Tom's Blog

Monday, August 15, 2016

Echinacea pallida and the prairie remnants at the Far Overlook, Pleasant Valley Conservancy.

We have three Overlooks at Pleasant Valley Conservancy (East, Rocky, and Far), and all three have prairie remnants. The “Far Overlook” is the most interesting because it opens out into a wider area of prairie remnants. (The bench here is heavily used.) Although these areas have been planted, they also had prairie species present before any planting was done. Unfortunately, it is hard to know at this late date which species are native to the site and which have been planted.

We cleared this area in 1999-2000 at the same time we were clearing the nearby savanna called Unit 8. Actually, the far west end of Unit 8 was also prairie remnant, and would be included as part of the whole remnant except that the lane to the bench passes between Unit 8 and the rest of the remnant.

In the original clearing we dealt with lots of brush (honeysuckle, buckthorn, etc.) and walnut and other non-oak tree species. The bur oaks, of course, were untouched, and those along the ridge and a bit down the north side are spectacular, some of the oldest at PVC. 
Looking into the bur oaks at the edge of the Circle remnant.
Most of these oaks are just over the ridge into the North Woods
We call the flat area above the Far Overlook “The Circle”. For some reason, the large walnut in the center of the Circle was not removed in the initial clearing, perhaps with the idea of providing a bit of shade for visitors. 
Far Overlook and the Circle before removal of the walnut and black oaks in the winter 2015-2016.
Late October 2015. The color is mostly due to little bluestem.
Kathie doing late-fall seed collecting 

Amanda felt, rightly, that this walnut did not belong there and in the late winter of 2015-2016 she and her crew finally cut it down. At the same time, a substantial black oak and some smaller black oaks were cut, leaving this area now completely open.

This summer this whole area looks spectacular, providing great justification for the hard work of Amanda’s crew last winter. 

The Circle and Far Overlook in late summer 2016. Lots of Echinacea pallida.
Note also the big bur oaks at the edge of the ridge.

In 2015 we counted over 45 species in the Circle, including most of the warm season grasses and prairie brome. The average C-value was 5.1 and the FQI was 34. These are good values for an area of less than 0.1 acre. (Area measured by GIS.)

Typical bunch growth of warm season grasses. Visible is little bluestem and Indian grass.   

One species that has done especially well here is Echinacea pallida, which started out as a few plants (originally from seed) at the top of the south-facing slope (Unit 5A), and has spread extensively on its own. This species is known to self-seed very well and we obviously have here an ideal habitat for this species. 

Typical Echinacea pallida in the Overlook and Circle.
This photo is from mid-summer 2013, but 2016 was similar

Yesterday I did a survey of the E. pallida area and found lots of new plants coming up, probably from adjacent root stock. (See photo below.) This is a species that thrives especially well in dry areas. According to the seed company brochures, it doesn’t “like” too much water.

Numerous new leaves of E. pallida in the Circle. Many of these leaves are coming right out
of the ground. Almost certainly not from seed, but from underground rootstock.

Although E. pallida is considered Threatened in Wisconsin, it is very easy to grow. In fact, it is used so widely in prairie seed mixes, that it is almost impossible to know where “native” populations are present. The Wisconsin State Herbarium shows only four collections in Dane County and only two in Iowa County. Two of the Dane County collections were in the 19th century (1885 and 1894). I suspect that E. pallida is so common now that no one bothers to make Herbarium submissions. Because it is a Threatened species, the Herbarium website withholds the exact locations of these collections.

Added on September 27 2016. The good fall rains have led to lots of leaf growth and encouraged the roots. Next year's plants should be large and healthy.


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