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"Xeric Tallgrass Prairie"

This was new to me that I learned just this afternoon and found interesting.

We were doing some site surveys and fire mitigation recon out at Rocky Flats NWR today and my boss was telling us about "xeric prairies." Now, I have heard about tall, mixed, and shortgrass prairie, and through all my research on the subject, have never once heard this term. I have been lead to believe that all grassland in Colorado fit squarely and neatly in the "shortgrass" column. Not so. Along the eastern Piedmont of the Rocky's remains vestiges of the last ice age! A narrow band of xeric tallgrass prairie. While most of the land in the Centennial State east of the foothills is (or at least once upon a time it was) dominated by "boot high" grasses like blue grama and buffalograss, in my neck of the woods, the landscape is (supposed to be) more reminiscent of that historically found in Illinois, dominated by big bluestem, Indian, and switchgrass.

While all prairies are considered one of, if not the most, imperiled ecosystems on earth, Colorado's Front Range tallgrass prairie is possibly in worse condition than it's more famous brother to the east. In fact, in 1985 found only a handful of tiny parcels scattered through Boulder and Jefferson counties. Livestock grazing, farming and development have destroyed the rest. What those activities haven't taken, invasive and exotic plants threaten to finish off. Smooth brome, introduced by cattlemen from Europe, is easily the single most common grass species in either of these counties, turning one of the most diverse landscapes into a complete monoculture.

To make matters worse, Jefferson, the county I live in, is considering downsizing it's open space holdings along the Dakota Hogback in order to develop more business and housing tracts so they can capitalize on the explosive growth that is consuming the Denver area. It is unlikely that the commissioners or many of their constituents, will mourn the loss.

Anyways, just thought some of you prairie enthusiasts would find this interesting. And heres a link for some further reading.
https://www-static.bouldercolorado.gov/docs/30._boulder_tallgrass_prairies-1-201307091134.pdf

Comments (121)

  • User
    8 years ago

    Woods Tea, Up the street is a large clump of switchgrass, its as tall as 'Heavy Metal' and it gets really red. I nearly swerved off the street the first summer I saw it in full glory. I have no idea what kind it is. I'm hoping to get something close to that with the 'Shenandoah'. Time will tell.

    Zack several years ago I purchased Little Bluestem seeds from Plants of the SW. I did it by mail and I've also ordered over the phone with them. I don't like ordering online either but I finally took a chance with two places. I have never had any trouble with Santa Rosa Gardens or High Country Gardens. When SRG has their sales in late spring and fall, its just about irresistible. Jude Groninger, the owner is personable and will email you if there are any issues. Example, last year she contacted me to say she'd gladly hold my late fall sale order over until spring if I wanted since it was too late to plant them in Oklahoma. Their 4" pot sized grasses establish quickly into gallon sized plants usually blooming the first season.

    Anyway the BS seeds I grew from Plants of the SW germinated in about a week or so and grew quickly into gorgeous powder blue, vertical upright plants with fine leaves as pretty as any named LBS I have purchased. I've long since re-vamped the garden so they are no longer there but if I went the seed route again, I'd definitely reorder that strain of LBS seeds. Seedlings are gallon sized plants by year 2 and some bloomed the first year. Big Bluestem----thats another matter. So far I have no germination on the ones I planted this year but I'm keeping the area watered. I grew some in pots several years back and compared to LBS, they are slow going. I never ended up planting those.

    Woods--The Autumn Sesleria I planted year before last is in bright shade, the shade part was the reason I got it. The plants are surprisingly large this year and have massed in together so there's no longer so much the look of individual plants. There hasn't been a single volunteer seedling. Next year they could easily be divided if I decide to make a larger area back there under the trees to replace some local type of carex I have next to them. I'm still deciding. Sesleria aren't so much ornamental as they are neat and tidy especially in a mass planting. The most ornamental low grass I have is Prairie Fire carex, its about the same size and habit as the Sesleria. The orangey color and fine leafed, sort of wild grassy texture is really nice in full sun, they are in a spot that stays moist because its where the air conditioner drain thing drips. Both are evergreen all winter and need no trimming in spring.


  • WoodsTea 6a MO
    8 years ago

    Either too tall or with looser growth habit. Up front in the hell strip I need low height and I care more about form. Out back it's different, as far as I know I only have one nativar out there, a reduced height variety of Viburnum dentatum (Blue Muffin, still should get 7-8' tall). Otherwise it's regular old native stuff.

    I do generally prefer locally sourced natives, and ideally individuals from different sources, for diversity reasons. I just don't think it's terribly important in a tiny urban yard, compared to a larger site restoration -- especially up front where I'm trying to make things look as nice as possible and maybe interest some other people in native plants.

    That said, I'm a lot more excited about a non-cultivar native plant that ends up performing well for me than I am about a named cultivar.

  • User
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Just one more note because to be honest, I do feel just teeny weeny tad bit defensive. I can grow some grasses up front in full sun that I cannot grow in back due to the shade from neighbors trees (my perennial but futile complaint). Little Bluestem cultivars have solved the problem. The best solution so far I have found is MinnBlue sold as 'Blue Heaven'. It stands up straight in quite a lot of shade. I bought the 'Standing Ovation' plants ($$$) for the same reason. If I could, I'd plant the ones I can grow from seed and would save a heck of a lot of money. In the beginning, I tried it with the seeds I got from Plants of the SW along with some local seed I collected and they all flopped every year and so did the local genotype Indian Grass plants I tried (those have to go up front). Switchgrass involves space issues. On a city lot the unimproved kinds are simply too enormous to be practical although I've seen some dramatic ones on the roadside. They are huge masses. Time will tell on the named variety of Big Blue I planted back there. Muhly, the grama grasses, and others do just fine in back.

  • WoodsTea 6a MO
    8 years ago

    TR: "Sesleria aren't so much ornamental as they are neat and tidy especially in a mass planting."

    Exactly what I'm looking for, more of a low mounding type effect, to cover the soil at the edge and open up some space to see the taller plants behind. I've been trying to put more low-growing things into the hell strip:

    • Phemeranthus calycinum

    • Antennaria neglecta

    • Sedum pulchellum

    • Oenothera macrocarpa (just one of these, sprawls over rocks in the hot corner by the street and driveway)

    I don't know how the Sesleria will do in a really hot and dry year. Perhaps I will eventually think of a good native substitute for it if it suffers too much.

  • WoodsTea 6a MO
    8 years ago

    Also a big fan of LBS 'Blue Heaven'.

    I've been interested in this shorter LBS cultivar 'Prairie Munchkin' lately. It looks like it's less blue than some others, which is disappointing. Might pick a couple up just to see how it looks throughout the season.

  • User
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Good. I wanted to give you an accurate report. Mine get pretty dry and don't ever seem to suffer for it so when it gets dry on your strip, maybe they will stand up to it. Mine are in full sun in fall, winter and early spring so as a cool season grass, that works out. In a word, I like them. I can't report how they'd do in full Midwestern summer sun though. Let me know.

    Have to disagree on the munkin. I dislike it a lot because it doesn't look like a bluestem even remotely, its celery colored with white stalks and looks 'BRED'. I think of it as a 'cut dog' thats been tamed down so much its lost all of its 'bluestemmyness' and I put it in the same category as those double echinacea's that look like Jon Benet Ramsey. They even brag on the fact that its a good substitute for the over used but ever popular 'Karl Foerster'. Better choice for short in my opinion is Jazz or Carousel. I ordered Carousel to plant in front of the Standing Ovation but only because they only had 12 SO's (rats!!) left in stock. I'm getting to the point that my 'Northwind' is looking too artificial and hybrid for my taste. I haven't gotten rid of them but the day may come.....

  • wisconsitom
    8 years ago

    For real you guys, no need to be defensive. If you knew what half of my work entailed-ornamental plantings of often zero native content-annuals (gasp!), things from around the wide world....I have no issue with any of this. Besides, from what I've seen on this forum, your (Tex) garden is amazingly harmonious and well proportioned. Finally, in those fairly large "prairie restorations" we install around our stormwater ponds and stream restorations, it's all nonsense from a native vegetation standpoint. Get this: The reason we use prairie plantings (not restorations) around these practices ultimately has nothing to do with their "nativeness" per se. No, it is because when a big glug of rain comes flashing down the channel, such vegetation will lay down and let the water pass. If it were our true native vegetation-trees, shrubs, and then whatever ground layer accompanies same, it would catch debris, and then catch more debris, leading to complete blockage of flow.

    We try to work with nature, but at the end of the day, flood control/mitigation is job one. Whether I like it or not!

  • User
    8 years ago

    Tom, I've gone through so much trail and error here at 'The Projects' it feels schizophrenic at times and frustrating. Seems I'm always rearranging, removing or adding, trying different types of plants etc, some plants work but many others don't. Sometimes I just have trouble visualizing or a plant doesn't work out like I'd hoped. I found that if I mass an area all in one kind of grass its more harmonious as opposed to too many different varieties all growing together. Right now I'm working on the high side where the soil continues to wash downhill. Its half day full sun from early to around 1 to 2pm. I decided to try bluestem but I need a strain that stays upright. I've tried large cactus, I have a variety that will grow anywhere and takes a lot of shade along with perennials & shrubs but they all leaned. I cleared it out but my next investment for 4 Apache Plume shrubs looked like hell too after a couple years. Its enough sun but those tall trees are looming behind and most plants want to drastically lean away from them in a way that looks awful. Grasses don't lean like other plants did, I know that because before I planted the shrubs I'd planted that robust strain of Los lunas Giant Sacaton developed for windbreaks in the desert and let them grow for a couple years until I had to admit it really looked too coarse and unattractive there even though they filled in fast & did the trick. Now I'm onto trying one of the bluestem strains that stay upright. The area has been cleared out for the umteenth time it seems like and I should get the order today. I hope this finally solves the problem.

    There is a certain pressure I feel about having it look right. When you scrape your yard clean and the neighbors are all watching with wrinkled foreheads and looking doubtful, it feels like you have to make good in order to justify what you did or you'll end up looking crazy with a mess. The Crazy Lady's yard, that sort of thing. I've seen some yards that look awful where they grow plants in front instead of a lawn. Mostly these have lots of big shrubs and trees and the plants are ill matched and just wrong. Its an awful effect.

  • User
    8 years ago

    Zach, I am KICKING myself hard. I just last night discovered, via google, that you can order flats of 38 plants from Santa Rosa Gardens for whole lot less than I just paid for 12 Bluestem 'Standing Ovation', 8 Bluestem 'Jazz' and 3 Panicum 'Shenandoah'. How I missed this until now is beyond me, I just never clicked 'Liner Trays'. You can even order a mixed flat but they will only fill with whats in stock currently-- some aren't. I would have ordered a whole flat of all one kind of LBS if I'd know this because thats what I was wanting all along. A bag of potting soil, some recycled 4" pots, a month of babying them and wham, in the ground they'd go. RATS! The way I figure it is, they sell the wholesale flats for about twice the price of wholesalers. Thats not bad because with wholesale places there's usually a minimum order of about $500.

    Typical, seems I'm always a day late and a dollar short (especially the dollar part)

    Anyway, I didn't know if this would be of interest to you (or anyone else) since you were looking for LBS plants and saw that one single plant for $20. I bet you could contact Jude by phone and place an order and let her know you are uncomfortable ordering online. She really does work with people.


    http://www.santarosagardens.com/Trays-s/10281.htm


  • wantonamara Z8 CenTex
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    or worse , you will be responsible for their lowered resale value.My "yard" has gone all weedy. No time for gardening. Work work work.

  • WoodsTea 6a MO
    8 years ago

    TR, what about Elymus canadensis for that part sun hilly location? Something to get the hill stabilized and that handles shade reasonably well. I'm not speaking from experience, just trying to think of some less than full sun possibilities.

  • wantonamara Z8 CenTex
    8 years ago

    Or Sleepy grass from New Mexico. It likes to grow in high part shade locations around Riodoso and cloud croft. I am trying them out here for under cedars. My only concern is our heat. versus the foothills of the Lincoln Mountains.

  • User
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Well, if it makes any sense, I don't want anything 'grassy'. The giant sacaton was really grassy and looked overwhelming and I got tangled up and slapped in the face by the weeping leaves when I weeded or cleaned there. What I mean is I want compact, vertical and dense plants rather than grasses with an open loose weeping habit because that looks too wild. I've made that mistake over and over.

    I learned that a lot of weeping grasses planted together easily ends up looking like a confusing mess and although they seem to work nicely as specimens or massed in large scale situations when enough space is available and they can be seen from distance, its not always good in a typical yard or as a backdrop behind other plants, in this case the plants in front are artemisia and other silver plants along with some blue O. macrocentra prickly pear cactus. Further north on the border where it gets shade earlier in the day, I've massed Pine Muhly and its doing good, success at last! It used to be planted in the PoSW seed grown bluestem and those did good until they bloomed and then they lodged.

    Sleepy grass would be too see through. I'd like it in a field but not as a backdrop higher up growing in the background.

    I'm very confident the Standing Ovation will work, its got unusually thick stems like the Blue Heaven. I chose S. 'Jazz' because its a shorter, non lodging version of 'The Blues'. I planted a lot of 'The Blues' and they grow super fast, stand straight, are light powder blue and they get tons of seed stalks on thick plants. The only problem is, so many seed on too tall/thin of a stem so they lean from the weight of it. They didn't didn't lodge but they did lean a lot, otherwise its gorgeous.

    I just read Zack says bluestem goes really nice with P. shenandoah, even if its not all that red, so I was glad to read it, I was counting on that for some nice color contrasts in summer and fall. The late afternoon sun comes through there so I think it will be nice.

  • wisconsitom
    8 years ago

    For all your doings and re-doings Tex, I really mean it-your gardening is A number one primo. I actually envy the ability of you and some others here to work with some of these dry land plants. I can grow them through the growing season alright, but the first cold, miserable, and WET autumn does them in every time. Nothing like a nice clump of Agastache or some such with ice crystals forming in its crown!

    Oddly-now that I mention that plant-a few actually wintered over this year. I had thought of the winter we had as awful for perennial plant survival-we didn't even get much snow, although there was one nice heavy one in late Dec. that surely helped. But cold and relatively snowless is a bad recipe for these things. Still.....somehow, little clumps of Agastache and in my worst site-the downtown strip-all of which could rightly be termed "hell strip"!

  • WoodsTea 6a MO
    8 years ago

    Tom, perhaps you could plant those dryland plants in a gravel garden?

    http://www.wpr.org/gravel-gardens-are-low-maintenance-drought-resistant-horticulture-expert-says


  • User
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Thank you Tom. I can't grow agastache either, inevitably a heavy rain will get it or, I'll water when its dry they die a slow death. I finally got irritated with them. I bet Zach is the only one who can, they've got that low humidity and climate for stuff like that.

    I got the grasses in the mail from SRG and they are planted and watered in. They really do sell good looking plants.

    I chopped on a giant ugly Privet I am sick of looking at and now I'm working out a deal in my head to offer to plant the stuff I dug up if I do the chore of getting rid of it and the strip of tree saplings, weeds and vinca vine growing on the property line but technically in the neighbors yard. I think she will go for it, all they do is hire the grass mowed except for that 2 ft wide mess of vinca major along the fence and she loves all my 'flowers'. She calls everything 'flowers'. Privet is on the invasive species list here so I consider this an act of civic duty. (cough)

    With the recent alteration to make room for the grass I've now got good sized plants without a home: 3 Russian Sage, 1 flame Acanthus, 1 Monroe's Globe Mallow, 4 Salvia greggii, two Apache Plume shrubs and artemisia. Stuff that needs no watering or molly-codling. My part of the bargain will be to never have to look at the privet again and even better--- I'll get to stop yanking out crawling vinca major that grows 6 inches a day--------I hate that stuff. Yearly, I spray the tree saplings from my side, they are always either pecan or Tree of Heaven.

    Tom I know you really dislike the Russian Sage but it looks so pretty when its really hot and dry, it can take whatever and is reliable. I think its ugly in too rich or moist soil.

  • ZachS. z5 Platteville, Colorado
    Original Author
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I will have to check out SRG. 38 plants is a lot, though lol. Well, more grass will have to be removed...oh dear, what will the neighbors think as my lawn continues to dwindle ;).

    I personally like the Shenandoah with the bluestem, definately. Maybe it's because so many other xeric plants are also blue and/or grey that the the green really adds something when combined with the blue of the little bluestem. Plus, in the fall, P. virgatum turns yellow/straw while the little blue turns pink/red, nice combo IMO, but I'm not quite the artist that you are, TR, so, don;t take my word for it, LOL.

    Agastaches are among my favorite, and they do amazing here, I have to say. the three I planted last year (A. rupestris) at least doubled in size this year. I will have to get a picture and show you all (not often that people envy what we can grow here in Denver, haha). As a bonus, they are the broad tailed hummingbird's favorites and they hang out by them for hours. At my brother's house about 20 minutes north of me, he has A. cana 'Sonoran Sunset' that smells like bubble gum. It has grown enormous for him. I planted one last year that didn't survive the winter however, but it was really beat up and sad looking when I bought it, too though.

  • User
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    There's several plants you can grow there that don't do well (or as well) here that make me jealous. Apache Plume grows here but the plumes aren't as pink due to the hot nights, Rabbit Bush will grow here but its a challenge, Winterfat is one of my favorite shrubs but after 4 years mine started looking really bad and they don't get the massive amount of cottony seeds in fall & winter, White Tufted Primrose and quite a few other very xeric perennials, Bush Morning Glory--I can get it to come up but it dies after a year or so, Miribilis multiflora---I got it to come up too but its small and dismal after three years---its alive but thats about all and I should be turned in for plant torture on that one. I really wanted one too......

    Native Buckwheat. I love all of them. This one makes me cry.

    Any and all Alpine plants which is sad because there's so many I like.

    I could just sum it up by saying, if its got tiny leaves, silver leaves or no leaves at all like Ephedra, I like it. I'm trying that Pawnee Butte's Sand Cherry I ordered from HCG. So far so good. I should add I find I'm in the minority when it comes to many of the plants I like. Most people seem to like the lush colorful bright stuff. I don't.

  • ZachS. z5 Platteville, Colorado
    Original Author
    8 years ago

    Rabbit brush grows all over the place out here, lol. It gets BIG though, and hard to find for landscape use. There is a dwarf variety they supposedly sell, but I have never once seen it.

    I have been searching for Colorado four o' clocks for a couple years, never have found them for sale, either. I was offered seedlings from a friend, but, they apparently don't take kindly to being dug up. They also dread water I hear, your 36" might just be too much for them.

    Alpine plants don't do terribly well here in Denver, either. It just get's too hot and too dry. Aspens are a perfect example. Everyone wants to have the show stopping golden fall leaves in their front yard, but the trees just do terrible at lower elevations. Unfortunately not terrible enough to keep them from suckering EVERYWHERE. I do grow our state flower, Aquilegia caerulea, Rocky Mountain columbine, but to be honest down here on the plains, it's better to treat them as annuals in my experience, though I think some of hybrid columbines do better.

    I don't really like the more "typical" garden plants either. Although, I do like some, like echinacea and liatris. I also do enjoy spring bulbs because without them my garden would be devoid of life for more than half the year, so, it's nice to have daffodils and tulips to look at when the snow is still falling in April.

    But, overall, I mostly stick to the ones that like hot and dry. Penstemons are, as you know, my favorites, and the rare salvia that will overwinter are nice too. Today I planted both! P. rostiflorius and S. reptans. They are both late season bloomers, and the red and blue should look good together More agastache went into that bed, too. The spaces will be filled with blue and sideoats grama

    To take this is a completely different direction... I picked up a couple little blues "prairie blue" today, do you have any experience with that one?

  • User
    8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I like 'Prairie Blues', I planted 4" pots in fall of 2014 but lost about 3 of them, its a seed sown strain so the seedlings will be like the parents. Its very light blue with thin leaves but it isn't as robust as some for me. The plants are smaller in diameter so they form the classic exclamation marks and I really want that look so I'm using seedlings to have more plants up front. They never lodged or leaned or looked messy like some BS, straight as arrows. They seeded lightly compared to other kinds. Mine have been a lot slower coming around compared to the more robust types and three of the plants are still pretty sparse this year, there's a lot of dead grass with only a bit of weak growth even at this late date. Maybe its the soil, its sandy and dry where they are.

    'The Blues' is also powder blue with thin leaves but the plants form very large clumps with lots and lots of bloom stems and they have more volunteers the next year. They don't form that thin strong vertical ! look, rather they look like thick robust tussocks with a big diameter. They come back real strong the second year and grow fast but tend to lean pretty bad. The seedlings all look and behave like the parent plants.

    If you ever run across 'Blue Heaven' you ought to get it. Its got deep turquoise blue stiff leaves with hints of red or purple early on & the leaves are short & thick, the plants stay pretty low until they send up stiff straight blooms which happened in July here. They color up really nice in late summer. Some seedlings look just like the parents, others don't at all, they are taller and lighter blue.

    'The Blues' have foliage which is a lot taller (about a foot tall) and they bloom early too but the fall color isn't all that dramatic. Both it and 'Blue Heaven' bloomed a few weeks earlier than 'Prairie Blues' which would be good for your shorter season.

    Prairie Blues was the latest blooming type I had last year but it had the most prairie-like look to my eyes, those thin vertical strokes like you see in a nice prairie.

    The Standing Ovation I just bought have leaves that are thicker than 'Blue Heaven' and already were showing hints of purple. The more robust older looking starter plants were amazingly thick at the bases, of the 12 I ordered some plants looked a bit more mature. I'm anxious to see how they do.

    I also got 'Jazz' in the 4"pots. The early growth of the leaves is light green and extremely thin compared to the other LBS plants I have.

    The Los Lunas variety I bought from HCG last spring bloomed the earliest of all last year and those got tall, one plant lodged out of 6 plants. They came up really thick and robust early this spring and I got lots of seedlings.

    I imagine the differences in climates would affect which ones do better in different parts of the country. Maybe Prairie Blue isn't up to our heat? I don't know.

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    "Xeric prairie" - glad to hear this isn't just a term by the poetic ones I moved from in Albuquerque. They call arid, desert grassland or plain desert "prairie grassland", then plant irrigated "meadows"!

    I grew up partly in Aurora Colorado, 15"-ish precip / year, and their steppe is not prairie. I went to college where it is prairie in central Oklahoma; tall grasses on clay, areas of stunted forest (cross timbers) on sands, both 35"-ish precip / year.

    I'll now have to check out the places ZachS. z5 notes and the link covers, next time up in Denver. From hearing wisconsitom(Zone 4/5) "xeric prairie" in WI seems the reverse of where it grows in CO...WI = drier, warmer microclimates, CO = wetter, cooler microclimates.

    Both OK and CO seem in denial or not caring about what they are and could have, with little of the pampering their landscapes now have. From texasranger2 there's some interesting changes from my 4 years in OK, but also more of the same.

    I recently read a book on "Steppes" out of Denver, then "Planting in a Post-Wild World" from the eastern US. The latter gets to the root of this dialogue, as it's about "designed plant communities", meaning know one's "archetypal landscape", then planting ornamentally to that.

    Maybe embracing one's own archetype is the root of this issue being discussed? Then knowing how to abstract that in design is next?

    Many place's have their own prejudices or at least biases, endangering something natural there. Some worse than others for certain. I hate to see trends or perceptions over-rule reality or what's lasting. I get unsafe situations or other problems that are removed, but I also discern when it's taken too far.

    By the time I die, I hope our US culture is more sophisticated and connected to place, instead of changing each. I want to see Phoenix not look like Santa Barbara, or Denver look like Duluth...all 4 different, deserving to be like only each can.

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago

    Keep in mind, even prior to the turning of nearly all existing prairie found in WI to corn and soybeans, the title plant community of this thread occupied tiny amounts of land in WI. Restricted to SW-facing hillsides, and then only in far SW WI. Not at all common, ever.

    Hell, I'm in E-central WI and there's a knob not far from here with a bit of prickly pear cactus remnant! As this happens to also be a popular chill spot for the kids, most plants have seen a fair amount of abuse. But again, this is way an outlier! Look where New London, WI is, and these hills with the prickly pear are just to the E of that town. Had as much to do with soil-pure sand-as with any climatic factor. It's a fairly wet region.

  • User
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Oklahoma is not so much in a state of denial, its more like a mass inferiority complex. The idea that the place has needed improvement since settlement is entrenched, we need gussy-ing up with pretty plants and lots of trees brought in because otherwise "there ain't nothin' purdy to look at out there" because gee, its just so darn flat and boring. I guess a wide view of the horizon for miles in every direction and a huge sky is not enough, it needs to be broken up and the view completely blocked off with trees although to me that seems a bit like blocking the view of the mountains if you lived by them. Most people will grant you that Oklahoma does have good farmland, they will give you that.

    Even our state flower, Indian Blanket was recently demoted to the slot of being our 'State Wildflower' and replaced with a hybrid Tea Rose some Japanese rose breeder named 'Oklahoma'. Flattery does work indeed.

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Sad on OK's "state wildflower" vs. "state flower". Whether a relic at the extreme dry and wet ends, or in the middle where the norm, do you think inferiority can couch itself as denial, hostility or conceit? That might explain desert and steppe hostility in NM, and steppe hostility in CO.

    Good examples all over, and making those hip by tapping into popular imagery, seem to be how TX is more turned on (agave/stock tank fad in Austin) or AZ is (Sonoran natives/water harvesting in Tucson).

  • User
    7 years ago

    Nah, its just plain ole inferiority along with the lack of ability to appreciate the beauty of something so subtle in color and detail but which needs to be experienced and looked at up close to see that its not miles of boring nothing, in fact, just the opposite.

    Weird thing is most people don't choose to live in knee or waist high grass, not that you can blame them but no one realized how fragile it all was. Then there was greed, that played a big part, it always does.

  • wantonamara Z8 CenTex
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have always liked the idea of place that comes with Nature.I am not the purist. I also like the idea of place as it come with historical trends of gardening in the my place of Texas that predate modern gardening. Someone brought us school house lilies from argentina a hundred years ago. I thank them. They still mark many an abandoned ruined farmhouse. The Big Box and gardening mags are busy creating its place glued ontop of this timeline continuum of many places . Their place is rife with a unified expectation of lusciousness that remains alien to a natural Central Texas, a place of floods and drought. That last one that the Big Box has put on, is an eraser of all that was unique before. It seems so divorced from regional characteristics. At least the historical gardening trends of Texas had roots in what was here and what was brought here by the spanish , and german immigrants that could survive with minimal or no irrigation. Even when I arrived in Austin in the 70's. Most grass was allowed to dry up in August. That is a thing of the past and illegal in many HOAs. I like the layering of Northern Mexico's flora with Texas. Agave's and Palms seem to fit with our live oaks and Yuccas. Poliomintha longiflora thrives in my yard through thick and thin with out irrigation and protecting. It is from 400 miles south west of me. about the distance of OKC and closer than New Mexico. I consider it an "almost Native" along with my Hinkley Columbine and big bend Salvias that grow un amended and unwatered. Natives do remain the bone of my place. And the natural order and disorder is still what I do because I am your disorganized human. I look for system that will sustain , not necessarily systems that are beautiful and rational statements of mass and color.

    I think gardeners have always wanted to put their sense of order on the world from geometric knot gardens to miasmic rules of what colors go with what. They have always brought the unusual from far away into the mix.. Now add to this that we are a populace of constant movement and there is a need to bring from home what made them feel "at home". I think people bring into the desert a remembered preferred palette of colors with rich greens as a background stitched into the backs of their eyelids, not the burnt red, buff or white of the bone dried bare ground. Even the light is different. It will destroy most colors on a good hot summer day. The shade is different. The leaves of the oaks start to turn in a vertical manner to reduce evaporation in a drought , thinning the shade. I don't know how many people come to the Texas forum wanting to know how to grow peonies and forsythias in their new homes. I can only say that southern "Bless their Hearts".

    Water rationing is changing the gardening choices in a really substantial way. We have had water rationing for over 15 years now almost non stop. The trend is building. I fear the overuse of Decomposed granite as ground cover will make monsanto very happy in its need to keep it need. They will be happy regardless.

  • User
    7 years ago

    Correction: Tx is more turned on by prairie grasses. Its a thousand times easier to maintain and design a garden based on agaves, cactus and other desert plants with empty spaces covered in gravel. I tried that early on but it got boring quickly and it doesn't change much through the seasons and has no movement. I found its much more difficult and challenging to attempt a prairie landscape in an urban setting but I'm continually editing and working on it. Its like comparing the planning & detail involved in an intricate tapestry with a simplistic rug design.

  • wantonamara Z8 CenTex
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Desert hostility... interesting. How about comfort. Desert will always be seen by many as uncomfortable and harsh. Whereas home needs to be comfortable and homey. Water is coupled with life, cleanliness and comfort. Changing those perceptions will be hard nut to crack. Water rationing will make it hard to afford water and that greenery will become uncomfortable to maintain. The Rich still get to. I live where water laws are just plain weird and the wealthy are still maintaining huge water features that they get trucks of water to come in and maintain where people like y friends have to pay $150 per month to get water to flush and boil food in. irrigation is added ontop. Me , I am a water harvester so I am out of the municipal safety lupe. I know where my water comes from.... the sky.

  • User
    7 years ago

    Was Quercus talking about Texas the state or texasranger2? Tex can't tell.

    Yea, we can all talk big talk while sitting in our air-conditioned homes at the computer.

    My goal is no watering. I keep planting those native grasses and I'm getting real close. The only ones I'm watering are the new ones I'm establishing this year.

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    TX referred to the state (mainly Austin) getting into the desert as a style, and blending it into their own natives like wantonamara Z8 CenTex was noting. Not sure I get who's big talking in their home AC!

  • User
    7 years ago

    I meant the way we all enjoy the comforts but complain about certain things like land that was taken over for crop production, oil drilling, changing landscapes etc, nothing was intended there or targeted at anyone specific.

  • wantonamara Z8 CenTex
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Texas has a trend that takes from areas around them and combines. Our land is a combination of the areas. Thank god the azalea/Camelia faze has died an agonizing death. Austinites do have a lush take on desert. A bit of tropical (especially if you are in San Antonio), The influences of the Sierra Madre Oriental, A bit of the south and a bit of the plains mixed in with a bit of the desert and l and a whole bunch of the Hill Country. . Lots of collecting from the mountains around Monterey and Nuevo Leon. But Central Texas is a place where the sense of place changes in just a few miles this way or that. We have the south, plains and the beginnings of the west here. You get that change out in the desert with those sky island mountains that create moisture, wicking it out of the clouds. I have plants from the mountains of the Big Bend that love our wet summers and suffer in our dry ones. I keep telling them , "Your from the desert, so stop your pouting". So many of our natives on my land are at their furthest eastern point and their range extends to Arizona. You might see the Austinites as using dessert plants. They see it as them using Texas Natives..... and their relatives. Its a big family LOL.

    What is interesting is even the Big boxes are being forced to sell us plants that don't grow in South Carolina and actually are from Texas.

    Yes it was hot and I had a hard time not hanging in the AC today. My un air conditioned shop was not calling me.

    My cat was named Quercus. We build out of Oak a lot.

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I have an interest in the state of Florida. Not in the usual way, like golf courses, and retirement complexes. Just the actual state with its actual vegetation (where such has not yet been pushed into a big pile and burned), and as such, I often participate in the Houzz Florida Gardening forum, at least during those times of the year when I have the time, which is mostly not now. In any case, it drives me up the wall the number of peeps showing up there with posts like "Can I grow hostas in Florida" ad nauseum. Why, why, why do not people take what a place offers-which is more than they can reasonably deal with in a lifetime-and work with that? Drives me insane.

    Then there are those that lament about the same state that it is "so flat"! Duh....it's a sand bar with some limestone mixed in here and there! How mountainous should it be? As it is, I find that that very flatness adds a certain something. It's hard to describe, but even in so wet and humid a place as it is, one can find amazing vistas through the scrub.

    I'll probably never end up living down there though. Wife hates heat/humidity and for my part, at least half of what hits me while down there is heartburn over all the wanton destruction going on......so that people can have cookie-cutter subdivisions with the same ill-suited plants, the same endless irrigation (I hate that too, lol) and the same mow, blow and go guys parked out front. So sad.....and such a pale imitation of what could be.

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago

    I hear you, wisconsitom(Zone 4/5). That can be said about many places, and you're not alone on Fla.

    One might even say there's more opportunity in Fla as areas get restored back to their ecology, including incorporating aesthetics scaled for the site, since they care about aesthetics more than say, where I live. I designed a small bank in central Fla years ago, and I fear what it became after some disconnect with the architect, owner, and my end.

    Not much time to catch up on all the posts right now, just too busy with the day job. Try the Fla Native Plant Society blog - http://fnpsblog.blogspot.com/

    I remember some good posts on that site, though I haven't visited in the while.

    Funny how we switched to better landscaping or restoration of various places from the original topic of "xeric prairie", the latter being something I hoped to focus on!

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago

    Heh, you can always count on me to turn convos ever more off-topic! Sorry 'bout dat.


    I've got literature from the FL Native Plant Society and I right like it. I know I'm not completely alone. But probably as I type this, some hedge fund guys in SoCal are drawing up plans for another mega-no children allowed-paradise-cookie-cutter hellspot for right outside of Fort Myers or something! Money is and will continue to rule the downfall.

  • User
    7 years ago

    There are many kinds of prairie, more than I attempt to keep track of. I typically think in terms of Tallgrass, Mixed or Shortgrass.

    There are: Dry Prairie, Dry-Mesic Prairie, Mesic Prairie, Wet Mesic Prairie, Wet Prairie, Limestone/dolomite Prairie, Dry Mesic Limstone Dolomite Prairie, Dry Prairie, Chert Prairie, Dry Mesic Chert Prairie, Dry Sandstone/shale Prairie, Dry Sand Prairie and Hardpan Prairies.

    I assumed the term Xeric Tall Grass to be a general term describing one of the above types of prairie. There was once a Tall Grass prairie that I imagine would have been described as xeric in the Texas Blackland before it was wiped out, I believe that is dry soil there (?) wantanamara is probably more familiar with it or would know about it.

  • wantonamara Z8 CenTex
    7 years ago

    No, Texas Backland prairie is not that dry. Most of it is east of IH 35 . The highway that seems to go down a climatic and geological boundary.

  • User
    7 years ago

    Is there any prairie still there at all? A conservation effort or anything? It really is hard to think of Texas as Tall Grass but most people tend to stereotype and think of west Texas. I even forget about NE Oklahoma. Its a different world up there.

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago

    I remember when I first participating in this forum, I had just read (In one of my restoration newsletters) about an article entitled Texas: A Sea of All the Wrong Grasses. That's a while back, but the gist of it seemed to be that while "grasslands" are alive and well in the state, they are almost entirely composed of invasive and largely undesirable grass types, including even from the rancher's perspective-I think.

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago

    I hear you wisconsitom(Zone 4/5), but as a planner and landscape architect, those with savvy and money can get ahead of those with just money, and there are some areas of the US getting that.

    Not the majority of development nor all areas, but better developments than the usual you note exist. Someday, perhaps more of that money and savvy will be available to all incomes, not just the well-moneyed idea of "all incomes"! The latter is what I strive to do as a planner. The right landscape architect can make it work, too...not many where I am, but more elsewhere.

    Google the work of Ten Eyck (Christy's office is now in Austin) and Environmental Survey Consulting. As to Florida, look at Watercolor and Seaside, in the panhandle. All the above for higher income projects, but I'm positive that will change.

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago

    Taking a quick break to chime in over lunch...

    True on those prairie types, texasranger2, and there are probably more. They sound based on some meeting of different factors - soils, microclimate, or local moisture conditions. Agreed the original topic of "xeric prairie" sounds like that.

    wantonamara Z8 CenTex agreed on Blackland not being xeric, with 30"+ rain / year. As a student of geography, climate and vegetation, Blackland Prairie in TX or other true prairies are dry only when compared to places like Alabama or Michigan.

    I'm thinking of climate, not just shorter-term weather or a drought period, but the wet periods too. Same variation with temperature.

    A roadtrip last summer shows differences, clicking on images shows rainfall for that area too - https://dryheatblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/eastbound/

  • wantonamara Z8 CenTex
    7 years ago

    I was amazed at how wet things looked in a lot of places out in NM last summer. TRUE it was a wet year there and a dry summer in Texas. We had NO rain from mid June to mid late October. It was a bad drought bookended by horrendous floods. Our Brackett soil on my limestone hill holds the water for only a short time. we had 20 inches in 3 or 4 days split on either end of a long dry spell. It warped our yearly annual amount upwards but does not tell the whole story of the land. I googled a Ms Ten Eyck Utube and even she mentioned that she was not prepared for how porous the water holding capacity on the soil was on the limestone hills. Backland prairie is a whole other story. They are different animals. It is not a desert, not even semi arid by the numbers, but it has its problems if one is looking for a no water garden or trying to introduce plantings into a field restoration. These hills share plants with much of the arid west. I look west for techniques. I am looking west at those green globs of the monsoons drifting across with envy. Something is wrong when you look at a desert for water envy . LOL. That said , we are still relatively green right now.

  • User
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Quercus, I'm confused about what you are attempting to get at. In your first post you mentioned a book on Steppes, planting in a post modern world, designed plant communities & how in each region people should be embracing their own local archetype and how to 'abstract' that in design. That sounds like landscaping to me.

    Then you write that the topic got off the original subject of xeric prairies, which was the topic you had intended to focus on but we had veered off into better landscaping and restoration.

    What exactly are you getting at other than being glad the term Xeric Prairie was not just a poetic term used by people in Albuquerque?

    Maybe we should focus on the word 'xeric' and what that means. A plant which can withstand long periods, such as a decade of drought but is not necessarily a desert plant is one I would call xeric. That would include Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Sideoats grama and several forbs with would do well in situations like we have with extremely long periods of drought. As long as the roots are very deep, those plants survive. It sounds like what Zach was referring to was a pocket of something from a past time, some remnant left from a time before settlement perhaps.

    wantanamara and I get pretty much the same amount of annual rainfall but our soil differs drastically. I can grow tall grass prairie plants while they would surely fail or sadly struggle and be stunted in her caliche and what she calls 'marl' (is that limestone?). We have sandstone up here and much deeper soil. Other than that there are our zone differences with her being quite a bit further south so she can grow several plants that wouldn't stand up to our winters. We both grow several desert plants, the ones that will tolerate our wet periods.

    Even with the same annual rainfall, her soil makes her place xeric-ish compared to what 'Yours Truly' can grow big up here--it sort of evens out that jealousy problem I have with the cold zapping plants she can grow but I cannot.

    Oklahoma is described as a land of too much. Too much water, too much drought, too much heat, too much cold, too much wind, too dry, too humid. In other words. its hard to grow stuff around here but the Oklahoma natives have adapted to these extremes. Some years (or even decades) the prairie is 'xeric' but then in other years its wet.

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago

    Fun stuff, wantonamara Z8 CenTex

    I think there are common techniques to use, but the much greater rainfall in your wetter years could be a problem for what we take for granted (dry or drier) - I wonder which adjustments are needed to adapt an arid dry soil regime to a sub-humid dry soil place?

    You may get a kick out of the comparison of rain and sun El Paso to Austin. Your wet season is almost the opposite of our "wet" or monsoon season -

  • PRO
    QUERCUS
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    texasranger2 - not sure I was attempting in my 1st post or since, other than what I thought I clearly stated on a vast topic. It's a heirarchy - broader ecoregion informs what specifically "xeric" means (or "xeric prairie"); know ecoregion / climate 1st, apply that thoughtfully 2nd to restorations (revegetation) or ornamental landscapes (hence the books others might appreciate).

    In other words, don't try forcing alpine meadows or prairie into a desert or forest, desert into prairie, etc, as noted from WI. Instead, work with one's ecology.

    I was laughing at myself being a part of veering into other applications, but it all relates and is good.

    Xeric plants - a function of ecoregion / climate, then soils, microclimates. My xeric is different than yours' - I average 8" precip/year, 3" to 15" the extremes. Plus I have less cloudiness and humidity, sandy loam, and am 4000' elev. I get that on soils and other nuances on a regional to site level, as I've been mapping that and vegetation/ecoregions to make sense of it, and designing with that 2+ decades.

    My xeric plants - Big Bluestem and Indian Grass are not xeric here, though Sideoats is in most of town; in foothills Little Bluestem is xeric. Also xeric for me - Mesquite, Desert Willow, Ocotillo, Soaptree, Creosote, Sand Sage, Claret Cup Hedgehog, Fishhook Barrel, Bush Muhly, Purple Threeawn, etc.

    When I just rewrote our county's landscaping code, I stated how moisture availability (soils, water table) determines some plants' water use in our valley compared to elsewhere - Cottonwood, Sycamore, Crepe Myrtle, Coyote Willow, etc.

    Hopefully that gives me some cred! More later...

  • ZachS. z5 Platteville, Colorado
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    Xeric, as Tom noted earlier in this discussion is more a description of "habitat" than "habit." In the gardening/landscaping world the term has been more applied to the particular traits of certain plants ("habit") and "xeriscape" describing the "habitat."

    The difference between these two understandings is highlighted in the original topic of this post: xeric tallgrass prairies. The specific plant species themselves are virtually the same as you find in "mesic" tallgrass prairies, but because the climate/soil/etc is much drier they are classified differently.

    As for other dry areas... eastern Colorado is indeed prairie, although due to the more arid climate, the dominant species are much more diminutive ad a result of the scarcity of resources. Calling it steppe is a little disingenuous, though ecologically synonymous with "prairie," both being terms for grassland. Here in the U.S. however, steppe is a (colloquially) understood to be more like the "sagebrush steppe" of the intermountain west, a scrubland ecosystem.

    I'm fact a lot of places that would be considered "desert" really aren't. The Four Corners region is typified by a lot of pinion/juniper woodland, though the dominant species there being little more than glorified shrubs themselves. And so it is with the area around Albuquerque, New Mexico. While you may "see" desert, it is actually a grass-dominant ecosystem, and very typical of what is called the southern great plains, which encompass the grasslands of Texas and New Mexico such as the llano estacado. Although a very dry landscape compared to more easterly grasslands, they are grasslands just the same.

  • User
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I like the word adaptive. Plants around here need to adapt to cold, extreme heat, strong wind, uncertain precipitation, droughts and floods. I have some plants that come from dryer regions because I have better luck than ones that need more moisture.

    Quercus, as far as cred (credentials?) are concerned, I claim none in the field of restoration, native habitats or landscaping so I'll will gladly leave the technical stuff to Zach and Tom since they are far more qualified than I. I'm just a professional artist who happens to be partial to and loves prairies with a pretty good eye toward composition but its mostly a reason to get outside, escape from work and unwind after hours of tedious details. I'm not out to change the gardening world or anything. I suppose its a lucky thing I just happen to like what called 'prairie gardens' or (gag me) 'The Prairie Style' considering I live in a prairie state.

  • ZachS. z5 Platteville, Colorado
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    All of my "landscaping" knowledge would fit neatly and squarely in a space the size of an index card...single sided. Art? I had an uncle named Art, but other than that I wouldn't know it if it jumped up and bit me in the ass. And when compared to folks like Tom, who have a lifetime of experience in the area of restoration and conservation, I am a complete ignoramus on the subject. "Technical stuff" can typically be found in books. Anyone with a library card can be up to speed on the "technical stuff" in just a few months time. Credentials... often we get too wrapped up in them. In my opinion, the most "cred" a person can have is being open to learning. A perfect example would be the "anti" folks. We know the type, the ones who who believe that a single non native indevidual is a veritable Armageddon and that to crack open a bottle of herbicide is THE cardinal sin that will send a person to plant hell no matter how much they repent. Zealotry and ego are two things that I simply cannot stand. Fitting that the two are part and parcel to each other.

    In the end, we all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses, our own backgrounds, skill sets, and knowledge. I have a good friend who told me one time "You can learn at least one thing from every single person you ever meet, no matter how dumb you think they are." And that is one of my favorite things about this forum. No, not that you all are dumb, but that every time I come here, I learn something new.

  • User
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    The quote I like is: "Even a broken clock is right twice a day".

    The kind of artist you might be thinking is probably one of those bohemian creative types who have work in galleries or art shows. I'm more like a craftsman with a lot of technical rules to carefully follow, the work is tedious and labor intensive. I used to be a draftsman for oil companies but that didn't mean I knew very much about the oil business. Its pretty much the same way with what I do now.

    Quercus, in defense of Oklahoma I don't see us as being in state of denial, not caring about what we are and could have. I don't sense hostility and I especially don't sense conceit disguised as inferiority from people here. Its more like many are pretty set in their ways, old habits die hard but mostly people don't think of such things because its never even been presented as something to think about. Most of the people are down to earth, unassuming and very friendly. People who move here or visit almost always comment on how friendly the people are.

    Zach, come to think of it, I haven't personally met a single native plant freak in person, I've only read that stuff online & I know what you are talking about.

    Because of water shortages, or more precisely the higher water bills, native plants are catching on here. I see stories on the news about seminars, education and native plant sales. If the stores sell them, folks will buy them. Trends seem to be slow in getting here but they do eventually arrive. As it is, I'm proud of what OKC is doing with the native grass plantings around the capitol and several developments downtown with the Riverwalk, Stadium, Bricktown etc where the city has put in many new features that celebrate our heritage, history and native plants.

    As far as people getting in touch with their surroundings here and landscaping accordingly, that would mean tall grasses and wild plants which to most people look like country weeds and it would result in yards that looked like overgrown weedy messes, which is against city codes. Its not going to happen. I think Tom mentioned something about that weedy look some time back and how awful it usually turns out. Its challenging to have a prairie garden, it seems like you are always about one season away from complete chaos and a mess. I sort of like that kind of challenge myself, makes it seem more appealing because it gives me something like a puzzle to think about, continuously planning and problem solving.

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