Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Far East Field Annex

There’s a small triangular shaped area located between the Far East Field and the property corner. In the 1930’s this was farmed along with the larger field. Because of its steeper slope, this area developed severe erosion gullies and was eventually left unfarmed. I estimate that it was allowed to revert to grass around 1960, so it has had about 20 more years than the Far East Field to revert to native vegetation. This makes it the oldest shale based soil area at Blue Jay Barrens and I use it as an indicator of what I can expect in the rest of the open shale areas.

There are about three separate openings separated by clumps of trees. The openings were pretty much full of medium sized cedars before I cleared it out 20 years ago. Fortunately, there were enough healthy prairie components that the voids left by the cedars were quickly filled.

I’ll definitely have to get in here this winter and remove small cedars and Virginia Pines. It’s been five years since I last cut out the small evergreens. When the cedars become tall enough that they’re obviously noticeable above the late summer grass, it’s time to cut them. A delay of a few years will allow them to grow to the point where they are serious competitors for the neighboring vegetation. A few more years of growth also makes it’s a major job to cut and drag the larger trees out of the field.

This area is the only shale based opening that supports a population of Bluehearts. I’ve never seen more than a dozen plants blooming at this spot, but their presence allows me to compare growth patterns between populations growing in very different soil conditions.

I planted these Austrian Pines as seedlings in 1986. I wasn’t sure where I wanted pines growing, so I planted them everywhere I thought they might fit. I figured I could always cut them down later if I changed my mind. This was all done before I knew anything about managing native ecosystems. I ended up removing a lot of the pines I had originally planted, but I left a few here.

This was a site of very active erosion. The Austrian Pines were doing a wonderful job of stabilizing the soil, so they were left to grow. They may be removed at some time in the future, but Blue Jay Barrens has more urgent management needs than removal of inoffensive plants just because they’re non-native.

There are still several places of almost bare ground, but there’s no longer any active erosion. The bare spots now serve as a habitat for specialized plants that don’t compete well against aggressive neighbors.

One of those bare soil loving plants is the tiny Orange Grass, Hypericum gentianoides. Also know as Pineweed, this plant grows in the bare soil beneath the pine trees. It’s a plant of acid soils and this is the only place I’ve seen it at Blue Jay Barrens.

Orange Grass grows as a stem with no obvious leaves. Its common name comes from the fact that the plant turns a bright reddish-orange color in the fall. Maintaining some bare ground in which this plant can grow is just one item on my list of management objectives.


  1. Hi, Lois. I'm glad I'm still able to see things as small as those flowers.

  2. Steve,

    I've really enjoyed the past two habitat based posts. Its great that you include information on your managment techniques too.
    Also, I've got a blog I'd like to share with you. . Im documenting some of my restoration and field work on XLP's in central PA.


  3. My blog is called the big hollow journal. You can find it under my profile.

  4. Thanks, Dave. I checked out your blog. It's great. I'm eager to hear more about your Xeric Limestone Prairies in Pennsylvania.