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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.

Orchids: Oooh-La-La!

Prairie Notes #179
November 1, 2021

01) Orchids: Oooh-La-La!
Field Report - October
03) New Species - October
04) New Trails Project Report
05) PrairieSky / StarParty - November
06) October Skies
07) Experience Deep Time
08) Prairie Proverb - Confucius

01) Orchids: Oooh-La-La!


There are many reasons to count your lucky stars that Tandy Hills exists and is so easily accessible. Every season brings a new reason and a new species to celebrate. In very early spring it's Trout Lilies. In mid-spring it's the full orchestra of wildflowers. In summer, the Silphiums brighten the prairie with yellow and white blooms and winter is a good time to admire the barren prairie hills.


In late October and November, it's the elusive little plant with the big name, Great Plains Ladies' Tresses Orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) that makes life a little more beautiful. I write, "elusive" for two reasons. First, these little marvels are hard to spot since they are only a few inches tall and grow inside the fall grasses. Secondly, there are no more than a couple dozen specimens here, at most, and that's in a good year. They are also very picky about their habitat. Rare, indeed, and listed as "Vulnerable" in the U.S.


Great Plains Ladies Tresses Orchids have been observed blooming at Tandy Hills as early as, October 11 and as late as November 14. It's different every year. This year, the first was observed on October 30. On that hike, we found a total of five plants that were just getting started.


The name “Spiranthes” comes from the Greek words “spir” meaning coiled and “anthes” meaning flowers.  This name refers to the spiral shape of the flowers, which, long ago, was thought to resemble long locks of ladies hair. Hence, the common name “ladies’ tresses orchid.”  The species name “magnicamporum” comes from the Latin words “magna” meaning great, and “campus,” meaning “of the field or plain.” This name refers to this species occurring mostly in the Great Plains.


Perhaps their most notable characteristic is the fragrance. The flowers produce an intensely sweet, vanilla-like scent known as, coumarin. If your nose is working well you might use it to help find them among the fall grasses. And, if and when you do, I urge you to get down on the ground, on their level and inhale deeply. Now you know you're alive.





Most of the colonies I've found are on east-facing, shady slopes, possibly above seeps.


Individual plants can have varying arrays of flowers on the stem depending on maturity. This one is fully flowered.


An early stage before the flowers fully open.


Occassionally, but not the general rule, you may find two or more individuals close together.



The whorled, spirals are noticeable when looking from above.


This one was unusually voluptuous and fragrant.


02) Field Report - October


At the end of October the weather is near perfect for hiking Tandy Hills. We had enough rain to help the fall wildflowers and grasses look pretty good in this brief, 'tween time before the Oak leaves turn. Among the stand-outs are 3 species of Aster and the magical, "ghost grass", aka: Seep Muhly, that comes alive at sunset. Come on in a see these fall wonders while you can. Here are some scenes of what happened in October.


A few striking specimens of Maximillian Sunflowers are still blooming.


October is a good time for plein-air painting on the prairie.


Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens)


Asters are an important pollinator plant for Gulf Fritillary Butterflies and other insects in October.


Drummond's Aster (Symphyotrichum drummondii) is one of three Aster species at Tandy Hills.


White Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides). Individual flowers are very small but thickly cover stems.


Here's a nice patch of Late Purple Aster and White Heath Aster, growing side-by-side.


The 100 year-old, Bois D'Arc tree looked bewitching in the fading sun on All Hallows Eve.


On October 7, Don & Debora Young led a hike for 25 folks from the Out & About program at Tarrant County College NE.


The Little Bluestem grass meadows are in prime condition right now.


Green Comet Milkweed (Ascepias viridiflora) are releasing its seeds.


The seeds are designed for windy days like we had in late October.


A single patch of Seep Muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii) aka: Ghost Grass, glowing in a large field of Engelmann's Sage.


Red Oak tree sprout: A small sign of what's coming in November.


03) New Species - October


There were 22 new species added in October, bringing the new count to 1618. Key obervations were made by, Kimberlie SasanSam Kieschnick, Bob O'Kennon and one by Don Young. See a few notables below and the Tandy Hills iNat Project Page HERE:


Sumac Flea Beetle (Blepharida rhois), photo by, Kimberlie Sasan


Vagabond Sod Webworm Moth (Agriphila vulgivagellus), photo by Sam Kieschnick


Furry Oak Leaf Gall Wasp (Callirhytis furva), photo by Bob O'Kennon


I ran across an injured, Eastern Orange-crowned Warbler, but it soon recovered and flew off.


04) New Trails Report


The new trails project really got going in October with the first new trail nearly finished. One thing to know about this project is that, most of the new trails cut through forested areas rather than open prairie, areas previously not available to the casual visitor. Another thing is that, due to the hills and valleys and the trail switchbacks, a few bridges are necessary. The first of these new bridges is now complete and it's a beautiful thing. I invite you to schedule a fall visit while the weather is nearly perfect.








05) PrairieSky / StarParty Report - November


November 13 is the last star party until March 2022, AND the time change will make it earlier so, make plans now! Here's the sky report from FW Astronomical Society rep, Pam Kloepfer:


The sun will set around 6:30PM in early November until Standard Time returns November 7; after that, our star will set around 5:30PM, allowing for earlier and longer star gazing nights! The planets will continue their parade across the celestial sphere, with a few rendezvous with the Moon. Look for a thin crescent Moon west of Venus on November 7. Venus itself will be about half lit, slimming down to a crescent by month’s end. This bright planet has phases like our Moon, which can easily be observed with a telescope. Jupiter and Saturn continue their prominent places in the sky. Between November 7 and 11, a waxing crescent Moon will follow this planet procession. Not to be outdone, ice giants Uranus and Neptune also beg for a look, but since they are almost 2 billion miles away, you will surely need a telescope to see them! They are no bigger than a dot, but under steady viewing conditions, you can discern their greenish-blue and bluish-green disks respectively. The Moon will be waxing gibbous November 13.


The crowds are getting larger as the weather improves. 


Planet Neptune, as observed by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1998.


06) October Skies


We enjoyed some striking sunsets in October. Here's a look back.


October 3


October 17


October 26


October 26


October 26


07) Experience Deep Time


Want to challenge yourself? Time travel through 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history, with a free app as your guide. You can time travel using this app anywhere or anytime, but if you start your journey at Tandy Hills on Saturday, November 6, you'll join a global effort of activists and community leaders bringing a deep time perspective to the COP26 climate change talks. From 1:30 PM until sunset, Friends of Tandy Hills volunteers will help you begin your walk. Here’s a link to download the Deep Time Walk app and learn more about the earth scientists and deep ecologists who created it.



08) Prairie Proverb - Confucius


“The orchids grow in the woods, even though no one is there to admire them. They release their fragrant smell even though no one may be there to appreciate it.”


- Confucius, famous orchid lover and Chinese sage, (551 - 479 BCE)


Prairie Notes© is the official newsletter of, Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. All content by Don Young except where otherwise noted.