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Peep the prairies

OUR NEIGHBORHOOD

Protecting our prairie land

Native Plants & Prairies Day is May 7

If you’ve walked or biked or set up an easel near the Bath House Cultural Center at White Rock Lake, you’ve seen it: history. No, it’s not the beautiful, old, art deco building, but the land nearby — now THAT is our heritage. It’s the rare remnant of prairie — less than 1% remain in North America — and now’s the chance to learn more about it at Native Plants & Prairies Day May 7.

Presented by Native Prairies Association of Texas and North Texas Master Naturalists, this all-ages event gives everyone the opportunity to learn why prairies are worth conserving, and about local birds and other critters who call the prairie home. Expect guided walks, expert presentations, booths from local organizations and activities for kids. And you might even be inspired to get involved.

Chances are, you’ve noticed the tall grass, maybe the wildflowers in the field close to the Bath House. Just a field, right? Not by a long shot. Here’s a little prairie primer.

“Native”: That’s the key word. It describes both the land and the plants upon it. Think coneflower, not orchids; little bluestem grass, not palm trees. These drought-tolerant, no-fuss, nopampering plants thrive quite well on their own, thank you very much, and were growing naturally here, possibly going back thousands of years, when European settlers first set foot in these parts.

Brenda Catlett, a resident of the

From left: Brenda Catlett, Janet Smith and Ann Sansone. Photography by Shelby Tauber.

Peninsula neighborhood near the lake and one of the event’s organizers, offers this definition: “Prairies are ecosystems of open spaces where tall grasses, flowers and other seed-bearing plants flourish.” She adds that prairies can have more biodiversity than a rainforest and have more than 100 plant species within five acres.

Though it sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, prairie plants are considered “upside down forests.” The roots of some prairie grasses can extend as far as 15 feet deep and reduce erosion while increasing water filtration. They are more resistant to

climate change, and their roots store a significant amount of carbon.

Catlett spends a fair amount of time pulling Johnson grass and other invasive plants from prairie remnants, and says that when they’re removed, “Long dormant seeds of native plants begin to emerge. This is why prairie restoration is valuable. We can bring back native plants without having to replant.”

Ann Sansone, who lives in the Alger Park/Ash Creek area and is also an organizer, adds that prairies offer food and shelter to animals such as Cooper’s hawk, American bumblebee (endangered, by the way) and monarch butterflies. Prairies are also home to pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths. She says, “Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is important for the reproduction of nearly 75% of the world’s flowering plants. This includes more than twothirds of the world’s crop species and one in three mouthfuls of all the food we eat.”

East Dallas resident Janet Smith is passionate about the prairies and is another organizer who helped pull together the event. “This is important to me because it’s a way for ‘regular people’ to be exposed to and learn about the very rich natural history of our area, and encourage them to incorporate native plants into their landscapes.”

“The guided prairie walks will be 20-45 minutes each and offered throughout the event. They’re very informative and real eye-openers,” Smith says. “The leaders will be pointing out the wide range of diversity in the prairie that isn’t visible from a driveby: the native prairie grasses, a variety of wildflowers, some edible plants, many kinds of beneficial insects and non-native plants that constantly try to take over.”

“There will also be walks teaching about two phone apps that are very helpful to have: iNaturalist for identifying and recording the locations of wild plants and animals, and PlantTAGG for identifying and teaching about garden and landscape plants.”

Exhibitors will include organizations such as For the Love of the Lake, North Texas Master Naturalists and LGBT Outdoors, as well as naturalists with live spiders and reptiles. Native plants will be available for purchase from Native Prairies Association of Texas.

Indoor presentations will start on the quarter hour in the Bath House theater and will cover a variety of topics: using native plants in landscaping, history of the White Rock Prairie, birds of White Rock, conserving/restoring the prairie and photography of the area.

While it’s true that development, agriculture and overgrazing have cost us prairie land, it’s not too late for us to save the remaining precious remnants.

“I love seeing the raccoons, possums, the occasional snake, butterflies, bugs and the wonderful variety of birds who call the lake home,” Catlett says. “I know the prairie and the native plants and trees around the lake are making this a better home for these creatures.”

Maybe for us human creatures as well.

For more information: ntxnppd.org

PATTI VINSON is a guest writer who has lived in East Dallas for more than 20 years. She’s written for the Advocate and Real Simple magazine.