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The Look and Life of the Prairie

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

a favorite with hummingbirds. Their catalog notes royal catchfly's "striking crimson scarlet flowers are quite showy from June to September. The flowers are up and down a two- to three-foot stem." Royal catchfly tolerates dry soil and light shade.

When landowners come to the Soil Conservation Service or the Conservation Department they often want to do something for wildlife, and one of their best choices is to plant prairie grasses. "We see a great improvement in wildlife after native grasses have been started in a field," Rex Hamilton says. "Quail really seem to benefit from native grasses."

Rex Hamilton notes that when native grasses are used for grazing cattle, they can't be eaten down to the roots, but must be rested occasionally. If they aren't, they may be lost. Warm-season native grasses can be rested in fall, when cool season grasses are growing and can be used to graze cattle. Some grazing, haying or burning actually stimulates native plants and makes them produce more forage and seed. Burning an area can also destroy the weeds or exotic plants and grasses that have been suppressing the growth of native plants.

Part of the Hamilton's yard between the house and a couple of barns looks like an urban lawn and garden business. Amy Hamilton has potted wildflowers set out in rows with signs, including color photos of what each plant will look like when it flowers. The Hamiltons live off the beaten track, and Amy notes that their catalog reaches people who wouldn't want to drive into the wilds of Texas County to find them, though she does have these plants set out, garden-shop style, for people who do drive in. She hopes to someday have more of a wholesale business, selling to greenhouses and garden businesses in cities near and far.

Along with a new greenhouse built on the south side of their home, the Hamiltons have an unusual new barn. It was built with the seed business in mind. Upstairs the floor is covered with piles of plants that are drying on tarps. These are plants they have collected from afar and brought home to carefully remove seed from chaff. On the ground level there are stalls that hold various collections of harvested plants.

The barn includes several unusual looking machines. These are used for separating and cleaning seeds. Separation is done by screening and the use of compressed air. "I can't imagine what we

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