Tom's Blog

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Plants on the south-facing slope

Since it heats up early, the south-facing slope at Pleasant Valley Conservancy is always the first area to be burned (this year on 23 March 2010), and also has early flowering plants. Plants like pussy toes, bird's foot and prairie violet, and violet wood sorrel flowered weeks ago. Wood betony is long finished and is starting to make seeds.

A plant that is just in full bloom now is Leonard's skull cap (Scutellaria parvula) (C value of 6). You have to be careful not to step on this tiny mint, which is now in flower all over the hillside. According to Cochrane and Iltis, this species is found mostly in the southwestern (Driftless) part of Wisconsin, where it is generally seen on steep hillsides and other dry places. On our south slope it generally occurs only as single tiny plants, but in one area that was slightly shady we found a large patch.

This is one of those species that one hardly ever collects seed from, since as soon as it is finished flowering it essentially disappears from view.

Another species that we find primarily on the dry hillside is alum root (Heuchera richardsonii) (C value of 7). I found the specimen shown while climbing up our rocky Ridge Trail. Usually we see only single specimens, but in this area there were several rather large patches. Its flower stalks are bare of leaves, which are only found as a lush rosette at the base. I'm not sure whether the specimens here are native to the site (we always had small amounts of this species even before restoration began), or whether they arose from planted seed. The area here (Unit 5) is part of the very steep hillside that we have planted with dry prairie species at least five times over the past 10-12 years.

Another species that we find growing right out of rocks is prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), which is not the most common habitat for this highly conservative species (C value of 10!). According to Cochrane and Iltis, this is a tussock grass par excellence and is an indicator of unplowed prairie relicts. When we first started restoration, the only place we had this species was on our original ungrazed prairie remnant, but as our restoration has proceeded, it has spread (either on its own, or from seed we planted). The lush-looking tussock in the photo is growing right out of rocky ground, where tufts of little bluestem grass are also thriving.

This is a great time of year to wander the prairies, as lots of species are now starting to flower.


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