Tom's Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

October is a great time to basal bark buckthorn in prairie and savanna remnants!

Even a single stem of buckthorn stands out among all the brown senesced native species.

Killed yesterday

Killed in 2013

Killed in 2015

Killed in 2008
If it's green this time of year, it's probably bad.

It may be too late for a foliar spray, but basal bark with triclopyr works all year long. Use 20% Garlon 4 in bark oil (20 parts  Garlon 4 plus 80 parts bark oil). If you don't have bark oil, use diesel.

Even a natural area where buckthorn has been eradicated will always have a few new shoots. If  they are not treated NOW, they will be bigger next year! We always budget time in the fall for control of invasive shrubs. Not only buckthorn, but also honeysuckle, sumac, and brambles, all of which are easy to spot.

In a tour of known buckthorn areas at Pleasant Valley Conservancy yesterday, we found only two stems. It took less than a minute to basal bark each one.

Monday, October 22, 2018

How viable are our hand-collected seeds?


Kathie and I often discussed the quality of our collected seeds. Would they grow when planted? Would the seeds germinate?

Seed germination tests are not that hard to do and in early January 2008 I set up number of tests.

Most prairie and savanna species need a period of cold moist conditions to overcome dormancy. I used conventional petri plates with warm absorbent paper (filter paper) in the bottom. 25 seeds were placed in each plate, which was wrapped in Saran and placed in the back of the refrigerator. In early January 2008 the plates were placed under lights (16 hours light; 8 hours dark), rewatered when necessary, and observed daily for germination.


Petri plate with germinated seeds of purple milkweed. The root comes out first. All the seeds have germinated. 2/15/2008

Seed germination tests


Species


State-listed
Seed Year
% germ #1
% germ #2
% germ both plates
Aureolaria

2007
20%
12%
16%
Butterfly MW BE

2007
60%
80%
70%
Butterfly MW PVC

2007
76%
92%
84%
Cacalia tuberosa
X
2005
11%
0%
3%
Cacalia tuberosa PVC
X
2007
8%
0%
4%
Eupatorium sessilifolium
X
2005
0%
0%
0%
Eupatorium sessilifolium
X
2007
4%
0%
2%
Eupatorium sessilifolium Parrish

X
2007
4%
0%
2%
Green MW BE

2007
96%
72%
84%
Indian grass

2007
56%
60%
58%
Little bluestem

2005
16%
16%
16%
Little bluestem

2007
12%
12%
12%
Napaea
X
2005
4%
0%
2%
Napaea
X
2007
4%
8%
6%
Poke MW PVC

2007
80%
92%
86%
Prairie dropseed forbs garden

2007
24%
20%
22%
Prenanthes crepidinia
X
2005
0%
0%
0%
Purple MW
X
2005
100%
Purple MW forbs garden
X
2007
100%
84%
92%
Sweet Indian plantain
X
2005
28%
28%
28%
Sweet Indian plantain
X
2007
12%
32%
22%
Taenidia integrifolium

2005
0%
0%
0%
Taenidia integrifolium PVC

2007
0%
0%
0%
Wood betony Mark

2007
0%
0%
0%
Yellow hyssop
X
2007
60%
44%
52%
BE: From Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie
PVC: From Pleasant Valley Conservancy

As the table shows, the milkweeds germinated very well, as did the grasses, but some of the other forbs germinated poorly or not at all. We confirmed some of these data with greenhouse studies in future years. Obviously, if the seeds do not germinate, the chance of getting plants from planted seeds is not good. However, with most species we generally plant a lot of seed, so if the % germination is only 1-2%, there is still chance of getting some plants started from seed.

The best approach for those poor germinators was to use the greenhouse. We planted large amounts of seeds in flats and put them under lights after cold, moist stratification. We transferred the few plants we got to tubes and raised plugs. Most of the plugs we transplanted to the field grew, and became established. This worked especially well for E. sessilifolium, one of the state-listed species.

Of course, every year will be different, depending on conditions at the time seed formation is taking place.

Friday, September 28, 2018

New England asters and Monarch butterflies

This is the time of year when the last brood of Monarch butterflies is stoking up for their long journey to Mexico. Asters and goldenrods are the principal nectar sources, but by now most of them have stopped flowering. Fortunately, New England aster is still flowering and this is what the Monarchs are using. Often considered a weed by purists, it has the good graces to hang on longer than anything else.

A few years ago at Pleasant Valley Conservancy a butterfly watcher about this time of year counted 43 Monarchs on a single NE aster plant.



Although both of the above photos are from restored savannas, you can find New England aster as a volunteer in old fields and roadsides as well. I've been watching one of my neighbor's fields since it was last cropped four years ago and have been fascinated at how quickly "weedy" prairie species from PVC have moved in.

Last year it was old field thistle that had moved in. See this link.

This year it is New England aster, as the photo below shows.

New England aster growing in an old field adjacent to PVC that is gradually being colonized. Two plants of old field thistle can be seen in the background. The seed source is our East Basin prairie which is about 100 feet away. This field has been fallow for only four years. The small white flowers are probably frost aster. The goldenrod is (predictably) Canadense.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The gentians: fringed and otherwise

This is the time of year for gentians. As poet Emily Dickinson so aptly put it, gentians come with the frosts, although with global warming since Dickinson’s time, it has not frosted yet. Cream gentian (Gentiana alba) comes a little earlier, but right about now we have the following:

·         Bottle gentian: Gentiana andrewsii; perennial; seeds flattened and winged
·         Stiff gentian: Gentianella quinquefolia; winter annual or biennial; seeds smooth and round
·         Prairie gentian: Gentiana puberulenta; perennial; seeds flattened and winged
·         Fringed gentian: Gentianopsis crinita; biennial; seeds oblong-angular, covered with papillae

The famous and even rarer Great Plains fringed gentian (Gentianopsis procera; Special Concern) is the species found at the Ridges Sanctuary and other locations along the Door County beaches.

According to Cochrane and Iltis, gentians are “beloved by botanists” and are “A large, cosmopolitan family, mostly in cool, moist, habitats. Our gentians are all essentially prairie or fen species that, becoming rarer year by year, should never be picked or transplanted except as a last resort in the face of impending destruction.”

Right now, at PVC we have in flower all four gentian species from the above bullets: stiff gentian (widespread); bottle gentian (well established in the Crane and Valley Prairies); prairie gentian (in the Ridge Prairie), and fringed gentian (the marsh/fen edge near the barn). Stiff gentian was native to PVC but the three others were planted from local genotype seed.

It is the fringed gentian that interests me here. Over the last 3-4 years we have been able to get this handsome species well established in the wet-mesic prairie near the barn. Ten years ago this wetland was a solid monoculture of Carex trichocarpa, but then I discovered that lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata), a hemiparasite, could infect the sedge and keep it in check. We started throwing out lousewort seeds. Gradually, as the sedge disappeared,numerous other wetland species became established.

Some years ago, Kathie planted bottle and fringe gentian seeds in this area. (The seed came from another wet-mesic site in Dane County.)

 Since fringed gentian is a biennial, continued presence at a site depends on good seed production and subsequent germination and growth. The area we chose must be favorable because this year we have dozens of flowering patches.


Fringed gentian (by Emily Dickinson)
God made a little gentian;
It tried to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.
The frosts were her condition;
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North evoked it.
"Creator! shall I bloom?"



Notes: Roses bloom in summer but gentians bloom at the end of summer, just before or after the first frosts
Tyrian is a type of “purple”, Royal purple. The color would not appear until frost had arrived.

Poet William Cullen Bryant has a poem called “To the fringed gentian”(first stanza below)

Thou blossom bright with autumn dew,
And coloured with the heaven’s blue,
That openest when the quiet light
Succeeds the keen and frosty night.

The internet is full of fringed gentian lore. Indeed, there is a Gentian Research Network at Rutgers University.






Fringed gentian habitat at PVC. Visible from the lane next to the Valley Prairie.
This time of year, most of the other wet-mesic species are finished blooming.