Tom's Blog

Friday, November 8, 2013

Prairie dropseed on rock outcroppings

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) is a highly desirable grass (C value of 10), that is often included in prairie plantings but can also be found in the native state. According to Cochrane and Iltis it is a tussock grass par excellence and is an indicator of unplowed and relictual dry prairies.

Now is an ideal time to seek out prairie dropseed because most of the native vegetation has senesced and turned brown. This makes the characteristic dropseed tussock readily seen, especially since its graceful form and rich color make it stand out.

At Pleasant Valley Conservancy we have several sites where dropseed was present before restoration work began. The two goat prairies (Units 1 and 4) were the best, and Kathie collected lots of seeds from Unit 1 the year after our first burn.

In addition, we  find dropseed growing well on several of the dolomite rock outcroppings. Although they don't seem to spread away from these habitats, they are quite long-lived at these sites. The best places to see these plants are on the outcroppings we call the Rocky Overlook (above Unit 6) and the East Overlook (above Unit 7). The latter is easiest to find as a trail leads right to it.

Three prairie dropseed plants on the rock outcrop near the edge of the East Overlook
Because of the hard rock formations at these sites, it seems unlikely that the plants are very deep-rooted. Note that these plants are native to their sites and were present before we started restoration in 1998.

Dropseed is widely used as an ornamental around buildings. As far as I know, these are not cultivated varieties, but the same species found on prairies. In fact, these habitats are not all that different from the rocky outcrops at Pleasant Valley. (An excellent population of dropseed in Madison is outside the entrance to the Hilldale Branch of U.S. Bank.)


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