Friary Prairie Grasses

by Carl Strang

A prairie is in its early stages of developing on the site of the former friary at Mayslake Forest Preserve. On my most recent check, I was pleased to find scattered prairie grasses in seed, both Indian grass and big bluestem. There is some risk when introducing Indian grass so early in a restoration project, as it can spread quickly and dominate an area. The plants appear to be few and widely scattered, however, so there may not be a problem in this case.

Seeing them reminded me that I need to resume my project of photographing the preserve’s plants in winter. This week’s example will be that big bluestem. Here in its still intact winter mode is a fruiting top.

Note how tightly the seeds are pressed against the branches of the inflorescence, which gave this plant its alternate (and November-appropriate) name of turkey foot.

Here is an inflorescence in bloom, back in the summer:

The flowers are more relaxed out from the stem, and the anthers are releasing their pollen to be wind-carried to other plants.

This is one of the characteristic species of the tallgrass prairie.

Big bluestem can tower above many other of the prairie plants.

So, this made for an easy start. Not all plants are so recognizable in their winter form, as we’ll see.

Meanwhile, Back at Mayslake

by Carl Strang

Lately I have been reporting mainly on singing insect researches I have been conducting on vacation time in Indiana and Illinois. When working, though, I have continued my practice of lunchtime preserve monitoring at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The stream corridor marsh still has no standing water.

Dense grasses and river bulrushes have been transpiring all the recent rainfall.

One of the zoned vegetation rings is dominated by old witch grass, which last year was present only in a few small patches.

I have found new species there to add to my preserve lists, all the same.

Purple false foxglove plants have appeared at both the north and south edges of the marsh.

Another addition is Boltonia, the false aster.

Scattered in the dense, coarse, river bulrushes are differential grasshoppers, a relatively large species that likes wet places.

The olive-green color and black herringbone pattern on the femur are distinctive.

Up at the former friary site, the soil now is safely held together by a mix of weeds and fast-growing prairie plants.

The site on August 10

This area has its common grasshopper as well.

These appear to be all red-legged grasshoppers, a smaller and relatively weedy insect species.

I’ll be back to reporting on Mayslake more regularly soon.

The Friary Juncos

by Carl Strang

This has been a very slow winter for birds at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The main exception has been a flock of dark-eyed juncos that has taken residence at the former friary site. The area grew a lot of annuals in the late summer and fall, including a number of weedy species, as well as oats.

The juncos most often are to be found around the edge of the site, especially here where the garden used to be.

The seeds from those annuals are keeping these gray sparrows going through the winter. There are enough of them that I doubt that my counts have ever been complete. The high count, in December, was 19. That is many more juncos than I have found on this preserve in previous years.

This week, when I took this photo, I counted 17.

Juncos tend to establish winter home ranges and stick with them, so I expect to see this flock for several weeks, yet.

Savanna Pioneers

by Carl Strang

I went up to the former friary site at Mayslake Forest Preserve on Monday, and found something new.

One of four recently planted bur oak trees.

The small trees at first glance seemed lost in the expanse of the site, separated as they were by distances of about 50 yards. This is, however, an appropriate spacing for a savanna, and even if no other trees were to grow there, when full grown these trees would look just right with prairie plants growing between them.

That condition will not be met, however. As I have mentioned in the past, the woodland at the north edge of the site is ready to send acorns and other propagules south, and with the aid of squirrels soon will expand into the open space. I am glad to see that the decision has been made to acknowledge and support that process through the planting of these four pioneers.

Mayslake Update

by Carl Strang

Life goes on at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Though there haven’t been any major stories to share lately, there are enough small ones to assemble into an update. We are reaching the end of the active insect season, but there still are a few straggling migrants coming through like this male green darner.

Normally shy, he was slowed by cooler temperatures, allowing a close approach.

I thought I’d added the last new plant species to my preserve list for the year, but then I ran into some smooth blue asters.

A small group of them is growing in a corner of the preserve where several other plant species have their only representatives, presumably from a past seeding.

Elsewhere I thought I found another new aster species, but apparently it was just an odd individual.

It keyed to panicled aster, but the leaves are narrower than most plants of that species at Mayslake.

Up at the friary site, large areas are greening with new growth.

The grasses look like recently seeded lawn grasses. I’ll be interested in learning what they are.

I continue to get out onto the preserve regularly, and will continue to share what strikes me as newsworthy.

Oats

by Carl Strang

Last week I checked the former friary site at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The only seeds that had sprouted from those spread earlier in the season were of a grass, and I found it was flowering.

They proved to be oats. I am not adding that species to the preserve list, because they are a temporary ground cover that will not persist.

Oats were not on the list of species I had been given. I inquired, and found that I had not been given the complete list. The poor showing of other seedlings had been noted, and there will be a re-seeding later.

For now, the oats and a variety of weeds are growing thickly enough on the sloping edge of the site to prevent significant erosion.

The plan, as mentioned earlier, is to get a prairie growing there.

Plant Progress

by Carl Strang

Botanical progress continues on two fronts at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The intrepid restoration team continues to remove buckthorn from the edges of the north savanna, scattering bottlebrush grass seeds to hold the ground thus gained.

Here the brush has been cleared, opening the savanna ridge all the way down to the trail.

The south stream corridor prairie, scene of earlier restoration work, is looking beautiful with bur marigolds highlighted by cardinal flowers and blue vervain.

Migrating hummingbirds have been visiting the cardinal flowers. Of course, later in the season it would be wise not to wade through here as the bur marigolds are in the beggar’s ticks group, ready to coat clothing with barbed seeds.

I have continued to add plants to my preserve list. Up in the friary demolition site, a new weedy but beautiful little flower is the ivy-leaved morning glory.

Tiny, hairy, and with interesting shaped leaves and big flowers for such a small plant, this morning glory is among the rapidly growing species that have bloomed in the brief period since this area was graded with new topsoil.

Somehow I have managed to overlook a patch of Jerusalem artichokes until last week.

This native sunflower was a significant food plant, historically.

Also I am remembering to look down and pay some attention to the tiny weedy species.

This is the spotted creeping spurge. It grows in gardens and other disturbed soils.

Similar at first glance, but differing in detail and family membership, is the sidewalk knotweed.

This one, unlike the previous, has alternate leaves and a knotweed’s little stem sheaths.

The herbaceous plant list is creeping toward 300 species on this 90-acre site.

Scab Plants

by Carl Strang

On Friday I went up to the former friary site at Mayslake Forest Preserve to check on the progress of plant growth there. Most prominent were a number of weeds, some of which already were flowering. I was pleased to see my tentative identification of barnyard grass proved out.

For such a relatively large-bodied, coarse plant, this grass proved its ability to grow rapidly and in large numbers on a site that had been bare soil a short time earlier.

The other dominant species was velvetleaf, though none of those I saw were flowering yet.

This import from India is one of the earliest weeds to appear in sterile-looking soils.

A very few crabgrass plants also were present, along with a few quick-growing nut sedges.

These proved to be an annual species I had not observed previously at Mayslake: the rusty nut sedge.

Other plants also were additions to the preserve list.

This one is called flower-of-an-hour because of the ephemeral nature of its blooms.

Another new one was the green amaranth.

Amaranths sometimes were cultivated by Native Americans in their early agricultural period.

It’s easy to disparage such weedy species, but I found myself remembering how Tom Brown calls them “scab plants.” They grow quickly, protecting the wounded soil and sequestering carbon and minerals until giving way to more competitive perennials. I’m looking forward to seeing the longer-term native plants that were seeded here.

Mayslake Botany Update

by Carl Strang

On Friday I walked up to the friary restoration site to see how it is coming along.

Scattered plants are poking up through the protective netting.

Some of these are weedy species, but others appear to be the products of scattered prairie seeds.

There were velvetleaf and coarse grasses that I suspect are barnyard grass, but also another abundant grass that probably is an intended cover species.

I continue to look for new grasses and sedges elsewhere on the preserve, and earlier found this one.

This is Cyperus strigosus, most commonly called strawcolored flatsedge but also known as long-scaled nut sedge. At Mayslake Forest Preserve it grows around the stream corridor marsh.

Conrad Fialkowski showed me another new one at that marsh, which as far as he knows did not grow at Mayslake before this year.

Hop sedge has impressive large fruiting heads.

He said it will turn a beautiful dark brown color before it is done.

Friary Seeded

by Carl Strang

Recently I posted on the preparation of the friary site’s soil at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Later that day I found that seed had been spread.

A basic starter prairie mix was planted.

Workers were in the process of unrolling netting with straw imbedded.

The netting both reduces seed consumption by birds and helps protect the soil until the spreading roots of the germinating seeds can hold the soil together on their own.

The contractors’ work is complete. Now it’s up to living wild things to repopulate the place.

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