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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.

Sea of Green & Gold

Prairie Notes: #66
June 1, 2012

1) Sea of Green & Gold
2) Field Report
3) PFx3 is History
4) FYI: 650 KOP. WOW!
5) Olive the Prairie Dog
6) Wildflower of the Moment
7) Prairie Plant Puzzler
8) The Power of Fire(crackers)
9) Prairie Proverb

1) Sea of Green & Gold

With Summer Solstice approaching on June 21, the characteristic look of the Summer prairie is taking shape. The circus of color that Spring rains brought to town has moved on leaving behind a million golden stems that recently sported a rainbow of wildflower blossoms above Tandy Hills.

Soon, the Tandy Hills will be awash in green prairie grasses that also benefitted from the early Spring rains turning the prairie into a summery sea of green and gold. The frequency of rain will determine whether green or gold predominates through the Summer months.

A hike down to slightly lower elevations, however, reveals notable islands of exception. American Basketflower, in all its shaggy purple glory is still flourishing across the park, especially on the east slopes of the Main Trail. The more formally decorative, Bee Balm, (aka: Horsemint) is often seen in close proximity. To see them swaying together on a breezy, late-Spring afternoon is transporting.

Tandy Hills is no longer a limitless, lonesome prairie. But with enough Brush Bashes and occasional fire, (see #8 below) it will one day be an approximation of its ancient self. Still, today there are a few large open areas where one's mind can imagine the long ago prairie stretching beyond the hills, into the neighborhood and beyond.

I highly advise a re-creation some languid afternoon. Simply point your compass towards Tandy Hills, sail your schooner into a shady cove of green and gold prairie, drop anchor any old place and proceed to drift into Summertime reverie.


Summery green and gold have replaced the rainbow palette of colors at Tandy Hills.

2) Field Report

- Thousands of moths and butterflies on the lush Spring prairie also means lots of caterpillar larvae are on the loose. See a few pics of my personal caterpillar encounters, below.

- As mentioned above, American Basketflower and Bee Balm are still thriving in several locations at Tandy Hills. See pics below.

- Other hillsides are covered in not-quite-blooming Gayfeather, Maximilian Sunflowers, White Rosinweed, various Milkweeds, Mock Pennyroyal and Queen's Delight. But grass is king and will not be denied.

- The three R's: Raccoons, Rabbits and Roadrunners (Correcaminos, in Español) continue to flourish at Tandy Hills. I witnessed a mating ritual of two roadrunners raising my hopes for some fledges in the coming months. Rabbit kits have already been born.

Bee Balm and American Basketflower cover the slopes east of the Main Trail.

Sky-view of Bee Balm and Basketflower.

Hillsides of Gayfeather are on the verge of blooming purple spikes.

White Rosinweed is just starting to bloom at THNA.

3) PFx3 is History

Prairie Fest x3 ended with a bang on May 26. Our goal of attracting new people to Tandy Hills was met. Over the three events, at least 250 people took the official wildflower hikes with Master Naturalists. Hundreds more walked the prairie trails and played the Solar System Passbook Game. Kids and families from all over north Texas took part in Prairie Keepers Discovery Hikes. Beautiful music was performed by a dozen local bands and there was dancing on the solar-powered prairie.

On a beautiful, warm and breezy evening, following a striking sunset, a large crowd witnessed the first Movie Night on the Prairie. Old Stoneface (Buster Keaton) lit up the screen as a falling star lit up the northern sky. Memories and history were made.

We honor the Prairie Fest Sponsors for helping make PFx3 a success. Please send them your thanks, as well.

Solar power and...

... a solar system. (photo by Robert Laprelle)

photo by Jeff Stvan

4) FYI: 650 KOP. WOW!

In Spring 2011, FOTHNA launched Kids on the Prairie, sponsoring science-based field trips for 140 Fort Worth ISD 4th graders. It was a big undertaking and a huge success. In Spring 2012, FOTHNA upped the ante by sponsoring more than 650 students. Fall 2012 will bring in a whole new bunch making 2012 a year to remember.

A few of the more than 650 FOTHNA-sponsored students on the Tandy Hills prairie in Spring 2012.

5) Olive the Prairie Dog

Debora and I were amazed by the overwhelming response to the disappearance and return of Olive the Prairie Dog. The hills are literally her front yard. As a pup, she took to them quite naturally, navigating the tall grass by leaping and floating like Michael Jordan to get her bearings. She knows the creeks and valleys like the back of her paw. She's known by every Rabbit and Roadrunner and loved by every Kid on the Prairie. So...

By all the power vested in me, I hereby anoint Olive the Prairie Dog, the Official Mascot of Tandy Hills Natural Area.

The Official Mascot of Tandy Hills Natural Area.

6) Wildflower of the Moment

Witches-Shoelaces, Devil's Gut and Strangle Vine are some of the appropriate common names for, Showy Dodder (Cuscuta indecora var. longisepala). The plant is a leafless, rootless, parasitic vine, absent of chlorophyll. It is beautiful and fascinating to observe, but deadly to many Spring wildflowers.

Showy Dodder, aka: Strangle Vine, living up to its name.

Note the pearl-like flowers of Showy Dodder.

7) Prairie Plant Puzzler

Do you know me? I'm one of several important Milkweed species at Tandy Hills. Some might say I'm the weirdo of the family because my flowers look kind of... weird. But I wear that description like a badge of honor on my stem. (At least my name isn't Antelope Horn. ha!)

My strong suit are these lovely purple, nodding umbels that Monarch butterflies and other insects find simply irresistible. And in the Fall, my long, smooth seed pods point gloriously skyward. Here's a clue to my common name: The way insects pollinate my flowers is like...magic! Guess my common name and win a prize.

➤ Stumped by the May Puzzler? Answer: Foxglove (Penstemon cobaea)

8) The Power of Fire(crackers)

Alton Bowman of the Mound Foundation in Flower Mound is a happy man. He sent me some pics that vividly illustrate the importance and power of fire in restoring prairie habitat. An accidental New Year's Day fire caused by fireworks scorched most of the prairie mound. When a very wet Spring arrived the wildflowers put on an unprecedented show as illustrated in the following pics and videos.

January 2:
May 18:

Alton Bowman admiring the rejuvenated Flower Mound.

9) Prairie Proverb

"Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

- Mary Oliver

On May 6, after a sudden rain storm, the sky cast a mysterious golden glow over the Tandy Hills.