Musing on Our Grasses

B.F. Hicks

The famed Texas Naturalist Roy Bedichek writes of conservation in the 1940’s.  If you read his ADVENTURES WITH A TEXAS NATURALIST you’ll find he’s right on target.  That recommendation came from Harry Lawler.  But it was on the heels of Jabez and Joan Galt gifting me with everything by Aldo Leopold (best known for SAND COUNTY ALMANAC -same time frame as Bedichek).  Both men propose highway rights-of-way as shelter for rare plants while the plains and forests are consumed by agriculture and commercial activities.

You’ll find that true here.  August was wet this year.  The rain spurred our native grasses with extra energy to set seed heads rarely seen and by October we had beautiful stands of unusual plumes and fine grasses arrayed along our highway rights-of-way.

I hope some of the seeds managed to set.  I loaded up several truck loads of passengers for grass tours this October.  Let’s see what 2017 offers; you’ll want to be on the lookout for some of these.  On FM 1896, we had big bluestem in real glory; it had turned a burnished copper and was filled with seed heads.  One good stand was holding its own, higher than the invasive Johnson Grass (brought from India and now a bane for cattle and our countryside).  And Indian grass responded amazingly well to those August rains.  I did not realize we had as much.  I loaded up Joel Dihle to drive to the hill south of town at the Fuquay Cemetery; what a year; gives you a sense of the “grass harp” described in the book of the same name regarding a cemetery hill in Alabama.  And I caught Bob McFarland and insisted he ride east on 67 to the crossing over Ripley Creek where a lush stand of Eastern Gamma was flourishing; a grass almost extinct from overgrazing in our pastures.  I wanted a witness.   And then David Vanderpool showed just enough interest that I convinced David and wife Margie to load up and proceeded to drag them for two hours across a range of properties and I did deliver purple topped tridens in full glory.  A nutritious grass which the buffalo would have grazed.  Only a few of the grasses our ancestors would have encountered two full centuries ago when they first rode into this landscape.

Carl Edwin Newsom shows up at my office with wife and son to purchase Ray Loyd Johnson’s REFLECTIVE RAYS and I load them up to drive east and to look at the array of long spike tridens all along the sides of the highway just outside town.  An unusual clump of dark brown seed heads suited to landscapes and often sold by nurseries; growing wild in thick clumps.

Now, the highway department soon mowed down the grasses to about 4 inches.  I hope some seeds had matured.  And the wondrous eastern gamma seems really destroyed but these grasses have roots and some of the clumps were here when our ancestors came through so I’ll hold out hope.  Someday there will be some appreciation.  Mark and Ute Miller have clumps of our native bluestem transplanted to their driveway and I have cupgrass just to have it; cupgrass is truly almost gone and yet its seed is the favorite for the painted bunting.

Oh, I paid the Vanderpools back:  David will be able to spread seeds over his pasture in a prairie recovery project.  Our native songbirds will sing praises for his efforts.  Check with me in October 2017; maybe I’ll charter a bus if the climate has cooperated and the highway department is delayed.