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Field Notes No. 05 (August 06, 2011)

Friends of Ada Hayden Heritage Park:

The Master Plan for Hayden Park calls for the reconstruction of native tallgrass prairie and wetlands. The Story County Conservation Board agreed to contribute prairie seed and conduct the prairie reconstruction. Because the land was highly disturbed from the gravel mining operation and agricultural fields, the outcome of the prairie plantings was uncertain. The largest prairie reconstruction is a wide strip of relatively level land that was formerly a crop field between the base of the ridge on the north and west and the north wetland complex.

Prairie also was planted in and around the middle wetland complex. A portion of this planting can be seen next to the southwest parking lot on Harrison Ave. This area was originally a crop field, and brushy field border. During the development of the park, the area was graded and a lot of dirt was moved around during the construction of the wetlands.

Another small p! rairie was reconstructed next to Stonebrooke and the south wetland complex. This area was rough and disturbed by mining operations that left little topsoil. During the construction of the south wetlands soil was removed and spread over this area after the existing vegetation had been removed.

All of the reconstructed prairies have done well since they were originally planted in 2004 and 2005. Fire is an important tool for managing prairie vegetation, in order to recycle nutrients and control invasion by woody vegetation. The patch near Stonebrooke was burned in spring of 2011 whereas the patch next to the middle wetland was not.

Deb Lewis, botanist and curator of the Ada Hayden Herbarium at ISU) conducted a very informative program on prairies last Thursday evening (August 4). We first visited the prairie that had been burned and saw how the fire had removed the dead vegetation from last year's growth leaving small open bare spots between the grow! ing plants. The burn had reinvigorated the vegetation and many plants were in full bloom. The butterfly milkweed with its bright orange blossoms that had been in full bloom in June were now setting seed pods. Those in bloom included bergamot (a mint, also called bee balm or Monorda), black-eyed susan, gray-headed coneflower, hoary vervain and purple coneflower. Deb explained the difference between graminoids (grasses and sedges) and forbs and between monocots and dicots. The grasses in this area are beginning to bloom and make up the typical species found in tallgrass prairies: big and little bluestem, sideoats gramma, prairie dropseed, Canada wild rye, and switch grass. Indian grass is also present but has not started to bloom yet. The group also did a little maintenance by pulling yellow and white sweet clover, a common non-native species that can be a problem in reconstructed prairies. Other invasives we saw were foxtail grass, willow and siberian elm.

We then walked a short distance to the unburned patch of prairie next t! o the parking lot. Last's year's growth was evident as an understory of dead vegetation through which this year's growth had to push through. Thus the plants were not as tall and robust as in the burned patch. A large clump of western iron weed stood out along with oxeye sunflowers. Cup plant was in full bloom; it gets its name from the way the leaves form a cup around the stem of the plant. A shower of rain before the field trip began had filled the cups with water. We also found several compass plants that are closely related to the cup plant but had not yet sent up flowering stalks. It is characteristic for compass plants not to bloom until they are several years old. We will be watching next year for the first blooms of this species on the prairie.

Watch for more interpretive programs and field trips coming this fall.

Erv Klaas