Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Golden August Prairie

 
We've established native grasslands on 160 acres of old hayfields in the preserve.  Most of the grasslands are just that--grasslands--dominated by big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian-grass (Sorghastrum nutans).  But we also incorporated wildflowers into 60 acres of the grasslands, and right now these meadows are in their late-summer glory.
Because our fields are subject to intense invasive plant pressure, we decided to concentrate on planting grasses only on most of the land.  We restricted our planting to grasses because we could use the selective herbicide Plateau on these grasslands.  Plateau controls broadleaved invasive species like non-native porcelain-berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), Asian bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) plus aggressive natives like brambles (Rubus spp.), but won't damage the native grasses.
However, our grassland manager determined that there are a few native broadleaved wildflower species that aren't harmed by an application of Plateau.  So, we incorporated seeds of some of these species into 60 of the the most recently established acres.  These meadows now offer a mixture of grasses and forbs not present elsewhere in the prairies.  And, the wildflowers enliven the the grasslands with big swaths of color, making a walk on the trail winding through the meadows a real delight this time of year.  Bright yellow partridge-pea (Chamaecrista fasiculata) is blooming profusely now, along with a few remaining black-eyed-susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and a delicate white-flowered aster (Aster sp.) that I haven't tried to identify yet.  Of course, the fields are literally abuzz and achirp with every sort of hymenopteran, lepidopteran and orthopteran imaginable.
 Purpletop (in foreground) growing mixed with partridge-pea and little and big bluestem
We're also enjoying a real unanticipated surprise in these meadows, too.  Though we didn't plant it, purpletop (Tridens flavus) has become a very common grass throughout these fields.  Where it grows densely, purpletop's delicate flowers spread an enchanting mauve gauze over the landscape. 
 

6 comments:

Ray's Cowboy said...

Looks wonderful Congrats on this. I do have a question at the endof the year/ Fall do you cut the grass down and make hay out fo it?

Hugs
Ray

Scott said...

Ray: Our fields have got to be a whole heck of a lot greener than yours right now, unfortunately (for you). I feel so bad for Texas wildlife.

Thanks for the question about the grasses. Because we're trying to attract birds that nest in meadows (e.g., Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows, we leaves portions of the grasslands unmowed each year so that, when the birds return in the spring, they'll have some habitat waiting for them. We do mow other portions of the fields so that the dead grasses don't build up over time and form a deep thatch on the ground, which would eventually suppress the grasses' growth. In a natural situation, the fields would burn periodically and would burn off the thatch, but our fields are surrounded by $1 million houses, so we can't burn the fields. Our mowing is done by a contractor who takes the grass away to be used for growing mushrooms. If you buy mushrooms grown in Kennett Square, PA, you might be eating some of our grasses!

Ray's Cowboy said...

Thanks fo rthe info.
Hugs
Ray

Carolyn H said...

Lovely! Your wild prairie is just beautiful right now.

John Gray said...

lovely
I sowed american wild flowers in my field borders last year , which have just re seeded themselves this year

lovely

Scott said...

Carolyn: The grasses themselves are best in October and November, but by then the wildflowers are mostly gone. So, I get to enjoy the meadow glory twice: once in August, and again later in the year.

John: Congratulations on a second year of wildflowers! Many seed companies market "instant meadows" or "meadows-in-a-can" here in the United States. Most of the species are not natives and, while they're not invasive, they tend to last one (or maybe two) years, never to return. So, there's a splash of color for a year or so, then the garden needs to be replanted. Our fields contain native meadow species and, while their numbers and performance vary from year to year, we generally don't have to replant them.