Stories in Texas

Planting the Seed for Future Generations

Harnessing native seeds and ecological know-how to restore Texas’ prairies.

Two young volunteers plant native seedlings in Houston, Texas.
Planting the Seed We use native seed to restore habitats across Texas. © Rocky Kneten

Prairies: The Backbone of Texas’ History and Culture

Ask someone from outside the state how they picture Texas, and their answer will likely include bar-b-que, cowboys, bluebonnets and rodeos. Yet this iconic Texas imagery is only a reality because our state was once covered in ancient grasslands—Texas’ heritage landscapes, intertwined with our identity and culture. After all, we wouldn’t have the Cowboys, Longhorns, Aggies, Mavericks, Spurs or Rangers without a strong connection to prairies and grasslands.

As these grasslands are increasingly impacted by urbanization, fragmentation and agriculture, it’s critical to understand how they’ve shaped our state’s economy and iconic culture—that intrinsic link between quintessential Texas and the landscapes that once thrived across our great state. 

Clear coastal waters fill an inlet along expansive green prairie and wetlands.
PROTECTING A TEXAS LANDSCAPE With their sponge-like ability to filter and absorb stormwater, restoring the native prairies that once blanketed the Texas coast is a conservation priority. © Jerod Foster

Threats Loom Over our Hardworking Grasslands

Like Texans, grasslands are hardworking. As the climate changes, we can thank our prairies and grasslands for cleaning our water, helping to protect us from floods, mitigating air pollution and providing a home for biodiversity. They’re also robust—the shallow and deep roots that sink into our soil allow grasslands to withstand repetitive flooding, droughts and grazing. Hardy as these ecosystems are, however, they face major challenges.

A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of vibrant purple wildflowers.
SUPPORTING BIODIVERSITY Grasslands also offer critical habitat for the state's wildlife and support vital pollinator species that help our ecosystems thrive. © Stephanie Markmann/TNC Photo Contest 201

As the state population rises, more land is converted to keep up with that growth. Because of this rapid urbanization, we’ve lost and broken apart our once-expansive Texas grasslands and the services they’ve long provided. Today, just one percent of Texas’ original native grasslands remain intact, putting enormous pressure on our natural resources and pitting our economic needs against the survival of this ecosystem. Furthermore, many of the crops Texas is best known for—cotton, hay and sorghum, for instance—are grown where native prairies once stood. And non-native grasses, flowers and other wildlife, if left untreated, can quickly invade these areas, changing the structure and makeup of an existing grassland.

Last of the Blackland (5:17) Grasslands are the most endangered and least protected habitat type on Earth. Ensuring their resilience through genetic diversity is key to maintaining them into the future.

Stewarding Native Grasslands for the Entire State

TNC preserves not only provide crucial protection for some of the best remaining remnants of native grasslands, they are living laboratories for harnessing the resources and knowledge of our land stewards to educate landowners, researchers from schools and universities, master naturalists and everyday Texans about the importance and function of these grasslands—and how we can make them work for people and the planet.  

The road back for some of these natural landscapes begins with a single seed on one of our grassland preserves. This is multiplied across the hundreds of native plant species that enrich our diverse grasslands—and then multiplied again by millions of individual seeds for each species. 

A man in a baseball cap holds a seed bag, sprinkling seed on grass against a backdrop of tall city buildings.
SEED SOURCE Using seeds harvested from TNC preserves, we're working to restore the native grasslands that once blanketed the Texas coast. © Rocky Kneten
At least five volunteers work to divide up plant seedlings.
SEEDLING PRODUCTION At our Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve, we collect, clean and store seeds before growing them into seedlings for restoration efforts both on and off TNC properties. © Kenny Braun
SEED SOURCE Using seeds harvested from TNC preserves, we're working to restore the native grasslands that once blanketed the Texas coast. © Rocky Kneten
SEEDLING PRODUCTION At our Lennox Foundation Southmost Preserve, we collect, clean and store seeds before growing them into seedlings for restoration efforts both on and off TNC properties. © Kenny Braun

Our starting point is to identify a critical portion of land for protection, such as a prairie along the upper Gulf Coast. Once the land is secure, we work tirelessly to manage its plant communities to ensure their functionality. This means using tools such as prescribed fire to promote new growth and rare plant germination, invasive species treatments to avoid a takeover, mowing or mulching to manage woody plant competition—whatever the landscape demands. As those processes unfold, plants can grow and thrive, and a seed is produced—a seed that represents hope for restoring these lost landscapes.

And the positive impacts don’t stop at preserve boundaries—they reverberate out across the state. Land stewardship on a single grassland preserve can buoy declining wildlife populations, provide native seed for restoration in other communities and contribute to regional and urban resilience.

Three men stand with tools conducting work in an overgrown field.
STEWARDING OUR LANDS TNC staff and volunteers conduct stewardship work at Clymer Meadow Preserve, using good management to further prairie growth. © Justin Parker

Prairie Restoration at Houston’s Memorial Park

TNC and Memorial Park Conservancy have teamed up to restore native prairie on half an acre along a powerline right-of-way, in part using seed source from our coastal prairie preserves along the Gulf Coast (Nash Prairie Preserve, Clive Runnells Mad Island Marsh Preserve, Texas City Prairie Preserve).  With the Land Bridge and Prairie project coming to Memorial Park, it was a natural fit for TNC to be involved to help make this prairie the best possible representation of this habitat for Houstonians to enjoy. This transformative, nearly 100-acre project will reunite the north and south sides of the Park by creating a land bridge over Memorial Drive, establishing a dynamic new community space and enhancing recreational opportunities for park users.

Three men in cowboy hats use long shovels to dig holes in a field to plant seedlings in plastic containers.
RESOTRING HOUSTON In addition to Memorial Park, TNC is collaborating with partners and community volunteers to restore pocket prairies across Houston, using native plants and seeds and methodologies exported from our nearby preserves. © Rocky Kneten

As part of the restoration project, TNC will supply thousands of pounds of seeds from its regional preserves to reintroduce native Gulf Coast prairie and wetlands to areas north and south of Memorial Drive. These efforts will restore important habitats for pollinators and wildlife, help manage stormwater in communities that deeply understand the power of severe storms and support the region’s overall resiliency. Additionally, a new network of trails will provide safe crossing for both people and wildlife. 

The project is officially set to open to the public on February 11, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. Once complete, the Land Bridge and Prairie will serve as a beacon for a greener and more resilient future, distinguishing Memorial Park and Houston and promoting a richer appreciation for nature throughout the Houston community—cumulative benefits that will be felt over generations.

Mock-up image showing cars going through a tunnel under expansive green space.
Land Bridge The future Memorial Park Land Bridge and Prairie will help restore pollinator and wildlife habitat, improve stormwater management and boost Houston's overall resiliency. © Nelson Byrd Woltz
Mock-up of prairie habitat with grassy plants and a few trees.
Prairie Habitat Mock-up of prairie habitat at the future Land Bridge site, courtesy of Memorial Park Conservancy. © Nelson Byrd Woltz
Land Bridge The future Memorial Park Land Bridge and Prairie will help restore pollinator and wildlife habitat, improve stormwater management and boost Houston's overall resiliency. © Nelson Byrd Woltz
Prairie Habitat Mock-up of prairie habitat at the future Land Bridge site, courtesy of Memorial Park Conservancy. © Nelson Byrd Woltz