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"Texas ecoregions" by Level_III_ecoregions,_United_States.png: U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyderivative work: Hike395 (talk) - Level_III_ecoregions,_United_States.

"32" = Texas Blackland Prairie ecoregion

The eco-region Garland and much of the DFW area is included is an eco-region known as the "Blackland Prairie. This area begins on the north from the Red River and extends southwesterly down to San Antonio. The Texas Blackland Prairie is the most endangered ecosystem in the USA. Agriculture and urbanization have left less than 1 percent of this once vast prairie that covered almost 20,000 square miles.

Loving Garland Green has two small projects under consideration for Spring of 2015 to honor this ecosystem: 1) Building a patch of Texas Blackland Prairie and 2) Growing a lawn of Buffalo Grass. There are many reasons why we should protect and restore our prairie.

Why Protect and Restore Our Prairies according to a few of the reasons provided by the Native Prairies Association of Texas:

Protecting water quality and quantity: Native grasslands protect the watersheds in which they occur, increase water infiltration and water yield, increase water supply by reducing erosion and reservoir sedimentation, and increase water quality due to the lack of fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide use.

Protecting declining grassland birds, native pollinators, and other wildlife by protecting and restoring their habitat: In addition to the native plant communities of the tallgrass prairies, conservation of tallgrass prairie is needed as habitat for wildlife such as grassland birds and native pollinators. Grassland birds are experiencing the greatest declines of all bird groups, and to save the grassland birds we need to protect and restore their habitat: prairie.

Protecting beautiful native Texas prairie plants and critically imperiled native plant communities: The main plant communities of Texas tallgrass prairies are highly threatened. These native plant communities include native plants such as Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Eastern Gamagrass, Brown-seed Paspulum, and Yellow Indiangrass, and are ranked with a Global Conservation Status of G1 - Critically Imperiled to G2 - Imperiled, the most threatened conservation rankings.

Acting as local seed sources and models for prairie restoration and biofuel native prairie plantings: The location and protection of prairie remnants is also needed for restoration of land to return it to prairie so the amount of prairie habitat can be increased (both new restorations and restoring land around existing prairie remnants to increase the size of the remnant prairies).

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What can we do to restore our native Blackland Prairie area within the boundaries of that 57 square mile area we call Garland?  And/or should we?  And where would we begin?  Can a prairie co-exist within an urban area?  Can a Blackland Prairie share an area with a community vegetable garden?

This is a project that has captured not only my imagination, but also my heart.  Perhaps we should at least study the potential value of an undertaking to establish small Blackland Prairie plots throughout our city.  Most definitely it would be a collaborative project involving the wisdom of numerous groups such as the Native Prairies Association of Texas, Texas AgriLife, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and of course members of our own city government and Parks and Recreation Department.

Another critical consideration regarding the development of Blackland Prairie patches within an existing urban area is, of course, the issue of fire.  The threat of fire could be managed by continuous stewardship and keeping the size of the prairie plots to less than 1/4 acre and other requirements including perhaps distance from existing buildings and homes, etc.  We are fortunate to have one example of a larger area somewhat near us. Cedar Hill State Park, located near Dallas. Approximately 60 acres in four tracts are preserved as hay meadows. Primarily, the areas are big bluestem-Indiangrass communities with abundant forbs.  

At the moment, I can easily see how a small Blackland Prairie could be established down at 4022 Naaman School Road.  It would begin at the bridge and extend over the front of the property all the way to the driveway into the property.  At some point in time the city has plans to build a walking path along Naaman School Road, a footbridge and a pervious parking lot  in this front area.  The parking lot is not large, as I understand the plans, and would only cut into about 1/4 of this prairie if it were established.

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"Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) eating Bakain (Melia Azadirachta) berries at Roorkee, Uttarakhand W IMG 9016" by J.M.Garg - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -  

What should we do with Texas Invasives?  Should we repair the damage that has been done and restore the natural ecological balance of our land, or should we allow these invasives to have their way with our native plants?

This is a side question that is intertwined with the establishment of Blackland Prairie plots because in part, the successful re-establishment of some of our prairie will likely involve curbing the growth of non-native invasives.  Loving Garland Green members are not the appointed stewards of the riparian area that extends from the border of our licensed community garden area down to the creek.  Therefore we will do nothing to the plants in this area.  

However, it is interesting to note that at least one of the more abundant trees in this area, the China Berry, is labeled as a "Texas Invasive."  This area was once a residential area which probably explains the abundance of this tree. The Chinaberry was once popular to plant as a shade tree because it grows so fast. The  Chinaberry outcompetes native vegetation due to its high relative resistance to insects and pathogens. Its leaf litter raises soil pH, thus altering soil conditions for native plants and seed germination. Chinaberry is a very fast growing tree that reaches 18 - 24 feet in height in 4 - 5 years. May reach 50 - 60 feet in total height. 

Although I"m not certain, I suspect the bamboo grove down there is also a non-native Phyllostachys Aurea (golden bamboo) that someone living in that area once planted years ago in their backyard.  If so, it is branded as a Texas Invasive and as an ecological threat: Infestations of bamboo displace native vegetation, alter habitat, and upset food chains. For streams, bamboo leaf litter alters stream food webs starting with litter-feeding stream invertebrates. It is also known to attract roaches and rats in urban areas. 

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It's interesting and happy to note that butterfly gardens which are increasing in popularity in our area happen to contain many of the wildflowers that were once found in our Texas Blackland Prairie.  They don't, however,  include the native grasses once found in the prairie.

If you are interested in creating a small garden plot of Blackland Prairie in your own yard, one of the best sources for information, seeds and plants is Native American Seed.  To learn more about Texas Invasives and their impact on the native plants in our state, check out Texas Invasives.  Their huge database includes invasive plants and animals.

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