Author Finds a Prairie in Pieces
The ‘My Texas’ Series
By Russell Graves
Field Correspondent, sportsandoutdoors.guru
Less than 24 hours ago, rain fell on the prairie. A spring thunderstorm, spawned just a few miles southeast of here, rumbled its way toward Oklahoma. Along the way the storm dropped about 2 inches of rain on the patchwork of prairie, wooded draws and cultivated farmland in western Lamar County.
Before the sun ever rose, Tridens Prairie was already waking up. Frogs creaked and groaned in the subtle light of dawn, trying their best to attract a mate and multiply while conditions are optimum. Flitting across the top of the vegetation are birds I cannot identify at first. It’s not until one lands in a nearby tree and starts to sing that I realize it’s a dicksissel. Its warbling song penetrates the still, humid morning.
Tridens Prairie isn’t necessarily all that pretty by conventional measures. To the untrained eye, it looks like a tangle of weeds or an old farm field that’s been left fallow. The beauty of this place, however, is in the diversity of plants that populate the 97-acre patch of ground that’s never been turned over by a plow. In all, more than 170 species of plants are documented to be growing on this unassuming piece of prairie.
Just a couple of hundred yards to the north and separated by U.S. Highway 82, the vast Smiley-Woodfin prairie meets it southeastern terminus at FM 38. Heading west and north from this intersection is a vast sea of waist high grasses that’s interrupted only by tree-lined draws that drain water off the prairie. According to the historical marker that lies along Highway 82, this property is the largest piece of Texas tallgrass prairie that’s never been plowed. It’s cut each year for hay production and burned periodically as part of a prescribed management practice, but it’s never been turned by a plow.
In early May, the field is still bright green with cool season grasses just about to peak at full maturity. While the land is private and I cannot trespass, I stand at the historical marker, look north and see the unkempt and wild grasses, forbs and wildflowers — a scene in juxtaposition to the carefully grazed and managed cow pastures that lie all around the thousand acres. Sadly, this land — and the grassland community that grows upon it — is now exceedingly rare in Texas.
The grass is still heavy with dew from the recent rain; puddles stand in the bar ditches along the highway. But as I examine the Smiley-Woodfin Prairie, I see no water standing. It’s been soaked up like a big sponge.