Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Far East Field

This is a good time of year to visit areas to assess management success and future needs. I’m in year one of my five year management plan renewal, so I’m identifying activities that should be accomplished within the next few years, as well as those things that urgently need to be completed during the coming winter. This field is roughly four acres in size. It was last cropped around 1976 and was being used for hay when we bought the property. Bedrock is shale and the pH is low throughout the entire soil profile. It has an amazing amount of diversity for such a small field. Wet conditions at the low side of the field transition to super dry conditions as you travel up the slope toward the high ground.

Encroaching woody growth was cut out of this field two years ago. This Tuliptree probably got missed when I was marking the cut trees for herbicide treatment. Multiple sprouts have created a thick bush in place of the single trunked tree. This definitely needs to be cut this winter.

The majority of trees in the field are ones that I have purposely left in place. These are White Flowering Dogwoods. Disease eliminated the dogwoods from their rightful place in the woodland understory. In order to keep White Flowering Dogwoods on the property, I’ve allowed them to stay in the fields. They’re spaced far enough apart that they don’t hinder growth of the prairie species.

The township road boarders the long side of the field and makes this a likely place to discover non-native invasive species. I found just a few Johnson Grass plants near the fence. These must have been too small for me to notice when I did my normal Johnson Grass search earlier in the year. Since they would have been difficult to spray without killing everything around them, I just pulled them up. I’ll check this spot more closely next year to see if I can catch the plants when they’re smaller.

From the looks of the roots, these are probably young plants that came up from seed this year. That’s why they weren’t noticeable earlier. Johnson Grass spreads by way of rhizomes, so it’s hard to control the plant by pulling. Any bit of rhizome left in the soil produces a new plant. Most of the plants I pulled had not yet begun to form rhizomes and showed no signs of having arisen from an established rhizome. The plant second from the left shows some rhizome development and had a break showing that it had left something beneath the surface. Pulling may not have eliminated the infestation, but it certainly thinned it out. If you can’t kill an invasive plant outright, the next best thing to do is cause it severe stress.

The Dwarf Sumacs are bowed under the weight of some tremendously successful seed heads. One more growing season and they’ll reach the stage where they must be cut back to the ground.

There are three large Virginia Pines in this field. Their shade does suppress some prairie growth around the base of the trunk, but they add a bit of diversity that is worth the loss of a few sun loving plants. They’re really turning into some lovely trees.

Several of the Butterflyweeds are blooming here. Unfortunately, there are virtually no swallowtails or other large butterflies to take advantage of the flowers. This has been a dismal year for large butterflies.

This caterpillar is evidence that a Monarch butterfly did come by. I’ve seen scattered Monarchs, but I think they all moved north as quickly as possible. The reports from farther north indicate an abundance of Monarchs up there. I’m looking forward to a very impressive southern migration this fall.

Wild Senna is scattered across the field. All were developing an impressive set of seed pods. It’s amazing how quickly this plant has spread during the past few years.

The bulk of the field is open and developing into a fine prairie. There are a few woody plants that need to be removed and a minor need for some invasive plant control, but there are no big problems to deal with. In a few years, this field should need nothing more than occasional maintenance.


  1. Hi Steve,

    we have had more swallowtails than usual this year and lots of monarchs. I would guess it won't be long until you see the monarchs on their way south. Are the sumacs native?


  2. Hi, Wilma. The Dwarf Sumacs are native small shrubs and are quite attractive. The problem is their ability to spread out and take over a whole field. My mowing efforts restrict them to a smaller size and allow them to coexist with the rest of the prairie plants.