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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.

Trees of Life

Prairie Notes:#55
July 1, 2011

1) Trees of Life
2) Eternal Vigilance!
3) Field Report
4) Wildflowers of the Moment
5) Obituary: Marion Fuller Brown
6) Prairie Plant Puzzler
7) Prairie Fest Fever Dream
8) Tandy Hills on TeeVee
9) Prairie Proverb

1) Trees of Life

For my money there is no landscape more beautiful, more rich and more comforting than a wide-open tall-grass prairie. And I do mean wide-open. No trees clutter up the widescreen panorama of rolling hills covered in C4 grasses and wildflowers. Nothing against trees but, with less than 1% of original tall-grass prairie remaining, I prefer my prairies free of woody species, much as they were in pre-settlement times.

To get a better picture of my ideal, read this excerpt from an 1841 diary belonging to a traveller passing through the area:

"Our next day's march was along the high-ridge of prairies which divides the waters of what was thought to be Noland's River from those of the Brazos. The prospect on both sides was romantic in a high degree. To the east, for miles, the prairie gently sloped, hardly presenting a bush to relieve the eye."

That sweet daydream, however lovely, loses its charm under the noonday Sun of a bone-dry Texas Summer. Like any sensible person I seek the shelter of a tree, any tree. When the temp hits 100, even a scraggly Mesquite will do. Any rabbit, dog or coyote with any sense knows to do the same.

Despite the ongoing efforts of Brush Bashers and a few stray fireworks, Tandy Hills has plenty of trees. Finding shade is not difficult as the canopy is well over 50% of the park. The drainages that divide the hills are overrun with woody species. Green Ash is invasive and out of balance; Cedar/Juniper are likewise ubiquitous, though not as troublesome; Mesquite, Hackberry, Sumac, Cedar Elm and Chittamwood round out the principals on top.

Further down the slopes you will find the welcome shade of Oak savannahs that color the Autumn landscape with red and orange leaves. In the bottomlands you will find deep shade created by towering Bur Oak, Pecan and Elm. They line the mostly dry creeks, where the wildlife hangs out this time of year, searching out the few, precious pockets of water.

The largest tree I have found at Tandy Hills, a majestic Cottonwood, is not in the bottomlands as expected but close to the road on the the east end of View Street. It's massive girth and height are, on first glance deceiving, due to the tree's down-slope location. The lay of the land allows it to receive maximum rain runoff. It's a whopper. Based on birds seen and feathers found under the giant, I suspect that it also serves as home to family of Paisanos, aka: Roadrunners.

Tandy Hills will reward those willing to abandon air-conditioned comfort and tromp through its fields and forests. At mid-day, I recommend walking the creek bottoms where the shade is deep and fossils abound. As always, bring water, maybe a machete, wear sensible shoes and sunscreen and watch out for poison ivy. For those more inclined to mental recreation this time of year, and what rational person isn't, the following observation of the Fort Worth Prairie from 1854 may suffice. Warning: It may inspire outrage and sorrow at what has been lost.:

"... but by far the richest and most beautiful district of country I have ever seen, in Texas or elsewhere, is that watered by the Trinity and its tributaries. Occupying east and west, a belt of one hundred miles in width, with about equal quantities of prairie and timber, intersected by numerous clear, fresh streams and countless springs, with a gently undulating surface of prairie and oak openings, it presents the most charming views, as of a country in the highest state of civilization, and you are startled at the summit of each swell of the prairie with a prospect of groves, parks and forests, with intervening plains of luxuriant grass..."

--Excerpted quotes are from, The Vegetation of the Fort Worth Prairie, by E.J. Dyksterhuis, 1946.


This towering Cottonwood is the largest diameter tree at THNA.

12 o'clock high in the creek bottoms of THNA.

Cool, clear, water holes down in the bottoms of THNA. Wildlife abounds.

2) Eternal Vigilance!

Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area are opposed to any inappropriate development, public or private, inside the Tandy Hills greenbelt, which is south of I-30 between Beach St. and Oakland Blvd.

We lost one hill on the west to a drilling pad-site a few years ago but, thankfully, have had no serious threats to the park and surrounding property in recent years. However, two incidents occurred in the month of June that you should be aware of.

-Seismic testing crews working for the gas drilling industry have been busy in the neighborhoods and private property surrounding the park. Despite an agreement to keep testing out of the park, the company did some surveying and flagging there. After I contacted city officials, the company ceased their activities inside the park. Is there reason to be concerned? We are not yet sure if any new drill sites are planned for the greenbelt but are watching closely and will keep you informed. As most of you know, Chesapeake Energy owns about 50 acres adjacent to the park and XTO Energy owns about 25 acres. We need all eyes on board.

-KXAS/NBC-5, our neighbor to the east since 1948, is moving. Significantly, the company has agreed to convey the historic NBC Studios building and property to the City of Fort Worth. This will occur in about two years. What does this mean to Tandy Hills? Too early to tell but, the City has been urged to consider creating a wildflower center similar to the Ladybird Center in Austin on the 26-acre site. Other suggestions were to designate the property as parkland and make it the Parks Dept. HQ. I will keep you posted on developments.

Unauthorized flagging by a seismic testing company occurred at THNA in early June. The many flags have been removed.

3) Field Report

Summertime... and the prairie is breezy... Birds are chipping... and the bluestem is high... The Summer Solstice month started out hot, dry and breezy and just kept getting hotter, drier and breezier. Here's a few notes I made during the month:

--Plenty of Dogweed (Dysodiopsis tagetoides) present in the dog-days of Summer. This member of the Aster family, also known as, Marigold Dogweed and False Dogfennel, is very hardy and widespread across THNA. Note the orange-colored, dot-like glands on leaves

--Big, healthy Coyotes are roaming the hills and howling in the evening. Very primal.

--Roadrunners are always one step ahead of the wily coyotes. One thirsty bird was seen in my birdbath.

--Giant Blue Sage (Salvia azurea) started blooming in June but lack of rain and too much heat stopped its growth. It will be back in October.

--It's been a good year for Trailing Ratany (Krameria lanceolata) and Yellow Puff (Neptunia lutea) but a bad year for American Basketflower (Centaurea americana) and Lemon Beebalm (Monarda citriodora var. citriodora).

--Hummingbirds and Hawks very active in June.

--Summer Solstice came blowing in on June 21 with two days of heavy rain, hail and lightning. The limestone hills drank it up.


It must be hot for a Roadrunner to drink out of a birdbath. Be sure to feed and water the birds.

My neighbor, Mr. Paisano, looking for a drink of water or a tasty lizard.

4) Wildflowers of the Moment

-According to the BRIT Floral Inventory for Tandy Hills, the park is home to six varieties of Dalea, a member of the pea family. Three of the showier varieties, also known as prairie clovers, bloomed in the month of June. Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea compacta) and Yellow Prairie Clover (Dalea aurea) have pretty much finished for the year. White or Roundheaded Prairie Clover (Dalea multiflora) is still thriving. The sparse foliage of these plants enable them to better withstand drought and heat. As with all legumes, they add fertility to the soil, provide nectar for insects and purty up the prairie.

-Texas Bluebells (Eustoma russellianum) never cease to amaze me. This large, exotic-looking wildflower seems to thrive in the heat of the Summer when most everything else is dead or dormant. They are widely scattered at THNA but not as thick as I've seen in other places. Check out the pic below from a site in far SW Fort Worth.

Purple Prairie Clover

Yellow Prairie Clover

White Prairie Clover

Texas Bluebells brighten up the Summer landscape on a ranch in far SW Fort Worth.

5) Obituary: Marion Fuller Brown, Friend of Nature

I had never heard of Marion Fuller Brown until reading of her death last month at age 94, but she is now on my short list of environmental heroes to honor. Her legacy? She got rid of every off-premises billboard in the state of Maine, something that would've made her an honorary member of Ed Abbey's, Monkey Wrench Gang.

To get an idea how much the world has changed since the 1970's, consider the accomplishments of, Marion Fuller Brown.

  • She was elected to the Maine State Legislature in 1966, as a Republican.
  • She was the driving force behind 1977 legislation that banned billboards in Maine.
  • She succeeded and the law holds to this day despite repeated efforts to overturn it.
  • She was the prime sponsor of Maine's Returnable Bottle Law, one of the first and strongest in the nation.
  • She sponsored Maine's, Clean Water and Clean Air Act.
  • During this time she was the National Republican Committee Woman from Maine.
  • She was appointed to the National Highway Beautification Commission by President Nixon in 1971.
  • In 1977 she founded, Coalition for Scenic Beauty, the only national organization devoted to protection of scenic views and reduction of visual pollution in both urban and rural landscapes (now known as Scenic America)

The world is a much better place because of Ms. Brown. We could use more of her ilk in Texas. Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature passed a bill legalizing... Noodling. sigh... Godspeed and happy trails, Marion.

Marion Fuller Brown, Friend of the environment, on her farm in York, Maine.

6) Prairie Plant Puzzler

Do you know me? My latin name tells you I'm an all American. My common name hints at what I look like. Although common, I'm very showy. Just don't mistake me for a Thistle. I'm not THAT common or THAT prickly. Look deep into my phyllaries and see how beautiful I am. But be careful. I'm sensitive to the touch, even to the bugs that adore me! Give up? Here's a hint: I'm having a terrible 2011 compared to 2010. What's my name?

Stumped by the June puzzler? The answer is: Queen's Delight (Stillingia sylvatica).

Mother Nature from a bug's POV. Who am I?

7) Prairie Fest Fever Dream

The 6th annual Prairie Fest is history but this video by, Quang Vuong, brings it back to life in a dreamy way. Quang is the owner of the Loving Hut vegan restaurant in Arlington, a food vendor at Prairie Fest. His vid emphasizes the on-site art work, Prairie Circle by artist, Elaine Taylor. Enjoy:

8) Tandy Hills on TeeVee

KXAS/NBC-5 has a half-hour, community affairs program hosted by Scott Murray called, Talk Street, that interviews people about things going on in the region. I was invited to record an interview discussing Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area. It airs on channel 5.2 on July 2 @ 1:30, 8:00 and 9:00 pm and July 3 @ 7:30 am, 12 Noon, 8:00 pm and 12 Midnight. It will eventually be on YouTube, as well.

Talk Street, KXAS-TV.

9) Prairie Proverb

"Keep America Beautiful... Burn a billboard!"

-- Ed Abbey, 1927 - 1989

Larry McMurtry called Ed Abbey,"the Thoreau of the American West."