Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Walk on the Trail - Part 2

As we move into a more open area, the trail still follows the little valley. We’ve moved to one side so the runoff water now flows through the low area to our left. The soil in the valley is over four feet deep, so there is plenty of moisture and room for plant roots to grow. Maintaining a mowed trail tends to add vigor to those plants growing along its edge. This is partly due to the decrease in competition from plants on the trail and partly due to the fact that grass clippings build up just off the trail and improve the soil.

Along part of the trail is a heavy growth of Tall Fescue, a non-native plant that can become invasive in natural areas. This fescue is one of the plants I would like to eliminate, but it hasn’t been a main target yet. I’ve had some success killing fescue with glyphosate herbicide sprayed in December when the native plants are dormant and fescue is still growing. I’ll try that on a section of trail this winter.

On the hill beside the trail, the soil shallows to a depth of about eight inches. These conditions are ideal for most of the prairie plants.

As the season progresses, the vegetation along the trail begins to lean in and close the path. A mowed trail less than five feet wide in these conditions can become effectively blocked by vegetation in late summer or early fall. Don’t make the mistake of creating narrow trails through grassland.

Sometimes the lean of the plant just makes it easier to view the flowers. This is Biennial Gaura, Gaura biennis.

Most trees and shrubs growing in the prairie area will be cut and killed. This is a young Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica, hosting a colony of webworms.

There are some shrubs that will be left. Prickly Ash, Zanthoxylum americanum, is the host plant to the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. This clump is at the edge of the prairie and is forming a nice thicket now that the surrounding competition has been removed.

You need to make sure that Prickly Ash doesn’t crowd in on the trail. These thorns are quite capable of ripping a nice gash in unprotected skin.

Tall Boneset, Eupatorium altissimum, likes to grow right along with the tall grasses. These flowers are highly attractive to bees, wasps and butterflies.

This Boneset has attracted an Ailanthus Webworm Moth. Quite an attractive moth, but not one I’m happy to see. The larvae of this moth feed on the invasive Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima, and having the moth around indicates that the tree is near. I haven’t found Tree of Heaven at Blue Jay Barrens, but I’m sure it won’t be long before it arrives.

As we reach the other side of the prairie and again move into shade, we find one of the interesting grasses. Slender-flowered Muhlenbergia, Muhlenbergia tenuiflora, is a tall growing grass that tends to lie down on top of the other vegetation.

The stems grow in a zigzag pattern that adds an interesting look to the mat forming over the neighboring plants.

I like to open little vistas along the trail. This particular view was created two years ago when I removed some invasive Bush Honeysuckle. The native Redbuds are now trying to claim that space. Redbuds are the host plant to the uncommon Henry’s Elfin butterfly and will be allowed to block my view.

Tomorrow we’ll move into the trees as we work our way down to the creek. We’re just barely out of sight of the house, so we’ll have to walk a bit faster if we want to make it to the end of the trail by Friday.

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