Hubbard Fellowship Blog: A Few Steps More for Foxtail Dalea

South channel of the Platte River, facing west.

South channel of the Platte River, facing west.

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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.

A fairly unimpressive prairie.

A fairly unimpressive prairie.

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.

Good for baby quail?

Good for baby quail?

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.

South channel of the Platte, facing east.

South channel of the Platte, facing east.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
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4 Responses to Hubbard Fellowship Blog: A Few Steps More for Foxtail Dalea

  1. beingbodeker says:

    Beautiful photos. Just finished up collecting seed a couple weekends back ourselves. :)

  2. James C. Trager says:

    Entertainingly written post, Anne. It’s good to be reminded that the first-glance appearance of a plant community doesn’t reveal its secrets. I’m a bit surprised by the comment about the seed collecting being over. We’re a good bit to the southeast of you here near St. Louis, and the asters have begun to fluff out, but a number of less fluffy things are still holding on and suitable to be gathered.
    Do you know what that fountainous, tufted grass in the third photo is?

    • Anne says:

      Hey there James- the mystery plant is actually upside down in picture no. 3. It’s an annual that grows in a cushion shape and then snaps at the base and tumbles after is has dried out. Chris told me the name of it but I can recall it at the moment. Chris?

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