Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Prairie Dock

These are the leaves of the Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum. Isn’t that a fun name to pronounce? This species is the second plant I found at Blue Jay Barrens that I could positively identify as a prairie species. I was still excited about finding Purple Coneflower, when I pushed through some cedars and stepped into a small clump of Prairie Dock. There weren’t a lot and all were dwarfed from growing in the shade, but they were here and I proudly documented the fact in my field notes.

That small clump has grown into a fairly large population. I love to visit the spot this time of year and see all those big leaves sticking out of the grass.

I’m finding new plants growing quite far from that original find. Many are taking hold in the barrens portion of this opening. Growth is slow here. This single leaf represents a plant that may be three to four years old.

It may be five or six years before a plant growing on this site produces flowers. In good soil, plants can reach this stage in half the time.

If you like big leaves, this is a plant you will really enjoy. The leaves are not only large; they are also rough and tough. The leaf edge is highly variable, with teeth that range from small to very large. The edge of this leaf reminds me of a big 2-man cross cut saw. I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK …

The venation is spectacular. This shot is backlit by the sun. Thirty years ago, part of my job was doing environmental evaluations on subdivision plans. This vein pattern reminds me of those plans, with their windy roads and odd shaped lots.

The big yellow flowers are born on long stalks and are quite showy. The seeds are produced by the fertile ray flowers, rays being those yellow petals. Finches are quick to get the large seeds, so not many seeds get the chance to produce new plants.

This is the site of my original Prairie Dock encounter. Several large cedars and a lot of smaller cedars were removed to allow sunlight to reach the plants. Several and a lot are technical terms used in the cedar clearing profession. The response by the dock has been good and there are more plants each year.

When I started clearing, there was no Prairie Dock at all at this location. There is a trunk of an old cedar leaning toward the center of the photo. This was left after I removed the living top and drug it to the brush pile. Something like this always prompts questions such as “While you were removing these cedars, why didn’t you remove that?” The answer is usually the same. I most likely didn’t have the time right then. Most of my management activities are short duration events. I may have a few hours or a day that I can spend working on the property. When my time is up, I have to stop and usually don’t come back to that spot later. During the time I’m working, I have to concentrate on the most important items first. A leafy tree top casts a lot more shade than a bare trunk, so the top goes and the trunk stays.

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