Earthyman views the relationship of Sea Oats in the stabilization of sand dunes on the South Padre Island in Texas
To Purchase Your Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants Visit Our Nursery Website At Ion Exchange, Inc.
Earthyman views the relationship of Sea Oats in the stabilization of sand dunes on the South Padre Island in Texas
To Purchase Your Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants Visit Our Nursery Website At Ion Exchange, Inc.
Researchers assessing benefits of converting grasses to biofuel
WASHBURN — University of Northern Iowa professor Mark Myers considered it a “theoretical exercise” when he assigned his wildlife ecology and management students to develop a habitat management plan for a local site.
But, said Myers, Jarrett Pfrimmer, 25, of North Liberty, “took the assignment to heart,” and a year later, prairie grass was growing on 20 acres of former cropland along a Cedar River tributary.
“I did not think he could make it happen in that short a time,” said Myers, who is working with Pfrimmer on another major project with the potential to restore natural functions of the Cedar River watershed — research to determine the feasibility of native prairie as a biofuel.
Pfrimmer, who will complete work on his master’s degree next month, said he worked with the Black Hawk County Soil and Water Conservation District to line up cost-share funding for the stream buffer project.
The Boone native said he also took advantage of expertise at UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center to plan and execute the 120-foot wide buffer strips on both sides of Dry Run Creek, which flows past the UNI campus en route to the Cedar River.
Seeded a year ago, the native vegetation will become well established next year, greatly reducing erosion from the former farm fields, improving the quality of the water flowing into the Cedar and providing habitat for songbirds, pheasants and other wildlife.
The absorbent grass also will play a small role in reducing the crest of future Cedar River floods.
“Every little bit helps” when it comes to watersheds’ ability to store and slowly release floodwaters, said State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a leader in legislative efforts to improve watershed management.
Small-scale improvements like the two Black Hawk County projects can help create a mindset and policies “that will help buy down flood peaks for those of us downstream,” Hogg said.
In addition to the Cedar Falls stream buffer project, Pfrimmer has worked with Myers and others to assess the benefits of converting cropland into a prairie biomass production site at the 593-acre Cedar River Natural Resource Area about 10 miles south of Waterloo.
On flood plain land that had formerly been leased for row crop production, the researchers established 48 test plots, each seeded with one of four types of native vegetation ranging from switch grass alone to a mix of 32 species of grasses, legumes, forbs and sedges.
Those plantings were equally distributed among three distinct soil types, enabling the researchers to control all key factors contributing to the productivity of native grass not only as a source of energy but also as habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
The research got off to a rocky start with the historic Cedar River flood of 2008 wiping out the initial seeding. The plots were reseeded in 2009, burned in 2011 and finally harvested in April, compressed into 550-pound rectangular bales, with an average yield of 4 tons per acre.
About 150 of those bales were later pelletized for an upcoming test burn by Cedar Falls Utilities. “We’re looking to find out how well it burns for energy generation,” said Daryl Smith of the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center, a partner in the research.
Researchers have suggested that cultivation of low-input, high-diversity grassland biomass could have significant energy and environmental advantages over corn-based ethanol, according to Myers.
While it remains to be seen whether the energy yield would justify conversion of marginal farmland to production of native vegetation for use as an energy source, biofuel production with diverse mixtures of native prairie vegetation “contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers concluded.
Grassland birds and butterflies quickly found and colonized the test plots, according to Myers.
Pfrimmer, who has led bird data collection efforts, will soon complete his master’s thesis on “Bird Use of Heterogenous Native Prairie Biofuel Production Plots.”
In each of the past two years, he has found at least 100 delicate nests hidden among the grass stems by species such as the sedge wren, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow and lark sparrow. Pheasants and turkeys also have moved into the grass, he said.
“We are starting to see different bird communities established in the plots in accordance with their preferences for the vegetation mix and even the soil types,” Pfrimmer said.
Article taken From The Gazette Newspaper
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Earthyman views Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) at Ion Exchange native seed and plant nursery in NE Iowa. Sneezeweed is a wetland wildflower
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By: Howard Bright aka Earthyman http://ionxchange.com/
In nature, certain species are found growing together and they form a specific community called a “plant community”. Native plants always grow in association with other native plantsto create plant communities that are essentially associations of indigenous species that have evolved over thousands of years and adapted to the specific geography, hydrology and climate of a particular area. The resulting “communities” are really groups of plants that exist together because of the given conditions.
We can use these native plant communities as a prescription from nature in designing our wildflower gardens or landscapes. There are four broad categories of native plant communities here in the Midwest and hundreds of sub categories as we break each of them down into more specific site conditions. It is important to recognize which one of the four categories you would like to create or reconstruct. The four major plant communities of the Midwest are:
In this article, we are only going to discuss the Prairie sub communities.
Within each of these categories we narrow down our site conditions and begin our design of what native species of wildflowers, grasses and sedges will work best for our site. For instance, if we have an open area that gets full sunlight, we have a perfect opportunity to create a “Prairie”. Within the Prairie Community, we can further break down our site conditions to reflect:
Now this may sound too complicated for the normal gardener but it really isn’t. Here are a few tips to allow you to identify where your site fits in. First of all let’s talk about your soil. You may say that you don’t know anything about soils and that’s o.k. You can still come close to what your soil is like by asking yourself the following questions:
Now, after you have decided which plant community you want to create, here are some examples of wildflowers and grasses to consider for each community:
1. Wet-Prairie Plant Community
2. Wet-Mesic Plant Community
3. Mesic Plant Community
4. Dry-Mesic Prairie Plant Community
5. Dry Prairie Plant Community
Remember, nature has these self-made recipes for your wildflower gardens and reconstuction areas.
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By: Howard Bright
The Plant Communities of Iowa are vast but we will limit them to four major communities knowing there are many subgroups of these four. What is a plant community? In nature, certain species are found growing together and they form specific colonies of plants called “plant communities”. Native plants always grow in association with others to create plant communities that are essentially associations of indigenous species that have evolved over thousands of years and adapted to the specific geography, hydrology and climate of a particular area. The resulting “communities” are really groups of plants that exist together because of the given environmental conditions.
Why is it important to know about natural plant communities? It is very important because we can use these native plant communities as a prescription from nature in designing our wildflower gardens or landscapes. There are four broad categories of native plant communities here in the Midwest and hundreds of sub categories as we break each of them down into more specific site conditions. It is important to recognize which one of the four categories you would like to create or reconstruct. The four major plant communities of the Midwest are: Prairies, Savannas, Wetlands and Woodlands.
When the white man drove deeper through the hardwood forest driving westward until they eventually broke through the dark shadows of trees and the shrubs of that forest land and peered out onto the blinding light of the open prairie, it was a sight to behold waving in the wind and appearing as a sea of rolling grasses dotted with the colors of blooming flowers. Indeed this was a strange land to these new visitors. Steeping out onto this sea of grass, the pioneer disappeared and kept moving westward. This land was covered with Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Bear, Cougars, Prairie Chickens, Beaver and all kinds of wildlife.
It wasn’t long before this land was discovered, occupied and changed forever. In the 1800s, Iowans reworked the face of their new state with a speed and to an extent perhaps unparalleled in human history. At the beginning of the century, a blanket of prairie cloaked three-quarters of this “land between two rivers.” Pothole marshes dotted the flatter north-central part of the state, while a network of streams laced the rolling hills elsewhere across Iowa. Dense forests engulfed some valleys in the east and groves of bur oaks climbed out of the river corridors and onto the ridges to form savannas.
Thousands of Native Americans lived on the land, harvesting wild plants and animals, growing crops, and occasionally managing the vegetation with fire. By 1900, however, Euro-American settlers had claimed nearly all of Iowa’s 36 million acres as farmland. Non-Indian settlement officially began on June 1, 1833, when pioneers first were allowed to claim new land in the 6-million-acre Black Hawk Purchase along the west side of the Mississippi River. By 1846, when Iowa became a state, census records listed 96,088 people. The population doubled to 192,914 by 1850 and topped one million before 1870. In 1900, Iowa had 2.2 million people, compared to 2.9 million people today. Most lived on the state’s 200,000 farms, working land where 95 percent of the prairie, two-thirds of the woodlands, and most of the wetlands had been converted to agriculture. This dramatic, swift, almost complete change of diverse prairie to a monoculture of cropland profoundly altered the ecosystem. Twenty-eight million acres of bluestem, dropseed, compass plants, coneflowers, gentians, and hundreds other species were transformed, in a relative eye-blink, into a patchwork of corn, wheat, oats, hay, and pasture. Those plots have expanded to the huge roadside-to-roadside corn and soybean fields that we see today.
Before Iowa was settled a map depicts the vegetation that was present around 1850. Note the majority of the landscape was tall grass prairie. There were thousands of acres of wetlands, especially in Central and Northwest Iowa. The Woodlands were confined to the steep areas along streams and in the Driftless area of Iowa. Rolling and steeper hills were occupied by Savannas.
It only took 60 to 70 years to almost completely change the ecosystem of Iowa. It is said that this was one of the quickest and largest annihilations of a natural ecosystem. Oxen with wooden and steel plows developed by John Deere ripped up the prairie sod and crops were planted.
Glacial deposits occurred over the entire state of Iowa during a period of 2.5 million years and as recent as 10,000 years ago. The only region not affected by glaciations is northeast Iowa where bedrock is exposed in many areas.
A multitude of events were occurring simultaneously during the last glacial period known as the Wisconsian Glacial Age. Notably, while the older glaciers of the Nebraskan, Kansan and Illinoinian had long retreated and left their heavy loads across the state, a new glacier advanced from the north covering the north central and central pars of the state. At the same time huge amounts of silt were blowing in from the northwest from the exposed glacial plains due northwest of Iowa’s western border. Loose materials much younger than the bedrock beneath dominate the present land surface across Iowa. These materials consist of sediment originating from ice sheets, melt water streams, and strong winds during a series of glacial events between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago (Quaternary). This familiar “dirt” consists of pebbly clay, sand, gravel, and abundant silt, which over time have weathered into Iowa’s productive loamy soils. These easily eroded “Ice Age” deposits account for the gently rolling appearance of much of the Iowa (and Midwestern) landscape.
During the Ice Age, glaciers advanced down into the mid-continent of North America, grinding underlying rock into a fine powder like sediment called “glacial flour.” As temperatures warmed, the glaciers melted and enormous amounts of water and sediment rushed down the Missouri River valley. The sediment was eventually deposited on flood plains downstream, creating huge mud flats. During the winters the melt waters would recede, leaving the mud flats exposed. As they dried, fine-grained mud material called silt was picked up and carried by strong winds. These large dust clouds were moved eastward by prevailing westerly winds and were redeposited over broad areas. Heavier, coarser silt, deposited closest to its Missouri River flood plain source, formed sharp, high bluffs on the western margin of the Loess Hills. Finer, lighter silt, deposited farther east, created gently sloping hills on the eastern margin. This process repeated for thousands of years, building layer upon layer until the loess reached thicknesses of 60 feet or more and became the dominant feature of the terrain.
Even though the prairie is gone, it has left us with a black treasure, our soil. Over the eons of time the plants that grew on the prairie formed the richest soil on this planet. Millions of acres are blanketed with black earth known as prairie soils.
What makes soils the way they are? How did Iowa end up being the most fertile land in the world? A unique combination and interaction of all of these factors formed our soils. How are the soils of Iowa different? By changing just one factor, we affect a major change in the soil.
Factors that interacted to form our soils can be simplified to: Parent Material, Climate, Topography, Vegetation, Time and Human Beings.
Soils are conceived, as we are, from our Parent Material. Parent materials are composed of the raw earth that lays exposed to the elements. Major parent materials in Iowa consist of bedrock, glacial deposits called glacial till, water deposited material or alluvial deposits, and wind blown silt known as “loess”. In other parts of the world, soils may be formed in volcanic ash or rock.
Climate has a profound effect on our soils as they are influenced by rainfall, temperature, freezing and thawing, sunlight and day length.
The way the land lays called Topography greatly influences our soils. From the steep hills along river corridors to the level bottomlands, slope of the land can change the characteristics of our soils.
Vegetation and Organisms dramatically affect our soils. Within a very localized area, we can note the effect of our past vegetation and what influence it has had on soils. From the deep rich organic prairie soils developed under the influence of the tall grass prairie to the soils developed under a woodland condition depth of topsoil and fertility vary greatly.
We probably forget about a factor that is ever present and that factor is Time. It is obvious when we think about the sediment deposited by a river or stream, which is in geologic times, is extremely young. What a contrast when we sit atop a rock out crop that has been exposed for eons of time. The stream deposited material stays forever young while the bedrock of a long ago sedimentized ocean bottom gets older and older. Soils can’t hide their age either.
On the recent geologic scene came Humans and they have now joined the forces of soil forming factors. By plowing, the natural vegetation and protection of the soil has been removed increasing erosion to an alarming rate. Topsoil is destroyed, texture of the soil, which allows infiltration of water, is altered, soil forming organisms are eliminated, fertility is diminished as organic matter is washed away and soil tilth is destroyed. Man has and is having his influence on our soils. Fallow land and row crops now occupy land that was once a lush sponge to absorb water and cleanse it.
Once we understand the importance of our geologic past, recent history and soil forming factors, we can start to put together nature’s puzzle. This intricate puzzle laid down over the eons is now at our fingertips for those who pay attention.
What other questions do we need to ask to get this right combination of plants that will fit our site?
Absorbing and understanding the characteristics of our landscapes and soils allows us to then classify our sites. In site classification we will assign a general category to our site based on all the previously mentioned information. There are basically five sites to consider:
Next we need to decide which plant community we are dealing with. It may be a pre-existing condition or one that we want to create. It is usually best to take what nature has given us if we have that opportunity. However, if you live in an urban area, your site may have been severely altered and you will have to decide what you want to create there. As mentioned before, we have four categories of plant communities:
Once the plant community is determined, select the most appropriate species for your plant community. Now you are using nature’s prescription for success in creating your native wildflower planting.
Mother Nature has designed several modes of transportation for her native plants. I’m sure most of people are familiar with some of her tactics. Sometimes it is not a pleasant experience for human beings. These hitchhikers can stick to you like Velcro or stick into you like needles.
Have you ever walked through a wetland or marshy area? If you have and if you weren’t watching where you were going, you may have encountered some Beggar Ticks and not noticed them all over your clothing until it was too late. When your clothing or an animal brushes against the mature seed heads of Beggar Ticks, the individual seeds attach themselves to them by prongs much like a fork. Some have two while others have 4 prongs. Once attached, they are in motion to their new resting spot by you or an animal transporting them free of charge to their destination. Some of the Beggar Ticks may come off your clothing by you brushing up against other vegetation and just knocking the clinging seeds off to fall willy-nilly wherever they may. If they happen to get picked off or fall off in a wet area, they are vey happy because they can sprout again and secure their existence another year. In the spring, the seeds will germinate given the proper moist conditions. If they happen to travel home with you and you decide to pick them off before going into your house, they may fall onto your lawn. In most cases, this would not be a place where Beggar Ticks could survive because it would be too dry not to mention getting mowed down even if they did.
The next time you are out walking in the summer near a stream or in a wetland, be on the lookout for a plant with many pretty yellow flowers. It will probably be in the genus of Bidens or Beggar Ticks or Bur Marigold as they are commonly called. As fall approaches the pretty yellow flowers turn into one of nature’s best-designed hitchhikers.
Iowan’s are planting native wildflowers and grasses at one half the cost of the seed. Through a special program and a cooperative effort amongst private growers, Iowa DNR and Pheasants Forever, it is possible to get a voucher to add much diversity to your landscape using species that are native to Iowa. This is a one of a kind program that benefits everyone involved. It provides wildlife cover for pheasants, deer, rabbits and a host of beneficial insects including butterflies, moths and many other pollinators. The natives include such species as Indian Grass and Big Bluestem which root down to enormous depths into the soil which control erosion much better than European imports such as Broom Grass.
Iowa witnessed one of the largest and fastest ecosystem loss in the world as the Tallgrass Prairie was very quickly turned into corn production. Millions of acres of black rich soil that had been created by the deep-rooted prairie has now vanished.
Thanks to this special Habitat Program created by the cooperation of Iowa Landowners, Iowa Native Seed Growers, The Iowa DNR and Pheasants Forever, the once lost Tallgrass Prairie is returning to once again replenish precious topsoil and control erosion.
By Howard Bright http://ionxchange.com/