Where are all the Weeds?

by Dee Hudson Photography

This prairie field has very few weeds because the steward that tends this unit has excellent weed management! I am part of this exceptional weed removal and I love the results!!! Look at the different beautiful plants blooming!! I see pink Pale Purple Coneflowers . . . yellow False Sunflowers . . . and white Quinine flowers.

The Prairie in Bloom at Nachusa Grasslands

The Prairie in bloom at Nachusa Grasslands.

One of my jobs as a volunteer steward at Nachusa Grasslands is to remove weeds from the prairie fields. For me, this is a familiar task. Growing up in rural Minnesota, my summers as a young girl were always spent helping my father remove the agricultural weeds from his soybean fields. At Nachusa Grasslands, I remove different weeds, but the process is one that is very familiar.

Red Clover Flower

Red Clover Flower

This summer, with the wettest June in Illinois history, one weed has really popped up in great numbers — the Red Clover (Trifolium pretense). The Red Clover is a non–native plant, first introduced in our country to provide food for farm animals. The purplish–pink flower head on the Red Clover is very pretty and one of the colors we scan for as we search for these weeds.

The Red Clover leaves have a light–colored

The Red Clover leaves have a light–colored “Chevron–shaped” pattern.

When the clover is not blooming, it is much trickier to find the plants and the hunt for the Red Clover becomes more like a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ exercise. Thank goodness the leaves are very distinctive! My steward taught me to look for the light colored ‘chevron–shape’ pattern on the leaves.

Jay Finds a Red Clover to Remove

Jay finds a Red Clover in his 2009 Gobbler Ridge planting.

Hello Jay! This is Jay Stacy, the land steward I regularly help and the steward of this prairie field (Gobbler Ridge) we are weed managing today. As we transect Jay’s 2009 prairie planting, we are mainly searching for Red Clover and Sweet Clover. The Red Clover flower heads are beginning to turn brown and if we do not remove them soon, the clover will begin to drop its seeds and then we will have many more to remove next year. In the photo above, Jay has located a Red Clover for removal.

Cutting the Red Clover With Scissors

The Red Clover is cut off close to the ground.

Jay gathers all the stems together first, which is tricky, because the stems tend to spread out into the surrounding prairie plants. Once all the stems have all been brought together, the clover is cut close to the ground.

Applying Herbicide to the Clover Stem

Jay carefully applies herbicide to the clover stem with a paintbrush.

Jay carefully applies herbicide to the clover stem with a paintbrush, being careful not to touch the brush to any of the nearby prairie plants.

Carrying the Red Clover from the Field

Jay transports the Red Clover seeds out of the prairie in a bucket.

This Red Clover plant has to be removed from the prairie so none of the seeds in the mature flower heads plant themselves. We collect the Red Clovers into a bucket and transport them completely out of the prairie to our central weed pile.

Red Clover Weeded from the Prairie

Red Clover collected in one morning.

Whew! Look at all the Red Clover we collected in one morning!! The clover fills the entire truck bed!

Red Clover Spreads

When Red Clover is left in a new prairie planting, it quickly multiplies.

This photo above illustrates what happens when the red clover is not weed managed. As you see, the clover quickly multiplies and begins to crowd out the natives plants and the plant diversity becomes lost — I mainly see Red Clover in the photo above. One of the reasons I love to photograph and explore the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands is to discover all the unique individual forb (flowering plants) and grass species that I never have the chance to see anywhere else.

When you are an ‘outdoor girl,’ there is nothing more satisfying than spending the day in a beautiful prairie searching for weeds. The work is physical, as you walk back and forth across the fields, constantly bending down to the ground to remove the weeds. However, there are some pretty ‘sweet’ rewards! While laboring, I pause to enjoy the raspy call of the Dickcissel (dick-dick-cissel) ,the call of the near–threatened Henslow’s Sparrow or I enjoy a quick glimpse of a Monarch Butterfly caterpillar on a milkweed.

Dickcissel, a grassland bird

A grassland bird called the Dickcissel.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar

Monarch Butterfly caterpillar on a Common Milkweed

Come visit the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands and enjoy the fruits of my labor and see what treasures you can find!!!

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Photo Place Gallery

by Dee Hudson Photography

This was a very exciting week! My image, Silhouette Glow, submitted to the juried show at Photo Place Gallery was chosen from amongst 1200 images for the online gallery. This show was curated by the incredible Jeff Curto, Professor Emeritus at College of DuPage. I appreciate being selected and I am delighted to be in the company of all the other wonderful artists in this show.

Also in the Photo Place Online Gallery are Carol Byron and Becky Davis, fellow members with me in the ‘Fleeting Moments Artists’ group. Congratulations!!

Congratulations also to Joanne Barsanti, a former classmate and fine artist, on her selection to the Photo Place Gallery. Her image, Preening Egret, was selected for exhibition in the gallery in Middleton, Vermont in March.

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Silhouette Glow © Dee Hudson

Silhouette Glow was photographed in the West Chicago Prairie in Illinois during the winter of 2014. When I captured this image, I remember I was snowshoeing through deep snow during a very cold spell — temperatures in the single digits. The day was nearly done and I was cold and tired, about to finish photographing for the day. As I framed this last winter plant stalk (probably in the sunflower family) in my camera view finder, I instantly knew it was a ‘keeper’. People often ask me whether this image was created in Photoshop. No, it was actually all captured in my camera as the photo appears here. To achieve this effect, I carefully position myself in relation to my light source and my subject and then use a very selective focus. Although this is the ‘look’ I strive for, many times I hike miles through the prairie without success, for it is hard to locate exactly the light I desire and the subject I want.

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Porcupines in the Prairie

by Dee Hudson Photography

Porcupines in the prairie? When it comes to prairies, I am of course speaking about the Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea).

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The porcupine grass creates an elegant silhouette.

The seed from this grass is one of my favorites because it is so unique–looking compared to other seeds I have seen. The tip of this seed is rather furry and comes to a very sharp point, like a porcupine quill. Even though I was careful while planting these seeds, I still bled from pricking my fingers with the sharp tips.

 The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

The furry and sharp tip of the porcupine seed.

To plant the porcupine grass I actually jabbed the seed downward, burying the pointed tip into the ground. I would squat to the ground (to get a work–out while I planted!!) and then sink five seeds into the ground in a circle around me. Then I would stand up and toss out another five seeds to self–plant and then I would walk eight to ten feet and repeat the whole process again. As you can imagine, this planting process is very labor–intensive.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The candy cane twisted seed tail.

The seed tails are very fascinating. There are two different colored strands that twist around each other, looking rather candy cane–like to me. Apparently these two strands twist at different rates depending on the humidity in the air. So, when the air is dry, the tapered tail end will coil and fishtail to one side or the other and then when there is more moisture in the air the tail will fishtail the other way. Over time, the humidity changes  will allow this seed to literally screw itself down into the ground. It is pretty amazing how nature works!

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As the seed dries, the end coils.

 

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie.

To give an idea of the seed size, I photographed three porcupine seeds before planting them in the prairie at Nachusa Grasslands.

 

Planting Seeds in Winter?

by Dee Hudson Photography

Yes, when you’re planting prairie seeds, December can be a great time to sow them!! Native seeds actually need many freezes and thaws to soften up their hard seed coats so they are ready to germinate in the spring.

On the morning of December 4th, I helped Jay Stacy, a land steward at Nachusa Grasslands, hand–sow seeds onto a problem area in his prairie field.

A hand holding prairie seeds

Over the past seven months, Jay (with my help also!) has hand–collected seeds from all over Nachusa’s restored prairie fields, to use for this ‘Mullein Hill’ planting. The seed mix we sowed contained over 40 different species, many species that are rare in plantings (conservative species) and many species that will colonize quickly and then give way as the rare species become established.

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I asked Jay what was in his seed mix and he said, “Leadplant, dropseed, cream wild indigo, pale purple coneflower, western sunflower, coreopsis palmata, yellow coneflower, shooting stars, prairie violets, silky aster and many other species.”

The 16 acres surrounding this hill were planted into prairie in 2012, but Jay left this small fifth of an acre unplanted due to all the brush and tree limbs laying across the slope. Jay cleared the hill of stumps and branches in 2013, but in the meantime, mullein, an invasive non–native species, took over!! Boy, did these plants ever take over! See all the green rosette–shaped plants covering the hill and slope as far as you can see? There are hundreds and hundreds of these non–native plants in just this small area._MG_8465

Mullein grows well in sandy, dry areas and this hill was a perfect place for it to thrive. To keep this biennial from making seeds, Jay mowed the mullein down three separate times this past summer (2014). Now, Jay and I are planting some competition for the mullein and once these seeds sprout in the spring, the mullein won’t have a chance at survival.

This mullein hill is shaped irregularly, so Jay used an inventive planting method (known as the Schmadeke Techniqueto insure that we did not miss any spots as we scattered out the seeds. First we ringed the outside perimeter with bright colored flags. Then we stood next to a starting flag and spaced ourselves about five feet apart. We began to spread our seeds while walking towards the next flag. When we arrived at the second flag, Jay pulled it out and handed it to me, and I plunked it in the ground to my left, thus creating a tighter circle to follow the next sweep around the hill.

I’m excited to visit ‘Mullein Hill’ next spring and see what has sprouted. We will probably need to give the hill a new name!