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Prairie Facts

Report on Kirchoff Family Farm August 4, 2017 by Don Kirchoff

Color and Plant Variety Even in HOT, DRY SUMMER!

Submitted by Don Kirchoff on behalf of himself, his sisters, Brenda and Susan, and his brother, Scott, ‘The Kirchoff Family’

All photos by Don Kirchoff unless otherwise noted
We have included some responses from Chris Best, CB an ecologist and State Botanist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and close friend of the Kirchoff Family. He has volunteered many hours on the Kirchoff Family Farm and has also been featured in previous ‘UPDATES” documenting the preparation of the milkweed garden area and planting milkweed seedlings in early 2017.

The Kirchoff Prairie is graced with color and plant variety even in the hot, dry days of summer, including:

Old Man’s Beard with its insect populations

 

Purple flowers CB: “The purple flowers are Ruellia, probably Ruellia nudiflora; wild petunias.”
 

                                                                          Ripening seeds of a plant that had long red flower
                                                                          stems. CB: “The drying stalks full of capsules
Ripening seed pods of the Wild Foxgloves              could be Standing Cypress.
“Prairie penstemon”, Penstemon cobaea                (Photos - blooms @ LBJWC.)

Two native trees produce similar looking, edible fruit: 

                                                                                           
Brasil, Brasilwood, Bluewood condalia, Condalia hookeri and the
Texas persimmon, Mexican persimmon, Diospyros texana

The Brasil tree is a VERY thorny ‘small tree’ and is semi-evergreen. Its edible fruit is only ¼” in diameter and turns black when ripe in summer. Fox, raccoon and birds enjoy the fruit – humans must compete to harvest fruit. Blooms and fruit attract birds and butterflies; it is a larval host for the American Snout butterfly Libytheana carinenta. (American Snout butterfly photo"butterfliesandmoths.org”.)
 

Texas persimmon, Mexican persimmon, Diospyros texana
Texas persimmon tree has multiple trunks and its bark is light gray in color… its leaves grow up to 2” long. (Texas Persimmon tree trunks photo from LBJWC)

Its fruit is 1” in diameter and ripens from July into September with a flavor described like prunes.

The Texas persimmon tree serves as a larval host for these two beautiful butterflies:
Gray hairstreak Strymon melinus and Henrys Elfin butterfly Callophrys henrici
(photos from butterfliesandmoths.org):
   

The Kirchoff Family Farm also serves as home to several Bee hives, including this one that outgrew its screech owl box!

We also saw Granjeno bushes that had lots of orange berries and Brazil producing lots of seed this year (photos are on their way)!

THE STORY OF OUR ZIZOTES MILKWEED GARDEN:

  Here is what we did to arrive at this point:
Collected seeds from scattered, isolated plants located within a few miles of Kirchoff Prairie
Planted the seeds to 8” Hiko Trays in Oct, 2016
Prepared ‘milkweed garden’ area; transplanted seedlings to this Kirchoff Prairie garden plot Apr, 2017
 
Same Garden Plot July, 2017:
     

Treated plants a couple times with Sevin and fungicide when aphids and fungus appeared.

Enclosed some capsules with tulle bags to prevent loss of seeds
 

Capsules started opening late July; some seeds blowing away in the wind, others collected in tulle bags.
   

Some of these plants have more than a dozen seed capsules each. We have collected a few tulle bags of seeds from other plants that have emerged at random in our older prairie fields
I have another group of 30 seedlings to be added to this garden this fall.
We plan to apply Sevin only to plants in future from which we hope to produce seeds. The others we’ll leave untreated for the wildlife.
It appears that we will have far more seeds from this year’s production than we can use. Any ideas on what to do with excess seeds?
 

Very large wasps appear to be collecting aphids. 
Quail frequent the area, but I don’t know if they eat the seeds.
We have not seen any monarch caterpillars on them.

Chris Best’s replies.

“First, I am really impressed with your great successes on your zizotes seed production!  You have put theory into practice and have demonstrated that this can be done.”

“That large wasp on your zizotes plant looks like Tarantula Hawk Wasp.
Don’t get stung by one of those - the venom is truly fierce!
It turns out they are important pollinators of milkweeds. 
Here’s some info from a Wikipedia article:
Pepsis grossa, formerly and perhaps better known as Pepsis formosa,[1] is a very large species of pepsid spider wasp from the southern part of North America, south to northern South America. It preys on tarantula spiders, giving rise to the name tarantula hawk for the wasps in the genus Pepsis and the related Hemipepsis.
Only the females hunt so only they are capable of delivering a sting, which with that of the bullet ant is considered the most painful of any insect sting scoring 4.0 to the bullet ant’s 4.0+ on the Schmidt sting pain index.[2]
In Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas, four species of plant accounted for 73.6% of all plants which were used by P, grossa adults for feeding on, these were the milkweeds: Asclepias texana and Asclepias sperryi; Mexican buckeye Ungnadia specisosa and honey mesquite Prosopis glandulosa[9] Wasps of the genus Pepsis do seem to be important pollinators of milkweeds which are regarded as noxious weeds as they are poisonous to grazing livestock.[7]
Wasps of the genera Pepsis and Hemipepsis produce large quantities of venom and when stung humans experience immediate, intense, excruciating short term pain. Although the immediate pain of a tarantula hawk sting is among the greatest recorded for any stinging insect, the venom itself is not very toxic.