By Pat Rowland (Orginally published in the Featherless Flyer , September, 2007)
During the late summer and early fall one can observe some of our most magnificent prairie plants in bloom. Big Bluestem and Indiangrass are a few of the most prominent seen at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge.
Big Bluestem commonly called “turkey foot” because the seed head usually branches into three parts, is one of the most impressive native grasses flowering in late summer. Growing up to eight feet tall, it would make a man on a horse barely visible riding through a tall grass prairie in frontier days. Few, if any, grasses can equal Big Bluestem in quality or quantity of forage production. Since 1885, through overuse and abuse, this native grass has been killed out or greatly reduced in most of its original area.
Indiangrass (shown in photo) is one of the most attractive native grasses. Indiangrass is found growing throughout the bluestem belt of the United States. It is very nutritious and is also a high forage producer.
Both grasses are known as sod formers with short scaly underground stems and roots that saturate the top two feet of the soil and may even reach as deep as seven feet. Until the invention of the steel plow, farmers were unable to penetrate this thick mass of fibrous roots. All can be found on the native prairie area located on Hagerman NWR.
ED Note: According to Refuge staff, “Native prairie restoration is one of the ongoing projects on the refuge. It is estimated that close to 4,000 acres of the refuge were once native prairie. It is our goal to remove the current vegetative invaders and restore selected areas to native grasses and wildflowers."
Preparation has been underway for over a year along Bennett Lane and later this fall more grass and wildflower seeds will be planted. “The native grass mix includes the following species: Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Buffalograss (Buchloe dactylodies), Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactylodies), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), Green Sprangletop (Leptochloa dubia) and Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).”
For more information about Hagerman NWR, the official website is http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/hagerman/index.html. For information about programs and activities of the Friends of Hagerman, please see http://www.friendsofhagerman.com.