Before the University of Houston existed, the ground it sits on was covered with acres of thick, tallgrass prairie and vibrant wildflowers. This kind of habitat is referred to as a Coastal Tall Grass Prairie. Prairies of this kind used to stretch from Texas to Alabama, but today, less than 0.1% of the habitat remains. Off campus, the UH Coastal Center maintains about 300 acres of tall grass prairie in an effort to maintain and rejuvenate these habitats. However, the campus community can also engage with this threatened environment on campus.
Located at the green space between the Science & Engineering Classroom building, and the UH Science Center, Shasta’s Pocket Prairie offers visitors a glimpse of the coastal tall grass prairie habitat. Its mission is to preserve native species of flora and fauna, educate the UH community by offering volunteer and research opportunities, as well as to grow support for more pocket prairies in the community.
On Feb. 2, the Katy Prairie Conservancy launched a fundraiser to build a pocket prairie on campus. The fundraiser, "Grassroots for Change," benefited Houston-area universities, including the University of Houston, Rice University and the University of St. Thomas with each school receiving funds to establish native green spaces. The fundraiser was a success and in May 2016, Shasta’s Prairie was planted by Office of Sustainability and Katy Prairie staff along with the help of dedicated volunteers. Other UH partners in the Shasta’s Prairie project include the UH Coastal Center, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture’s DesignLab Houston, Facilities Services and Facilities Planning and Construction.
The benefits of a pocket prairie are manifold when compared to conventional lawns. Here is just a quick list of ways that reestablishing prairie habitats can help the local community.
- Mitigates Flood Water: prairie grasses absorb flood water far faster than lawn grass and also filter storm water runoff.
- Decreases Soil Erosion: While conventional turf grass root only penetrate a few inches into the soil, prairie grass roots go feet deep into the soil. This greatly reduces soil erosion.
- Habitat Conservation: Many Texas native species of birds and pollinators depend on prairie habitat for their homes and food. Pocket Prairies help keep these species healthy.
- Psychological Benefit: Walking in natural spaces greatly improves people's mental and physical health. Pocket prairies can be used to install sustainable green space in the city.
- Saves money: While the initial installation of a prairie may be an investment, prairies only have to be mowed once a year. This drastically reduces maintenance and supply costs when compared to conventional green space.
What's in it?
Some truly beautiful grasses and wild flowers can be found in Shasta's Pocket Prairie all year round.
Little Blue Stem: A native Texas grass that changes color through the season.
Blue Mist Flower: A dainty native wild flower that shows up in the summer.
Native Texas Milkweed: This is the native host flower of the Monarch Butterfly. Having it int he prairie helps feed and shelter monarchs during their epic migration.
You can donate to the UH Office of Sustainability to help support prairie planting days by clicking here.
You can also register with us to volunteer in the prairie by clicking here and typing "prairie" in the additional information box.
For more information about pocket prairies and their benefits, visit the Katy Prairie Conservancy website at www.katyprairie.org.
For more information about the UH Coastal Center, visit www.eih.uh.edu.