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Milkweed

With apologies to William Cronin for taking his title, this is an update on changes in my land — the old field, the wood lot and the election.

First the old field. Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, the larval host to the beleaguered Monarch butterfly, and various Goldenrods, Solidago, are reclaiming territory from the intensely hearty switch grass, Panicum virgatum, planted a decade ago atop the then new septic field. Switch grass prevented the Little blue stem, Schizachyrium scoparium, also planted in the disturbed soil of the sewer project, from taking hold. But in the last season or two, volunteer (i.e., not planted) forbs have pushed the grass back at least 10 feet.

My opinion carries little weight in this rebalancing especially since I’m disinterested (so far) in intervening. Yet I feel some relief. The Switch grass appears intrepid enough to march all over the meadow, if given free reign. Since I would not want that, maybe I can count on the Goldenrod and Milkweed to keep the Switch grass in bounds. Switch grass, like all tall prairie grasses, roots deeply to anchor its sod-forming clumps, so an assist from the forbs would be welcome.

In the wet lower portion of the field, another competition with a a less desirable outcome unfolded this summer. Again Goldenrod species were involved. This time they pushed the Joe-pye weeds, Eupatorium, into retreat but not extinction. Again, my opinion doesn’t matter; this part of the field is spared my trespass because it is too boggy. But I like the Joe-pyes with their pink and violet clustered flowers; they break the monotony of the Goldenrods. May they rage back next summer!

Second the wood lot. Winter storm, Nemo, of 2013 felled nearly half of a century old White pine in the wood lot. The tree never recovered. This summer’s drought may have been the final straw. The losers here are the birds, especially the woodpeckers, who have banged away at its bark for generations. The oaks behind the pine will have a better shot at some sunlight. The wood lot will evolve.

Dead White pine

Dead White pine

Finally, my country. It’s Election Day guaranteeing changes in my wider land. The Economist, based on “opinion polls, betting markets and forecasters,”  suggests a 20 to 30% chance that Trump can win the presidency. It makes various grim analogies for that probability to rain on a given day in London or rolling a 6 on a dice. This “probably won’t happen. But history is made by low-probability, high-impact events, and a Trump win would certainly be that,” writes the journal.

I’m rooting hard (prying desperately?) for the higher probability outcome of a Clinton victory. That would be the better change for the land.

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The meadow experiment this year has been to mow only the paths.

That practice was most successful in meadow restoration terms in the boggiest areas where the Goldenrod and Joe Pye weed have grown into a dense mass of yellow and pink. Together they have squeezed out the Thistle and driven the invasives to a less visible position close to the ground. And the Dodder of last year has not returned. This section will get mowed before winter so the plants will not have to be disturbed in the spring. A fall mowing every other year may be just what the bog requires.

The boggy meadow

The boggy meadow.

In the driest section of the field where the soil is the poorest, skipping a mowing in the spring seems to have made almost no difference: the warm season grasses that grow there have regrown on schedule. The poor soil seems to have kept succession in check. Perhaps a spring mowing every second year is what this “desert” needs.

The poor soil portion of the field

The poor soil portion of the field: forbs in the foreground and warm season grasses above.

Moving up the meadow, the ground slopes ever so slightly to the west and the soil must improve because cool season grasses crop up among the warm. Here the no-mow plan seems to have allowed for a gain for the forbs like these Black-eyed Susans which appeared for the first time in great masses this year.

Black-eyed Susans in early July

Black-eyed Susans in early July.

The extra weeks of growing that the no-mow plan gave herbaceous plants allowed them to take over ground left after the Bittersweet succumbed to Triclopyr. Milkweed and Goldenrod but also Asters, Poke Weed, Pearly Everlasting, Agastache and (the non-native) Tansy took advantage of the opening.

The western end of the meadow that had been overrun by Bittersweet is now a jumble of herbaceous plants some might call weeds.

The western end of the meadow that had been overrun by Bittersweet is now a jumble of herbaceous plants (with some Deer tongue grass) some might call weeds as it looks today.

The score after a season of the no-mow plan seems to be forbs one, graminoids zero. Neither the cool nor the warm season grasses appear to have spread with the no-mow plan. The real losers might be the invasives. (The meadow keeper hopes that Zeus is not reading this blog; he would be loading a thunderbolt with orange roots and berries for flinging directly next to the bee hives as recompense for such hubris). Bittersweet and Black Swallow wort appear to be on the decline though of course not gone.

There may be another loss, an aesthetic one. Mowing in the late spring knocks the cool season grasses and the herbaceous plants back giving the warm season grasses a break — just as it’s supposed to. Without that assist, Little Bluestem, Broom Sedge, Switch Grass and the other warm season native grasses will have have to share the stage with the less balletic Goldenrod when they start bowing with the fall breezes.

No-mow as a practice has come to an end. Management of the meadow will now follow a mowing schedule for each habitat of the field.