Tom's Blog

Friday, September 12, 2014

Story of a small prairie parcel

When we started restoration about 15 years ago, the parcel under discussion here consisted of a small clone of quaking aspen, about 0.2 acres. The trees were girdled in 1998 and the dead logs were removed 2 years later. Two medium-sized Hill's oaks were left standing and are thriving.

 Because this small area was an orphan trapped between our gravel service road and a small CRP parcel (the Ridge Prairie), we more or less ignored it. Although we don't have any specific records, we may have planted it once or twice with a dry-mesic seed mix. However, beginning about 2007 or 2008 it had become mostly a solid patch of Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). In mid-summer 2008 the whole patch was mowed with a brush cutter to try to get a handle on the goldenrod. After that, all we have done is burn it when we burn the adjacent Ridge Prairie. It has been burned annually since then (7 or 8 burns) and otherwise it has been ignored.

I never paid any attention to it since I assumed that it was still predominantly Canada goldenrod. Last week I looked more carefully and realized that most of the Canada goldenrod had been replaced with a surprising diversity of forbs and graminoids, including some relatively uncommon species.

The photo shows one part of this parcel, with the Ridge Prairie in the background. (The nearest tree is probably a Hill's oak.)

The table below shows the results of my quick survey.

Latin name
Common name
Aster ericoides
Heath aster
Aster lateriflorus
Calico aster
Aster novae-angliae
New England aster
Aster pilosus
Hairy aster
Aster sagittifolius
Arrow-leaved aster
Baptisia alba
White wild indigo
Carex pensylvanica
Pennsylvania sedge
Cirsium discolor
Pasture thistle
Corylus americana
American hazelnut
Desmodium canadense
Showy tick-trefoil
Desmodium illinoense
Illinois tick-trefoil
Elymus riparius
Woodland wild rye
Eupatorium perfoliatum
Common boneset
Gentianella quinquefolia
Stiff gentian
Monarda fistulosa
Wild bergamot
Prenanthes alba
Lion's foot
Ratibida pinnata
Yellow coneflower
Rudbeckia hirta
Black-eyed Susan
Silphium integrifolium
Silphium perfoliatum
Cup plant
Smilacina racemosa
False Solomon's seal
Solidago canadensis
Common goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis
Gray goldenrod
Solidago rigida
Stiff goldenrod
Solidago speciosa
Showy goldenrod
Sorghastrum nutans
Indian grass

Some of these species probably moved in on their own, since it is unlikely we would have had them in a seed mix. Noteworthy are Lion's foot and stiff gentian, which are hardly "weedy" species.

I'm convinced that the frequent (annual) burns played an important role in transforming this parcel from a monoculture to a diverse prairie.

It is encouraging to see what burns and patience can bring!


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