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The Prairie Ecologist Article: Lessons From a Project to Improve Prairie Quality – Part 2: Overseeding and Seedling Plugs

Last week, I posted a summary of some findings from a long project to enhance prairie habitat. I focused that post on the lessons we learned from the fire/grazing management portion of the project, including impacts on regal fritillary butterflies. This week, I’m looking at the other half of that project – overseeding and adding seedling plugs to our degraded prairies in order to increase plant diversity. As with last week, you can find all the gritty details, including graphs, tables, and more, by looking at our full final report.

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Maximilian sunflower is one of the species we’ve found easiest to establish in degraded prairies. (These particular sunflowers are for illustration only – not from an overseeded site.)

During the five years of the project, we overseeded approximately 500 acres of prairie – focusing mostly on degraded remnant (unplowed) prairies that were missing many characteristic prairie wildflower species. We harvested our own seed from nearby sites, and broadcast it on degraded prairies right after burning them. The prairies were managed with patch-burn grazing, so cattle grazed those burned areas intensively for the remainder of the first growing season and then focused their grazing elsewhere in subsequent years. To measure success of the seedings, I used replicated plots to count the number of new plants that established from seed. Most of the seedings included multiple seeding rates, so I was able to look at the effect of seeding rate on establishment.

In addition to overseeding, we raised and transplanted more than 800 prairie and wetland seedlings into seven different sites, and added several hundred more seedlings to our nursery beds for seed production. Most transplanting was done in the late spring, and plants were watered on the day of transplanting but afterward. We marked (GPS and flags)and attempted to re-locate seedling plugs to evaluate survival, but that didn’t work out very well, and we didn’t find a lot of the plants we’d plugged in. Some of those plants surely died (which prevented us from finding them), but for others, flags disappeared and GPS points weren’t accurate enough to lead us to the small plants we thought were probably there. We did find some, but our estimates of success are pretty fuzzy.

We learned two major lessons from this portion of the project:

1. Overseeding after a burn in a patch-burn grazed prairie can re-establish at least some missing plant species, but the use of a high seeding rate is important.

2. Overseeding seems to be more cost effective than seedlings, assuming abundant seed can be obtained relatively cheaply.

In tallgrass prairies further to the east of us, people have had pretty good, if inconsistent, luck with overseeding prairies without necessarily having to suppress the vigor of surrounding vegetation. We’ve tried that here, and have seen very low success, maybe because our drier climate (25 inches of precipitation per year) increases competition for moisture? Regardless, our best results have come from seeding after a burn – for good seed/soil contact – followed by grazing of the dominant grasses that appear to be the primary competition for new seedlings. Patch-burn grazing works well, but we’ve also had good luck in the past by just grazing intensively for a month or so after seeding, and then pulling the cattle out.

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Trails from our ATV and broadcast seeder in recently burned prairie. Broadcasting after a burn helps get the seed/soil contact we need. Experiments with light harrowing as a way to get even more soil contact haven’t shown any obvious results. Note the absolute straight lines I made as I planted this site…

Seeding rate was very important. We started by seeding at about the same rate as we use when we converting cropland to high-diversity prairie – about 1-2 lbs of bulk forb seed per acre. As the project went on, we went as high as 8 lbs, and continued to see better results. At least in our prairies, seeding smaller areas with more seed seems to be more effective than spreading limited seed over large areas.

Because others have incorporated light tillage or harrowing to suppress competition and increase seed/soil contact, we tried some of that as well, but our results were mixed. Some tilled plots showed very high establishment, but others showed less than non-tilled plots. We did find that when we tilled a few inches deep, we didn’t seem to kill any plant species – remembering that these are degraded sites already. I would definitely not recommend that others try tillage on a large scale, but in small plots within degraded grasslands, it’d probably be worth some more experimenting. We had a beautiful set of replicated tilled plots that I hoped would clarify the situation in 2012, but the severe drought overwhelmed that attempt.

Even at our highest seeding rates of 8 bulk pounds of forb seed per acre, the density of established plants was relatively low (in our best sites, we established around 150 new plants per acre) but hopefully high enough to create self-sustaining populations that will grow over time. The plant species that established most readily included:

Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
Sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus)
Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)
Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis)
Entire-leaf rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium)
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Purple & white prairie clover (Dalea purpurea and D. candida)
Canada milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis) – in some sites
Illinois tickclover (Desmodium illinoense) – in some sites
In terms of seedlings, we have found that most prairie plants are easily grown in greenhouse situations (with some exceptions) but that some take more than a year to germinate, and then perhaps a full year or more to grow large enough to transplant. When we planted the seedlings into prairies, we clumped them together in groups of 5-10 plants to help form populations that could cross pollinate, and to make it easier to find at least one of the plants we’d put in.

TNC greenhouse Platte River Prairies.

Compass plant seedlings and others in our greenhouse.

We had success with seeding plugs in some situations – particularly in terms of getting wetland sedge species established in restored wetlands – but transplant survival in degraded mesic prairies was mixed at best. Most of our transplanting was done in the late spring, as we hoped to synchronize our planting with the wettest time of the year, but we may experiment with more fall planting in the future. We felt that many of our seedlings may have died because they weren’t in the appropriate soil conditions, which we had to guess at since there were no existing populations of most of the species we were transplanting. Broadcasting seed is probably a better way to match up appropriate plant species with their specific microhabitat requirements.

In our situation, it appears that overseeding is a cheaper and more efficient way to increase plant diversity in degraded prairies. Of course, one big reason it makes sense for us is that we have existing capacity for large-scale seed harvest. If enhancement of degraded prairies is a high priority for a landowner or land management entity, it might make sense to build their own seed harvest capacity. That doesn’t necessarily mean large investments in equipment or people, though a pull-behind seed stripper or combine can be a nice way to harvest large amounts of seed quickly. Large amounts of wildflower seed can also be harvested by hand (our typical method) if you are efficient and organized.

By Chris Helzer from The Prairie Ecologist Website

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays From Ion Exchange, Inc. Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants

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Plant Of The Week Asclepias Syriaca | Silkweed From Ion Exchange, Inc.

Product Description:
Silkweed (Asclepias Syriaca) – Becoming rarer (especially north of Iowa) in moist to wet prairies throughout most of the Tallgrass region, Prairie Milkweed can reach heights up to 3 1/2 feet. Similar to and often confused with the more common “Common Milkweed”, the flowers are a deep reddish-pink and occur in clusters of up to 40 near the top of the plant. Blooms from June through mid-August. Asclepias, from the Greek God of healing and medicine. Syriaca is from the Latin word for “of Syrian origin”.

The Milkweed Family has a long history of medicinal use. Asclepias incarnata was also cultivated for food uses, so it has been a valuable plant of the tallgrass biome for thousands of years. Some tribes added the flowers and bulbs to soups, some used the flowers stewed and served almost like preserves, immature pods were often cooked with buffalo meat and still others used the immature flower clusters and fruits as a cooked vegetable.

There are more than 25 species of milkweed found across the US with a dozen alone in the Tallgrass Biome. It is this species, Silkweed or Common Milkweed that enjoys the most popularity with edible plant enthusiasts.

Medicinally, the ground root of this species was used to induce temporary sterility, tea made from the root was used to “expel internal parasites” and the ground seeds were used in a poultice to draw the poison from a rattlesnake bite.

During WWII, the sap of the milkweed family plants were used experimentally to provide a rubber substitute. The silk produced by the seed pods was also used as a substitute for kapok in flotation devices for many years.

Edible Uses: Unknown

Medicinal Uses:
The root is anodyne, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and purgative. It has been used in the treatment of asthma, kidney stones, venereal disease etc. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. An infusion of the pounded roots has been used by the women of some native North American Indian tribes to promote temporary sterility. The leaves and/or the latex are used in folk remedies for treating cancer and tumours. The milky latex from the stems and leaves is used in the treatment of warts. The latex needs to be applied at least daily over a period of up to a few weeks to be effective. The stems can be cooked and applied as a poultice on rheumatic joints. One reported Mohawk antifertility concoction contained milkweed and jack-in-the-pulpit, both considered contraceptive. Dried and pulverized, a fistful of milkweed and three Arisaema rhizomes were infused in a pint of water for 20 minutes. The infusion was drunk, a cupful an hour, to induce temporary sterility. The rhizome is used in homeopathy as an antioedemic and emmenagogue in the treatment of dropsy and dysmenorrhoea.

Other Uses:
A good quality fibre is obtained from the inner bark of the stems. It is long and quite strong, but brittle. It can be used in making twine, cloth, paper etc. The fibre is of poor quality in wet seasons. It is easily harvested in late autumn after the plant has died down by simply pulling the fibres off the dried stems. It is estimated that yields of 1,356 kilos per hectare could be obtained from wild plants. The seed floss is used to stuff pillows etc or is mixed with other fibres to make cloth. It is a Kapok substitute, used in Life Jackets or as a stuffing material. Very water repellent, it can yield up to 550 kilos per hectare. The floss absorbs oil whilst repelling water and so has also been used to mop up oil spills at sea. Candlewicks can be made from the seed floss. In cultivation, only 1 – 3% of the flowers produce mature pods. It is estimated that yields of 1,368 kilos per hectare could be obtained from wild plants. Rubber can be made from latex contained in the leaves and the stems. It is found mainly in the leaves and is destroyed by frost. Yields of 197 kilos per hectare can be expected from wild plants, it is estimated that by selection these yields could be increased to 897 kilos. Yields are higher on dry soils. The latex can also be used as a glue for fixing precious stones into necklaces, earrings etc. The latex contains 0.1 – 1.5% caoutchouc, 16 – 17% dry matter, and 1.23% ash. It also contains the digitalis-like mixture of a- and b-asclepiadin, the antitumor b-sitosterol, and a- and b-amyrin and its acetate, dextrose and wax. Pods contain an oil and a wax which are of potential importance. The seed contains up to 20% of an edible semi-drying oil. It is also used in making liquid soap.

Herbal Uses: Unknown

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A Great Cause Chip in for Monarch Watch! A Fundraising Campaign In Chip’s Honor

“Chip in for Monarch Watch” Fundraising Campaign
—————————————————————-
The 2012 “Chip in for Monarch Watch” Fundraising Campaign is now underway!
Please help us spread the word about this annual campaign which brings in
funds to keep Monarch Watch’s education, conservation and research programs
going…and growing!

If you are in a position to offer financial support to Monarch Watch (or if
you know someone who might be), please consider making a fully
tax-deductible donation of any amount during our 2012 “Chip in for Monarch
Watch” fundraising campaign.

Visit http://monarchwatch.org/chip for more information or to submit your
pledge and tax-deductible donation. Be sure to check out the comments and
photos submitted by other donors – we are continually amazed by the
connections that are made through monarchs and Monarch Watch.

Last year’s campaign was a huge success, raising more than $31,000 – think
we can top that this year? 🙂

Thank you for your continued support!

Chip in for Monarch Watch: http://monarchwatch.org/chip

 

To Purchase Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants visit Ion Exchange, Inc., at http://ionxchange.com/ or Call Us at 1-800-291-2143

 

Milkweed Bug- Good or Bad?

Milkweed Bug- Good or Bad?.

Skullcap: A Summer For Rabies Article

Over time little known plants were often targeted as miraculous cures for one thing or another. Skullcap is one of them. For some time it was publicized as the only cure for rabies, rabies in people, of course, not in animals.

http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/2030/

It went by the name of maddog weed when I was small, and it seemed that every summer a new supply of its miracle cure was hastily made to insure the well being of those who might have come in contact with rabid animals. There was a time that I was so young I can barely remember, when a rabies scare turned normal parents upside down. When I think of it, I call it the summer for rabies. I remember only bits and pieces of that summer since I was not quite 5, but it was not a happy time. My dog Pepper, who was approximately my age, had her first litter of puppies. I only remember naming one of them Sandy and it was to be a pet for my uncle and his new wife. There were not many dogs in my life at that time, only Pepper, and she was a beautiful mixed breed of something or other. Long white hair that glistened and a personality that could easily win the coldest heart, that was my Pepper.

Word got around that a rabid raccoon had come close to homes where children were playing in the yard; then we heard that squirrels, opossums, rabbits, and finally my Uncle Dock’s beautiful collie, Shep, had to be put down because of the dreaded rabies.  When that happened, dogs were put on a makeshift chain and contained within a fenced area, or they were put in an inside area where no other animals could get to them.  Pepper was given living quarters in a toolroom just off the back porch.  I breathed a sigh of relief because she was safe.  Image

Publicized as a cure for rabies, Scutellaria lateriflora caused a stir during the mid 18th century. One doctor announced at the time that he had successfully treated hundreds of cases with it. His claims for skullcap were finally discredited, but not before earning the plant more common names referring to its association with rabies: madweed and mad dog weed. It grows in moist woods and swampy areas, and as a native North American plant, can be found across the country. It is a perennial with an erect, smooth branching stem that grows to 3 feet. Broadly lance shaped, toothed leaves grow in opposite pairs. Small tubular blue, pinkish, violet or white flowers bloom in July and August. The blooms have two lips, the upper one is hooded.

The name of the plant, skullcap, refers to the shape of the flower, which resembles a helmet with the visor raised. Skullcap was the word for a type of military helmet that was familiar to earlier colonists. The Indian tribes used it as a sedative, and there were at one time claims for it’s effectiveness as a “nervine” or tranquilizer. It has achieved a reputation as a sedative and antispasmodic, properties that may account for its sometimes being effective in alleviating the symptoms of rabies. For years herbalists have acclaimed the plant as an excellent “nervine”, and have prescribed it for a gamut of so called nervous disorders from mild anxiety to epilepsy. That achieved some controversy, but less controversial is the calming effect of the tea made from the whole plant.

Skullcap contains scutellarin a flavonoid with sedative and antispasmodic properties. This was probably the active ingredient in the skullcap extract used in 19th century medicine. It is still used in modern herbal medicine for the prevention of epileptic seizures, insomnia, hysteria, anxiety and withdrawal from barbituates. It is currently an alternative herbal medicine to treat HDD. More cautious pharmacological opinion concedes as possible the validity of skullcap’s use as a sedative, but only on the basis of animal tests. It is one of those plants that should not be used as a home remedy in any instance, the plant has some effect on the nervous system, and as such should be considered too dangerous to be used in any way without the attention of trained medical personnel.

The summer for rabies is only a dim, distant memory, and not a very pleasant one at that. Dogs and cats were being put down for no reason other than folks had no place to keep them contained. Somehow I lost the puppy, Sandy, perhaps as a precaution, but my Pepper dog was spared at a time when many animals were not.  People were worried, and children were not allowed to roam freely that year.  And bottles of skullcap infusion lined many kitchen cabinets.  Image

That’s the way of things sometimes, we have to survive a scare to make us more aware, more cautious. It has always bothered me that so many animals were wiped out simply as a precaution. But there again, veterinarians were unheard of in the mountains, and fathers simply did what they had to do to protect their families.

http://ionxchange.com/

Tallgrass Prairie Ecosystem | North American Prairies |

North American Prairies/Credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher

Tallgrass prairies once covered over 170 million acres (69 million hectares) of North America. They were a sea of waving grasses that stretched from the western edge of Indiana into eastern Kansas and from Saskatchewan, Canada, into the northern regions of Texas.

Our Amazine Planet Tallgrass Prairie Ecosystem

Howard Bright “Earthyman” Commented on This Article
Picture the corn and soybean fields stretching for miles across the horizon.  Now replace this scene with a sea of wildflowers and grasses.  As the wind blows and you look straight out onto the edge of the horizon , witness an ocean of undulating textures and colors making huge waves blowing across the vast landscape.  Goose bumps form on my arms as I am once again with the great spirit that made this land and I am witness to a virtual native landscape vision.  Perhaps my Native American blood can sense this feeling as maybe I used to roam these lands hunting buffalo and using many of the plants for food and medicine.
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Pesticide Linked to Honeybee Deaths April 8, 2012

http://www.emagazine.com/daily-news/pesticide-linked-to-honeybee-deaths/

Pesticide Linked to Honeybee Deaths

April 8, 2012 | Sharon Kelly

The last several years have witnessed one of the most dramatic impacts on insect life in modern history.

At least a third of U.S. honeybee colonies have died out in the past six years.

Initially, the phenomena baffled scientists. But several new studies indicate that they may be honing in on a potential cause: overuse of pesticides. In particular, researchers now say that they suspect a class of pesticides known neonicotinoids, including the widely-used insecticide imidacloprid, which are used primarily in corn fields. Introduced in the early 1990s, these insecticides have sharply increased in popularity and virtually all corn grown in the United States is treated with them.

This class of nicotine-based chemicals are designed to become an intrinsic part of the plant and when insects ingest them, the chemicals target their nervous system, resulting in paralysis and death.

The wider use of the insecticide corresponds with the proliferation of genetically-modified corn and both coincided with the start of colony collapse disorder, according to a new paper that will be in the June issue of Bulletin of Insectology, by Chensheng Lu, an associate professor of environmental exposure biology at Harvard School of Public Health, along with members of the Worcester County Beekeepers Association in Massachusetts.

The Harvard researchers concluded that these pesticides are likely to blame for colony collapse disorder.
Commercial beekeepers first began reporting the mass collapse of bee colonies in the mid-2000s. The decline varied depending on region and some areas saw 90 percent of their bees die. At the outset, other culprits, including fungus, mites, viruses, bacteria, were suspected as the root problem.
But evidence against neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid has steadily accumulated.

“From the ecological and apicultural perspectives, the results from this study show a profound and devastating effect of low levels of imidacloprid in high fructose corn syrup on honey bee colonies,” said the soon-to-be-released paper in Bulletin of Insectology. The paper also found that 94 percent of hives whose bees had been fed corn syrup laced with the pesticide died off entirely within less than six months.

Other Studies Concur

One experiment conducted by French researchers found that these insecticides fog honeybee brains, which makes it tougher for them to find their way home. Another study by scientists in Britain concluded that the chemicals keep bees from stocking their hives with enough food to produce new queens.

Researchers in France fed the bees a dose of neonicotinoid-laced sugar water and then moved them more than half a mile from their hive. The bees carried miniature radio tags that allowed the scientists to keep track of how many returned to the hive. The bees exposed to the pesticide were 10 percent less likely than healthy bees to make it home when they were in familiar areas, the researchers found. In unfamiliar places, that figure rose to 31 percent. This is especially noteworthy because many modern commercial beekeepers truck their hives to pollinate crops across the US, so these honey bees are likely to find themselves in unfamiliar places.

Since they were first introduced in the 1990s, these types of pesticides have exploded in popularity among farmers and home gardeners and today, they are registered in over 120 countries for use on over 140 crops.
The approval of neonicotinoids in the U.S. has long been controversial. Leaked E.P.A. memos, published by Wikileaks in December 2010 showed (http://www.emagazine.com/daily-news/leaked-memo-reveals-danger-to-bees) that the agency had been asked to revoke the pesticide’s approval in part because it was suspected as the root of colony collapse disorder. But the E.P.A. failed to act.

Now, an emergency petition, filed by 30 beekeepers and national environmental groups that includes Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Food Safety, has been filed. That petition targets just one form of the pesticide, focusing on field studies that the petitioners argue were inadequate.

Presently, the chemicals are conditionally approved for use while the EPA conducts a routine review of the products. The EPA has said this conditional approval was based on hundreds of studies, and in 2010, it said that it had not seen any data showing that bees were harmed by neonicotinoids. Under pressure to take a closer look, the agency agreed to accelerate its review, which will now be finished in 2018.

Scientists say that pinning down the source of colony collapse disorder has been especially difficult because bees are exposed to so many toxic chemicals. One study, from 2010, was able to identify 121 different pesticides and related products that were found in bees, wax, pollen and beehives.

Pesticides are also not the only potential culprit. Scientists have investigated the possibility that fungus, mites, viruses, and bacteria are responsible. Bees become susceptible to a wide range of problems when they are weakened by other conditions, so researchers kept searching for the root problem even when mites or viruses were discovered in some collapsed colonies.

The nicotine-based pesticides now suspected in the die-offs are popular because they are much less toxic to humans and other mammals than previous pesticides. But they are a neurotoxin to insects, and for bees, they are one of the most toxic pesticides ever registered for use in the U.S.

Bees are exposed to neonictinoids in several ways. The pesticide is concentrated in droplets of sap that form on many plants, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology. That study found that the sap from corn grown from pesticide-coated seeds can be so contaminated that bees who ate the sap died within minutes.

The chemicals tend to accumulate in the soil where corn and other crops are grown because companies sell seed that is coated with the pesticide. They are moderately persistent in soil, and can take years to dissipate.
Unlike pesticides that are sprayed on plants at predictable times, allowing beekeepers to keep their hives away when levels are at their highest, the neonicotinoids become a part of plants that are grown from coated seeds, making it impossible for bees to avoid the chemicals.

Ninety percent of seed corn is coated with neonicotinoids. The pesticide is not only used for corn—it is commonly used for apples, pears, broccoli and cauliflower crops. The chemicals are also the active ingredient in hundreds of backyard products.

Modern beekeepers sometimes feed their colonies high fructose corn syrup to replace over-harvested honey. But pesticides are especially difficult to test for in the high fructose corn syrup that beekeepers feed to their hives over the winters because the syrupy goo gums up the laboratory equipment. Bayer, which sells imidacloprid under several different brand names, said that their tests of corn syrup from fields where the pesticide was used found no detectable levels of the chemical. A study by The Organic Center, an organic food research organization, however, found traces of the pesticide in corn syrup. Because of testing difficulties, they added, it was impossible to determine the levels present.

In parts of Europe like France in Italy, neonicotinoids have been banned for the past few years and early results seem to indicate that colony collapse disorder may have slowed. But the problem is not simple and much remains unknown about colony collapse disorder. In many places where neonicotinoids are used, there has been no colony loss. Researchers say that low-level exposure to the chemicals makes bees stressed, and susceptible to other problems like parasites.

One distinguishing characteristic of colony collapse disorder is that bees die away from the hive. In the Harvard study on neonicotinoids, the hives were empty except for food stores, some pollen, and young bees, with few dead bees nearby. When other conditions cause hive collapse—such as disease or pests—many dead bees are typically found inside and outside the affected hives.

“The significance of bees to agriculture cannot be underestimated,” said Chensheng Lu, lead author of the Harvard study. “And it apparently doesn’t take much of the pesticide to affect the bees. Our experiment included pesticide amounts below what is normally present in the environment.”