Archive for the ‘coastal prairies’ Category

Midtown square bagby

Midtown Square development on West Gray, Houston. This development doesn’t flood, and it doesn’t contribute to flooding. It is a high-interaction neighborhood that builds social capital. (Google Map)

The impacts of Harvey still have our full attention.  We are all agreed—we don’t want to live through another Harvey.  We want to be so much better prepared for the next one. In that case, we better hope the next big one isn’t coming our way anytime soon.

“Do something!” seems to be the watchword of the day. The question is whether or not we will do the right thing. We are clearly taking some good steps in the right direction, but I fear we may lack the necessary organizing principles to build a Houston that is resilient for the next 100 years and beyond.

I suggest two watchwords that could lay the foundations for a robust resilience: watersheds and walkability. Watersheds are the template upon which we build. We must understand both the limitations and the advantages of our watersheds.  Walkability builds the social capital that provides the glue for strong communities. Both the city we build and the watershed we build it on must be healthy in every way if we are to remain vibrant into the next century. (more…)

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monet iris

From the name of a greek goddess, to its use by Claude Monet within his famous garden and paintings, and further to its popular status as a diverse horticultural variety or cultivar, the Iris has widespread play within our culture and (more importantly) our natural world.

According to Correll and Correll (the authority on the aquatic and wetland plants of Southwestern US), there are “more than 200 species in the Northern Hemisphere.”  We are lucky enough to have several native Iris species within our region, including Iris virginica, Iris brevicaulis, and Iris fulva.  Both Iris virginica and Iris brevicaulis have the typical blue-purple and gold color pattern, whereas Iris fulva is distinctively coppery red in color and equally attractive.  It is worth noting that our one unfortunate invasive Iris (Iris pseudacorus, which is native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa)  has a large bright yellow flower, and reproduces rapidly via rhizomes and seeds, and we must be aware of this noxious invader.  Slide1

My first encounter with Irises came as a SCA/Americorps intern at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge.  Driving around Moccasin pond, I marveled at the pretty Iris blooms along the pond edge, intermingled with the native Canna (Canna glauca).  The pond was teeming with life and flowers.  Later, I took my godmother and my mom on a similar tour around the pond, and they also enjoyed the floral display (as well as the sunbathing gators strewn over the road edges).

As part of my restoration work at Sheldon Lake State Park and other sites around Galveston Bay, I have used only the two “blue” species–Iris virginica and Iris brevicaulis.  Each species is specific to a region and habitat….where I. virginica can handle some salinity (fresh to brackish tidal conditions) and the coastal soils, I. brevicaulis finds its niche within the partial shady edges of forests.   These showy natives bloom late spring to early summer, but their bright green to silvery green foliage can remain year-round.  They are both considered obligate wetland plants making them ideal for wetland restoration in their appropriate place within the natural landscape.

When spring returns to our area early next year, be sure to seek out and admire these classic flowering wetland natives.  panoramic photo iris




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During any or all of our vegetation monitoring cycles, I always look for something new in the ponds.  Mostly, I do this because it is not a given that I will get a complete picture of the plant community in any of the “transect” points.  So, it behooves me to look around at the surrounding areas when we are tallying up each sample plot.  This last cycle reminded me of the blessed nature of natural “recruits”—in this case, Leersia hexandra or commonly called:  southern cutgrass.


All the lovely short green stuff in the foreground is Southern cutgrass.


The seedhead on the Leersia hexandra plant is a good giveaway as to its identity.

Phase 1 was my first introduction to the colonization potential of Leersia.  We never planted a single sprig of Leersia in  these ponds—well, never intentionally planted.  It came in with other wetland plants and proceeded to stake out its zone—the 0-3” range.  At these shallow depths, the single surviving transplants eventually multiplied and established a clear zone of vegetation.  What made this more remarkable was that the establishment of this hardy native meant the aggressive exotics (e.g. Deep rooted sedge) were thwarted.  (Get ‘er done, Leersia!!!)

Needless to say, after observing this community dynamic, I incorporated Leersia actively into Phase 2 and 3 of the wetland restoration at Sheldon Lake SP.  And will continue to use it (and its cousins like Panicum dichotoflorum) in future phases of the project and other similar projects. But for now, I was happy to see it proliferating on the inside edge of pond 11.

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Possumhaw Holly

Possumhaw Holly

Once the holiday season is over and we experience cooler temperatures along with occasional rain begin, most of us put thoughts of landscaping into a kind of suspended animation. Much of what is referred to as “color” in the landscape has left our gardens to be replaced by colors of the extended holiday season that begins with Halloween and ends with New Year’s Day. After all, isn’t this the time of year when plants are supposed to go dormant—losing leaves, going to seed, or disappearing altogether until the warmth of the spring sun brings them to life again? (more…)

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A Yellow-crowned Night Heron stalks the new wetland on the grounds of the Johnson Space Center.

Visiting the Johnson Space Center (JSC), you probably anticipate a vision of a high tech future in space.  But to address a more down-to-earth aspect of the space center’s operation, Chris LaChance and I were invited to NASA by Sandy Parker of the JSC Environmental Office to consult on transforming a landscape problem area from boggy lawn to JSC’s first created wetland.

The JSC landscape maintenance contractor, Prodyn EPES, needed a way to deal with the water that pooled in a low spot between a weather station building, parking lots, and a jogging trail. It tended to be too wet to mow, so something else had to be done—and done on a tight budget. At about 2200 square feet, it was too large to be economically practical as a rain garden, which can sometimes require considerable excavation, an underdrain, porous soils, and a selection of predominantly nursery-raised native plants. Chris thought the site had more potential as a created wetland, so she brought me along on the mission.


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