By Greg Lecker
A visit to Spring Peeper Meadow is a trip back to a landscape before the John Deere moldboard plow transformed Midwest America’s prairies into the most productive farmlands. Better than earlier wrought iron blades, smooth steel shed the prairie’s rich but mucky fertile soil. The plow’s success speedily led to the loss of most native prairie land in but a generation. The Arboretum is fortunate to offer examples of both oak-dotted Savannah (Bennet Johnson Prairie, along Three Mile Drive) and treeless Tallgrass Prairie (Spring Peeper Meadow). One can hike to Spring Peeper Meadow from trails near Green Heron Pond; and one can drive to its small parking lot on the north side of 82nd Street, just west of MN41 – Hazeltine Boulevard.
Mid-August sees “sunflowers” completing their bloom: cup plant and rosin weed. The few purple plants include monarda and vervain. The goldenrods are in bud and a few are even showing signs of bloom.
A rare ecosystem indeed, Tallgrass Prairie defines the eastern-most of three types of prairie. From roots six to ten feet deep within the soil, the ecosystem manifests itself in plants that respond to the greater rainfall of the eastern region.
A signature plant of the Tallgrass Prairie, Big Bluestem is a beneficiary of the year’s abundant rainfall. Pioneer literature records Big Bluestem as “tall enough to tie in a knot over a horse’s back”. In the ten years since I’ve been purposefully observing our native landscapes, I’ve not seen Big Bluestem as tall as it has grown this year.
Coated in cold moisture, a honeybee – a native one? – rests on common milkweed, awaiting the cold moisture that coats it to evaporate.
Hopefully, the Tashjian Bee Discovery Center at the Arboretum, expected to open in 2015, will discover how we can help these fragile but necessary creatures!
Passing storms and morning dew decorate Indian Hemp (also known as Hemp Dogbane). The greenish-white flowers will bear just a tinge of pink inside.
Indian Hemp prefers mesic prairies; and so it appreciates the 2014 moisture like many other plants. The name “hemp” refers to the outer fibers of the stems. Some Native American tribes wove textiles from such fibers. “Dogbane” refers to the toxic nature of the plants, which bear a milky juice. In these traits Indian Hemp shares some traits common to milkweed. I’m relieved that, even with the long-running polar vortex channeling cooler than normal temperatures, none of the leaves hint at the brilliant yellow foliage to come this fall. Summer is speeding by; and I’m treasuring every one of its remaining days!
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.