Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nine Mile Prairie Tour

This weekend my wife and I toured the largest virgin tract of prairie in eastern Nebraska, which is just 15 minutes from our house. Nine Mile Prairie is managed by UNL and owned by the University of Nebraska Foundation (UNL leases it from the foundation for $1 a year). But at just 230 acres it's a small remnant (well, quite large really, but still...). 392 plant species and over 80 bird species have been recorded at Nine Mile, and it's a genetic material seed source for restorations around Nebraska.

Big bluestem under a big blue sky -- ah, Nebraska
David Wedin, the director, started off our tour with looking at management practices and concerns. The UNL adventure club has a challenge course on the site, which is near massive high-tension wires on the south side. On the north side are former nuclear bomb bunkers now rented our for storage (Dr. Wedin said there's some very unique plants among those bunkers). The new Lincoln Police Department firing range is also slated to go in to the north in coming years -- won't that be peaceful?

No thank you, I don't even like ladders
One of the things that stuck with me was the failed management of sumac which is taking over an entire 40 acres (and more) -- failed in the sense that fire isn't working, but glyphosate applications on cut stems is. David went on to talk about the increased levels of nitrogen and carbon in the air; nitrogen is coming off of fertilizer applications in ag fields, primarily, and is accelerating grass growth rates. At the same time, increased carbon is favoring C3 plants like woody vegetation -- they've already documented the changes. In fact, they've decided to keep the trees that weren't there 100 years ago while still managing red cedar; the strategy is to manage for diversity as climate change throws more and more curve balls, because there is no going back. Tall grasses are also more prevalent than in the early 1900s, when plants like the much shorter prairie dropseed where in control.

Our cabin would like nice here
We found many forbs in bloom and some were delightful surprises on our separate plant identification hike.

Poor photo of prairie gentian, found many, surprisingly
Tall boneset with canada goldenrod
Quiz: want to see how many know this one
Rough blazingstar fading away
Lady's tresses orchid, a nice stand of them in the pathway
Stiff goldenrod remains more stiff in prairie than gardens

Thanks to the Nebraska Native Plant Society for organizing the field trip! A cold morning gave way to warm sun and wonderful discoveries.


Jean Campbell said...

Pokeweed. Phytolacca americana. I've eaten the young leaves in spring, only because I ate everything my Mama cooked. The thick red trunks are my favorite part for photos, once the berries are gone.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Wow, that was fast. I should have gone with the orchid. :)

Julie Hill @Southern Wild Design said...

Pokeberry, chokeberry...depends upon where you are!

Glad your front yard challenge turned out well for you. Looking forward to watching your progress! Best ~Julie

Gene Petersen said...

I first saw Nine Mile Prairie in 1975. It is a bit depressing going there now and seeing how much it has degraded. It is nice to still see indicator species of high quality prairie though, like the gentians and orchids. I also feel meaning in wandering the same land that John Weaver spent so much time on, a man who should be a Nebraska legend.

Jean Campbell said...

You should have gone with the Eustoma, which I've never seen here despite USDA showing it native to Florida. Usually Florida natives will creep across the line.

Unknown said...

Ben, regarding their sumac problem I got to wondering what their burn regime is. Not too far to the south Konza prairie did some research that annual fall burns can curtail and eventually eliminate sumac from the prairie landscape. It's not perfect but fall burning often does have a detrimental effect on the woody layer in prairies and woodlands.

Anonymous said...

I knew Pokeweed too. I just learned about it a week ago on fb.