Saturday, April 30, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie, June 2015: Waves of White, Dots of Color

Driveway, looking east at sunset.
The Creek Field is on the left and
the Creek Buffer is on the right.

In June 2015, the Creek Field was a good place to watch the sunset in reverse.  
Creek Field, looking southeast,
with waves of white flowers in the foreground.

Hedge Parsley (Torilis arvensis) starting to bloom.
Annual.  Weedy volunteer.

Hedge Parsley, that  aggressive, non-native annual, appeared to cover every inch of the Creek Field.  It was a sea of green until it started to bloom--and then it was a sea of white.  

Swelling the waves were other white-flowered species:  Daisy Fleabane, Elderberry, Yarrow, and Foxglove Penstemon.
Daisy Fleabane
(Erigeron strigosus) 
Annual, Volunteer.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Perennial, Volunteer

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
in the Creek Buffer
Perennial Shrub, Volunteer

Penstemon digitalis
Perennial, in our Seed Mix

Once again, the annual Hedge Parsley only seemed to dominate, as other species joined in.  In addition to the white flowers, splashes of color appeared in the sea of white.

For example, as this photo shows, the pink-lavender flowers of Bee Balm contrasted delicately with the white Fleabane in the foreground and the billowing Hedge Parsley flowers in the background.
Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)
Native perennial, in our Seed Mix,
with Daisy Fleabane in the foreground
and frothy waves of Hedge Parsley
flowers in the background.
Clasping Coneflower
Dracopsis amplexicaulis
Native annual,
 in our Seed Mix

One of the beautiful things about the early stages of a restoration is that annuals get to show their power!

Clasping Coneflower, an easily germinating annual, covered the Loop Path.

The leaf is the "clasping" part.
Dracopsis amplexicaulis leaf

Dracopsis amplexicaulis inflorescence.
The fringe of lovely dark marks on the yellow
ray flowers do not appear on every blossom.
Native annual.   In our seed mix.

Rudbeckia hirta
Black-eyed Susan.
Native biennial
or short-lived
perennial.  In our Seed Mix.
Dracopsis is one of the genera of "prairie coneflowers."  The other three are Rudbeckia, Echinacea, & Ratibida.   The Creek Field in  2015 hosted all four, with Dracopsis, Rudbeckia, and Echinacea blooming in June.    

Rudbeckia hirta inflorescence about to open.
"Hirta" means "hairy!"

Echinacea purpurea
A prairie coneflower.
In our Seed Mix.

I have often thought that the "cones" of  coneflowers provide nice landing places for pollinators on windy days!

Eastern Gama Grass
Tripsacum dactyloides
In our Seed Mix.

Eastern Gamagrass also bloomed in June.   Cattle like it so much it is grazed out of most pastures.   I like it so much I once wanted an entire field of nothing but Eastern Gama Grass.  

However, I am happier to have it as part of  a native polyculture.

Its flowers are gorgeous!

June was also the beginning for me of Sunflower Studies--a very tough course.   I spent a lot of time turning flowers upside down and pondering the bracts (modified leaves that sub-tend a flower cluster).   I learned that moisture-loving Sawtooth Sunflower had long stringy bracts, while edge-hugging False Sunflower had squat, pudgy bracts.  
Sawtooth Sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus) has stringy bracts.   It seems always to have a wind-blown look as well.  Native perennial.   In our Seed Mix.  

False Sunflower.  Two things to look
for are the squat bracts that form a scalloped
cup and the inflorescence sitting atop a
long naked stem.
A katydid lands on the
disk florets of False
Sunflower (Heliopsis
Native perennial.
In our Seed Mix.  

Other sunflowers came on the syllabus later in the summer!
I don't know if I passed the course.   I do know I'll be taking it again!

Common Milkweed  (Asclepias syriaca )
Native perennial.  Volunteer 
Easier to identify was the Common Milkweed that bloomed on the edges of the field.  Sullivant Milkweed was in our seed mix, but if it appeared in 2015, I missed it.  I'll be looking for it this year!  

The leaves of the Common Milkweed have stems, while those of Sullivant Milkweed are mostly stemless.   

Milkweeds are wonderful!

There was trouble in paradise, however.   Some Musk Thistles bloomed and set seed before we could remove them, and Crown Vetch continued to invade the Creek Buffer.   It also hop-scotched into the Creek Field.  We pushed both species back, but we know that was just one skirmish in a long war.
Musk Thistle blooming.
Carduus nutans is on the Kansas list of Noxious Weeds.
Non-native biennial.  Sneaky volunteer!

Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia).
Non-native perennial.
Aggressive volunteer.
Some butterflies don't  mind!

Gaillardia pulchella
Native annual.
In our seed mix.

Still, the beauty kept coming. 

The amazingly lovely Gaillardia continued to bloom throughout June.  

In the green sea with the white foam, the yellow-orange-brown Gaillardia joined many other multi-colored flowers bobbing on the waves!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ms. Darner Comes to Visit

Life cycles, starting again....

We spotted this Common Green Darner (Anax junius) laying eggs in a submerged cattail stalk in the Crystal Pond, a seep pond up above the Stone House.  

I've been learning about these not-so-little guys:  The adults migrate south in the fall, sometimes as far as Mexico.  Their off-spring migrate north in the spring.  The aquatic larvae, called naiads, are aggressive predators, eating tadpoles, fish, and other insects.  The adults catch & eat flying insects, including mosquitoes.   

The naiads crawl up on emergent vegetation to molt, which they do several times before earning their wings.   The naiads can overwinter under ice; some take several years to mature.

So this lovely female pictured here may have just arrived, having traveled from points south.   Or possibly, she was already here as an egg & then a naiad and has just emerged.   She may have grown tired of the water and wants to see what the sky is all about!

Happy flying, young lady.   And please specialize in mosquitoes! 

The accompaniments to her star turn were provided by Western Chorus Frogs, Northern Cardinal,  Northern Cricket Frog, & Seep Overflow.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Burning April 21, 2016: East Side of McDowell Creek

Ron back-burns around the star-deck.
Everyone on the east side of McDowell Creek (south of I-70) burned last Thursday, April 21, 2016.  

The day was scarily windy, which sped things up--but the ground was helpfully damp, which slowed things down.   

The first thing Ron & I had to do was back- burn around our star-gazing deck and our little cabin.   

We couldn't let the fire go until we saw the plumes from our neighbors' land.   What if they ran into difficulties & decided not to burn?   They wouldn't be too happy if we burned their land anyway.
Ron had mowed around the cabin,
making the back-burn easier.

We stopped the fire
before it got into
the ravine.   
There was a lot of thatch, as half of our pasture hadn't burned for 4 years and the other half hadn't burned for 2.

There was quite a fuel load.
Smoke to the south was our
sign to start burning the tall grass.
 I showed Ron this
lovely Prairie Violet
(Viola pedatifida)in the path of the fire.
  He hosed it down  so
  it wouldn't burn.
What a sweet guy! 
Flames raced through the pasture!  

Our next job was to start a backfire in the woods to climb up the hill and join the fire that would be coming down from the pasture.

The video shows the windy, smoky pasture and ends with the beginning of the backfire in the woods.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie, April 2016, Part 2: The Vetch Stretch! (1)

Crown Vetch dominates the understory in
the buffer along McDowell Creek.
I've been spending every day since mid-March digging up Crown Vetch.  

As long as we've had a creek buffer (since 1999), we've been plagued by Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia), a horrible non-native invasive plant that was brought to this country with the best of intentions.   (What harm has been done over the centuries by well-intentioned people?)

Crown Vetch changes soil chemistry to the detriment of native plants.  It forms tangled mats that eventually become a monoculture.    
I sit under the plums on the ground and dig up the vetch
with a trowel.  Sometimes it's hard to find a place to sit!

Crown Vetch forms a

While restoration opens the door to biodiversity, Crown Vetch slams it shut.  

Above all, we want to keep Crown Vetch out of the prairie restoration in the Creek Field.

But every year, it comes back to the buffer that adjoins the Creek Field.  We've mowed it in the open areas and spot-sprayed it where we could.  

Reducing the size of
the "apron"
But in the plum thickets, the vetch climbs up on the plums, completely covering them.  (How diabolical is that?  --to use a shrub's own structure to rob it of its sunlight!?!) There is no way to spray it while sparing the plums.   So almost all the wild plums are surrounded by a circular apron of vetch.   That apron grows and grows and covers more and more--until vast stretches of understory are nothing but vetch.  

This spring I decided to go after that robber's den.  If the invaders stayed under the plums, it would be one thing.   But they continually venture out to steal the life from more and more land.    Three times they started small patches in the Creek Field!  
Deci is in a cleared patch., and I
am in another.  I am slowly pulling
up the last fingers of vetch that
separate the two.
That's my tool bucket in the foreground.

Two, three, four, sometimes six hours a day I've been spending at this task.  

This isn't the half of it.
I use a trowel to get under the plant,
snips to cut off rhizomes or roots that
won't come up, and a jar of biodegradable
stump killer for  the cut ends.  

Sprout with "beard" of roots
Multiple sprouts on one rhizome
I am learning why Crown Vetch is so hard to remove completely.   There may be a tiny sprout of three or four leaves but underground that sprout can be connected to multiple hairy beards of roots, as well as an entire network of pale, tan rhizomes.   And somewhere nearby is at least one caudex--a bouquet of stems, at or just beneath the soil surface, that has become woody and hardened into a bumpy knot.   
Woody caudex with spidery
rhizomes & roots.  When dug up,
the spider-legs hang down like a mop-head 

That knot appears lifeless, but it isn't.   You can see new shoots springing up out of it, as well as a mop of stringy rhizomes & roots  hanging down from it.   
Caudex with new shoots
and mop-head of rhizomes
and roots.  

Meanwhile, the leaves piled on top of each other in a mat may spring from separate rhizomes and root systems underground.  Herbicide will claim the surface layer and its underground support system for sure, but the other layers and their support systems will survive.   This is a plant with many survival strategies.   It's got a Plan A, B, C, and even D, which is the production of pods and the easy germination of its seeds.  
Last-year's tendrils (which
Crown Vetch used to clamber
over the plums) can make it
hard to reach this-year's vetch.

Absolutely thrilling, after the Crown Vetch has been dug up, is the reappearance of native plants!

More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie: April 2016, Part 1. Smoke & Buttercups!

 Almost 4 weeks after the burn--4 weeks of cold nights--and the Creek Field is just starting to green up.

Geary County has put a ban on burns this week, but smoke still hangs heavy on the hills.  

Early Wood Buttercup
Ranunculus abortivus
Native biennial or short-lived perennial
Meanwhile, this sweet little moisture-loving buttercup decided to bloom this week.   Ron took this photo by the gate, just outside the Stone House.    This species confused me so much at first--
Now I know there a numerous plants whose basal leaves look completely different from their stem leaves.

Note to self:  Gather seeds to scatter in wetland areas of the Creek Field!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie, May 2015, Part 4: Latter May Plants!

The grass-like leaves of  native
perennial Ohio Spiderwort break through the mat
of  the non-native annual Hedge Parsley.
 Also  pushing aside the heartily-volunteering Hedge Parsley was the beautiful native perennial, Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis).   Ohio Spiderwort was in our seed mix in 2013, but 2015 was its first year to bloom.

How excited I was to see it!

Ohio Spiderwort blooming...

Amorpha fruticosa blooming.
Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these!
But it wasn't just that single species:  It was a time of  beauty!

One of the loveliest shrubs in the world is False Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruticosa).  It volunteers along the intermittent streams back in our uplands, where I fell in love with it!   So I was glad when one of our mentors recommended we include it in the bottomland seed mix.  It was planted with everything else in 2013 but bloomed for the first time in May 2015.
False Indigo Bush is a mositure-groupie!
This native legume likes the soil
of bottomground and stream banks.

You have to be careful when Amorpha fruticosa
first comes up.   Its leaves can briefly resemble
those of that other legume,
the horrible invader Crown Vetch.
But don't pull this one up!
This gracious shrub was planted
in the Creek Field in 2013.   But when it
came up in 2015, it was in the adjoining
buffer, not in the Creek Field.   So many
of these seeds come wearing little
traveling shoes!

Cut-leaf Daisy blossom.
How baffled I was when this yellow-blooming plant showed up in the field buffer, right along the driveway.  No sunflowers that I knew had ferny leaves like this.   I pored over my wildflower books--several times going right past it because the leaves weren't pictured, and  its range is indicated as Kansas's "western half."  

Slowly the leaves led me to the answer:  It was a Cut-leaf Daisy, Englemann's Daisy, native to the mid-grass and short-grass prairies, but nevertheless blooming right there along our driveway.    
Cut-leaf Daisy leaves.
Note the hairy stem!
 It is a perennial.  I hope that means it will be with us for many years to come!  

How did it get to the Flint Hills?

Perhaps the seeds arrived in the CRP mix we used on the field buffers in 2008--or maybe they hitched a ride on our Creek Field mix in 2013.  

Now, as I write this in April 2016, I am eager to see if Cut-leaf Daisy will return this year to this home not-on-its-range.   

Cut-leaf Daisy
(Englemannia peristenia=
Englemannia pinnatifida)

Native perennial.  Volunteer.
Did it hate the wet summer we had last year? 

How about the burn of the field buffers on March 17, 2016?  

Cut-leaf Daisy, I am hoping to hear answers from you, in person, if possible.

If you come back this year, I will greet you by name!

Purple Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) may or may not have inhabited bottomland prairie before the settlers plowed it up.   It is a stalwart of the tall grass prairie in rainier parts east of the Flint Hills.  Echinacea angustifolia is our echinacea of the uplands, especially dry, rocky areas.     But E. purpurea may have been here in moist areas, such as our Creek Field.   We included it in our seed mix and it bloomed the first year in great numbers and has returned strongly every year.   June seems to be its highpoint, but in 2015 a few hardy individuals bloomed in May.
Echinacea purpurea
Native perennial

Indian Blanket Flower
Gaillardia pulchella
Indian Blanket Flower (Gaillardia pulchella) is a native annual (western 3/4 of Kansas) which we included in our seed mix and which has bloomed profusely ever since.   

It is of course our hope that native perennials in this restoration will eventually form a prairie sod.   But it is also our hope that there will always be enough disturbance to provide a few areas of purchase for gorgeous annuals such as this one!   

With regard to disturbance:  McDowell Creek in the past has been happy to oblige!

Ruellia strepens
Native perennial
Creek buffer
Not included in our seed mix but volunteering shyly on the creek buffer was this lovely Limestone Wild Petunia (Ruellia strepens), cousin to the more common Prairie Petunia (Ruellia humilis).  
This plant shuns the limelight.  Not only does its blossom appear far down the stem, hidden by its leaves, but each blossom opens at night, only to fall by the following evening.   Then, later in the season, in a masterstroke of introversion, it produces a closed flower that is self-pollinating!  

Like the damsel in the castle in any self-respecting fairy tale, native-plant-beauty is always menaced by threats.   Two non-native invaders showed up in May 2015:  Poison Hemlock and Musk Thistle.   We'd been controlling Poison Hemlock in our creek buffer for years; the Musk Thistle was new to these fields.   

Both species can create dense stands that crowd out other vegetation.

Poison Hemlock
(Conium maculatum)
Every part of this plant is
toxic to animals and humans.
Musk Thistle
(Carduus nutans)
Hard to control!
Severed flowers can still set seed!

When  we discovered these invaders in the middle of the restoration, we knew our adventures with them were just beginning!