Guest Post by Eliza Perry, one of our 2013-14 Hubbard Fellows (all photos are by Eliza Perry).
The past month has been wild. Instead of writing up a succinct summary, I decided to share a few of my favorite photos I’ve managed to capture in the field (our work is rarely camera-friendly).
From afar, prairie is a striking landscape with dramatic skies and a vast, quaking floor; up close, however, is a far more interesting view. I had never seen a bird’s nest intentionally woven into grass before working in prairie. This particular nest held five dickcissel eggs. Usually these eggs are accompanied by one or two brown-speckled eggs from a crafty cow bird, who transfer their parental burden onto an unknowing other.
Invasive species control will always bring up concerns about inadvertent damage. I don’t know the name of this beautiful flower, but I noticed it while spot spraying sericea lespedeza at our property in Rulo. We recently purchased a new backpack sprayer that provides dense, targeted coverage over a plant, but even so, my worry is always in how many neighboring plants unintentionally receive a harmful or fatal dose of herbicide. We could see patches of dead vegetation from last year’s sericea treatment.
During my first few days of spot spraying this season, soaking invasives seemed like a bulletproof plan in light of the natural tendency toward “more is better.” Since then, I’ve learned that this method is not only harmful to the surrounding plant community, but more importantly, it is often counter-productive because it can “burn” the plant past its ability to absorb the chemical. The result is a damaged plant with an intact root system and ability to regrow and flower. This is an ongoing challenge, but I have learned to mitigate some of my impact through application technique. For example, one key is maintaining high pressure in the backpack sprayer pump to avoid drippage between sprays.
This photo was taken several weeks ago when most of our sensitive briar (Mimosa quadrivalvus) was at an early stage in blooming. The young flowers caught my attention immediately because to me they look like fireworks. I invent names for most of the forbs I don’t recognize until I can get a handle on their proper common names, and I called these “firework flowers” until relatively recently when I finally accepted them as sensitive briar.
This photo does not adequately capture the plant or structural diversity present in this area. I took it very early on before I understood the significance of either, but as I reviewed the photos I had snapped in the past two months, this one stood out in a different way than it was originally intended to: as an almost comical juxtaposition of cropland and prairie. Of course, agricultural monocultures serve their purpose, but the measures of success and functionality for the two “ecosystems” are so contrary that it makes for an interesting picture to see the two side-by-side. For one, the presence of a “weed” is considered to be the enemy of crop productivity, while prairies are essentially a collection of tenacious (native) weeds. Moreover, monocultures entail the least amount of variety in land management practices by design, while prairies thrive on highly variable land management and substantial disturbance.
Prairie management involves a lot of equipment and we need to know how to maintain it. Our trailers are particularly important because they allow us to transport heavier equipment like ATVs and skidloaders to properties further away. A few weeks ago, one of our trailers had a small part knocked off. This photo shows Nelson, our land manager, teaching me how to weld it back on. Anne and I are in the process of learning to use all of the exciting hand and power tools in our shop so that we can more effectively help with maintenance and construction projects. Someday I hope we will complete our own.
Leave it to Anne to find a climbing wall in the middle of a prairie!
This photo does not do justice to the number of invasive thistles packed into that truck bed. We found a sizeable forest of musk thistles seeding out at the tail end of our thistle season and decided to remove them from the scene entirely because pulling off all of the flowers would have taken a full day. A dumpster brimming with these villains was a satisfying sight after weeks of focusing most of our efforts on eradicating them.
I have moments every single day in this job when I have to stop what I’m doing to relish the fact that scenes like this are my equivalent to an office. I captured one of these moments one afternoon while scouting our Kelly Tract for Canada thistles. Controlling invasives is a daunting task with some species, and I have found myself feeling defeated to the point of forgetting its importance to our conservation objectives, which has been a good lesson for me. As Chris recently described in a blog post, our goal is to strengthen the overall ecological resilience of our properties, which cannot occur without a resilient plant community.
We rescued this little lady from the middle of a highway on our way to Niobrara Valley Preserve. There was a stretch of ten or so miles in which we saw a high number of box turtles crossing the road, and virtually none before or after. While she certainly looked on at us indifferently, I thought I could detect a hint of sass in her expression and did my best to capture it here.
Once Anne had learned how to safely operate this tractor, she proceeded to mow our most recent restoration site for several hours. The key to our success in becoming comfortable using all these new vehicles and tools is, unsurprisingly, practice. Luckily there is no shortage of pastures that need to be mowed, trees that need to be felled, or fences that need to be relocated. Mowing is one of several land management strategies for knocking back invasives by thwarting their growth to prevent or buy time before they seed out. Mowing “burn breaks” is also an essential component of safe prescribed fire burns.
That unknown flower is blackberry lily. Its from China. A garden escape.
nip that one in the bud
Eliza, I think every herbicide applicator’s training should cover toxicological studies. I was introduced to this science as a means of explaining the reasoning behind industrial safety protocols and procedures. The terminology and methodology are just as applicable to understanding the functioning of herbicides. I have always held the opinion that if you kill all the invasive species in one application then you have applied too much. Before everyone gets excited and says, “… but we have to get them all!” Please let me explain. If you apply smaller doses of herbicide multiple times then you will have a better chance of getting as close to the Lethal Dose as is reasonably possible. I usually try for about a 90% lethality rate on my first application. The less resistant plants succumb and the more resistant plants get retreated. This allows me to use as little herbicide as possible. Restoration practitioners really need to be conducting studies to provide estimates of the Lethal Dose of various herbicides on various invasive species. The work is already being done. All that would have to occur is for measurements to be taken and for results to be compiled and disseminated.
Also, I avoid spraying if the area contains any natural quality. I prefer a paint roller. I have commented more in depth about this on one of Chris’ prior posts.
Finally, I wanted to comment about the prairie being a “collection of tenacious (native) weeds.” As someone who has tried to propagate prairie plants, I think they are anything but “weeds.” Indeed, many are dam’n hard to grow.
Loved the box turtle photo and the dickcissel nest!
The invasive orange flower is iris domestica, once known as belamcanda chinensis. We have several pots of it blooming on our deck here in Arlington, Texas. I first saw it blooming around a flagpole decades ago at the Wichita, Kansas, airport. It’s an ornamental often called “blackberry lily” because of the decorative seed heads. It’s not very invasive, in my opinion, but is certainly inappropriate to a prairie preserve as it’s native to China. In China it was once considered a medicinal plant. Here it’s fairly uncommon in gardens, although very easy to grow being virtually disease- and pest-free. Probably not popular because the flowers are delicate and not at all showy, and it can’t be cut for floral arrangements. If you know someone in the area who gardens, you might consider digging it up and offering it to them. It’s quite easy to transplant or to pot up for future garden planting.
John I. Blair
Great idea to give Eliza the floor to share her experiences as a Hubbard Fellow. It’s wonderful to see a place through “new” eyes to provide a bit of a different perspective.
Eliza, I hope you get a chance to return to the places you have touched in the years to come. Something that I felt as a transient volunteer at a TNC preserve many years ago now is that I could never get a sense for how my efforts made any difference. Seeing these places later in life may give you some idea of how that indeed was the case. You will remember some patch you treated, or someplace you mowed once and perhaps you will marvel at the changes that have occurred in the intervening years. It is this sense of marvel at the resilience and abundance of nature that I hope you have seen through your experience. The small creatures of the world thank you.
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