Friday, July 13, 2018

6:02 AM to 6:51 AM - A Cool Walk on a Hot Day

Somme Prairie Nature Preserve.
49 minutes of bliss and wonder. 

Is it too hot for you to enjoy nature - on a 90 degree day?
At daybreak, weather is heaven.
And just look at how the world glows!
At 6:02, the prairie was blanketed with mist. 
And just a minute later, with the sun rising and coming out from behind a cloud, the mist is on the run.

Purple Prairie Clover, a rare high-quality plant, is just starting to bloom.
And back behind it, the yellow Canada milk vetch is opening too.
Neither Purple Prairie Clover nor Canada Milk Vetch were at Somme Prairie when we first started caring for it. They came in with our seed mixes, from other nearby remnants.

The Milk Vetches are legumes that in cattle country are called "loco weed."
Perhaps these are beans that we shouldn't rashly experiment with re-frying. 
This patch is typical of many in the first quarter of the trail.
(I turn right at the fork, to see the best stuff before the light gets harsh.)
Weedy, aggressive Tall Goldenrod is dominant, often to the exclusion of most other vegetation. But here, Wild Bergamot, Prairie Clover, Black-eyed Susan, and other prairie species seem to be coming in. 
Other areas are just grass. That's not quality or natural either. A rich prairie mixes grasses and wildflowers.
Yes here, the grasses are diverse and include the rare Prairie Dropseed, a quality species.
The tall, colored stems are Big Bluestem.
Seeding quality prairie wildflowers will work wonders here. 
If you come bright and early, which I definitely recommend, be prepared to get wet.
Down the middle of this photo is the preserve path.
You're in the ecosystem, and this wet ecosystem will soak you.
The footpath trails may not look like much in photos, but they're easy to follow, intimate, and allow you to see un-trampled vegetation most everywhere else.  
Wild Bergamot, Mountain Mint, and Big Bluestem (back right). 
Two mints. Both have square stems and opposite leaves.
Bergamot is the flavoring of Earl Gray tea.
Mountain Mint tea was appreciated by Native Americans. 
Here the path goes between two clumps of dropseed grass and just to the right of a clumpy plant of rosinweed.
Rosinweed oozes a sap that Native Americans are said to have mixed with berries and other flavors to make a kind of chewing gum. 
Here the bergamot is backed up by Lead Plant, with purple flower fingers. 
Compass Plant towers over the tallest person.
Those white flags marked the trail when the vegetation was shorter. 
Wild Quinine
The rare and beautiful Kalm's Brome or Prairie Brome hangs down elegantly.
But that petty Tall Goldenrod (right) shows up in photo after photo.
Over the years there will be less and less of that species, as the higher quality plants slowly squeeze it out.
Culver's Root.
I don't know who Culver was.
Or what he used this plant's root for.
I know, but don't want to tell the name of this plant.
If you know, don't spread its name on social media.
With enough protection, it may "graduate" and not need the cages any more.
But for now, given that Somme has one of the world's largest and apparently more sustainable populations, the deer and vole exclusion cages are a good investment. Thanks, stewards!
This Michigan Lily is blooming much more often than it did for years.
Perhaps the deer control efforts are paying off.
At sites with more sustainable, natural numbers of deer, it may bloom with five flowers per stem, or twenty.
But it's nice to see even one.
Here and there along the trail you may notice dead patches, sprayed with herbicide.
This Reed Canary Grass, without control, could wipe out much of the natural vegetation.
It's invasive, and a killer. Thanks again, stewards.
(Notice the glacial boulder in the background? It's a reminder.
There is something glacial about restoring health to a challenged ecosystem.)
Just past the boulder is a brush-pile burn scar.
Yes, this ecosystem is "under construction." 
These dead leaves were a precious Violet Wood Sorrel.
That they're dead now is natural. This plant is an "ephemeral."
They enjoy the spring but always go dormant above ground for the summer. 
This same plant of Violet Wood Sorrel was shown in full bloom in the June post about this new trail. As you get to know the vegetation, it's feels good to sense past and future as part of your recognition of all these species.

Here the trail is rich with forbs (wildflowers) but poor in grass.
A healthy prairie needs both to prosper.
Stewards will sow more rare grass seed here.
This is Cord Grass - the tallest of the prairie grasses, a wetland species.
Here, it's in full flower and, unlike many grasses, is visited by lots of pollinators. What's going on?
(That building on the horizon is Underwriters Labs - our neighbor on the north.) 
The northwest part of the loop trail goes through dense brush.
Winter work for the stewards here. 

People once compared the vast and wind-rippled prairie to a sea. Here, what looks like waves are lines of brush. Most of that should be gone, as the prairie recovers. The other element to see here is the lack of diversity. The wetland in the foreground was degraded hydrologically. Some day it will be rich and flowery once again. 

Later there's a section with a lot of soon-to-be tall grasses, scattered brush, and few wildflowers. This area was bulldozed before it became forest preserve. It's been seeded, but recovery takes time. 
A few Smooth Phloxes still bloom. Notice the one in the middle, with most petals shriveled and dropped, busy making seeds. This is a classic first-quality species. But it's later hard to find those seeds perched on thin stems and leaves. 
Last photo. Thanks for joining me.
6:51 AM. Time to go to work.
A beautiful way to start the day. 

The Forest Preserves of Cook County deserve mammoth credit for buying the land, empowering the stewards, and conducting the burns in recent years.

Laurel Ross, steward, and the volunteers of the North Branch Restoration Project deserve equal credit for detailed restoration over forty years.

Thanks to Kathy Garness and Eriko Jokima for correcting typos and editing.

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