Saturday, November 6, 2010

North Sloping Prairie

At the north end of the largest of the old crop fields is a wall of Eastern Red Cedar. These trees mark the end of the area historically used for grain crops. A few strands of old barbed wire running through the row of trees show the location of an old fence that kept grazing cattle away from the crops.

Going beyond the boundary of cedars brings you onto a steep hillside that runs down to the creek. The steepness of the hill is what kept anyone from plowing and planting crops here. Being spared from the plow didn’t keep this area free from massive soil erosion. Overgrazing by livestock stressed the vegetation to the point that it could no longer protect the soil surface. The slope is now marred by irregularities resulting from eroding gullies and soil slippage. The erosion has stopped, but the evidence remains.

There are a few patches of tall prairie grasses found here. Indian Grass is the most common tall grass, but it is not as robust as the grass found out in the open fields. The north facing slope remains slightly cooler than the rest of the landscape and the shading of the cedars increases the effect. This discourages many of the heat loving plants.

Most of the vegetation is short grasses and forbs. I’ve thinned out a few cedars to maintain about the same level of sunlight, but mostly I’ve just been watching to see what develops here.

There’s quite a diversity of forbs growing here. I was thinking that there might be something growing under north slope conditions that I haven’t found anywhere else. After years of searching, I’ve found nothing here that isn’t growing elsewhere at Blue Jay Barrens. I think it’s time to increase the amount of sunlight reaching these plants and see what changes occur.

Even though the entire slope shared the same use history, the cedars increase in size as you move west across the slope. You don’t have to go far before the ground is completely shaded. The eastern end of the slope must have some really poor growing conditions if even the cedars had trouble growing.

These cedars are probably the same age as those large ones farther west, but they appear to have had to struggle to keep growing. The openness of the trees results when there is minimal annual growth. Sometimes the growth rings in these trees are so close together it takes magnification to count them.

As you move down and west through the large cedars, the ground cover changes to moss and lichens. I probably won’t be doing any cutting down this far, but if the weather allows, I’ll open up that grassy area you see in the distance.


  1. The area with the lichens and moss is quite nice. I think it must remind of an area I played in as a child in northeast Georgia. Thinking back, it must be where there was only thin soil over granite.

  2. Hi, Wilma. These types of areas also attracted me as a child. They were always quiet and peaceful.