Monday, July 21, 2008

Prairie Remnant or Overgrazed Pasture?

I wish I could make up my mind. Some mornings I come back from my walk-about fully energized and excited, sure that I've seen yet another sign that our back 5 acres is a prairie remnant, albeit an overgrazed one.

Then there are mornings (like this morning) when I come back discouraged, sure that all we have is an overgrazed pasture with a few prairie plants in it.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure why it makes a difference to me. It's actually just a matter of semantics...and perhaps an indicator of my day's mindset.

On the "overgrazed pasture" side: the predominant grasses are silver bluestem and smooth brome. There are lots of green antelopehorn milkweed, as well as quite a bit of yarrow, wavy-leafed thistle and ironweed. Foreign "invaders" and weedy species include (besides the brome) yellow sweetclover, foxtail, and windmill grass.

On the "overgrazed prairie remnant" side: 5 leadplants, 3 small patches of sideoats grama, quite a bit of buffalograss, 2 showy milkweeds, lots of wild alfalfa, multiple large patches of white prairie clover, a large area with quite a bit of prairie coneflower and black-eyed Susan, and a couple dozen dotted gayfeather plants. I'm not seeing any sign of big or little bluestem, Indian grass, or switchgrass, although it's certainly possible that I'm just missing them because they haven't headed out yet.

In the long run what matters is how the species composition changes. And on the positive side, I'm pretty sure we've had eastern meadowlarks and dickcissels nesting. I know we had a killdeer that nested, and I hear quail calling fairly frequently.

We'll just keep managing it to the best of our ability and see what happens. Meanwhile, maybe I'll start looking at it as my daily "mood-o-meter"!


Anonymous said...

With the species you mention it most definitely is a high quality remnant. Good management will facilitate the return of other species. Now that it's been a few years since this post, what are your current observations?

Gaia Gardener: said...

We have had compass plant return and I have found a few singleton plants of big bluestem and Indian grass.

I'm not sure what to think about the compass plants - I scattered seed about 4-5 years ago and the very next year noticed a few plants. However, a couple of those plants had multiple leaves, and have already bloomed, both of which I understand to be typical of older individuals, not newly establishing seedlings.

We've had 2 very severe drought years, so the plants have been quite stressed. I am scattering some seed I collect from roadsides, trying to keep my seed sources within just a few miles of home.

The dotted gayfeather has expanded substantially since I wrote this post, the green antelopehorn has declined a bit, and I've now got a couple nice patches of whorled milkweed. Almost all of the yellow sweet clover is gone (a combination of us pulling it before it could set seed and the past years of drought) and I'd say the smooth brome is slightly less prevalent than originally. There's little poverty grass left, the silver bluestem peaked but seems to be receeding a bit, and now tall dropseed is setting up nice swathes across the land. I've discovered a couple more small leadplants, too.

Maybe it's time for a post about the changes I've been seeing....