Tom's Blog

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spiderwort time

The late spring prairie flora is not as colorful as the summer flora, but there are some nice species. Generally, these species march in sequence across the calendar.

Two weeks ago it was golden Alexanders (Zizia spp.), which was very prominent in virtually all our prairies, as well as in the savannas.

Following quickly on Zizia was lupine (Lupinus biennis), whose blue flowers provided a nice contrast to the Zizia.

Now it is spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), another species that grows in all our prairies as well as the savannas. Since it flowers fairly early, it is another candidate for planting as soon as the seeds are ready to collect.

When we started restoration, the only site we had with spiderwort was the steep road-cut of Pleasant Valley Road. We collected seed there and threw it up the bank, to get it spread farther out. We also found a railroad that had a huge amount growing in its ballast (spiderwort seems to grow well even on sterile railroad ballast). We dried the seed we collected there and saved it for fall planting in our seed mixes. Gradually we were able to spread spiderwort across the Conservancy. Now we have it virtually everywhere. Even though it is not a wetland plant, today I even saw a flowering stalk in our sedge meadow.

Incidentally, drying spiderwort seeds is a challenge. The seed pods hold lots of moisture, and getting rid of all this water is a difficult task. We have found it best to spread out the pods on plastic sleds and put them in a heated room. It might seem strange to need heat in summer, but even then, the seeds usually take four or five days to dry, sometime longer.

Because of its colorful blooms, this is a great species to work with. However, one drawback is that the flowers usually close about mid day so that the best floral displays are in the morning. When spiderwort is in bloom, getting up early is really worth it!

What comes after spiderwort in the color sequence? Ox-eye sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides, which is just starting to bloom.


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