearance of Dragonflies. Entomologists say that swarms of them are a sign that an ecosystem is in good condition. Every year, thousands of these mystical carnivores patrol above the tall grass, feeding on mosquitoes, gnats, ants, termites, mayflies and other tasty treats. Dragonflies are our friends. Be glad you are higher on the food chain.

http://dragonflywebsite.com/

3) Spring flowers are slowly giving way to waves of summer grass, but there are still plenty of floral marvels waiting for you at Tandy Hills. Here's a few that caught my eye.

They may not be "rare" but yellow-tinted Indian Blankets (Gallardia pulchella) are an uncommon sight. They stand out in a crowd the common IB's. This stunning example blew me away.

Indian Blanket (Gallardia pulchella)
Indian Blanket (Gallardia pulchella)

Yellow-Puff (Neptunia lutea) is cousin to the pink Powderpuff sensitive briar and just as striking. Hundreds of the blooming vines are slithering through the summer grass at THNA.

Yellow Puff (Neptunia lutea)
Yellow Puff (Neptunia lutea)

Purple-tinted Dalea (Dalea compacta) aka: Purple Prairie Clover is widespread at THNA, but the yellow or Golden Dalea (Dalea aurea) is not. Every year I have to hunt them down. Here's my latest trophy.

 Golden Dalea (Dalea aurea)
Golden Dalea (Dalea aurea)

Yellow Basin Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum var. amarum) is fairly uncommon at THNA. It stands about 24" tall and has distinctive, stalkless leaves that look like winged stems. The red/yellow rayed flowers are about 1" diameter. Historically, the dried flowers were used to induce sneezing that would, "drive away evil spirits." Also used as snuff.

 Yellow Basin Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum var. amarum)
Yellow Basin Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum var. amarum)

I've been told that the presence of Rosinweed at THNA is an indication of a healthy prairie. THNA has a vigorous and growing population of both the White (Silphium albiflorum) and Yellow (Silphium laciniatum) varieties. The shorter, white variety blooms first and is now mature. The yellow variety has fewer flowers on much taller stalks. It has just started blooming.

White Rosinweed (Silphium albiflorum)
White Rosinweed (Silphium albiflorum)

White Rosinweed (Silphium albiflorum)
White Rosinweed (Silphium albiflorum)

You may recall my previous report on the rare, blooming Purple Leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri) at THNA. Last week I noted a couple of the unusual looking seed-heads were present.

Leatherflower seed head (Clematis pitcheri)
Leatherflower seed head (Clematis pitcheri)

Another distinctive, summer blooming plant at THNA is, Queens Delight (Stillingia texana). The flower itself is possibly the least showy of any at THNA but the plant is striking. They grow in clumps like this one that is in full bloom.

Queen's Delight (Stillingia texana)
Queen's Delight (Stillingia texana)

Queen's Delight (Stillingia texana)
Queen's Delight (Stillingia texana)

Texas Bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum ssp. russellianum) are pretty much the opposite of Queen's Delight. They are natural born show-offs and their time in the spotlight has just started at THNA. From the number of buds I've seen this will be likely be a banner year.

Texas Bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum ssp. russellianum)
Texas Bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum ssp. russellianum)

4)
Summer Caution-

I recall reading years ago in a Euell Gibbons book that, eating the young Spring buds of Poison Ivy would inoculate one from the harmful effects of the adult plant for the season. I never had the nerve to try it and do not recommend it. According to the BRIT list, both Poison Ivy and Poison Oak are present at Tandy Hills Natural Area. I concur. Last year I tangled with a Poison Ivy root that made a lasting impression. Take it from me, avoid contact at all costs, especially when skinny hiking.

Common Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Common Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

I've also heard that handling Tarantulas is safe but something deep inside my brain refuses to believe it. This busy guy scrambled across my path at THNA last week, apparently seeking a female. He stopped just long enough for me to snap a pic with my long lens. It's nice to know they are there. He would probably prefer not to be handled anyway.

Tarantula at THNA, 2009<br />
Tarantula at THNA, 2009

Being a charming host isn't always easy when your essence is being sucked out by an uninvited guest. Remember that next time you happen upon a tangled mass that looks like spun gold. Showy Dodder (Cuscuta indecora = longisepala), also known variously as Strangleweed, Scaldweed, Angel's Hair, Witches Shoelaces and Devil's Guts really is a showy and beautiful plant. It's also a parasitic plant that actually "smells out" its victims and proceeds to siphon water and nutrients from them. It is fairly common at THNA. Don't bring it home with you. This pic was taken in late June, 2009.

Showy Dodder (Cuscuta indecora = longisepala)
Showy Dodder (Cuscuta indecora = longisepala)

Come to the meadow on the longest day of the year to see Mother Nature's Summer Show including, the rarely seen, Rosy-bottomed Skinnyhiker, rumored to be migrating across the prairie.

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