Shawnee News-Star Blog for 4th of June 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg The last weekend was busy. Blame it on the new lateral field. An area once dominated by native grasses turned into a mudflat of exposed roots and ruts. A bucket of native wildflower seeds had been distributed before rains fell weeks ago, but the [...]
Shawnee News-Star Blog for 4th of June 2017
Becky Emerson Carlberg
The last weekend was busy. Blame it on the new lateral field. An area once dominated by native grasses turned into a mudflat of exposed roots and ruts. A bucket of native wildflower seeds had been distributed before rains fell weeks ago, but the hard pan soil acted as Teflon and the seeds slid into the crevices, nooks and crannies, leaving the level surfaces barren. The hunt was on for plants that might withstand transplanting this late in the season. Rescue flowers and native plants most likely in the path of the county mowers. Maybe this is the year mowing crews will wait until the plants flower and set seed before chopping them down.
I remember when (don't you just hate it when someone begins going down that road and speaking of road..) both sides of Garrett's Lake road had the thickest stands of Coreopsis tinctoria. Happy yellow faces with a red centers waved in the breeze. Garrett's Lake road was unpaved then. Twice a day my van bounced over five miles of graded road to North Rock Creek School and back again. We were known at Hibdon's by the entire staff. If a week went by without a flat tire, it was cause for celebration. When the wildflowers did not appear as colorful as usual, it was because there had been little rain and the dust coated everything. Never follow any vehicle too closely as their wheels tended to throw out rocks usually directly into windshields. Yes, we had a few cracks repaired and the windshield replaced more than once. Rain was always appreciated until it was time for school. Woe be to those who slogged down the muddy road. The van took on a spackled red appearance. The wheels became rolling mud balls and sticky thick clay would pile up behind the wheel flaps.
The most exciting event happened one morning when we were on our way to school and saw this pickup truck parked in the road. Not knowing what had happened, we came to nearly a stop. No one was about, so I thought slowly driving around the truck was a good idea. Nope. The truck backup lights came on and the truck began going rapidly in reverse crossing to the other side of the road. I jammed on the brakes and threw the van into reverse but there was no way to avoid the truck. A sickening crunch and jolt followed. The school crowd inside the van yelled. The middle-aged man slowly staggered out of his truck as I hopped out of my van. We stood there looking at the damage. It was so wrong that his truck was rather unhurt and his breath could have killed a moose. Both vehicles were drivable, so we agreed to contact insurance companies and the sheriff. I carted my crew to school as they chattered away and formulated their 'what happened on the way to school' story. The weird accident was soon sorted out. Apparently the man had a history of driving three sheets to the wind.
Coreopsis would continue to bloom for weeks along Garrett's Lake Road. Each plant's flowers were different. Some blooms were nearly all yellow, but others had broad red-purple centers. Another flower growing with the Coreopsis was Indian blanket, the state wildflower of Oklahoma. This wildflower was selected in 1986 and represents not only the beauty found in Oklahoma but its Indian heritage. Gaillardia pulchella grows in a limited natural range compared to the cosmopolitan Coreopsis. Indian blanket doesn't stray north of Nebraska, preferring life in the south and south central USA. Coreopsis has smooth green stems and leaves, but Indian blanket is hairy. Both are drought tolerant, loved by pollinators and have now been practically eliminated along Garrett's Lake Road.
The paving of Garrett's Lake Road was the death of the wildflower populations. With asphalt came more intense mowing by machines using new and improved devices that could reach out in all directions. Many of the native plants were continually shorn and not given opportunities to flower and set seeds. What these movable arms can do to trees is almost barbaric. Being the tree and plant person I am, when I see a tree butchered or a plant mangled, I rail in their defense. We are living organisms and feel pain. It makes sense they as living organisms feel pain, but at what level and expression we really know nothing.
The county needs to not only spend money on the machines their maintenance workers use, but training their minds as well. Education is a power tool. Teach those in charge of county road care the basics of plant biology and the names and information about the trees, shrubs and wildflowers usually encountered along our county roads. Do they realize that the Coreopsis that no longer thrives on the road side of the fence has been replaced with Johnson grass, Japanese Brome and patches of Bermuda, all non-native invasives. These wind-pollinated grasses tolerate mowing and continue to spread. They are able to out-compete the native wildflowers with their living pollinators.
Wildlife corridors continue to be slowly established state to state. Even the narrow stretches along the roads are important, but knowledge of the local plant populations is key. Many trees never grow tall here and would not become an issue with vehicles. The same with sumacs, sand plums, persimmons, and viburnums, yet all have been cut severely. Why mow to great depths along the roads when the plants are receiving moisture and things are green. The heat of summer with its dryness will soon be upon us, but by that point the wildflowers will have completed their life cycles and produced seeds. This is the time when they can be mowed.
Not only have many native plant populations been reduced, but the effect extends to the rest of the wildlife. Turtles, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, butterflies, moths, insects, deer, and birds litter the roads. When transportation becomes so fast and easy, people become detached and develop a disregard for whatever may get in their way if it is smaller than them. Drive down any major road and look at the animals that have become trapped and run over.
From now on, when you travel down the road, soak up what nature freely offers. For many of you, this is the only nature you will experience. Make it a positive one and try to remember there is wildlife out there crossing the road, growing by the road or flying in your airspace over the road. It is spring and the wildlife can act just as crazy as humans.