This is the first of a two-part series on the feature project of the Prairie Oaks Master Naturalist Chapter: the Nature Center on the Bosque River Trail in Stephenville
Cowpen daisies? Snake herb? Henry Duelberg sage? Texas buckeye? False dragonhead? Greg’s mistflower? What do these have in common? First, they are all native Texas plants and thus hardy and drought tolerant. Second, they all have beautiful flowers that attract many kinds of pollinator insects. And, last but not least, you can see them all growing, along with many other natives, in the beds at the Bosque River Trail Nature Center in Stephenville.
The Nature Center features a short winding path of mulch with rock-bordered beds on each side which ends at a group of massive boulders. If you have ventured down this path, you may have found yourself greeted by clouds of butterflies that erupt from masses of flowers present at various times during the growing season. To stop for a moment amidst the plantings is to discover another world with drama set to the tune of insects at work among the flowers. Though virtually unknown to most residents of the area, users of the Bosque River Trail are already aware of the Nature Center as a bright spot adjacent to the Trail where it borders East Long Street, east of the low water river crossing.
Beyond the boulders of the rock-bordered beds is a larger area of notably different tall grasses and other vegetation. Seeded with a mixture of over forty species of native grasses and other native plants, this part of the project was envisioned as a site to recreate a cross timber prairie, a habitat that has become increasingly rare in this region. The process of succession is now occurring in the “prairie restoration” area, with new stands of the seeded species appearing each year. Already, green sprangletop and Texas cupgrass have appeared, accompanied by a wide variety of flowering plants, such as standing cypress and American basket flower.
Walkers, runners and bikers may occasionally see volunteers from the Prairie Oaks Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists working at the Nature Center, usually removing invasive nonnative Bermuda grass and nutsedge from the beds, planting new additions, watering new plantings, and photographing and documenting project status. Those volunteers relate the many Trail users who stop to express their thanks and compliment the beauty of the plantings. Those who linger have a chance to learn about native plants as wise landscaping choices and other aspects of the project. For the volunteers, observing the plants’ seasonal changes and experiencing the company of the butterflies and other pollinators is reward enough.
Dr. Marsha Stephens is the new training class director for the Prairie Oaks Master Naturalist Chapter. She has a Ph.D. in Biology and is retired from New Mexico State University.