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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

Male-Rain & Female-Rain

Prairie Notes: #62
February 1, 2012

1) Male-Rain & Female-Rain
2) Manly Man-Wild Woman Wrap-up
3) Field Report
4) As Long as the Grass Should Grow
5) Wildflower of the Moment: Trout Lily
6) Prairie Festx3 - Prairie Festx3 - Prairie Festx3 ! ! !
7) It's a Hairy World
8) Prairie Plant Puzzler
9) Brush Bash 4 is HERE
10) Prairie Proverb

1) Male-Rain & Female-Rain

Emily Dickinson had it wrong. It takes more than one clover and one bee to make a prairie. It also takes, rain. Early, native American people of the dry southwest understood the importance of life-giving rain. They created fanciful myths to explain how and where the rain came from. They identified two types of rain.

Male-Rain, with thunder and lightning, strikes hard on the Earth and washes away; Female-Rain, falls in a gentle shower, soaking the soil. From their union springs all the vegetation on the Earth.

On January 24 and 25, the Tandy Hills benefited from that same union as nearly 6" of Male and Female-Rain fell upon the prairie. As a result, January 2012 was the second wettest month on record. The 25th shattered the old record as the wettest day, with 3.54". The monthly average for January is 1.90". According to NOAA, total rainfall in FW for 2011 was only 25.88".

All this is good news for the wildflowers and grasses at Tandy Hills. A week after the deluge, the seeps are still flowing and the creeks and drainages are running steady and clear. Wildflowers are starting to appear earlier than usual (see Field Report and more, below)

Despite the good news, there is also this NOAA prediction, "La Niña conditions are expected to dominate precipitation prospects the remainder of the Winter... and the drought is likely to persist or worsen into the upcoming Spring." Remember, more than 500 million trees perished in Texas drought last year, not counting those lost to the wildfire.

The cliff-dwelling, Zuni people created a mythical tale of drought called, The Hero Twins and the Swallower of Clouds. It tells of a giant who lived in the mountains and who swallowed the rain clouds before they could provide rain for the Earth. With the help of Grandmother Spider, twin boys defeated the giant allowing the clouds to bring forth rain and snow.

To defeat the drought forecast for 2012, it may serve us well to learn one of the Zuni corn-grinding songs, substituting prairie for mountains:

"Clouds come rising out of my beautiful prairie.
Up in the sky, the rain makers are sitting.
One after another rain clouds are coming.
Over there the flowers are coming.
Here the young corn is growing."


Magic Moment on the prairie as pink clouds drifted slowly over Tandy Hills in mid-January.

2) Manly Man-Wild Woman wrap-up

Chilly weather did not deter 50 humans and 15 dogs from participating in the 3rd annual, Manly Men & Wild Women Hike the Hills. The group, many of whom had never been to Tandy Hills, finished the trek in record time. (Maybe they were in a hurry to get to a restroom after all that coffee.) See you buff people at the Brush Bash!

3) Field Report

-Sunshine and unusually warm temps in January joined with the rain to help rejuvenate Tandy Hills. Early signs indicate a great wildflower season.

-The first bright colored wildflower appeared on, 1/20/12, in the form of Ground Plum Milk Vetch (Astragalus crassicarpus). This is the earliest bloom date in my recollection of this hearty member of the Pea family.

-Other plants coming online include Purple Paintbrush (Castilleja purpurea var. purpurea), which have leafed out months earlier than usual, Rabbit Tobacco (Evax prolifera), Wavyleaf Thistle (Cirisium undulatum) and one of my faves, Texas Prairie Parsley (Polytaenia nuttallii var. texana).

-Preceding the rains on 1/22/12, a west Texas dust storm blew across the Tandy Hills creating surreal light conditions.

-On the wildlife front, the Tandy Hills Roadrunner was spotted on 1/29. Lots of Hawk sightings, as well. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins showed up on the same day, 1/14/12, to brighten the day. Sadly, I received a report of a premature Bobcat fetus found right after the heavy rains. Finally, one of the Tandy Hills Rabbits was struck by a car on View St. and killed on 1/31/12.

Male and Female Rain is running freely in the Tandy Hills creeks.

Ground Plum Milk Vetch brought some much needed color to Tandy Hills on 1/20/12

Rabbit Tobacco. Do Rabbit's smoke or chew this stuff?

Wavyleaf Thistle flower sits regally inside its silver leaf throne.

Tender young leaves of Texas Prairie Parsley slowly opening at Tandy Hills.

West Texas dust filled the sky over Tandy Hills on 1/22/12.

R.I.P. Peter Cottontail. 2011-2012

4) As Long as the Grass Should Grow

In 2005, an agent for the City of Fort Worth Code Compliance Dept. informed my wife and I that our front yard was in violation of the High Grass and Weeds ordinance. It did not matter that our experimental, native landscape used zero water, never required mowing and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Nor did it matter that we live directly across from Tandy Hills Natural Area, a native, tall-grass prairie.

Undeterred, we appealed the fine and more than five years later our appeal was granted. Partly as a result of our appeal, the City is rethinking the ordinance. Read all about it in the FW Weekly:

A related story about growing native grasses recently appeared in the Dallas News:

State Grass of Texas: Sideoats Grama. Illegal to grow in Fort Worth? Maybe.

5) Wildflower of the Moment: Trout Lily

The majestic yet lilliputian Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum) has returned to the leaf-thatched shadows of Tandy Hills. In good years, these little cuties cover large areas of Tandy Hills, hiding amongst leafless trees under thick mulch. Let's hope the conditions are right for a banner year in 2012.

Master Naturalist and Trout Lily expert, Jim Varnum will lead his annual Trout Lily Walk at THNA on March 4 at 1 PM. RSVP Don Young if you plan to attend. Sign up for Jim's This and That newsletter by emailing him here:

The 2012 class of Trout Lilies have landed at Tandy Hills.

There is breathtaking music inside Trout Lily trumpets.

6) Prairie Festx3 - Prairie Festx3 - Prairie Festx3 ! ! !

The BIG EVENT of the year at Tandy Hills is taking shape. It ain't your grandpa's Prairie Fest neither. We have re-imagined the thing into 3 separate days of frolicking on the prairie. - Prairie-Wildflower Hikes - Music - Food & Drink + Impromptu Fun.

Check out the new Prairie Fest webpage here:

Be a HERO and become a Prairie Fest Sponsor. Your dollars help "keep it like it was." Details here:

7) It's A Hairy World

In case you were wondering, THNA is a very hairy place. Manly Men & Wild Women got nothing on the plants growing at their feet. The word for the day is, Trichome. From the Greek meaning, growth of hair, trichomes are the tiny hairs that grow from plant stems and leaves. They are extremely variable and serve a variety of functions. Take a look at these up-close pics and see what I mean.

The hirsute little leaves of Engelmann Sage (Salvia engelmannii) rosettes are popping up all over Tandy Hills.

Skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) leaves have a more pubescent covering of trichomes.

8) Prairie Plant Puzzler

Do you know me? Thanks to a trick of Mother Nature, I'm out of the gate way early this year reaching my spindly leaves to the Sun. For your sake, I hope a freeze doesn't nip me too much. Because, when I put on my blooms, watch out! People stop in their tracks to get a good look at my eye-popping self. I come in several colors but mostly in shades that Prince would adore.

Be the first to correctly guess my name and win a beautiful, organic cotton Tandy Hills bandana that'll blow your mind.

➤ Stumped by the December puzzler? Answer: Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

Be the first to guess my name and win a beautiful and useful Tandy Hills bandana! No previous winners, please.

9) Brush Bash 4 is HERE

This is our ongoing, once a year conservation effort to remove invasive and unwanted trees and plants. We need all hands on deck.

Saturday, February 4th
9 Am - 3 PM
Details here:

10) Prairie Proverb

Female Rain
Dancing from the south
cloudy cool and grey
pregnant with rain-child
At dawn she gives birth to gentle mist
flowers bow with wet sustenance
luminescence all around

-Dr. Laura Tohe

Watch video of Dr. Tohe reading her poem in English and Navajo, here:

Crescent Moon above Tandy Hills on 1/29/12 sharing space with with a barely visible Jupiter.

Don Young