Mowing does not leave a permanent, easily recognizable signature on the land. Plants grow back and the area once again takes on a natural appearance. Those familiar with the stages of natural succession that occur within a field, would suspect that there was a reason for the absence of woody species growing above the grasses, but the tracks of the mower have disappeared. Last year at this time, the field to the left of the trail was in a condition identical to the recently mowed field on the right. By next year, both fields should be displaying a similar appearance.
Indian Grass dominates during the autumn and winter seasons. The seed heads of the early summer wildflowers have long since been overtaken by the stalks of tall prairie grass.
Despite the outward appearance of being a solid stand of Indian Grass, there are pockets of short grasses such as Little Bluestem and Side Oats Gramma scattered about the field. From a distance, the tall grass effectively blocks these small openings from view.
In many areas, other grass species grow stem to stem with the Indian Grass, but lack the visual impact to be noticeable at a distance. Here Little Bluestem and Prairie Dropseed occupy the spaces between the Indian Grass stalks.
A narrow valley running through the field provides perfect growing conditions for a stand of Canada Goldenrod.
At one point in its transition from grain crops to prairie, the field was a monoculture of Goldenrod. On the hillsides, where the soil was shallow and dry, prairie species gradually outcompeted the Goldenrod. Now Goldenrod is confined to the deeper soils of the valley.
On November 17, three inches of wet snow brought the Indian Grass nearly to the ground. Fortunately, the snow melted quickly and the grass stalks returned to an upright condition. Rain just prior to the snow hydrated the stalks so they were able to bend without breaking. Had the stalks been dry and brittle, they would have broken under the weight of the snow and stayed down permanently.
Not long after the snow, a storm front with wind gusts of 50 miles per hour whipped the stalks around for nearly a full day. Stalks remained upright, but most seeds fell to the ground.
Whitetail deer commonly bed down in the thick stands of Indian Grass. Judging by the number of beds I’ve seen in the field, the deer must frequently build new beds for their use. Either that or I have seriously underestimated the size of the deer population. Maybe they are like rats and every visible deer means there are a hundred you don’t see.
Of course, despite all of my efforts to eliminate them, there are some small cedars taking hold down in the grass. Still, it will be several years before I will need to once again cut little cedars from this field. Until that time, I can just enjoy the sight of an open grass field at least visibly free of woody invaders.