Change Font Size:   A A A

Jul 26, 2011 | Matthew Tresaugue

St. Mary's Nash Prairie Featured in Houston Chronicle


There is no roadside sign to announce the Nash Prairie, no fence around more than 400 acres of tall grasses that have never been plowed.


Serious bird watchers tend to know about this place, as do wildflower enthusiasts and botanists keen on native grasses. To them, it is a living reminder of a landscape that once covered 9 million acres from Louisiana to south of Corpus Christi.


"This prairie is a beautiful representation of what Texas really looked like," said Laura Huffman, Texas director of the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group.


Some folks might not see the beauty in a hay meadow, as most locals call the Nash Prairie, located about 60 miles southwest of Houston. It does not have the quirky rock formations of Big Bend or the great stands of pine trees and hardwoods of the Big Thicket.


But preserving prairies has become an urgent theme. After 200 years of houses, farms and freeways, less than 1 percent of the coastal tall-grass prairie in Texas and Louisiana remains.


The Nature Conservancy recently purchased the Nash Prairie and a smaller meadow nearby in an attempt to save this slice of the state's heritage. The virgin land will become a preserve, as well as a laboratory and seed bank to help landowners within a 300-mile radius restore their property to its natural state.

Reducing erosion


The prairie also serves a critical role by minimizing runoff and reducing erosion along the Brazos River as it winds its way to the Gulf of Mexico. The ability to hold and filter water is lost when the land is plowed or paved, and that's an important point during one of the worst droughts in Texas history, Huffman said.


"We're living in a state with a water supply that isn't set up for the next 50 years" of population growth, she said. "Conservation isn't just about saving water. It's also about saving these landscapes."


The Nash Prairie, once part of the 15,000-acre KNG Ranch, has stayed in pristine condition because of good management and perhaps some divine intervention.


The grassland remained unplowed because of the farming methods of the Czech and German immigrants who settled the area. Cattle infrequently grazed on the property, and the landowners harvested hay once, maybe twice, a year and never in the same pattern, allowing plants time to regenerate.

Hundreds of species


The result is a rich, yet subtle, ecosystem. David J. Rosen, a biology professor at Lee College in Baytown, has identified 311 plant species on the site, including many rare finds. One species — the buttonbush flatsedge, a three- to four-foot-tall plant with a sandpaper-like texture - was thought to have vanished from Texas.

Read more: