Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I named my property Blue Jay Barrens because of the two things I saw on every walk I took through the property. The bird known as the Blue Jay is pretty well known by most people. The term Barren, however, seems to have numerous definitions depending on the part of the country you are from. Since I often refer to things that are happening on the Barrens, I thought I should explain what I’m referring to when I use that term.

I use the term Barrens to identify areas that are so inhospitable to plant growth that bare soil is exposed throughout the year. Some of these areas exhibit active soil erosion, but the majority are stable.

On many sites, erosion control is provided by a layer of rock fragments on the soil surface. On this site, the predominant component of the soil is decomposed limestone. These tiny limestone pieces create a high pH environment that holds very little water.

These harsh conditions seem to be acceptable to a large number of plants. Here we have the yellow flowered Round-podded St. Johnswort, Hypericum sphaerocarpum. The majority of broadleaf plants shown with the St. Johnswort are Western Sunflower, Helianthus occidentalis.

This little yellow flower is the Grooved Flax, Linum sulcatum. This is an uncommon plant that I only find in the Barrens. My finger tip gives you an idea of how small this bloom is. Or maybe it doesn’t. I really don’t know where your ideas come from.

Some areas look worse than others. This spot looks particularly bad because it used to be a site of active gully erosion. The gully has healed over and this bare area is pretty well protected by stones and rock chips.

Some plants seem to do well on even the worst areas. The white blooms are those of Spiked Lobelia, Lobelia spicata, and the violet blooms are Prairie Ruellia, Ruellia strepens.

Barrens are important areas for ground nesting wasps. Here is a newly excavated burrow, probably dug by a wasp. I’ve often seen wasps dragging spiders across the Barrens, most likely heading for burrows such as this.

Eastern Box Turtles seem to prefer Barrens as a place to dig out a chamber and lay their clutch of eggs. It’s not uncommon to see nests that have been dug up by predators. The nest chamber is that shaded area in the upper center of the photo. The white fragments scattered about are the remnants of egg shells

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