Saturday, June 11, 2011

I Don't Hate Plants

Because my management activities include the elimination of non-native plant species, some people are under the impression that I hate these plants. I want to make it clear that I don’t hate any plants. Blue Jay Barrens is ideally suited for the existence of rare native plant communities. Since I have an interest in that area, I’ve chosen to manage the property toward that end. This means that non-native plants are killed, but it doesn’t mean I hate them. As an example, I’ll use the Yellow Goatsbeard, Tragopogon pratensis, illustrated here by its seed head.

Yellow Goatsbeard is a non-native weedy species that is hardly noticeable until it goes to seed. The leaves are grasslike, the flower is only open for a short time in the early morning and the plant is usually growing shoulder-to-shoulder with other weedy types. It’s the enormous seed head, several inches across, that gets all of the attention. It reminds me of a gargantuan dandelion head. I’ll kill it when I find it in the managed areas, but I still find it fascinating.

The various parts of the seed head always make me think of marine invertebrates. These pappus plumes look like a school of Jellyfish.

The seeds are heavier than those of the dandelion and take a much stronger wind to transport them very far across the countryside. The spiny seed looks as though it has purposely made itself a nightmare to eat. I wonder if the Chipping Sparrows that consume so many dandelion seeds would try to tackle this monster.

This is a perfect plant for someone who has an artistic flair. I’ll bet this would really be impressive with a solid black background. Non-native species have to be admired for their ability to win a place in a foreign landscape. If they were masterminds engaged in a planned invasion, I might feel differently about them. But they’re just plants and they’re here because we brought them here. You can’t hate them for that.

Some of these seeds will produce new plants around my barn. Most don’t live more than two years and tend to grow in soil that gets some annual disturbance. It’s not a great invader of areas with established vegetation, so I don’t worry about it taking over the prairies. I’m fascinated by all plants and my passion for destroying non-native invasives should not be interpreted as an actual dislike for those species.

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