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Houston Regional Group - News
Blackland Prairies Reveal Wildflower Delights
Brandt Mannchen

It was another hot July day (July 9th to be precise). Our carpool caravan pulled up and turned onto Forest Road 209 in Sam Houston National Forest. I leaped out of Nicida’s SUV, walked over and hugged Petra, and shook Pat’s hand. I told them to “follow us” and then jumped back into the SUV. I was already jazzed because I saw beautiful purple stalks of Bluebells (also known as Gentians) along the road right-of-way. Where Petra and Pat has pulled off to the road to wait for us was a remnant blackland prairie that was overgrown by shrubs and trees. But those rich, dark, alkaline, shrink-swell soils were present and along the cleared right-of-way prairie plants still survived.

We bounced along the crushed limestone road and veered right and finally pulled up to the gate on Forest Road 209 A2. The ten of us piled out, got ready (bring plenty of water), and then headed down the road behind the gate. As we walked we saw Dayflower, Ironweed, and Wild Petunia (a lavender delight) blooming and viewed the tough, bent, and twisted Post Oaks that were scattered through the pine dominated forest.

In a few minutes we burst out of the forest and viewed the expanse of waving Little Bluestem grasses. Little Bluestem is an important member of the tallgrass prairie and is called an “Ice Cream” grass because it tastes so good and is so nutritious that cattle graze it heavily whenever they get the chance. I was on the lookout for Bluebells and I was not disappointed. I yipped in delight as I saw those purple beauties scattered in the sea of bluestem.

Other flowers or plants that we saw as we waded through this grassy sea included Blue Sage, Basket Flower, Rattlesnake Master (also known as Button Snakeroot), Marble Seed, Fine-leaf Bluet, Gum Weed (radiant yellow flowers), Yellow Sensitive Briar, and Brown-eyed Susan. Grasses which neighbored and competed with the Little Bluestem, however poorly, included Gulf Muhly and Bushy Bluestem.

We left the prairie and entered a ravine that was filled with calciphillic (alkaline-loving) woody plants like Eastern Red Cedar, White Ash, Rusty Black-Haw, Eastern Redbud, Coralberry, Western Soapberry, and Sugarberry. After we crossed this intermittent stream we wondered through the second half of the prairie and then re-crossed the ravine and the prairie and made our way back to the cars.

We next visited a small blackland prairie which had been cleared of woody plants and burned by the U.S. Forest Service. Bluebells again made their presence known along with purple vervain, Snow-on-the-prairie just going into bloom, and yellow pea plants.

We ate lunch at the Longstreet Cemetery (a great place to eat lunch, it is sooo quiet) and ended our day trip at the Welch Prairie. Again Bluebells put in an appearance along with Scarlet Pea, and beebalm.

When we rolled down Welch Road we bid the blackland prairie a fond farewell and left with a sense of wonder We considered ourselves lucky to have Sam Houston National Forest so near and the diverse blackland prairies so available for our enjoyment and amazement. Now we have to go back to see what’s blooming in the fall!

August 2011

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Last updated:  07/24/2011.   Content 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.