High Plains

Extending from the Panhandle south to the Pecos River, the High Plains have been described as a sea of waving grasslands. The 20 million acres of this region fills most of the “handle portion” of the state. It is a relatively high and level plateau of sandy to heavy, dark calcareous clay soils over an impervious layer of caliche. The winters here are the coldest in Texas, with the average annual temperature being only 59 degrees. Rainfall ranges from 21 inches in the east to about 12 inches in the west. Sun and wind rob the soil of even the meager water it receives from these rainfalls. Today, most of the High Plains is irrigated by the vast Ogallala formation.

Classified as mixed plain and short-grass prairie, vegetation in the High Plains varies – highly dependent on location. Hardlands or mixed lands, sandy lands or caliche lakes, all give rise to a very different plant community. Honey mesquite and yucca have invaded some areas that were characteristically free of trees and brush. Sand sage and shinnery oak have spread through most of the sandy lands.

Playa lakes play an essential role in this region, and they are the prime waterfowl wintering grounds for the North American Central Flyway.

The regions other name, “Llano Estacado” or “Staked Plains” is believed to refer to the first European settlers who drove stakes into the ground to help guide them across this featureless region. These early pioneers found a vast carpet of short grasses that were home to enormous herds of buffalo and pronghorn antelope. This was also the home of the Comanches.

The original character of the High Plains has been forever changed by the plow, however unique areas still remain including some scattered sand dunes cloaked with Harvard shin-oak, sandsage, and little bluestem. Tallgrass meadows can still be found waving in the breezes along the Canadian and Red Rivers. While few rivers actually cross the High Plains, these meager water sources along the Canadian and Red Rivers one sustained luxuriant growths of tall willows and cottonwoods. Russian olive and tamarisk, two introduced species from the Old World, now replace these native trees along the rivers, altering the natural habitat of kingbirds and phoebes. Grasses still provide cover and nesting habitats for myriads of other birds, and belts of trees planted in the 1930s provide shelter to an amazing diversity of wildlife. While the Gray Wolf and elk no longer occur on the High Plains, mountain lions, coyote, Red-tailed Hawk and swift fox now crown the food chain. While greatly reduced, scattered populations of Lesser Prairie-chicken still boom to announce the coming of spring across the region while flocks of Lark Buntings and Horned Larks ply the skies over this restless sea of grass.

Plants for the High Plains

  • Trees
    • Plains cottonwood
    • Honey mesquite
    • Bur oak
    • Western soapberry
    • Net-leaf hackberry
    • Silver-leaf mountain mahogany
    • Mohr oak
    • Lance-leaf sumac
    • Texas redbud
    • Prairie crabapple
  • Shrubs
    • Oklahoma plum
    • Common choke-cherry
    • Sand sage
    • Fourwing saltbush
    • Silver agarita
    • Feather dalea
    • Winter fat
    • Harvard shin-oak
    • Little-leaf sumac
  • Conifers
    • Rocky mountain juniper
    • Eastern red cedar
    • Colorado pinyon pine
  • Succulents
    • Teddy-bear cholla
    • Narrow-leaf yucca
    • Plains yucca
  • Vines
    • Old man’s beard
    • Snapdragon vine
    • Vine milkweed
    • Canyon grape
  • Grasses
    • Western wheatgrass
    • Cane bluestem
    • Sideoats grama
    • Blue grama
    • Buffalograss
    • Ear muhly
    • New Mexico little bluestem
  • Wildflowers
    • Winecup
    • Purple coneflower
    • Englemann daisy
    • Blackfoot daisy
    • Missouri evening primrose
    • Pink plains penstemon
    • Mealy sage
    • Copper-mallow
    • Indian blanket
    • Texas bluebonnet
    • Tahoka daisy
    • Prairie verbena