Ft. Worth Prairie, Part_1

Yesterday (Oct. 10, 2009), our Cross Timbers Master Naturalist Class went on a ‘Prairie Field Trip’. The prairie was located on the 2200 acre Bear Creek Ranch in southeast Parker county, Texas.
Location – 32° 37.5′ N,  97° 37.5′ W.

Dr. Tony Burgess, Professor, TCU Environmental Science Department characterizes the local prairie here in an excerpt from his paper, The Fort Worth Prairie: An Introduction.

“In north-central Texas the boundaries between grassland, savanna, and woodland are somewhat unstable, because the local climate could support several different types of plant growth forms.  The regional landscapes have a fairly complicated patchwork of different vegetation.  In this climatic context, differences in soil texture, slope, and position within the landscape may create highly contrasting plant communities (Diggs et al. 1999, Hill 1887).  Deep, sandy soil favors post oaks and sticky clay often grows open prairies. The Fort Worth Prairie, or Grand Prairie, was described by Hill (1901) and Dyksterhuis (1946), who recognized the association between open grasslands and limestone geology. The Fort Worth Prairie is different from Midwest prairies in that its geology includes layers of hard limestone that resist weathering into deep soil. These hard strata have been exposed by erosion, forming ridgetops and cuestas separated by valleys where softer rock has worn away (Hill 1901, Diggs et al. 1999).”

Next post I will discuss the three major types of herbaceous vegetation that can be distinguished within these banded prairie landscapes and more on the Bear Creek Ranch.

Note: This post will be updated later with information on the photos, but for now, here are some of the photos.

Be sure to click on the photos for enlarged views.

Indian Grass
Sorghastrum nutans
1 Indian-GrassOne of the Big Three Grasses

Sorghastrum nutans ( L). Nash. Indian Grass, is a native, perennial, warm-season grass, and a major component of the tall grass vegetation which once dominated the prairies of the central and eastern United States.  Indian Grass grows 3 to 5 feet tall.  Even as a young plant, it can be distinguished from other native grass species by the “rifle-sight” ligule at the point where the leaf attaches to the stem.  The leaf blade also narrows at the point of attachment.  The seed head is a single, narrow, plume-like panicle of a golden brown color.  The seed is light and fluffy with small awns attached.  There are about 175,000 seeds per pound.

Following A Seep
2 Following-a-seep-downhill

Seep Muhly
Muhlenbergia reverchonii
3 Seep-Muhly

Grass Family (Poaceae).  Seep Muhly is a native, warm season, perennial bunch grass.  The height ranges from 1 to 3 feet.  The leaf blade is narrow, 6 to 10 inches long.  The upper blades are shorter than lower ones, mostly twisting and sharp pointed.  The leaf sheath is mostly basal and longer than the internodes.  The seedhead is an open panicle about 10 inches long with branchlets 1 to 2 inches long and 1 to 8 spikelets each.  There is a short awn on the lemma of each spikelet.
Because seep muhly is tough and wiry, it is grazed mostly during the winter.  Where adapted, tt is a good conservation plant on steep highly erodible soils.


Red-eared Slider
Trachemys scripta elegans
4 Red-eared-SliderRed-eared Slider information, Click Here !

Red Harvester Ant Bed

Pogonomyrmex barbatus
6 Pogo-closeupHelp Save the Texas Horned Lizard

The Texas horned lizard is a protected threatened species. It is commonly called “horny toad.”

Full-grown lizards are normally 2 1/2 to 4 1/4 inches from the snout to the tip of the tail, although some grow larger. They have broad, flattened bodies and bear a crown of spines at the back of the head. Their color varies by the background color of the habitat in which they live.

Populations of the horned lizard and the harvester ant, on which it predominantly feeds, have declined in the eastern part of Texas. There are several possible factors contributing to the decline of these species.
* Red imported fire ants are believed to eliminate harvester ants and prevent new colonies from forming by preying on mated queen harvester ants.
* Red imported fire ants may prey directly on lizards or on hatching eggs of lizards.
* Many insecticides used to control or eliminate the red imported fire ant are toxic to the harvester ant, and eliminate the harvester ant more efficiently than they eliminate fire ants. Broadcast applications of fire ant bait products should be avoided in areas where harvester ants are found.
* Horned lizards normally inhabit flat, open, dry country with little cover. Urbanization, mowing, shredding, shallow discing and other land use practices can eliminate or reduce the production of weed seeds on which harvester ants feed. Harvester ants and horned lizards, which are dependent upon this ant species, cannot survive in these disturbed habitats.

Three-Banded Grasshopper
Hadrotettix trifasciatus
7 Hadrotettix trifasciatus

According to the ‘Wyoming Agricultrial Experiment Station Bulletin 912,

“The Three-banded Grasshopper ranges widely in the grasslands of the West in the middle third of the continent. It is a common species of the shortgrass, desert, and mixedgrass prairies. It is less abundant in other prairies and is rare in grass-shrub communities of the intermountain basins. In the tallgrass prairie it occupies areas of sparse vegetation on gravelly hilltops and slopes. This particular species is not considered a serious agricultural pest.

Its feeding on good forage grasses would tend to give it pest status, but research has shown that it feeds more heavily on poor forage plants and plants poisonous to livestock (death camus, milkweeds, some milkvetches, and others). It feeds on grasses, forbs, sedges, dead and weakened insects, plant litter, and dry cattle dung. It feeds chiefly on forbs, with as many as 40 species recorded from analyses of crop contents and direct observations in nature. Examination of 152 specimens collected from several habitats near North Platte, Nebraska revealed that 75 percent of crop contents consisted of forbs, 21 percent grasses and sedge, and 4 percent arthropod parts.”

Big Blue Sage
Salvia azurea var. grandiflora
8 Blue-Sage

Makes a good plant for cultivation in Native Gardens.

Salvia azurea Michx. ex Lam. var. grandiflora Benth.
Pitcher sage, Big blue sage, Azure sage, Giant blue sage, Blue sage
Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
USDA Native Status: Native to U.S.

A tall, delicate plant with large, 2-lipped, blue flowers, whorled around the square stem and forming a terminal spike-like cluster.

A widespread perennial of the grasslands, it also extends east to the Carolinas. It begins to flower early and may continue until fall, or into early winter in Florida.

USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Vol. 3: 129.


Iron Weed
Vernonia baldwinii
9 Iron-Weed

Western ironweed’s 3-5 ft. stems occur singly or in clumps, and are stout and hairy. Wide clusters of vibrant, red-violet flowers form at the ends of short branches near the top of the plant. Because the flowers are all of the disk variety, the 6 in. wide flower cluster has a fuzzy appearance. Long, lance-shaped leaves line the stems.

This plant aggressively colonizes by rhizomes once established so place accordingly if used in a Native Garden. Its bloom period lasts until frost.


We saw a lot of dried Basket Flower heads. For those asking how a Basket Flower received its name, here is a photo I made at the Ft. Worth Nature Center earlier in the year.

Basket Flower
Centaurea americana
10 basketflower

American basket-flower is a 1 1/2-5 ft. annual with a stout, leafy, much-branched stem and lavender-pink, filamentous flower heads with cream-colored centers. The flower heads are 4-5 in. wide and are subtended by fringed bracts. The plant looks similar to the thistles but lacks their prickly characteristics

The name basket flower refers to the stiff, straw-colored bracts just beneath the flower head, which are divided at the tip into long, sharp teeth.

Leave a comment.

What’s your favorite photograph?

Troy and Martha

All Photos:  Canon G10


Dr. Tony Burgess, Professor, TCU Environmental Science Department, The Fort Worth Prairie: An Introduction.

Hatch, S.L., K.N. Gandhi, and L.E. Brown. 1990. Checklist of the vascular plants of Texas (MP-1655). Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, College Station.

USDA, NRCS. 2009. The PLANTS Database (14 September 2009). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.

About Troy

Retired Scientist and Naturalist. Avid Bible reader
This entry was posted in Ft. Worth Prairie, Grand Prairie, Grasses, Harvester Ants, insects, Naturalists, Prairie, Turtles, Wildflowers and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Ft. Worth Prairie, Part_1

  1. Diane Parrotta says:

    Thank you, Troy, for taking the time to share your beautiful photos, and for providing so much valuable information. It was a great field trip! I don’t want our class to end!

  2. Jane Lovedahl says:

    Hello Troy and Martha,

    What a joy to see you wonderful pictures that you are so kind to share with all of us! I look forward to reading more and more of your posts in the days to come. I also agree with Diane Parrotta; I hate to see the TMN classes come to an end. Hopefully we will be able to keep and touch and experience many more opportunities to all work together.

  3. Jo Ann Collins says:

    This is so cool! I would love to learn how to set up a blog. You asked about software for making pictures smaller. What size are these? They seem so clear. You really need to get out to schools and share your knowledge with kids….they would love it! I agree with the others. I don’t want classes to end….I still have more to learn and many more questions to ask!!

  4. Tom Poindexter says:

    Troy, thanks so much for the great pictures and the write ups with them. Thanks for making the class so interesting with you knowledge of the outdoors.

  5. Lorain says:

    Troy and Martha,

    I enjoyed reading your informative blog on our Prairie field trip. And the pictures are incredible!! I learned alot that day. The prairie has come alive for me.

    Thanks for taking time to post the blog and pix. If I had to choose a favorite picture it would have to be the Harvest Ant close up. WOW!!

  6. Chad Etheridge says:

    Thanks for putting all of the photos and info together. It’s like going on the field trip all over again! Great job!!

  7. Dan says:

    Great pictures, Troy. Thanks for making them available. I liked the close up of the ants, and the grasshopper. You gotta love these digital cameras these days!

  8. Diana Boerner says:

    Such great pictures! I am so glad you are posting these. Now maybe I stand a chance of actually remembering the names of some of the plants we saw. My favorite pics are the grasshopper, turtle, and blue sage. What camera are you using?

  9. Eleanor Forfang-Brockman says:

    Troy, these are amazing pictures. Thank you so much for putting them up for us. You’ve given us a wonderful book of our prairie day.

  10. Indian grass is a favorite of mine – I love the contrast of tall bright plumes amongst the more subdued big bluestem on our glades during fall.

    Spectacular 3-banded grasshopper photograph – I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one.


  11. Marvin says:

    Thanks for the great field trip and photos, Troy. Awesome detail in your ant photo. I remember spending a lot of time playing with “horny toads” as a kid down on the Coastal Prairie. Haven’t seen one in years though.

  12. Tammie Averyt says:

    Troy, It has been such a joy to attend the CTMN classes with you and Martha. I admire and appreciate your knowledge, passion for learning, sense of humor, and photography talent. You have inspired me to work more on the macro. The ant photo is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us.

  13. Nice pictures, very impressive,


    The plantsearcher

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