What turned into a nice morning became a great day visiting 2 Indiana prairies. The Mnoke Prairie is largely recreated. After early settlers had farmed the land and pastured agriculture here, the site became quite degraded, apparently to the point that it was hardly recognizable as a prairie. Through the efforts of community and park staff brush was cleared, prescribed burns were reinstated. These fire dependent habitats would historically catch the spark of a lighting strike and in time the odd train making a bank and sending sparks into the dry fodder. Additionally fires were set by natives...some say to maintain hunting grounds, acts of warfare, even for the mere spectacle of it (picture a 2000 acre prairie fire in a time before Pokemon Go, where's the popcorn?). The introduction of the mould board plough and the demise of fire took their toll on these spaces.
But there is so much going on! Prairie's change up their colour palatte, their soundtrack, even their smell as you progress through the seasons. The photo below shows a nice combination of Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium) alongside Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense). As the species epithet suggests, Rattlensnake Master has leaves that resemble the Yucca plant, tough and with spines on the margins. It is a member of the carrot family while true Yucca is a member fo the asparagus family.
The white blooms of Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and a single towering Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) with passing storms in the horizon.
I finally saw Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) in it's natural range! This species (or derivatives of it) are prolific in horticulture and natural medicines. I would later strike out on spotting a single Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) which had retained it's petals throughout Missouri as these has passed their bloom period by a month or so . The ones outside my window here at home have just passed their peak about a week ago.
An aster native to the Ojibway Prairie Complex in Windsor, Willow-leaf Aster (Symphyotrichum praealtum) was one of the dominant forbs in many parts of the Mnoke Prairie. It has glabrous purplish stems and grows in both open areas and among thickets and forest edges. Under the right conditions this species can form large clones of thousands of stems.
A relative of Compass Plant, Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) leaves kind of resemble tobacco. This was one of the "wow" prairie species that sparked my interest during a hike in off of Spring Garden Road (near the Southwood Community Church) with Paul Pratt years back.
Word on the street is that Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) is a bit of a pain in prairie management in these parts. It resembles several other sumac species but the prominent wings in the central portion of the leaf are diagnostic. I found some Staghorn Sumac (Rhus hirta) in Brant County a few years back that had similar wings but with the hairy leaves typical of that species, a potential hybrid but the verdict was that it was just a freakish Staghorn.
I saw my first Dickcissels of the trip at Mnoke, when it rains it pours!
|FY (somebody's baby, although I can't tell if it's a Dickcissel)|
|Field Sparrows were well represented in the 120 acre site.|
Another Silphium, Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) among a patch of Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). There was no shortage of yellow in the prairie with Silphiums more or less at their peak and sunflowers starting to come on (of which there are a handful of species to be found).
What started as a cheerful call out to Alyssa "Hey! I've got Tall Green Milkweed over here!" became a game of Find the Tall Green Milkweed as it became rather common through some of the Missouri prairies we would visit a few days later. There are a few individuals of this species in the Ojibway Prairie Complex; this trip really made me appreciate natural ranges of certain species.
The "put your arms around them" shot made me look like a dweeb and didn't make the blog cut (says the guy with his pants tucked in his socks, sweating buckets and kneeling every 10m for shots of flowers).
After a good stroll through the Mnoke Prairie we had lunch under a massively open grown oak, seriously, I'm estimating a crown diameter of 40m, it was nuts. We punched the small town of Reynolds, IN into the GPS and started south down I-65 to stop at the Spinn Prairie. I had chosen the Spinn Prairie as the one stop to make en route through the state. A 29 acre site sandwiched between a rail line and a gravel road, this gem had been in the hands of the Spinn family since 1865 before it was gifted to the Nature Conservancy in 1987. Corn field like hallways for miles and miles, then a pin oak woodland giving way to wet-mesic prairie.
|Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) bearing fruit.|
|Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum), one of the good guys.|
|Showy Tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense)|
|A few Bronze Coppers were flitting about.|
Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) is about as Midwest as it gets, check out the range map. One booth at the Prairie Conference had a "Guess the seeds in the vial" game, 5 vials, fill out a ballot, this was one that kept me from going 5 for 5!
|Again, so much going on here!|
|Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea), an iconic prairie species.|
|A whole lotta Rattlesnake Master, what a sight.|
Smooth Phlox (Phlox glaberrima), another lifer for the trip. After spending a good part of the afternoon here we stopped at the Frosty Freeze, I had a mint chip cone meant for a giant and we drove west to St. Louis for a ballgame and some BBQ. Flanked by a railway to the north much of the drive I enjoyed watching the yellows, purples and whites of prairie vegetation as we zipped along.
Next post, updates from the 24th North American Prairie Conference and a field trip to an Illinois scrub oak sand prairie.