Friday, August 12, 2011

Prairie Garden - Early August

There are still flowers blooming in the Prairie Garden, but most are waning and losing ground to rapidly growing grasses. The garden is also showing some wear from a couple of fawns that think this patch of vegetation was put here as a hiding place for baby deer. This is the season when people shake their heads and tell me what a shame it is that I let things get out of hand. It just gives me another opportunity to explain what my goals are with the garden.

Western Sunflower, Helianthus occidentalis, is one plant that can keep its blooms above the tall grass. This is where insects will be going for food for the next couple of weeks.

Western Sunflower maintains most of its leaves near the ground. Branching flower stalks will rise for several feet above the leaves and bear a single bloom at the end of each stalk. There are just a few small leaves along the stalk which must have prompted the alternate common name of Few-leaved Sunflower.

I found this brightly colored caterpillar feeding on the few remaining Butterflyweed flowers. I didn’t realize it at the time I was taking the shots, but I had found a larva of the Unexpected Cycnia Moth, Cycnia inopinatus, an Ohio Endangered Species. I just thought it was pretty. At the rear end of the caterpillar is a chewed spot in the stem. Milkweeds produce a heavy flow of sap when cut, so insects feeding on the plant will often chew the stem the stop the sap from getting to their feeding site.

The weather has been ideal for the growth of prairie grasses, so the height of the Prairie Garden is going to be well over my head this year. The thick stand of grass makes you wonder how any other plants can survive. There is a cycle to prairie growth and each plant has its own place in the succession that moves through the year. A break in that succession, such as might occur when non-native invasive species enter the mix, can cause a die-off of many species that depend on their turn in the natural cycle to insure them an opportunity to grow and reproduce.

Side Oats Gramma was the only species of grass I planted in the garden. Side Oats Gramma is a short grower that normally doesn’t get over five feet tall. I thought that would be more manageable and would provide the best opportunity to view the forbs. The Side Oats Gramma grew well and produces an abundance of seed each year.

Other prairie grasses found their own way into the garden. Little Bluestem is spreading rapidly. It grows to roughly the same height as the Side Oats Gramma, but it makes a much denser stand. Indian Grass has also colonized the site and easily tops out at seven or eight feet. When you try to create something that’s natural, you shouldn’t be surprised when it behaves like it’s natural.

The Baptisia pods have turned a deep mahogany as the seeds ripen inside.

We were setting record high temperatures and had super dry conditions at the time the Nodding Wild Onion was pollinating. Many of the flowers failed to produce seed, but there are still several pods that seem to be developing normally. I hope that means I’ll get some viable seeds.

The Onosmodium has finished flowering and is producing a lot of seed. This fall I’ll be planting an expansion of the Prairie Garden. Indications are that this will be a good year for collecting seed.

The as yet unidentified Onosmodium Moth Larvae are busy building their web tunnels on the Onosmodium plants. The webbing is first seen on the flower stalks. As the larvae grow, they move on down to the main stem of the plant and begin consuming the larger leaves. The appearance of the larvae seems to coincide with the near maturation of the seeds. The plant has already done its work for the year and does not suffer from the near defoliation caused by the larvae. Maybe this is the year I’ll learn the identity of this creature.


  1. That caterpillar does a great job of camouflage.

  2. Hi, Lois. I wonder how effective that camouflage is after he's eaten all of the flower.