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Prairie Facts

Observations of Dormant Woods & Brush, March 8, 2018, by Don Kirchoff


Honey mesquite tree Prosopis glandulosa standing tall behind clusters of prickly pear cacti Opuntia engelmannii

These trees (and the clusters of cacti as well) have been growing on this majestic e.xpanse on his family’s prairie in South Texas for many years. Most South Texans know the honey mesquite tree is one of the last trees to sprout its spring leaves, surrendering its state of dormancy! Don observed woods and brush on this very cold day as winter was weaning; the deciduous trees were holding tightly to their peaceful resting state of dormancy.

“How beautiful are nature’s sculptures: dormant trees & bushes of Texas prairies!
The bare mesquite trees resemble lightning reaching from the ground and spreading
across the sky to the heavens!  If only their bark glowed white instead of the winter mesquite black!”

“The understory is a mix primarily of Granjeno Celtis ehrenbergiana, Brasil Condalia hookeri, Lotebush Ziziphus obtusifolia, Catclaw mimosa Mimosa aculeaticarpa, and Agarita Mahonia trifoliolata,” still dormant. There are groves of an evergreen, called Guayacan Guaiacum angustifolium, mixed in with the dormant trees, mesquites, no oaks.

One could make a scrap book of the beautiful dormant winter images of the trees sleeping through a cold, harsh winter.”
Don Kirchoff

How do trees survive winter?

-Plant dormancy is a survival strategy that allows plants to live through unfavorable conditions. We most often think of it in the Fall where a series of programed processes take place that get the plant ready for the freezing weather of winter. The most obvious results are the change of color of the leaves before they fall from the tree. The changing of the length of days and nights seems to be the environmental cue that triggers these changes.
-When they ‘wake up’ from restful sleep they will be faced with expending the extreme energy photosynthesis will require of them!!! After all, photosynthesis is the process of making glucose which cells use as an energy source from sunlight energy, water and carbon dioxide. Only plant cells can do this, and the special organelle in the plant cells that can do through this process is called a chloroplast.

The mesquites provide homes for many prairie animals (photos by Don Kirchoff) including the
migratory Swainson’s Hawk                                               the Greater Road Runner
Buteo swainsoni,                                                                Geococcyx californianus,

and the Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus.

The prickly understory provides a rare ‘safe’ habitat for the Northern Bobwhite Quail Colinus virginianus.

The winter images of the honey mesquites in early March were stark contrasts to the spring scenes that arrived shortly afterward! More of the prairie’s emerging forbs exploded with vibrant colors, there was the anticipation of wildflowers and the arrival of migratory birds and butterflies hungry for sweet nectar!

Texas Thistle Cirsium texanum
Photo: Teresa Shumaker