A guest post by Anne Stine, one of our Hubbard Fellows. All photos are by Anne.
The birds are flocking up and the cottonwoods are yellow on the Platte River Prairies, so our seed harvest days are officially over. Last week, I was scrambling to gather some seeds that I’d wanted a smidgen of before the wind scatters them and we miss out for the year. Foxtail prairie clover (Dalea leporina) was number one on my list. Strangely enough, the only property where you can reliably find foxtail clover this year is a first year prairie planting that is fairly unimpressive looking in all other respects.
Hidden in the dead ragweed, sweet clover, and buffalo bur you can find some ‘good’ plants. Dalea leporina is just one example. As you can see in the picture below, despite the tangle of ‘ick’, there’s still bundleflower and maximillian sunflower. Chris often says that, on our properties, annual weeds are not really a problem. They pass. More desirable plants are often just hanging out in the understory.
Another thing Chris often mentions when we’re assessing sites dominated by annual weeds is that they make good quail habitat. The mixture of dense cover and open runways protect the baby quail but allow them to move through the patch. I was not musing on the benefits of thick weeds as I thrashed through until I flushed a fat covey of mourning doves. They were probably drawn by the thick cover and forage. Rocky mountain bee plant, which I’ve previously written about as a major boon to pollinators, was common on the site. This annual produces abundant seeds that are much loved by mourning doves.
I’d only found one foxtail dalea plant in the tangled mess and I was so cold I was having trouble keeping snot out of my seed bucket, so I was ready to call it and head back. The very next moment I noticed steaming fresh deer scat in the center of a visible deer trail. I decided to follow the trail for a bit, hoping to catch up with the deer. Sneaking up on deer is quality entertainment when you live on the prairie. I’d only gone a few steps when I found a large patch of the plant I’d been seeking. I don’t know if there’s a lesson here (other than “Anne can justify following her bliss” or “when you want to give up go a few steps more”), but it was nice to end the morning with a full bucket.
For more on foxtail dalea, you can read an earlier post by Chris.