Thursday, July 5, 2012

Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Project – Summer Update

Summer is in full force in central Texas. Last year, the scorched prairie at Commons Ford was covered with dead, brown, invasive grasses. This year, thanks to the success of our February seeding, the Commons Ford Prairie is sea of color, all abloom with native Texas wildflowers! Many of the native seeds that were laid down in February, both grasses and forbs, have already emerged.
Regular park visitors have been amazed at the changes in the prairie. No one can remember ever seeing this many wildflowers in the park. The flowers have been attracting wildlife as well as human visitors. This is because the seeds produced by the flowering forbs and native grasses provide excellent forage for birds. Mourning Doves have been increasing in numbers, from being a rare sighting to a common one. Painted Buntings and Lark Sparrows have also flocked to the prairie this summer. There had also been an increase in the number of Northern Bobwhite calls heard by regular park visitors. Northern Bobwhites are currently a species of concern in Texas. It has been our hope that the prairie restoration process would create ideal habitat for this species. During the weekend of June 9th our Commons Ford Prairie Restoration Project volunteers conducted a post-restoration vegetation analysis. This study allowed us to document what was coming up in the prairie. We sampled in the same areas where we had sampled before the restoration process. The change was incredible. On previous surveys, we found mostly Bermuda grass, Johnson grass and King Ranch bluestem. On the June survey, we found species such as common sunflower, green sprangletop, windmill grass, Indian grass, lemon mint, American basketflower, black-eyed susan, plains coreopsis, clasping coneflower, winecup and white prickly poppy. We even had some big bluestem and little bluestem sprouting, which is great because these are important components of a healthy prairie system and it can sometimes take these grasses years to sprout and establish dominance over the invasives.
On Saturday June 9th, after the survey was complete, George Cates of Native American Seed in Junction gave a presentation entitled, “The Seeds Have Sprouted – Now What?” at the Laura Bush Community Library near Commons Ford. He presented to an audience of approximately 60 people. George explained some of the most common issues that can arise after a restoration process. The audience consisted of both Commons Ford Prairie Restoration members as well as concerned local landowners. A reporter from the Westland Picayune was also present. Her article can be read here.
And so, the prairie continues to evolve. Every week brings new surprises. If you have time to visit, you will witness the blooming of giant Maxmillian sunflowers which are currently replacing the common sunflowers that have been blooming for the past couple of months. It is exciting to imagine how the prairie will look a year from now, when the natives have become established and mature. Many thanks to all of our members and volunteers who have made this project possible! All of this beauty would not have been possible without your support!
While we are all excited about the success of the March planting, there is still work that needs to be done. There are still invasive grasses in the prairie, namely Bermuda grass and King Ranch bluestem. Further work will be required in order to remove these pest plants so that they do not choke out the native species. We will have to continue to monitor the progress of the prairie. Stay tuned for future volunteer opportunities and work days that will be needed in order to keep the invasives out.