Growing, Growing Grass and Boys

Boy Scouts Help Nature on Buffalo Bayou

 

Oct. 31, 2018

 

On a fine Saturday morning last March, a small group of Boy Scouts got together with shovels and some potted plants and headed towards the public boat launch in Memorial Park near Woodway. Under the leadership of now 15-year-old Austen Furse, their goal was to plant gamagrass on the upper bank of Buffalo Bayou. The native grass is a stabilizer plant, known for its deep-rooted ability to hold the bank together.

Stabilizers are one of two basic categories of riparian plants that naturally work in succession to fix a sandy bank. There are colonizer plants that spread out near the water’s edge, sending out shallow roots. They prepare the way for the stabilizers with stronger, deeper roots. Stabilizers, which can be grassy or woody, help dissipate the erosive flow of the water and collect sediment to incorporate into the bank and hold it together. Riparian plants, including trees like willows and sycamores, generally work to absorb and cleanse water, among other benefits. The bayou, like other streams, naturally does this intelligent landscaping, although sometimes competing plants that aren’t supposed to be there intrude, fugitives from lawns and gardens, for example.

It was early March, and the bank was almost bare. Once a wooded nature trail, the public area had been stripped and graded more than four years ago to install a massive concrete outfall that drains stormwater from Post Oak Road. The mowed upper banks were planted with non-native, rapidly spreading Bermuda grass, the lower banks hardened with fake stone. And after three big floods, most recently the monster flow in Buffalo Bayou from Hurricane Harvey, the area was not looking so good.

This was Furse’s project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. He is also a contender for the Hornaday Prize for natural resource conservation projects. The five boys helping him were all from Troop 55 of the Sam Houston Area Council. Within a few hours they had planted some 200 plants.

“Austen is a great young man,” said Daniel Walton, conservation coordinator for the Memorial Park Conservancy, the private nonprofit that manages the public park. “The way he handled it all was pretty impressive.”

Furse said that until a recent kayak trip, he had never really seen the bayou “which we drive by everyday.” He said it was “so cool.” That he saw “snakes and things.” This brief interview took place in October, in the midst of the growing gamagrass, as giant dragonflies buzzed like noisy, low-flying helicopters all around.

In the months that followed the initial planting Furse returned to monitor the grass, documenting its growth, sending reports, notifying Walton of potential threats like mowers and competing invasive weeds. At one point the bank was overtaken by an army of horseweed, which though native, can take over and monopolize disturbed areas, pushing out other native plants, points out native plant expert Katy Emde, a member of Save Buffalo Bayou’s advisory board. A variety of native plants supports a variety of insects, which in turn support a variety of wildlife.

“I think it is always interesting to see how plants that can be annoying are beneficial, nonetheless,” wrote Emde in an email. “It turns out that most native plants are beneficial, even if they are not our favorites.”

Furse also sent photos to Save Buffalo Bayou. And it was difficult to tell which was growing faster: Austen or the gamagrass.

Thank you, Austen Furse, and your helpers and advisors in Troop 55.

  • Boy Scout Austen Furse, third from left, and his fellow scouts from Troop 55 in March 2018.
  • Planting gamagrass on the bank of Buffalo Bayou in Memorial Park at Woodway. March 2018.
  • Furse checking out the newly planted gamagrass (foreground) amidst a field of native Conyza (horseweed) on May 20, 2018.
  • About one week later, Furse and a shoot from the gamagrass.
  • Austen and the gamagrass on June 10, 2018.
  • Boy Scout Furse and gamagrass one month later in July. Photos by his mother, Anne.
  • View of the landscape at the outfall/boat launch at Woodway in July.
  • Austen checking out the growing gamagrass on August 26, 2018.
  • Austen surrounded by gamagrass and willows on Oct. 14, 2018. Photo by SC.

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