I suppose I should wrap up my posts on fall colors before winter begins on December 22. There is still some lingering color on the prairie, but these photos were taken before hard freezes turned most of the prairie brown.
The growing season for 2011 has officially come to an end. Last week's freezing temperatures nipped the flowers in the bud, so to speak. There was even some light snow early Tuesday morning.
Black Sampson Coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, does not usually bloom this late in the year, but this one shot up a single flower a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday morning the flower was touched with frost and frozen solid as temperatures dipped into the low 20s.
As frost covered the leaves of the Echinacea and browned the summer flowers, frost flowers began to "bloom" across the prairie.
When freezing moisture exudes from the stems of Scarlet Sage, Salvia coccinea, it forms thin ribbons of ice known as frost flowers.
The Scarlet Sage was still covered in red flowers a few days ago. Now those red flowers are being replaced with white frost flowers on this icy plant.
Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, is named for its ability to produce frost flowers. Frostweed does not produce frost flowers as easily as the Scarlet Sage. I think it is because the Frostweed stems are much thicker. It seems to require a longer period of freezing temperatures before the frost flowers break through the stems. On this cold morning, only this thin Frostweed stem could be found with frost flowers.
After this icy interlude, I will return to posting additional pictures of the fall colors on my prairie.
Fall or autumn colors are not always easy to find in Texas. Often, leaves quickly turn from green to brown with no shades of red, yellow, or orange in between.
Over the next couple of posts, I will share some of the colors of the fall season found in my prairie. This post will focus on the grasses. Subsequent posts will cover shrubs and trees and then flowers.
Internet references state that the 'Dallas Blues' variety of Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, was discovered growing along a railroad track in Dallas, Texas. The leaves are a power blue color (hence, the name) in the spring and summer and wider than most other Switchgrasses. By late summer, the five foot tall grass is topped with reddish purple panicles (flowers). When fall comes around, the leaves are ablaze with shades of yellow and red.
It is hard to believe that I am considering removing this colorful grass from my prairie. I really like it, but Switchgrasses are fairly aggressive growers. They quickly form large dense clumps with deep roots. I removed five clumps this summer and that was no easy task. I am debating whether to remove the grass entirely. Although drought tolerant, 'Dallas Blues' Switchgrass requires a little extra water in the summer to look its best. This year's drought and my lack of watering caused the lower leaves to turn yellow and brown by midsummer.
The Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia, was a standout in the prairie this year, especially after it sent out many buff colored flower spikes. The thin leaves of the Pine Muhly are beginning to change to the same buff color as the flower spikes.
The drought severely affected the appearance of the Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans, this year. Normally the grass produces numerous flower heads that rise up to seven feet above the leaves, but this year there were just a couple of flower heads and they were only a few inches higher than the grass. Click here to see how this same grass looked last year.
Bushy Bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, prefers moist soils and grows in the front yard rain garden. Of course, even a rain garden gets dry when it does not rain. The drought stunted the growth of this grass and some of the lower leaves turned brown early because the plants did not get enough moisture during the summer. There is a hint of the fall copper color common to Bluestem grasses that is beginning to show on the leaves.
This Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii, is showing its fall color. I planted this grass earlier this year. This is my first time to grow Big Bluestem.Despite the drought, it took hold fairly quickly. I am looking forward to seeing more of this rich, coppery color next season.
Finally, another of my foggy Thanksgiving morning pictures showing Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, among the prairie flowers, yuccas and cactus. The copper color of the Little Bluestem was darker and more intense this morning due to the moisture in the air.
My prairie saw its first freeze of the season this past Monday morning when temperatures dropped to 31 degrees. We are expecting additional freezes in the upcoming week that will surely turn most of the plants brown. However, all of these grasses will maintain their autumn color and stature through the winter. In February, I will cut them to the ground to make way for a new season's growth.