Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Rocky Barren

There are many types of Barrens at Blue Jay Barrens. Barren development here is most influenced by the type of bedrock, position on the landscape and past land use. This area is located on the upper portion of a steep slope. At one time it was routinely plowed and planted to grain crops. Erosion removed what little soil there was and the area was left to stabilize as best it could.

The result is a barren dominated by flat limestone pieces. Vegetation is sparse here. The rock limits the growing area and reduces the actual numbers of plants that can grow, but it also acts as a mulch that helps trap moisture for the plants. The result is a landscape of slow growing plants that look surprisingly healthy.

Rugged, deep rooting plants like this Pasture Thistle take advantage of the open space and spread their leaves wide to capture maximum sunlight. These are biennial plants that will flower and die next year. Their decomposing tap root will leave a deep hole filled with organic matter. This will make an ideal growing area for new plants.

Though some may question the fact, I was holding the camera level when I took this shot. This is a very steep area. An incautious step on loose rock can cause you to take a quick ride downhill. The rocks now act to protect the area from erosion by absorbing the energy of the raindrops. The result is an unusual ecosystem supporting unusual plants and animals. The most difficult management activity on a site such as this is convincing people that what they are seeing is a good thing.

In some places the rock pile is too deep for plants to find the soil. I imagine these rock piles as being full of exciting arthropods and reptiles. Identifying creatures utilizing these areas is one of the items on my many paged list of things I intend to do.

Cedars have slowed erosion in some areas, but have made it more difficult for plants to grow. The cedar branches tend to shed water away from the tree. Rain that does make it to the ground is quickly consumed by the tree itself, making the area a super dry desert. Combine the dryness with the shade factor and it’s nearly impossible for plants to grow here. All of these factors make this a fascinating barren and a wonderful addition to the diversity of Blue Jay Barrens.

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