After 37 hours of work, spread over 12 days, I’ve completed cedar maintenance activities on the first and largest field on my winter maintenance list. A narrow ridgetop dead ends in the center of this eight acre field. In this area is found the largest Blue Jay Barrens population of the rare Edwards’ Hairstreak butterfly.
The edges of the field are bounded by woodland or cedar thickets. This line generally marks the transition to deeper soil.
Grass growth ends abruptly where the tree canopy closes to block the sunlight.
Larger Eastern Red Cedars are scattered throughout the field. In most cases, sun loving grasses and wildflowers grow right up to the trunks of the trees.
Some wide spreading cedars develop a community of woody plants beneath the tree canopy.
I sometimes call these grassy fields prairies and other times refer to them as barrens. I’ve studied many different systems of classifying grassland communities and have trouble finding a suitable identifier for Blue Jay Barrens. Some portions of the field are treeless, but these aren’t the broad expanses of grass associated with prairies. Several portions of this field would fit neatly enough into categories of common classification systems. Because of a wide range of vegetation, soil depth and bedrock type; it’s the field as a whole that doesn’t seem to belong. The term barrens seemed appropriate when I named the property years ago and I think it is still my preference. Whatever it is, I’ve relieved it of several thousand tiny cedars and the rare plants found here will benefit by that action.
Many of the large cedars have been around for more than a century. 1938 aerial photography clearly shows these trees having been large even back then. I believe them to be a valuable component of this uncommon ecosystem.
Cut banks are clear evidence of massive erosion that historically occurred on the site.
Areas of bare ground that were present when I first took possession of the property are now covered by native vegetation. Instead of continuing their progression back into the field, the cut banks are mellowing down to a gentle slope suitable for plant growth.
As I worked, I used orange ribbon to mark items that I wanted to come back and deal with later. Here is a tangle of barbed wire, thrown into a gully decades ago and left to rust.
At some time in the future I’ll probably have to decide how many and what species of oak will be allowed to grow in the field. I found it interesting that the Red Oak on the right was ringed by a thick stand of cedar seedlings, while the Blackjack Oak on the left had almost no cedar seedlings. Blackjack Oak is favored by the Edwards’ Hairstreak Butterfly, so I would hope to maintain that species. If a point is reached where some oaks must be eliminated, the Red Oak is certainly looking like a species that could be sacrificed. It’ll be a while before a decision of that nature will be required. I’ll probably still be thinking about it the next time I do cedar maintenance in this field.