Friday, September 16, 2011

Saddle Prairie

I’m still visiting areas of Blue Jay Barrens in an attempt to assess current conditions and identify future management needs. At this time of year I really enjoy visiting the areas of shallow soil that restrict the growth of tall, thick stands of prairie grasses. There has been plenty of moisture this year, so the Indiangrass has done well. Even when we have good growing conditions, this species remains short and scattered throughout the site.

This particular ridgetop prairie lies in a depressed saddle between two knobs. Rain water flows off the knobs and into the depression before draining away, giving the saddle a moisture boost not enjoyed by the rest of the ridge. Tall wildflowers don’t grow here, but conditions are perfect for the short statured Gray Goldenrod.

Some bare areas support very little vegetation. These make ideal sites for some of the rare winter annuals such as Leavenworthia and the Drabas. Western Sunflower maintains a strong population here, but the plants are dwarfs compared to others of their species growing in good soil.

The area is filled with tiny specimens of Wild Rose, Rosa carolina. Most are much less than a foot tall and are hardly noticeable when not in bloom.

The bright orange fruits make it a bit easier to find the rose plants. The Wild Rose is a plant of the dry prairie and seems well suited to life among the short plants. I’ve never found it in shaded areas or in stands of tall vegetation. I hope the creature that eats that fruit deposits the seed in a suitable growing site.

Spiranthes orchids are still abundant. Slender Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes lacera, is recognizable by the green patch in the throat of the flower.

Bluehearts are still blooming. Late bloomers are not uncommon, but they have been especially abundant this year.

Early blooming Bluehearts have already produced mature seed and are scattering it about the hillside. For an area that was once thick with small cedars, this site has produced an amazing diversity of plant and animal life. I don’t see any need for hands-on management activities here for at least two or three more years. By that time, there will be a new crop of small cedars needing removed. Until then, this will be a place to observe and enjoy.


  1. What a nice post. There is so much to learn from what you write, but you make it sound digestible and understandable even for a neophyte like myself.

  2. Slender ladies tresses are one of my favorites - how nice to have them on your property! But I'm not familiar with bluehearts. Do you happen to know the scientific name for them?

  3. This is a very encouraging post about an interesting and diverse site saved from cedar domination.
    Hope you won't mind if I beat you to it answering Garielle's question:
    Buchnera americana.

  4. Thanks, Mona.

    Sorry, Gabrielle, I don't always put the scientific name along with the common. Some people say they get tired of all of those italicized words that they can't pronounce. James is correct about it being Buchnera americana. If you scroll down the sidebar to the right and click on Bluehearts, you'll be taken to four blog posts that mention that species. Go on down to number four on the list for more information on this species.

    Thanks, James. Feel free to answer questions at any time. If you answer enough questions, I'll pay you twice what I pay my management staff.

  5. James and Steve, thank you! Steve, no worries about not posting the scientific name. I was just wondering if I actually did know the flower but by a different common name and the scientific name would've told me that. Having now seen the scientific name, I am sure that this is a new wildflower for me which is always exciting. Thanks for the extra info on it. And James, I think Steve is offering you quite a deal! Hee-hee.