Shawnee News-Star Blog, 16 Jun 2017 Becky Emerson Carlberg Twenty-five people gathered outside the Visitor Center and Gift shop at the Nature Conservancy's Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. We waited for our fearless leader, Mike Palmer, to arriveand waited. Mike was waiting for us at the trail further back. We hopped in our vehicles [...]
Shawnee News-Star Blog, 16 Jun 2017
Becky Emerson Carlberg
Twenty-five people gathered outside the Visitor Center and Gift shop at the Nature Conservancy's Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. We waited for our fearless leader, Mike Palmer, to arriveand waited. Mike was waiting for us at the trail further back. We hopped in our vehicles and drove to The Bottomland Trailhead. Mike is an OSU Professor Emeritus in the Department of Plant Biology, Ecology and Evolution and has published several research articles concerning the tallgrass prairie. He is currently infatuated with leaf miners, whose larvae feed on plant tissues between the two layers of leaves. Mike recommends freelance naturalist Charley Eiseman who posts his latest observations on his blog 'BugTracks.' Charley is currently working on a book about North American leafminers.
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was growing in abundance at the trail entrance. The tall broad leafed milkweed was covered in masses of pink blossoms and soldier beetles. These beneficial insects resemble fireflies with pollen sacs on their feet. The larvae eat aphids and other pesky insects. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) grew in bright orange patches along the gently sloping hillside while Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis) hid itself amongst the grasses. The longhorn red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes sp.) only associates with milkweed. This orange beetle with black spots differs from the larger flat piercing and sucking milkweed bug (Oncopeltus sp.) that looks like an orange shield with black stripes in the middle and black triangles at the top and bottom. Is it me, or do these milkweed bugs seem to have OSU written all over them?
Japanese Brome (Bromus arvensis) is a larger problem than Serecia (Lespedeza cuneata). Although both are aggressive and their seeds remain viable for years, the field brome is more difficult to control. As we walked past the wedge grass and Eastern Gama grass, a short talk ensued about C3 and C4 grasses. The C3 grasses (Virginia wild rye) are cool early spring grasses while the C4 grasses (bluestems) tolerate heat better by shutting down their stomata. Native brome stood about 3 feet tall with loose seed heads
We walked the mowed path and saw wild sage (Artemisia sp.), snakeroot and Melica grass. Why do the tops of plants look burned? The wet spring. Their small root hairs became waterlogged and died. Winged stem Verbesina alternafolia looks like a hairy phlox. Lamb's Quarter (Chenopodium album) is a close relative of spinach and chard, and its blanched leaves are quite edible. Other plants seen were Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannibinum), leadplant (Amorpha canescens), prairie petunia (woodland Ruellia sp.), the fern Aquilegia-like meadow rue, pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), sedges, partridge peas, Juncus (rushes), Indian plantain (Arnoglossom sp.) with its thick, broader leaves, and Asclepias verticellata is the neurotoxic narrow leaf milkweed.
The Nostoc stop was rather bland. The filamentous cyanobacteria had dried up. Nostoc creates hospitable conditions for soil and plant development. After a rain it will turn into a slimy green covering. Dwarf chinquapin oak (Quercus prinoides) stood short in the field. It will reach 2 to 3 feet in height living in the Tallgrass prairie. The orchid-like milkwort Polygola incarnate was found as well as the Baptisia with creamy colored flowers, Eleocharis, the cool skinny short sedge, Alliums and the Marsilia quadrifolia fern. This little fern resembles a group of four-leaf clovers. The depressions we saw in the prairie were natural formations.
The Nature Conservancy has a four year fire regime in operation. Segments are burned during the dormant season of late winter into early spring. Bob Hamilton, Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Preserve Prairie Director, talked more about the controlled burns at lunch. The Mexican buffet was tasty.
The Tallgrass prairie receives 36 to 38 inches of rain per year. The Osage Flint Hills spans well over 5 million acres, with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) portion standing at 60,000 acres, if I heard correctly. A comparison of historic vegetation patterns revealed the Cross Timbers portion had been larger in the past. Agent Orange (2,4 D herbicide) was sprayed to kill trees in the 1960's-70's. TNC operates at the real estate end of conservation. It is science-driven and strives for heterogeneity.
When it comes to burned 'patch types' different birds have particular preferences. The Henslow's Sparrow that arrives from Venezuela in the spring prefers the old dead grass. The Le Conte's Sparrow migrates through the area on its way to summer in Canada and also likes the old growth. The killdeer, though, may visit the edges of the burned areas. Concerning the burn history of the Preserve (2007- 2016) there were 63 wildfires of which 9 originated from lightning strikes and 127 neighborhood fires. Helping the neighbors deal with their environmental problems builds good will.
Research does not support the theory that bison migrated in mass. Accordingly, about 24,000 acres have had fire bison interaction. In 1993, 500 bison grazed on 5,000 acres. By 2017, 2,700 bison occupied 23,500 acres. TNC manages 13 bison herds across the USA. In July the public submits sealed bids on the bulls (60) and cows (60-70). The NBA is..the National Bison Association. The domestic cow needs 12% protein supplementation in the winter. When dealing with the Greater Prairie Chicken, it requires a nuts and bolts approach. The bird provides a great conservation tool with ranchers ranching for chickens! Researchers from OSU are studying the delicacies of working with landowners.
At 2:30 pm our group started the last field trip. From the research station we crossed the field to the road and went west toward the overlook area. Evening primroses and reed canary grass greeted us. The tall Eurasian Canary grass is invasive. Nettles can cause the nose to burn. Surprise. The very attractive blue skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is in the mint family. Prairie milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) was present with its full green leaves and heads of pinkish flowers. Plantago aristata is a native plantain with narrow leaves and long bracts on the inflorescences. It is very similar to Plantago patagonica, but this plantain does not have the long bracts and looks wooly. The wild Mirabilis four o'clocks had produced magenta colored blooms earlier, but only the calyxes remained. Wild pennyroyal (Piloblephis sp.) had an oregano odor and fuzzy little balls with purple flowers. We saw a Pyrrhopappus species (tall false dandelions) and Onosmodium helleri, marble seed borage with blue flowers oddly reminiscent of spiderwort.
The clouds were building with flashes of lightning and some rumbles of thunder. One small group of us split off and walked directly back to the research building while the other group continued to ramble through the woods to the station. The field trips would continue the next day at the Osage Hills State Park. Our trip was to our home since the next day we planned to watch the OKC Pro-Am Criterium.