Cooper and I plan an extensive morning cruise across yucca flats. The prairie is in recovery mode after several days of relentless pummeling by Llano Estacado Street Sweeper winds, which on occasion gusted up to sixty miles per hour. We are in store for more of the same. But life forces which slumber beneath the winter-ravaged prairie surface will not be contained. Each day the prairie presents tentative glimpses of the bounty to come. As I trek across the prairie straw, any color amongst the winter-killed vegetation turns into a spectacular sighting. A yellow, trumpet-shaped Fringed Puccoon and a white Prairie Evening Primrose oblige.
The Fringed Puccoon blossom is a beacon of hope for the resurrection of the prairie. This little herb likes dry sandy as well as clay soils. Historically, native Americans use the roots, stems, and leaves to treat ailments such as coughs, colds, delirium, and paralysis. The roots also make a bluish-violet dye.
A single Prairie Evening Primrose flower catches my attention from a distance. The backlighting of the morning sun sets its four heart-shaped flower petals aglow. Its delicate beauty belies one of its alternate names, the sinister moniker of Devil's Lantern. These hardy forbs thrive in sandy soils and spread by underground roots. The plant hugs the ground. Its flowers are disproportionately large and often touch the ground. The flowers open in the evening and wither to a pink tube by the next afternoon. Herbal medicinal uses employ stem and leaves to treat sores and make a tea for stomach aches, diarrhea, rheumatism, flu, and colds. Powdered roots are a burn remedy.
The Plains Prickly Pear Cacti are the most interesting. All winter long they have not been a prominent feature of the prairie ground cover. Over the last several weeks they march to a different drummer. They steal the show with one of Nature’s miraculous resurrections I call the Cacti Lazarus Syndrome. It seems these succulents withdraw water from their pads during the winter season. This makes them less susceptible to freezing, but also causes their pads to lose rigidity and lay down on the ground. The latter is a fringe benefit to Cooper. He can enjoy the winter months with minimal incidents of cactus spikes in paws. With spring in the air the cacti resurrection creates many grass-covered bulges of cactus patches reaching for the life-giving rays of the sun. Of course Cooper suffers an increasing number of spikes in his foot pads. Today is not an exception.
© Ilija Lukić 2011
|Yucca Flats Spring Choir|
|Lazarus Syndrome (Plains Prickly Pear)|
|Prairie Dog Town Smorgasbord|
|The Choir Director|