You are here

Le Parfum du Prairie

Prairie Notes:
July 7, 2008

The high season for Tandy Hills wildflowers has long passed. The plein air artists have yielded to the burning sun of July and retreated into their air-conditioned studios. Who could blame them?

Despite the heat and humidity and the ominous threats of hydrocarbon profiteers, Tandy Hills Natural Area and adjacent properties remain inviting for those willing to take a plunge into the mystery of mid-summer, tall grass prairie.

Clouds of busy dragonflies swim on the heavy, morning air. Sky-slashing, Cooper’s Hawks, keep my senses sharp while a growing population of Cottontail rabbits keep Olive the prairie dog on full alert. Life is good at Tandy Hills Natural Area.

Olive the Prairie Dog
Olive the Prairie Dog

The prairie is not flower-free, but with a few notable exceptions, mid-summer at THNA is, more or less, a blur of green and tan set against the blazing blue, summer sky waiting for a little rain.

Texas Bluebells west of THNA (8/08) DY
Texas Bluebells west of THNA (8/08) DY

Compass Plant THNA (8/08)
Compass Plant THNA (8/08)

The deceptively delicate, Texas Bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum ssp. Russellianum) rooted in hidden seeps, still carpet the gently rolling Tandy Hills defying the broiling heat with their purple splendor. The white-tailed stems of tall, twiggy, False Gaura, (Stenosiphon linifolius) bend in the slightest breeze. Wiry, white-flowered Compass plants (Silphium albiflorum) follow the sun like NORAD dish antennae. Tiny sprigs of Mock Pennyroyal (Hedeoma drummondii) timidly fade into the grassy whole that, like us, is waiting for a little rain.

While the bright colors of mid-summer are few and far between, the smells at THNA move delightfully to the forefront. There is something about the heat of summer that unlocks the aromatic essence of Tandy Hills. When the conditions are right, a fragrant alchemy of herbaceous aromas floats on the hot, southern breeze.

It seems to come and go, depending on temperature, humidity, the whims of nature and, the nose of the beholder (?). My nose detects a composition rich with notes of Aromatic Sumac (Rhus trilobata = aromatica var. flabelliformis), Juniper (Juniperus ashei), Engleman’s Sage (Salvia engelmannii) and damp limestone. When the wind is just right I detect (perhaps, just memories of) a hint of September grasses.

When the rains eventually come, the aroma is undeniably therapeutic. Which is to say that, breathing the air around Tandy Hills has the power to cure everything from a stuffy nose to a broken heart.

I don’t make such claims hastily or without many years of experience. But you must come smell for yourself. Undoubtedly, appreciation of, Le Parfum du Prairie, is a subjective endeavor, not unlike say, amateur stargazing, but one that is vital to a well-balanced life.

Come to meadow and inhale like it’s1969.

Important PS:
The website of the Native Prairies Association of Texas has a page entitled, “How is a prairie different from a common field of grass?”

After reviewing this page please write a brief letter expressing your opposition to drilling on the property adjacent to THAN and send to City Council rep., Kathleen Hicks:

Please cc the following:

Art by, Don Punchatz. Used with permission
Art by, Don Punchatz. Used with permission

PPS: Limited edition, signed copies of, Prairie Wildflowers of Tandy Hills Natural Area, by Debora Young, are still available for only $10.

Prairie Wildflowers of Tandy Hills Natural Area