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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.

Ghost Grass of Autumn

Prairie Notes: #71
November 1, 2012

1) Ghost Grass of Autumn
2) Guest Columnist: Ann Mayo
3) Field Report
4) Soliciting Your Words & Pix
5) A Thing of Beauty
6) Wildflower of the Moment
7) Prairie Plant Puzzler
8) Prairie Proverb

1) Ghost Grass of Autumn

Five weeks into Fall, the Tandy Hills prairie is dominated by a gold/green palette of native grasses. I highlighted most of them in Prairie Notes #70 but I saved my favorite for Halloween.

Seep Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia reverchonii), is a beautiful, pink-tinted grass seen throughout THNA but is particularly thick on the east-facing slope of the Main Trail. I call it Ghost Grass because of its misty, fog-like, heathery appearance. It seems to float above the ground rather than grow from it. It is often paired with Maximillian Sunflowers or this year by an influx of, Prairie Broomweed, making for a picturesque sight on chilly Autumn evenings.

The "fog-like" illusion is especially noticeable late in the day as the sun is setting and you find yourself alone with Halloween fresh on your mind or perhaps you just finished reading The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and images of sinister things dwelling in fog invade your thoughts as you realize you have hiked far from your car and darkness looms.

Fear slips stealthily into your thoughts. You try to smile it away when you suddenly remember that story you heard last year about The Engulfed Death Car of Tandy Creek. Tripping over a rock and spilling the last of your water you scramble to your feet noticing your throat is particularly parched.

Looking warily around the twilight gloom you then recall the Legend of the Tandy Hills Witchey Tree, as you try and get your bearings. Which way is the dang street? Something about that big tower, right...east of, west of...what was it? You realize that you are lost when all of a sudden you hear a dog bark echoing across the canyon. Sounds like a big dog, too. Maybe getting closer? Nah, just your mind playing tricks.

Thinking you hear something move, you slowly turn your head back towards the Ghost Grass. Nothing in there. Ha! You nervously laugh at your imagination running wild. You're just tired. Falling under the spell of the grass you look again as it seems to envelop you in its mystery when all of a sudden a cottontail rabbit darts out of the pink mist.

A low growling noise mixed with the sound of claws digging and scratching in the dirt soon follows. Your face pales as you forget to breathe. Like a flash it appears! Black, hairy, aggressively moving like a banshee and...smiling??? What on Earth can this vision be?

Oh my! It's... Olive the Prairie Dog, on her way home. That's a good girl.


Seep Muhly grass, aka: Ghost Grass paired with Prairie Broomweed.

Olive the Prairie Dog in her element. That's a good girl!

2) Guest Columnist: Ann Mayo

Ann Mayo is a long time supporter of Tandy Hills and prairies in general. She's a scientist and a teacher. She's never without a smile but takes life very seriously. She's a treasure.

A native of Virginia, Ann moved to Texas in 2005 to pursue graduate studies in ecology at the University of Texas at Arlington. Besides writing Halloween poems about ecology and conservation concerns (truly scary stuff), she studies ants in the Texas prairie at the Fort Worth Nature Center.

At my request, Ann wrote a Halloween poem specifically for Prairie Notes which you can read by clicking on this PDF attachment. It's titled, Ghosts 2012 and is guaranteed to scare the devil out of you.

Local treasure, Ann Mayo.

3) Field Report

- Current conditions on October 31 are on the dry side of Indian Summer but the Fall grasses and wildflowers are looking much better than 2011 thanks to seeps, shorter days and cooler temps.

- A juvenile Roadrunner, possibly the offspring of our nesting pair, was recently spotted.

- Nodding Ladies Tresses Orchid, Eryngo, Giant Blue Sage, Maximillian Sunflower, False Gaura, Two-leaf Senna, Snow-on-the-Prairie, Greenthread, Sky-drop Aster. These are a few of the charmingly-named and visually arresting pleasures of the Autumn prairie.

Though commonly featured in Prairie Notes, these plants are exceedingly rare sights in north Texas and most anyplace else. Expect only a few more weeks of color before they retire until next year. Here's a few photos from my October notebook.

Nodding Ladies Tresses Orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum) is one of the rarest wildflowers at THNA.

Sky-drop Aster ( never fails to please the Autumn eye.

Large numbers of Greenthread (Thelesperma simplicifolium) was an October surprise.

Prairie False Foxglove (Agalinis heterophylia) showed its pretty pink face in October.

4) Soliciting Your Words & Pix

Last month I announced that henceforth Prairie Notes will be a somewhat open forum. I'm asking again. Please send your stories, poems, photos, video or what have you about Tandy Hills and what it means to you. Send to Don Young for inclusion in future Notes.

5) A Thing of Beauty

The first ever Fall edition of Kids on the Prairie was a thing of beauty. Under the direction of FOTHNA education director, Anne Aldefer, nearly 200 FWISD 4th grade students from Meadowbrook and Eastern Hills Elementary Schools enjoyed a memorable field trip at their local prairie.

They learned why it's important to protect our remaining prairie heritage while immersing themselves in the knowledge of Cross Timbers Master Naturalists. FOTHNA is very proud of this public outreach education program that will help insure a healthy future for Tandy Hills. Many thanks to our sponsors especially the FASH Foundation.

Stay tuned for the winners of the KOP Writing-Art-Poetry Challenge in a future Notes.

Anne Aldefer talking science to a group of 4th graders at Tandy Hills.

Kathy Scott was one of the Master Naturalists leading a group of eager students.

Twas a glorious day of learning and fun on the prairie.

6) Wildflower of the Moment

Yellow was the color of the moment in October at THNA. Maximillian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) led the way by simply living up to its name, glowing like a thousands Suns among the Fall grasses.

Maxed out at THNA.

7) Prairie Plant Puzzler

My Daisy-like flowers resemble my two relatives on the Fall prairie but they are much smaller and tend to cluster in tight patches. A clue to my common name can be found in the name of a particular kind of habitat in Britain where a plant of similar name is common.

➤ The answer to the September Puzzler was, Two-leaf Senna.

Guess my name and win a cool prize.

8) Prairie Proverb

"There is a curious difference between the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter...There is a pause and we have got used to standing still. We look forward instead of back, and Winter, which once seemed so inconceivable, now promises pleasures of its own"

- Joseph Wood Krutch, The Twelve Seasons, 1949

Signs of Fall have crept across the Tandy Hills.

Prairie Notes is the official newsletter of Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area. All photographs by Don Young except where otherwise noted.

Don Young