With pickaxes, shovels, and a backhoe, students affiliated with the Campus Environmental Center (CEC) and staff from UT Austin's Landscape Services broke ground to bring a blackland prairie to campus. The work took place the first day of February and, since the new prairie is being developed by the Student Services Building on University Avenue and Dean Keeton Street, in view of the UT Tower.
“I’m so excited for us to finally get our hands dirty,” says Jack Rouse, one of the leaders of Half-Pint Urban Prairie, a project of the CEC. “We’ve been writing emails and sitting in meetings for almost a year now. So, it’s nice to see that work turn into something tangible.”
Half-Pint Urban Prairie is working to restore a small spot of blackland prairie habitat on campus that will also serve as an educational opportunity. Blackland prairie is named for its rich, fertile soil. In Austin, this ecoregion used to stretch east of the limestone that forms the Hill Country; now, this habitat is almost extinct with only 1% remaining. It is one of the rarest habitats in the U.S.
In preparation for this project, team members secured resources from Green Fund and worked with many stakeholders on campus to find the perfect sunny area. More recently, team members started a number of grasses and forbs—Bee balm, Indian paintbrush, Black-eyed Susan, Spiderwort, milkweed, and Texas cup grass—in a greenhouse at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
“We planted 1020 specimens at the Wildflower Center about a month ago,” says Avery McKitrick, director of the CEC and an early leader of the Half-Pint team. “My favorites are the forbs, especially Bee Balm.”
Landscape Services is also growing plants for this project in their greenhouse on campus. These are the warm-season grasses, including little bluestem and inland sea oats.
“This bed had unneeded and invasive plants that were not offering pollinators any habitat," says Jim Carse, Manager of Landscape Services. "With this project, we are adding ecological services and also water conservation. Once the new plants are established, the water to this area will probably be all but turned off.”
The Half-Pint Team has scheduled their “Plant the Prairie” event for Friday, February 8th. If you are interested in volunteering or staying up to date with the project, you can sign up for their newsletter. Read more about the many small ways that Landscape Services is changing campus to achieve goals in sustainability.