Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Steep Slope

The history of Blue Jay Barrens includes damage from abusive farming practices. Cattle were allowed access to the entire property and the effects of their activities can still be seen today. Since there is very little for cattle to eat in the woods, they really chew down the few plants they can find. The addition of trampling and soil compaction results in a drastic reduction of native plant diversity. The best way to find plants that may once have been abundant in the area is to look for places that would not have been used by cattle. Cattle are not built for going up or down hills, so steep areas like this could hold remnant plant populations from pre-cattle days.

Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens, is an attractive orchid that is abundant in the non-cattle areas. A tall flower spike will be produced later in the year, but I think the plant is most attractive as the basal rosette of leaves that persists through the winter. This plant probably suffered from trampling and soil compaction. It is now beginning to become more abundant in the rest of the woodland.

Twenty-five years ago, it was rare to find Christmas Fern anywhere but on the steep banks. Cattle will eat Christmas Fern and keep it leafless for a long enough period to kill the plant. I’m now seeing Christmas Fern coming up throughout the woods and the fields.

Chunks of bedrock help to keep the soil in place on the steep hillsides. These rocks also provided an additional deterrent to cattle movement here.

If I find plants growing here that I think would benefit by having some seeds broadly scattered into suitable habitat, I’ll move the seed and monitor the dispersal areas to determine if new plants are developing. I have to use some caution on these slopes so as not to create the same type of damage once committed by the cattle.

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