Location: Franklin County in Northeast Texas
Region: On the northeastern edge of the Blackland Prairie Ecoregion
Size: 922 acres
Ownership: Mr. B. F. Hicks – Conservation Easement held by NPAT.
It is rare to have the opportunity to include historical narrative (in written and photographic formats) on native Texas prairies. NPAT is grateful to Mr. B. F. Hicks for conveying extraordinary pieces of his family’s history for us to share.
Mr. Hicks has composed a thorough narrative depicting his great-grandfather, C. G. ‘Green’ Hughes, a 4th generation Texan, newly married in 1881, contemplating how to successfully manage the land, and focusing on the task of creating a home for his bride and their future family. The narrative begins with a statement written by a scout in 1808 having observed the unusual Mima Mounds, moves to Mr. Hicks’s acquisition of the 922 acres, and ends with the accomplishment of his long-time goal: working with NPAT to designate Daphne Prairie as an Conservation Easement in 2016. A summary of his historical narrative is included HERE.
The Daphne Prairie Conservation Easement occupies 922 acres of Northeast Texas (between Dallas and Texarkana) in the Sulphur River Basin, in close proximity to the Big Cypress Creek watershed and north of subsurface portions of the Carrizo-Wilcox Major Aquifer (a major aquifer extending from the Louisiana border to the border of Mexico). The topography is relatively flat, with gentle, rolling hills across the entire property; elevation between 390 ft. and 442 ft. above MSL.
Much of the Property has been well managed for over a century and contains intact prairie and riparian woodlands much as they were thousands of years ago. This tract was once part of a vast tallgrass prairie system that extended from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and cut through the mid-section of North America; once containing more than 160 million acres of mostly treeless grassland. These grasslands covered roughly north-to-south-oriented strips of Blackland prairie. The eastward extension covered an area running along the Red River and the Texas Gulf Coast. Climate was and is the primary determining factor for prairie type with the eastern tallgrass prairie receiving more than 30” of rain per year.
This tallgrass prairie comprised the eastern portion of a much larger area called The Great Plains. Moving from east to west the tallgrass prairie grades into the mixed grass prairie and then into the shortgrass prairie on the western margin.
This area (east of Mt. Vernon, Texas) was settled as “Daphne, Texas” in the 1850’s, and by 1895 the town had a post office. Located at the edge of the Post Oak Savannah and the Blackland Prairie, Daphne was a community of agriculture and lumbering. Its post office closed in 1906, and by 1985 all that remained were a community center and a few homes scattered about the area. Today the only remnants of Daphne, Texas are the portions of the FM 1896 which follow the ‘Cherokee Trace’.
Unique Menagerie of Treasures
Soil surveys identified Crockett Silt Loam, Woodtell-Raino complex, Derly-Raino complex, Woodtell Fine Sandy Loam. Within the 922 acres is one of the two largest remaining examples of the unique NE Texas prairie type, ‘wiregrass prairie’, formally known as Silveus’ Dropseed-Longspike Tridens Prairie. Also present are what are referred to as ‘the big four’ grasses of the historical tallgrass prairie: big bluesterm little bluestem switchgrass, and Indiangrass. At a few locations, e.g. in the northwest corner of the high quality hay meadow in the northern part of the Property, localized areas of saline soils are sparsely covered with salt-tolerant plants including whorled dropseed (Sporobolus pyramidatus), marsh-elder (Iva angustifolia), oldfield threeawn (Aristida oligantha), and dwarf-dandelion (Krigia oppositifolia).
Picturesque Mima mounds are a feature of unknown origin characteristic of alfisol prairies. They support a different suite of plants which prefer the slightly drier, better drained soil on the mounds. Depressions within the native prairie create vernal wet areas which are dominated by hydrophilic forbs. Some of those are: Texas goldentop (Euthamia gymnospermoides), sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), showy false-dragonhead (Physostegia pulchella), and swamp smartweed (Polygonum hydropiperoides). Graminoids, especially rushes (Juncus coriaceus, diffusisimus, scirpoides, validus), umbrellasedges (Eleocharis spp.), longspike tridens, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), littletooth sedge (Carex microdonta), flatsedge (Cyperus acuminatus), Carolina jointtail (Coelorachis cylindrica), rosettegrasses (Dichanthelium aciculare and linearifolium), and Virginia bluestem (Andropogon virginicus).
Ponds and Wetlands In addition to the prairie and riparian zones, Daphne Prairie has some ponds and wetlands (both natural and man-made) that provide habitat for insects, invertebrates, shorebirds, ducks, and aquatic or wetland reptiles, amphibian and mammals. These wetlands are currently dominated by native rushes and sedges including spikerushes and flatsedges. The primary non-native species is creeping water primrose (Ludwigia peploides).
We are very grateful to Mr. B. F. Hicks (Daphne Prairie Landowner/2016 Prairie Preservationist Award winner) who, along with a few of his friends, hosted 15 Volunteers on NPAT’s 1st Winter Bird Survey at Daphne Prairie! This was a very successful winter bird count.
We spotted approximately 60 bird species including:
- Short-eared Owls (Asio flammeus)
- Barn Owls (Tyto alba)
- Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus)
- Hundreds of Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna)
- Harlan’s Red Tailed Hawk (B. j. harlani)
We also saw indications of other wildlife as well, including:
- Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus)
- Badgers (Taxidea taxus)
- Bobcats (Lynx rufus)
- Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis)
- Coyote (of course!) (Canis latrans)