It's all gone. I left for work travel on Monday, and when I opened the blinds to let in the sunshine Thursday morning the vacant lot prairie had been scraped clean, down to mineral soil. Not even the seedbed remains. Only the few live oaks linger. It used to be, after all, a remnant oak savannah.
The efficiency of this near-total obliteration is shocking. I'm not mad-- not exactly. Not at the construction workers anyway. I knew this land was likely to be developed in time. I didn't own it, and it wasn't a park. It's the speed of the shift that is upsetting. This was original, unplowed, native prairie. It had managed to hold out in an urban center for over a hundred years. Then, after discovering this prairie in May, it was gone by early June. It is such a strange twist of fate that after persisting so long without notice, I should stumble upon it, begin documenting its flora, and then lose it all in a month. I bet no one had ever performed a floristic survey there before, and now I have one just in time to list what we have lost. What bitter herbs.
The greatest hurt to me is the destruction of this genetic reserve. At a few acres, this parcel was too small to harbor a functioning ecosystem, but the bones- the plants- were there. I didn't manage to save so much as a seed. I kept telling myself they'd be ready for collection in a week, and that I'd gather them next weekend. I hate digging up native plants- to me it feels like vandalism. Now I am filled with remorse that I couldn't save anything. This is the true heartbreak. If I had been in town when the clearing started, perhaps I could have performed a salvage operation.
In the month that I knew this little prairie, I identified 25 blooming native wildflowers, many of which were atypical to the region. Who knows else we've lost? If I'd been given a full growing season instead of just a brief window, what would I have found? If the prairie had persisted until the fall, what genetic gems might I have saved?
I mourned the passing of my prairie to a friend over the phone, and she said that perhaps what we can take from this is that anything not explicitly protected is under threat. The destroyers do not do so out of malice, just out of a kind of blindness. A forest, a prairie, a stream may look permanent, but everything is transitory. We cannot afford to be complacent.
Ideally I would see this loss as a call to arms. Ideally, I would drive around Fort Worth, find other lots, and save what I can. Be more ruthless about plant collection. Convert my front yard into a native plant preserve (not a bad idea, and I'm working on it). But I feel tired. It is easy to retreat, to spare my sensitive heart and love only what is already protected.
But I will be dogged in my search for these little remnants. I know I will continue to seek out these special places. I will seek them out with a visceral understanding of their vulnerability, and I will document them for posterity because not even knowing what we have lost is the greater tragedy.
The final plant list:
|Latin Name||Common Name||Date Observed|
|Asclepias asperula||antelope horn||17-May|
|asclepias viridis||green antelope horn|
|Cooperia drummondii||evening rain lily||17-May|
|Cooperia pedunculata||hill country rain lily*||17-May|
|Dracopis amplexicaulis||clasping leaf coneflower||28-May|
|Engelmannia peristenia||engelmann daisy||17-May|
|Gaillardia pulchella||indian blanket||17-May|
|Gaura coccinea||scarlet gaura||17-May|
|Glandularia bipinnatifida||prairie verbena||17-May|
|Helianthus ciliaris||texas blue weed||22-May|
|Lupinus texensis||texas bluebonnet||17-May|
|Lysimachia lanceolata||lance-leaf loosestrife||28-May|
|Mimosa nuttallii||sensitive briar||17-May|
|Monarda citriodora||horse mint||28-May|
|Oenothera speciosa||pink ladies||17-May|
|Phyla nodiflora||texas frog fruit||17-May|
|Polytaenia nuttallii||prairie parsley||17-May|
|Ratibida columnifera||prairie coneflower||17-May|
|Senna roemeriana||two-leaf senna||17-May|
|Solanum carolinense||carolina horse nettle||17-May|
|Stenaria nigricans var. nigricans||diamond flowers||17-May|
|Thelesperma filifolium||green thread||17-May|
|Tradescantia occidentalis||western spiderwort*||17-May|
|Verbena halei||texas vervian||17-May|
|Trying to end on a positive: native lantana growing near railroad tracks.|