PRAIRIE SYSTEMS


ABOUT THE PRAIRIE SYSTEMS

Thousands of snow geese take flight in a giant billowing cloud. A male Attwater’s prairie-chicken in search of a mate can be heard gently booming, proudly dancing. The subtle morning light illuminates brilliant wildflowers and grasses that once spanned millions of acres.

The prairies of Houston Wilderness are a wondrous remnant of an ancient nine million acre system of tallgrass that covered parts of present-day Texas and Louisiana.  Although only one percent of this vast ecosystem remains, it is home to more than 1,000 plant species, including slender bluestem, American snowbell, blazing stars, and sweet goldenrod.

This blanket of grasses and flowers provides important habitat for many migratory species, including geese, waterfowl and songbirds.  It is also the final battleground for the struggling Attwater’s Prairie Chicken whose numbers today is less than 60.

Like the tallgrass prairies of the Midwest, these coastal prairie systems are best maintained by the wildfires and drought that have historically prevented woody plants from taking hold.  They and their many thousands of acres of wetlands absorb and filter rainwater, recharging vital structures that provide fresh water to many thousands of area residents.

For great Prairie resources and a list of Prairie-related events please visit: http://www.coastalprairiepartnership.org.

Watch these videos to virtually visit and learn about the beautiful landscapes and wildlife of our Prairie Systems:

• Last Stand of the Coastal Prairie (Texas Parks & Wildlife)
• Attwater's Prairie Chicken (Houston Zoo)
 Nash Prairie (The Nature Conservancy - Texas)
• Birding the Katy Prairie (Katy Prairie Conservancy)

Download Houston Wilderness' List of Ecoregion Sites for information on sites in all 10 ecoregions. 

TOP 10 FACTS ABOUT...
THE PRAIRIE SYSTEMS

1) The Texas coast once held 6.5 million acres of prairies, thick with chest-high grass that supported enormous numbers of prairie chickens. Less than 1 percent of these acres remain.

2) Of all of the ecosystems in the Houston Wilderness, prairies are the most endangered. They have been overgrazed, plowed and otherwise developed nearly out of existence.

3) Although from a distance they may look monotonous, up close prairies are a shining example of biodiversity with an intricate chain of relationships that naturalists are still working to understand.

4) Plant life, like goldenrod, asters, dewberry vines and native grasses, and feet-thick clay soil help the prairies function as a retention pond – preventing flooding in the surrounding areas by helping water percolate down into the water table instead of running off.

5) Prairie grasses can be difficult to identify, even by grassland experts, because of their diversity: there can be 25 different kinds of the same grasses, differentiated only by the seeds of the flowers it produces.

6) The grasses aren’t the only species in the prairies, rare and beautiful birds all thrive in this habitat. The ground-dwelling Henslow’s sparrow and the secretive sedge wren can both be found in local prairie systems.

7) The Katy Prairie stretches from the Houston city limits west to Brookshire, northwest to Hempstead and southwest to the Brazos River. It encompasses over a thousand square miles.

8) Many animals call the coastal prairies home, including the burrowing owl, raccoon and seasonal residents, snow geese.

9) In the spring, prairies are known for their lively, shimmering fields where tiny flowers dot the landscape.

10) The Prairie Chicken, once abundant, is now perilously close to extinction – most birds are raised in captivity. The Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge exists to help restore the breeding population of these native birds.

 

Banner Photo by Charles McKelroy