Thursday, June 9, 2016

Great Spangled Musk Thistle!

Here Great Spangled Fritillaries take in the nectar from Musk Thistles, in our Creek Field.   I took the video just before I cut the thistles down.   

There are lots of contradictions in prairie restoration, and killing the thistles butterflies are feeding on is one of them.

We should be doing everything we can to help pollinators survive.

We should be doing everything we can to eliminate Musk Thistle, a non-native Noxious Weed.

There's a contradiction here!

I am not a purist about non-native plants.  If they co-exist harmoniously with our native plants, they may actually contribute to biodiversity.   But if they are aggressively invasive, like Musk Thistle, Crown Vetch, Poison Hemlock, & Old World Bluestems, replacing native plants with monocultures of themselves, then they threaten the health of the whole.   If they reduce biodiversity, I do what I can to remove them.

My hope is that fostering prairie plants will ultimately benefit all the creatures that depend on them, including pollinators.   Butterflies will love it when the native Tall Thistles, present in our Creek Field in great abundance, start to bloom later in the summer.  
But the Musk Thistles are blooming now.   The Tall Thistles aren't.

It feels strange to remove the very plants butterflies at that moment are fluttering around!

Prairie ecologist Chris Helzer felt the same dilemma as he was killing off Musk Thistle from a Platte River prairie--except he was finding the prairie-dependent Regal Fritillary on Musk Thistle, not the more common Great Spangled Fritillary, which I show here.

He made the same choice I did:   Remove the Musk Thistle; create a healthy plant community first.   But as he put it, 

"We ended up killing a lot of thistles out from under butterflies."

A contradiction like that sticks in your mind, provoking thought, planting a seed, perhaps allowing a blossom to open where beautiful, fluttery wisdom we don't yet have can ultimately land!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie, May-June 2016: Tumblemustard, Poison Hemlock, Vetch in Perpetuity

Tall Tumblemustard
(Sisymbrium altissimum)
Annual or biennial volunteer
Native to the western Great Plains
 Here's an invader I wasn't prepared for:   Tall Tumblemustard, identified with help from Mark Mayfield & the Invasive Plant Network.  It is native to the western part of the Great Plains.   

Mark recommended removing it immediately.  He also asked to add it to the KSU Herbarium's permanent collection, as it is new to our area.

Another name for this plant is Jim Hill Mustard.  James Hill was a railroad magnate, and I suppose his railroads zipped across the prairies like the tumbleweeds.   

However,  there must be more to the story.

We have a wonderful set of volumes from the early 1970s, H. W. Rickett's Wildflowers of the Mountains and Great Plains.   I love Rickett because he tries hard to communicate with the lay person & doesn't hesitate to express his subjective views.  

He calls the tumblemustards a genus of  "ugly weeds."  

Maybe Jim Hill was ugly and showed up where he wasn't wanted!

I take the word of experts that tumblemustards are invasive & don't belong in the Flint Hills--but ugly?   No way.  Check out that sweet flower!  
Tall Tumblemustard Flower

I uprooted Mr. Tumble from the Creek Field.

But he has achieved a kind of immortality in the KSU  Herbarium.

There is so much killing involved in restoration!  

I've been battling invasives all spring.

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), a native of Eurasia, will do anything to set seed.    You can cut down the stalk & it will go ahead & flower.  You can burn the stump with herbicide, & atop the browning, withering stem, white flowers will soon appear.   
I almost missed these Poison Hemlocks next
to the walnut trees, reaching for the sky.

Socrates supposedly committed suicide by drinking a decoction of the seeds of  Poison Hemlock.

A Lady Beetle & a Soldier Beetle enjoy the flowers.
Poison Hemlock, a non-native biennial or occasional perennial,
 is an aggressive volunteer.

All parts of the plant are toxic to humans & livestock.

However, obviously some insects find it sweet!

This will not be the year when we can declare the bottomland Crown-Vetch-free.   I have eliminated the giant patches, including some small ones in both the Creek Field & the Road Buffer, but the Creek Buffer continues to have numerous scattered eruptions.   These small areas of regrowth are hard to deal with.   The earth is no longer amenable to digging, and the ground is hard to reach anyway, through all the vegetation.  The would-be Crown Vetch colonizers are just individual plants all tangled up with the native plants.   They are impossible to spray without putting the neighbors at risk.   

Here Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia) 
blooms amid the White Snakeroot
next to an American Plum
So for the moment, Crown Vetch & I are retreating to our own lines.  

We will engage again when the native plants go dormant in the fall.

For now there are no more visible stands of Musk Thistle, Tumblemustard, or Poison Hemlock....& cowardly Crown Vetch is hiding behind shields of native plants.  

Boy, oh, boy, am I glad to take a temporary break from war!  

It's time to celebrate the prairie plants that are making up the peace!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Restoring Bottomland Prairie, May-June 2016: Controlling Musk Thistle

Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans) was deliberately imported
from southern Europe for floral gardens.  It is now
officially a Noxious Weed.  
Ron & I both think Musk Thistle looks like extraterrestrials!

They can deliver a very earthly hurt to the restorationist, however.

After being stabbed & scratched & generally savaged while filling 10 garbage bags with these aggressive invaders, I am determined not to overlook the rosettes next year.   

Musk Thistle in the Creek Field
Non-native biennial or
winter annual.
Aggressive volunteer!
The flat rosettes can be controlled with a simple squirt of herbicide, no bloodshed involved.   

I didn't take the stitch in time;
now I'm paying with the nine!        

The only advantage on my side is that Musk Thistle can't hide.  It's got to rise up tall with its gorgeous magenta bloom.   
I was able to pull up many thistles by the
roots.  Recent rains had made the
ground that soft!  

Therefore, I can catch it before it sets seed.

But who knows how many Musk Thistle seeds are already lurking in the seed bank, just waiting for next year? 

I can only hope there is an equivalent vigilance lurking in my soul!  

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wildflower Walk, June 4, 2016: Flooded Out!

This is what happened to our driveway's right lane during the rains last week!

We have to postpone the Juneteenth Wildflower Walk, originally scheduled for today.  

We're very sad, as it's always a joy to share the beauties of the prairie.

But we don't want to share the dangers, too!

And maybe later in the summer the mosquitoes & ticks won't be so bad.