Tag Archives: Soils

Wildflowers…Following Nature’s Design

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:

  • Prairies
  • Savannas
  • Wetlands
  • Woodlands

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:

  • Wet Prairie
  • Wet-Mesic Prairie
  • Mesic Prairie
  • Dry-Mesic Prairie
  • Dry Prairie

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:

  1. When you walk across your site with tennis shoes on, do your feet get wet throughout the growing season?  If so, you can bet this is a site for a Wet Prairie Plant Community.
  2. Is the ground soggy at times but eventually dries out and then becomes soggy again?  This could be a good place to establish your Wet-Mesic Plant Community.
  3. Would your site be a good place for a vegetable garden, not too wet, not too dry with fertile rich soil?  Here I would select a Mesic-Prairie Plant Community.
  4. If you think your site is a little bit on the dry side but not extremely dry, you would choose a Dry-Mesic Plant Community.
  5. If your site is really dry and maybe has no topsoil, maybe rocky or sandy I would choose a Dry Prairie Plant Community.

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

  • Swamp Milkweed
  • Swamp Aster
  • Turtlehead
  • Boneset
  • Blue Flag Iris
  • Marsh Blazingstar
  • Great Blue Lobelia
  • Monkey Flower
  • Mountain Mint
  • Buttonbush
  • Sneezeweed
  • Sweet Black-eyed Susan
  • Ironweed
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Riddell’s Goldenrod
  • Blue Vervain
  • Mana Grasses
  • Wool Grass
  • Dark Green Bulrush
  • Bottlebrush Sedge.

2.  Wet-Mesic Plant Community

  • Canada Anemone
  • Sneezeweed
  • Boneset
  • Great St. John’s Wort
  • Wild Quinine
  • Nodding Onion
  • Great Blue Lobelia
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Sawtooth Sunflower
  • Blue Flag Iris
  • Blue Vervain
  • Mountain Mint
  • Swamp Milkweed
  • Prairie Cordgrass
  • Fox Sedge
  • Big Bluestem
  • New England Aster
  • Prairie Blazingstar
  • Marsh Blazingstar

3.  Mesic Plant Community

  • Anise Hyssop
  • New England Aster
  • Partridge Pea
  • Cream Gentian
  • Prairie Blazingstar
  • Foxglove Beardtongue
  • Wild Senna
  • Foxglove Beardtongue
  • Yellow Coneflower
  • Compass Plant
  • Pale Purple Coneflower
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Ox-eye Sunflower
  • White Prairie Clover
  • Purple Prairie Clover
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Butterfly Milkweed
  • Canada Milkvetch
  • Prairie Coreopsis
  • Sweet Black-eyed Susan
  • Smooth Blue Aster
  • Golden Alexanders
  • Rattlesnake Master
  • Big Bluestem
  • Indiangrass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Prairie Dropseed
  • Canada Wild Rye

4.  Dry-Mesic Prairie Plant Community

  • Anise Hyssop
  • Sky Blue Aster
  • Smooth Blue Aster
  • Showy Goldenrod
  • White Prairie Clover
  • Purple Prairie Clover
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Stiff Goldenrod
  • Prairie Alum Root
  • Wild Bergamot
  • Butterfly Milkweed
  • Ohio Spiderwort
  • Pale Purple Coneflower
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Yellow Coneflower
  • Leadplant
  • Partridge Pea
  • Little Bluestem
  • Sideoats Grama
  • Rough Dropseed
  • Canada Wild Rye

5.  Dry Prairie Plant Community

  • Butterfly Milkweed
  • Sky Blue Aster
  • Silky Aster
  • Cream Wild Indigo
  • Partridge Pea
  • Flowering Spurge
  • Showy Sunflower
  • Old Field Goldenrod
  • Alumroot
  • Rough Blazing Star
  • Wild Lupine
  • Spotted Bee Balm
  • Large-flowered Beardtongue
  • Purple Prairie Clover
  • Ohio Spiderwort
  • Hoary Vervain
  • Lead Plant
  • Wild Senna
  • Little Bluestem
  • Side-oats Grama
  • Sand Love Grass
  • June Grass
  • Blue Grama

Remember, nature has these self-made recipes for your wildflower gardens and reconstuction areas.

 To Purchase Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants Visit Us At http://ionxchange.com/

Lesson Learned from the Land Article

As I mapped soils throughout eastern Iowa back in the early 70’s, it was interesting for me to put together a picture of what the original landscape looked like.  In eastern Cedar County, I came upon some soils that did not fit the general description of prairie or savanna soils in that they were somewhere in between the two. I pondered this as I walked day after day over the land and began to see the picture in my mind.  Savannas are transitions from prairie to a micro climate that favors some tree growth.  There must be all grades of transition but what are they called?  When does a prairie become a prairie as we walk westward out of the timber into the savanna into the “prairie”?  When does a prairie become a savanna?  What is your definition of a savanna?  I don’t think there is a definition or name that can be placed on this “la la land of the past”.  One way to look at these ecosystems is to imagine an interaction not individual influences, although they may be critical.  If we back away in time and peer down from above, we can see a constant winning and waning of movement much like the tides that come and go.

What footprint is left in the soil to give us clues to the past? Certainly visual imprints are evident even though the land is now covered with corn and beans.

John Madson, who wrote Where the Sky Began, so beautifully described his vision of coming out of the timber and seeing, looming in front of him, an open sky and a sea of grass as far as the eye could see.  He made mention of the front line soldiers sent out by the savanna or timber which allowed the advancement of the savanna and timber upon the prairie.  Wild plumb trees were sent out as a front line defense or offense depending upon which the environment favored.  Sometimes the battle would be won by the prairie and other times by the savanna and eventually a total overthrow of one over the other but the soldiers of the front line are always forgotten for they are in this “la la land of transition”.   I was reminded of them that day in Cedar County, Iowa as I observed the grainy grey coats of the now vanished front line soldiers of the savanna who left their mark upon the prairie soil profile.  Were they lost in battle as they succumbed to the forces of the prairie or were they stopped dead in their tracks by the ever- advancing moldboard plow?

I am reminded of my life and how it is much like this ever- changing world that we know as Prairie and Savanna but not a struggle or battle but the ebb and flow with the tides of life.  Just as every component of the prairie and savanna are a part of the total wonderment of creation so are we.  Are we on the frontline of change?  Do we have the courage to move forward regardless of the elements that we face?  The lessons of the land are there for all of us if we just open our eyes and hearts and breathe in the intuitive powers of this great planet.

Howard Bright, President
Ion Exchange, Inc.
http://www.ionxchange.com
800-291-2143
“Helping you create your own natural beauty”