This blog tells
what a steward notices
in the balmy cool of 6:00 AM to 8:00 AM
on a later-to-be 95-degree day.
My basic mission is to look for purple loosestrife and white sweet clover, malignant invasives that, thanks to hard work, are now uncommon at Somme.
But in the first wetland,
rather than any loosestrife,
I find the very rare American slough grass.
(There’s extra info on this endangered-in-Illinois plant at the end of this blog.)
Here I’ll merely cite the thrilling fact that you can recognize it
by its unusual seeds, flat and round, and arranged on the stalk like stacks of coins.
I found this handsome grass
in six spots,
but the counts per patch were low: 1, 1, 4, 1, 3, 1.
Some years we find hundreds. Other years we find none.
It was good to see some.
The classy scientific name of American slough grass is Beckmannia syzigachne.
As I head up a wet swale, I find no evil invasives but do see signs of restoring biodiversity.
Where an ash died from the emerald ash borer, the flush of light enables a riot of now-uncommon plants. Starry campion, Joe-Pye-weed, tall coreopsis, ox-eye sunflower.
Another good sign
is many "new" populations
of Michigan lily –
a species that didn't bloom
for many years
when the deer population
was disastrously high.
Right by the lily,
what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but three blooming plants of the rare
The ones at Somme
may be the only glade mallows in Cook County.
We’ve never found
even one large, healthy,
blooming plant at Somme before now.
But more and more
in recent years
we’ve found bigger and bigger specimens.
The problem for many years is that overpopulated deer
had been too hard on them.
This morning I find two patches – the first with three plants and the second with two.
if I look down
below the flowers,
I find that many
of the leaves
have been grazed off.
But just finding
five glade mallows
big enough to bloom
is a great step
in the right direction.
And it’s a beautiful day.
As I walk,
big human feet
Always I keep
to the trails
in the growing season, except when
I’m stalking weeds
or doing seeds.
as a steward
gives me an odd privilege.
I see beauty
I wouldn’t otherwise allow myself.
What are these golden threads
creeping through the vegetation?
Numerous times we’ve gotten warnings
from well-meaning people that a sinister demon plant
was devastating the vegetation.
But it’s just our friend dodder, Cuscuta glomerata,
a weird but natural parasitic morning glory.
Strange plant: it has no leaves or roots.
When the seeds germinate, the shoot immediately attaches to nearby vegetation and sucks out nutrients.
Soon its waxy white flowers
will bedeck the graceful flaxen stems.
For a while the whole plant will be just stems
and flowers. Later it will be stems and seed.
Does it do harm? No. It creates a disturbance.
A beautiful disturbance, if you look close.
The ecosystem is adapted to it.
Other plants will take the places of the ones
it sets back, and a diverse cycle will proceed.
Next I do
the evil sweet clover.
See the white sprays
of pea flowers?
Does it look threatening here?
If not, know that
twenty years ago,
acres here were blighted and degraded
by solid waist or chest-high stands of it.
Now I pull out
the 48 plants
in this first patch.
A large plant can make 60,000 seeds.
The soil is damp,
and the roots
come out easily.
Seeds haven’t formed yet,
so I don’t need to haul plants
out of the preserve.
I toss piles
where they'll do the least harm -
in this case
into a patch of
the somewhat aggressive
a few days ago, drying on a log.
The Somme Team rousted them
one cool morning.
I love to do this work with friends, trading thoughts. I also love to follow up for later bloomers, alone in wilderness reverie. It’s all good.
This dead pile, near the trail,
could be ugly to passers-by. I hope many will see it as an indication of the commitment that results in the whole being so increasingly beautiful, year after year.
I find five
I map them
and file it,
so we can
check these spots
on some beautiful
This one is
great St. John’s wort, taller than I.
with five sticky stigmas on top of each...
of pollen-y stamens.
I find bugs too.
But I don’t try
to photograph them
with my little cell phone.
To represent them,
this is one of Lisa Culp’s
recent daily masterpieces.
What kind of strange flies
What’s their role in the ecosystem?
I pass a skunk,
a plains garter snake,
But now it’s getting hot,
so off I go to other work.
But hey! If you get cabin fever from air-conditioning, try mornings in nature. They’re pretty nice.
Here are promised tidbits
on American slough grass, Beckmannia syzigachne.
The light-shaded counties show where it’s known from.
Not many places in Illinois.
Most populations are now gone.
The grass is an annual.
It’s adapted to something. Fire?
Most marshes don’t get burned much. These at Somme do.
We’ll see if it can survive here.
Illinois is far from the main populations of this grass. Our plants may have genetic adaptations that don’t exist elsewhere. At some point in history, human culture may need something from this plant that could save some other grass (for example corn, wheat, rice, or oats) from a devastating disease or pest. Or these plants may have some nutrient that could be bred into grains to help our food make us healthier – or smarter for that matter.
So we’d be smart
not to just let it
The thoughts of a steward on a cool walk at the start of a hot day. Peace.