Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Recovering Gully

Eighteen years ago this was an actively eroding gully with very little vegetation. Because of the active erosion and the poor soil conditions, seeds that sprouted here didn’t live long enough to become permanently established. I wanted to stop the erosion and repopulate the site with native plants, but I wasn’t sure how that could be accomplished. As an experiment, I scattered about 50 pounds of annual ryegrass over the area. I knew that the ryegrass would grow just about anywhere, but would die out and not establish a permanent population. I hoped it would last long enough to provide some stability to the soil and would improve conditions enough that the natives could become established.

On this site, things worked perfectly. The ryegrass died after a couple of months, leaving enough root mass and dead material on the surface to allow some native grasses to become established. You can still see some bare spots, but loss of soil from this site has been nearly stopped and new plants continue to move in.

The edges of the old gully still look pretty bad. Soil gradually moves from these almost vertical areas and is caught at the base of the slope only a few feet away.

This soil movement gradually reduces the steepness of the bare slope and allows vegetation to take hold. Eventually the plants moving in from the bottom will meet those coming down from the top and soil movement will be stopped.

Plants are even colonizing the very shallow areas on and around the exposed bedrock.

Here’s an Eastern Red Cedar growing from a small crack in this piece of limestone. Its size hasn’t changed much since I first saw it. It’s like a natural bonsai.

The rare Carolina Buckthorn has found a foothold here. The shiny leaves of this plant always give it the appearance of having just been cleansed by a gentle spring rain.

These yellow flowers are a patch of Round-podded St. Johnswort, Hypericum sphaerocarpum. Populations of this plant often fluctuate greatly from year to year.

The flower is a lovely creamy yellow. Unlike the Common St.-Johnswort, the flower lacks any hint of spotting. These blooms are frequently visited by bees and butterflies.

This is the Hairy Ruellia, Ruellia humilis. It commonly grows in the hottest, driest prairie and barren areas, so it’s not strange that it should do so well in this old eroded gully.

Green Milkweed has done well in this formerly eroded gully. This is the flower in full bloom.

A closer look at the Green Milkweed flower. Like most milkweed flowers, this one is host to foraging ants.

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