Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cedar Maintenance Continues

The weather hasn’t been cooperating fully, but I’ve still managed to spend a little time each day working on the Cedar Maintenance.  This completed section is part of an eight acre field that I hope to finish up before the end of the month.

I try to take plenty of before and after photos to document my efforts.  Unfortunately, most of the small cedars don’t show up in a landscape photo.

The change displayed in this after photo is more a result of the appearance of a sunny afternoon than the loss of a few visible cedars.

The density of cedar growth varies considerably across the field.  I’ve estimated that, depending on conditions, it takes somewhere between 2 and 25 hours to clear the little cedars from an acre of ground.  It is somewhat discouraging to suddenly find yourself in a close growing forest of young cedars.

In some of the poorer soil areas, the cedars barely reach out of the short growing grass.

This beauty, just barely topping out at eight inches high, is the result of at least ten years of growth and is a giant in comparison to the other cedars nearby.  Within the body of the plant are die backs, resprouts and segments of short annual growth testifying to its struggle to survive.

My bushel sized tub can hold several hundred of these tiny plants.  This collection was made from an area just over a quarter acre in size and there is still room for more in the tub.

The prevalence of small cedars is influenced strongly by the other plants growing in the field.  This large Red Oak can be thought of as a cedar magnet.

The oak doesn’t actually attract cedars.  It’s birds that find a solitary tree to be an excellent roost.  Fruit eating birds, with bellies full of cedar berries, will flock to the tree to spend the night.  Before departing for the next days foraging, the birds will expel with their droppings the indigestible cedar seeds.  With their coats softened by the bird’s digestive juices, the seeds are in a perfect condition for germination.  Several seeds can be found in each dropping, so it’s common to find these little groupings of three or four seedlings growing tightly together.  The result is an ever growing population of cedars developing in the shadow of the oak.

The seeds for this group probably all fell together and benefited by the small nutrient boost provided to the soil by the bird dropping.  Fortunately, the majority of these seedlings will die before they are more than a couple of years old.

Enough of the seedlings do survive to create a cedar thicket beneath the oak tree.

Besides attracting flocks of seed dropping birds, the oak leaves provide a complication for those trying to clear out the small cedars.  The red of the leaf matches closely the red coloration of a winter stressed cedar.  Leaves propped up in the grass look much like cedars and the red cedars are often identical to a leaf.

I’ve found that Tuliptree seedlings are becoming invasive in many of the fields.  They are most prevalent along the base of banks formed by massive gully erosion that occurred in the fields decades ago.

Windblown Tuliptree seeds are carried by the wind until they fall over the bank.  Only a small percentage of the seeds end up producing trees, but that is still quite a lot of trees growing where I prefer they were absent.

The Tuliptree seed source is clearly visible at the edge of the woods south-west of the field.  Prevailing winds carry the seeds several hundred feet into the field.  Cutting and spraying the seedling Tuliptrees will be an added work item on next summer’s list.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that while working to complete one item on my list, I will find several more items to add in its place.  I would hate to run out of things to do.

There are always neat things to be found on the small cedars.  This is the mud nest of a Potter Wasp.  The wasp creates a hollow ball of mud in which are placed several caterpillars and a single wasp egg.  The wasp larva feeds on the caterpillars and then pupates within the mud casing. 

The Comma butterfly mimics a dead leaf, but it clearly didn’t belong on this cedar stem.  Commas overwinter as adults and can often be seen flying on warm winter days.  I found this one on a chilly morning and it wasn’t about to move.

I carried the cut cedar, butterfly and all, and wedged it securely at the edge of the brush pile.  I figured that if the butterfly didn’t move for the rest of the winter, it would be just as sheltered here as it would have been in the field.

With a background of dead leaves, the butterfly’s camouflage worked quite well.  Afternoon temperatures topped out at about 55 degrees.  When I came by later, the butterfly had gone.  Hopefully, it went someplace more secure than the little cedars still to be cut.


  1. You are one dedicated prairie preserver! Never thought of an oak tree as a 'cedar magnet'. We have two Tulip trees surviving here, but they're very unusual to find in Ontario, especially this far north, so we'd never consider them invasive. It's all the context.

  2. Hi Furry Gnome. Rarity does seem to make many things more welcome.

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