Friday, May 13, 2011

Prairie Garden Ant Issues

Here’s a two year old ant mound moving strongly into its third year. The early fire didn’t bother them at all. Ant mounds are a common feature on the Blue Jay Barrens prairies, but it’s something that I hadn’t planned to include in such a small prairie garden. The ants have already impacted the plant population by smothering many plants with their excavation spoil. I do find it interesting to watch the changes they make. I was recently attracted by a lavender bloom near the base of the mound.

Violet Wood Sorrel, Oxalis violacea, is not a plant of the dry, prairie barrens. It does grow in the deciduous woodlands of Blue Jay Barrens, but I’ve never seen it anywhere near my house. I’m wondering how it came to be in the prairie garden and if the ants had anything to do with its arrival.

There are several young plants as well as a few with blooms. They are all located on the lower portion of the mound slopes. A short way to the left, also growing at the base of the mound, is a Spider Milkweed, Asclepias viridis.

This particular Spider Milkweed used to have several stout shoots that flowerer each year. When the ants moved in, they attacked the plant and chewed it down to nothing. I don’t know why they destroyed the milkweed in the first place, or why they aren’t bothering the plant now.

The Spider Milkweed beside the mound was the first to become established in the garden. Now there are several more and a few bloom every year. This is a species at the extreme northern limit of its range. It’s very common about 10 miles south of here, but is rare and not quick to spread at Blue Jay Barrens.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, these plants should be blooming by the next time I do a prairie garden update.

The ant mound adds an interesting facet to the prairie garden activities. I really don’t mind its being there, but it would be nice if the ants would refrain from attacking when I kneel down to check out the plants.

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