Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Indian Grass Field

A nice windy day for a walk. I’m going to mow this field in a couple of months, so I’ve been out checking conditions to see what I’ll have to deal with. We’ve had heavy rain and that means more growth. This means more material to cut and an increase of material left on the ground afterwards. It will also make it harder to see where I’m going, so I’ll have to be careful not to mow over an ant hill or break my leg in a ground hog hole.

I’ve also been checking the progress of seed maturation in hopes of collecting some seed this week. I wouldn’t even try to gather seed with the wind blowing this hard. It looks like these stalks have already lost some seed. The seed heads I checked were developing and will probably contain ripe seed in a couple of weeks. The sparrows don’t worry about the seed being mature and have been busy feeding in this field.

The winds get some good wave action going across these stands of Indian Grass. The grass is pointing out the direction of the prevailing wind. A lot of seed from prairie plants is distributed by the wind. I’ve watched many species of plants colonize this field and then begin their expansion along the path of the prevailing wind.

The grass is pretty thick in some spots. If I delay mowing until the grass is dry and brittle, the residue shatters into small pieces. The first time I mowed a field, I was concerned about the cut grass forming a mat that would inhibit spring growth. This proved not to be a problem. The thickest of the residue I left was still much less than occurred naturally when a swath of Indian Grass went down on its own.

Something has already begun cutting the Indian Grass. These stems were cut and neatly stacked. I’ve not seen this in the fields before.

This field was last mowed in December 2006. Three growing seasons have gone by and here’s a four foot tall cedar. If cedars are cut leaving no green growth, they will die. The mower doesn’t cut this size cedar low enough to the ground for it to be killed. I carry pruners with me as I mow, so I can cut these larger cedars off flush with the ground.

Of course, I find other things while I’m walking. This is the fruit of the Horse Nettle, Solanum carolinense.

Despite the fact that the wind was carrying this boneset seed head along a five foot arc, the caterpillar never stopped eating. If it had lost its grip, it probably would have been thrown about 15 feet.

Leaves of the Cut-Leaved Grape Fern, one of my favorites. The stalk on the right belongs to the fern.

At the top of the stalk is the sporophyll, a branched structure holding the spore cases.

If everything goes well, this field should entice the Grasshoppper Sparrows to nest here instead of nearby hay fields where nests are invariably lost during the first hay cutting.

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