Tom's Blog

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fall color reveals presence of certain species

Yesterday was peak fall color at Pleasant Valley Conservancy. It was also a brilliant, sunny day, starting out a bit cool but later warming up enough for shirt sleeves. We spent the day seed collecting and doing odds and ends of chores.

I was struck by how certain species really stand out because of their fall colors. Two species in particular were noteworthy, prairie willow and white wild indigo.

Prairie willow (Salix humilis) is one of the few native willows that is common on dry upland sites. We originally had just a few small patches in one of our small prairie remnants, but it is gradually spreading to other of our upland sites. It is easy to spot early in the spring when it is in flower, but then it disappears into the greenery until late fall, when its leaves turn color. The photo here is of a small clone that has moved into a restored site adjacent to one of our original remnants. It really stands out now because of its color.

Clonal species such as this must be kept under control so that they do not take over a natural area. So far, prairie willow is quite rare at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, but we plan to watch it to be sure it does not start to dominate.

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba) is quite widely planted in prairie restorations because of its striking appearance, especially when flowering. However, due to habitat destruction, it is much less common outside of planted prairies than formerly. At Pleasant Valley Conservancy we had a single fairly large native patch at the edge of what is now Toby's Prairie, but it has been in the seed mix for all of our planted prairies, and has become well established in every one of them. It has also become established in smaller amounts in our savannas.

During the summer, when everything is green, Baptisia does not stand out, but it retains its green color longer in the fall, and is easy to spot right now, as the photo of the Ridge Prairie shows. This photo also shows several Baptisia plants at a later stage, when their leaves have turned coal black.

The photo below shows what Baptisia looks like during its spectacular flowering stage.


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