by Amy Martin (c)
Our search for grasses takes us by jeep into the Back 40, to the East Flank. On this side of the wet-weather Cross Creek that divides the 43 acres, the cedar trees had not completely overtaken. Fifty years ago during a long drought, the neighboring rancher had cut the fence and allowed his cattle in. His cattle were starving and the Back 40 absentee owner had not been seen in years.
This forage larceny turned out to be an act of grace. With deer, buffalo and other native ungulates unable to access the Back 40, trees had moved in decades ago. At first it was oak, ash and pecan, wonderful hardwoods that make great mast, or large seeds. They lined the outer fences and shaded Cross Creek, growing immensely tall on the upper end where the seeps are. It was what habitat geeks call “mid-succession,” a fertile balance of food and shelter, sunny meadows and shady woods.
Then in moved the junipers, though everyone calls them cedars. They grew up underneath the hardwoods, choking out the food-rich undergrowth and eventually the hardwoods themselves. Over 70% of the rain that falls on a cedar is retained, never hitting the ground to nourish other plants. It was on its way to being a cedar dessert, until the hungry cows cleared out a generation of young cedars, restoring balance.
October 25, 2007