Friday, September 26, 2008

Beyond the fence

Earlier this week, I visited one of those lousy tracts of unmanaged woods that rest waiting for a good, old fashioned restoration project. I saw aged, stunted post oaks and blackjack oaks that recall the very open landscape early surveyors witnessed in the 1840s. Stately old trees were surrounded by hundreds, nay, thousands of even-aged oak sprouts growing out of bare soil, no semblance of the rich herbaceous layer Schoolcraft wrote about when he waxed poetic about the Niangua Basin. The early surveyors wrote about how the dew-covered tall grasses and wildflowers soaked their trousers. An elk could hide in the grass layer of these woods back then.

Of course, you can't see the trashed woods without visiting the nice ones nearby, if only to calm the nerves. (I have this terrible habit of getting really tense in lousy woods because I see all the hard work that's required for restoration) Several miles away, a whole gaggle of us stepped into a small woodland that holds the record as the most species-rich acre-for-acre woodland in Missouri (and it's not a Natural Area!). As happy as botanists can get, we all walked gently, single file through the woodland, excited by the 8 foot tall big bluestem! the goldenrods! the legumes! Burned regularly, this tract of dry chert woodlands represents the gold standard, what most woodland managers strive for in the Niangua Basin. We walked on for several hundred yards until we reached a rusty barbed wire fence. I don't know who said it first, but it was repeated several times: "Oh, crap. There's a fence."

Even as late as the 1950s, the US Forest Service printed brochures titled "Ozark Glades: Great for Grazing," with a single fat cow chomping grasses and forbs to the ground. Grazing history on Ozark glades and woodlands goes back further than even the original General Land Office land survey, conducted between the 1820s-1850s in the Ozark Highlands. Fences and cattle were noted by surveyors on the landscape as early as the 1830s, so our records of the historic vegetation are not as pure as many of us would like them to be. The cows, sheep, goats haven't been behind that fence in this tract of woods for -at the very least- 30 years, but their impacts remain: oak sprouts, bare soil, few legumes, a handful of grass, a few generalist species that can show up just as easily in a woodland unburned for 50 years or an old field.

The land managers here do their part on both sides of that rusty fence. They send hot fires through the tract almost annually. Years ago, they thinned some of the trees to allow more light to the woodland floor. But they simply can't repair the damage done by grazing. None of us walked too deeply into the grazed side of the fence because we couldn't break through the oak sprouts.

So you breathe deeply. You return to the sweet spots. You make sure you can protect the ungrazed woodlands and glades. Or you drive around an entire watershed and look for the potential, the unburned acres that would respond better to fire than the area behind the fence. Finally, you hope that the owners of these lands want deer with big racks, woodlands free of brush, a landscape attractive to turkey and quail, because that's the only way these remnant tracts will be preserved.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Prongs to Bay Creek

It never fails: by the time spring fire season is over and I have time to hit the river, water levels at the headwaters of the Jack's Fork River drop so low that the average paddler can't traverse it. Early spring is the only time canoe outfitters travel to the headwaters, but with the recent rain events dumping several inches into the central Ozarks, the two little creeks (hence, "The Prongs") that converge to form Missouri's most pristine river held enough water this past week to allow for a mid-September float trip. To early for burn season, a little late for growing season, but just in time for my birthday.

The Jack’s Fork, one of the rivers protected by the NPS designation of an Ozark Scenic Riverway, is located within the Current River Hills of the southeastern Ozarks. Rich with caves, springs and fens, this river valley is characterized by relief averaging 250-400 feet, most of which is largely undeveloped. Unlike along the lower Current, paddlers can float roughly 30 miles of the river without encountering a pasture on the banks or a cow hanging out in the river. The landscape is curious here: gnarled cedars perch on cliff edges next to ancient pine and oak trees, all inaccessible to loggers of the early 20th century thanks to the rough terrain. Plants indigenous to glades and fens grow adjacent one another, with glade-loving big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) sharing a dolomite boulder with the fen-endemic grass of Parnassus (Parnassia grandifolia). Wet feet-loving stalks of cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) line the sandy banks further downstream, with large fields of herbaceous water willow (Justicia armeria) creating the illusion of land. Small springs feed the length of the river, giving the deep holes a rich turquoise hue. Few exotic species have moved into the Jack’s Fork, though localized populations of garlic mustard have quietly engulfed some of the gravel bars. If the managing agency acts quickly and resolutely, they could stop a massive infestation from edging out the spring blooming bluebells. However, exotic species control -or any other form of resource management, for that matter- simply doesn’t happen quickly in lands managed by government agencies ( my fiddle cries for TNC's management on my favorite Ozark river).

The weather was lovely those three days on the river, with highs in the lower 80s. One windy thunderstorm blustered through one afternoon, turning the sunset black as we set up camp near Chalk Bluff. Gravel bar French lentil curry was great, coffee even better, and we weren’t rushed to get off the river as our cars were waiting for us on a dirt road at the end of the float. My colleagues crammed 36 candles into three Little Debbie Chocolate Fancy Cakes on Thursday night, making my birthday cake the first Little Debbie snacks I had eaten in years…despite how truly yummy and inexpensive they are. We paddled past plants whose populations in Missouri are restricted to the Jack’s Fork, past cliffs dripping with Venus’ maidenhair fern, known primarily from the southeastern US, the Jack’s Fork and the White River Hills of Missouri. We found some curious asters and goldenrods which two of us had never seen before: Aster furcatus, found pendant from dolomite boulders, Solidago drummondii with its sweet little yellow flowers tucked between the upper leaves, and others whose names are tucked away somewhere else in my brain tonight.

But it had to happen sooner or later. It always does when I’m with my smarter-than-me colleagues. Someone in the boat (or in the woods, on a prairie, in a cave) always points out what’s wrong with our location. Landscapes are far from pristine in Missouri, but in a Pollyanna-dominated world view like my own, we always work with what we have left, trying to reverse years of fire suppression and grazing, for starters. My former boss said it before I did, as we rushed past a bank of gravel three feet higher than the water: “There’s too much gravel in this river.” The spring and summer flood events, indeed, flushed inordinate amounts of gravel and sand into the Jack’s Fork. While it’s characteristic to have some vertical accretion of gravels along existing gravel bars, or even new gravel bars formed from the existing gravel load, we saw a river changed by the flood events. Sure, it's the natural course of a free-flowing river like the Jack's Fork, but the gravel load was not there from natural processes. Somewhere in the uplands surrounding the two creeks that feed the river, erosion events occurred which caused the massive gravel load in September.

Oh, this has happened before on a much larger scale. In the early part of the century, clearcutting removed entire Ozark forests and woodlands. The subsequent rain events sent enormous loads of gravel, sand and soil into the river system. There might be a recent clearcut near the Jack's Fork, or there may be other land use practices that would warrant gravel accretion. I tried to ignore it, to instead find cool pieces of chert gravel for the neighborhood kids who are enamored with limestone chat lining the driveways on the block. The massive gravel load may have seriously impacted native mussel beds in the Jack's Fork, burying entire colonies in the course of a few days. We noted the impacts of gravel loads to the state endangered Ozark hellbender. The largest salamanders in the country are slated for a federal listing on the Endangered Species list.

A feeling of powerlessness hit all of us as we rounded the corner past the first black streaked bluff. It was silently decided that we, simply, wouldn't think about least during the float trip. Nothing we can do about it while clad in swimsuits. Nothing we can change from the front of a rental canoe. My fancy letterhead letters back in April imploring NPS to do something, anything, about garlic mustard never even warranted a form letter of recognition. And, anyway, what on earth could the NPS do about timber harvest or inappropriate land use disturbance in the Jack's Fork watershed? The state agency in charge of our waterways just snubbed its nose to the state's water quality, so they couldn't go that route.

But as I sent my fiberglass paddle into the clear, clean river whose water traveled through our single water purifier for drinking purposes, I realized again that it was my birthday. I was sleeping well on gravel bars. The cicadas and katydids kept us company, despite the late date on the calendar. A few lightning bugs were still out. And at least the Jack's Fork frontage is protected by the lofty Scenic Riverway designation. It's really as pristine as it gets in Missouri.

Pictures are much better than my words, so see: one of many little caves carved out of the dolomite; the view from my tent; cardinal flower and the fen-loving Rudbeckia fulgida (no idea what the common name is...); water willow growing where there's normally much lower water levels; Venus' maidenhair fern growing on a moist cliff; Jam Up Cave Natural Area, the site of our only pawpaw haul.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Yerba Maté in Weaubleau

One of my biggest challenges in the Ozarks is actually finding a decent cup of coffee. Unlike the montane West, the Ozarks are still, beautifully, undeveloped. Ozark small towns are small towns without WIFI access, without organic food restaurants, without bike racks and with one (maybe two) restaurants in every town that advertise their cuisine with pictures on the sign rather than words. This is the land of Folger's and Maxwell House, both brands I earnestly tried drinking when I first started my latest job. After the first week of freeze dried coffee in Jefferson City, I swore off coffee at work altogether. My hands wouldn't stop shaking, even after I had seriously limited my intake of drip coffee. So I like to have an activity while I write in the mornings, but my work coffee brand, Folger's, was mandated by an aged secretary who truly detested the big, bold Sumatra beans I brought in. I just couldn't drink it, and not only because it tastes terrible. The old secretary finally retired (not my fault) and the Natural History Program is no longer subject to Folger's. We now serve organic Sumatra 12 steps from the edge of my gray, grim little cubicle.

Being on the road provides another challenge. I really dig little Ozark towns, nestled as they are between stretches of historic savannas, open woodlands, rare, dense forests on the north-facing slopes. But I'm scared of their coffee. I always check the cabinets in gas stations to see what brand they serve. I calmly ask waitresses in the Current River Hills about their coffee. Same story in the Niangua Basin, White River Hills, Springfield Plateau. They all answer the same thing: "I dunno, Folger's?" Dang it. Good coffee is not, apparently, a priority in the Ozark Highlands. Well, so I thought until I traveled west on Hwy. 54 to Stockton, Missouri earlier today.

I raced over steep hills past big, gnarly post oaks, past old fields that were once small prairies, through little towns like Mack's Creek (where, I may add, rests an incredible patch of post oak savanna landscape that can even be seen on Google Earth). Past the shuttered buildings near downtown, just at the edge of Weaubleau, was a beautifully restored early 20th century brick building. Large pots of pink petunias marked the corners of the property, emblazoned above the restored eaves with a serifed "Common Ground Cafe." My beat up travel mug had dried grounds on the bottom. It had been hours, literally 5 hours, since I had groggily made coffee back in Columbia. And I hadn't seen anyplace on Hwy. 54 since Camdenton to snag a cup of decaf to keep me and Gram Parsons company.

Literally covered in seed ticks, khaki pants rolled up to my knees to make scratching ticks off that much easier, I walked into the Common Ground Cafe with a handful of quarters. Whoa. Murals of trees, macrame all over the place, that health food store smell of bee pollen and yeast. I felt like I was in Columbia. The menu was artfully scribed above an industrial espresso machine: homemade granola with carob, poached eggs, spelt bread sandwiches, smoothies made with bee pollen, an entire menu of yerba mates (which I can't drink because they make me absolutely insane. I stay away from mate, especially when in an official vehicle), almond milk, blue green algae extract. This menu diverges rather dramatically from any and every other restaurant I've walked into in the Ozarks. The staff could tell I was stunned.

"So, do know, supported by the local community?" You bet they are. Business is good. Great, even. Common Ground offers produce (which they also sell at Columbia's Clover's and Root Cellar), bulk prices for everything from Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap to vitamins, healthful food, and, for me, a decaf Americano (shot of decaf espresso with hot water). I really couldn't believe it, so I took a takeout menu, upon which the following paragraph offers an explanation:
Have you ever read Mark Twain's story entitled The Prince and the Pauper? It tells the story about two very separated individuals who found common ground where they could relate to each other. At the Common Ground Cafe, we incite you into the warmth of our cozy atmosphere where you can find common ground with us and others from the Weaubleau area. So, please, enjoy your stay, and, if you find yourself wondering what is so different about this cafe and those serving you, please don't hesitate to ask.

I did. I shook hands with everyone there, thanking them for having such a charming place in the Springfield Plains region of the state, an area smack between my office and the prairies I'll help burn later this month. I promised to return when I had more than $1.75 in quarters on hand. I slowly backed out of there, confused but happy to have fancy decaf, wondering if Missouri's next cool town was actually Weaubleau, a town whose name I can't pronounce, or if Common Ground Cafe is an oasis among historic savanna waiting to be burned.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Red admirals

Rare are the occasions when I flip through a fieldguide to a range map that encompasses the entire United States as a present-day range. Such was the case earlier this week when I wanted to learn more about the frequent sitings of red admiral butterflies (Vanessa atalanta) that were landing on us as we ate our cheese and almonds in Shannon County. Members of the Nymphalidae family, red admirals live not only throughout North America in huge numbers, but in Europe, Asia, North Africa, the Azores and even occur, however rarely, in Iceland.

Large numbers of red admirals fly to southern Texas in early fall to spend the winter months in warmer temperatures. Some stay within their breeding range throughout the winter, hibernating during colder periods but emerging like mourning cloaks on those warm winter days that sneak up on us in the Ozarks. They feed primarily on sap, rotting fruit, bird droppings and nectar. Caterpillars of the red admiral feed on members of the genus Urtica, the genus of nettles: rangy, clustering plants that are covered in toxic hairs which cause great irritation to anyone wearing shorts in riparian areas or other moist woods. Common plants in southeast Missouri, the entire understory was dominated by nettles and poison ivy. Stomping through riparian areas of the Current River, I see no shortage of nettles in the Ozarks, either. Red admirals dominated the afternoon butterfly counts in both places.

According to the latest edition of Audubon, the common red admiral habit of landing on people may have caused a little discomfort in 19th century Russia:
...prolific flights over Russia in 1881 gave the insect a reputation as a prognosticator of doom because they coincided with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Look closely at the markings on the underside of a perched red admiral's hind wing and you may be able to read '1881.'

A butterfly as an indicator of impending doom? Geepers. These pretty nymphalids who feed on goldenrods, moldy wild plums, heron droppings and asters in the fall are pretty common in Missouri, a line that doesn't apply to most creatures that depend on our natural lands for sustenance. And as a girl who normally doesn't have the patience to photograph things that move, I genuinely appreciated the red admiral's frequent landings on my colleague's hand as he tried to eat an apple. The ever close viewing, however, did not afford the chance to see "1881" in the hindwing scales.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hope springs eternal and all

Several times a month, Molly feels an urgent need to go to the woods. She gets antsy, paces around the house, barks incessantly at nothing in particular, and doesn't relent until she's in the front seat of my car. The backyard isn't enough for her, apparently, despite the thick understory of little woodland sedges and wildflowers. She finally relaxes after clumsily bailing out of the front seat and into this tract of (overgrazed, overbrowsed, overused by hikers and cyclists, truly abused in every sense of the word) oak-hickory woodlands. Officially located in the Outer Ozark Border, these woods have relief and rock structure typical of the Ozark Highlands. But six miles away as a crow flies my neighborhood rests on clay-based loess deposited during the last glacial retreat, a feature that causes regular flooding of every single basement throughout Columbia.

So, I've been to Molly's woods regularly since December. I've seen the spring ephemerals, rich displays of pinks and blues, come and go. In March and April, diversity is highest along the moist bottoms and in the streambanks. I've watched summer move in as bush honeysuckle and Asian daylilies, both escaped from cultivation, choke out any semblance of native plant diversity expressed in early spring. The glades here have stable populations of shooting star, a delicate cliff-loving plant that almost resembles an orchid when in flower each May. Managers burn the grasslands here almost annually, but the woods would really benefit from a nice hot crown fire.

To add insult to injury, these woods have a distinctive browse line from the woodland floor to 5 feet up each tree, indicating a serious deer overpopulation problem. Hog wire fences interrupt the landscape, serving as a testament to the grazing history which is evidenced in the thick stands of cedars in the woodlands. But Molly likes the leaf litter, the creekbed, the desmodium seeds that stick to her white fur, the open character of the third, maybe fourth-growth woods. So when I find cool plants here, it's genuine lagniappe rather than something to be expected.

Years ago, on a trip to Wisconsin's Devil's Lake State Park outside of Baraboo (home of the Ringling Bros. circus!), I saw my first Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora). Poking out of oak leaf litter in mid-August was a stark white stalk ending in elegant flowers that I had only seen in wildflower books. Lacking chlorophyll, unable to photosynthesize, Indian pipe is saprophytic, gaining all of its nutrients from mushrooms in the Russulaceae family. Actually, Indian pipes are mycoheterotrophs (it's just like Introduction to Greek! Pronounce every syllable slowly, drag the accent back to the antepenult), gaining nutrients from mushrooms that thrive on the roots of trees. Because Indian pipes ever vicariously depend on photosynthesis, they can live in thick, dense woodlands and forests where light seldom (if ever) reaches the floor. Uncommon, Indian pipes sprout up in early fall woods after their host mushrooms have had a chance to thrive. Stepping off the trail as Molly took her leave, we found a small colony of Indian pipes poking through the white oak leaf litter. I tied her to a small maple tree while I admired the intricacies of this curious, delicate plant whose starkness was interrupted by small black flecks.

Moving on at a fast clip, ready to retreat to the kind confines of my local tennis-watching joint, we came into a big patch of asters and goldenrods, usual suspects for dry woodlands, but great indicators of early fall nonetheless. Nestled among a big pile of leaves, Botrychium biternatum poked out, my first fall fern, a relative to the spring Botrychium virginianum. Moving along, ever slowly, my eyes interested in the understory, we encounter Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) all along the streambank, in full bloom. Other rangy, early fall wildflowers were here, too, attracting a host of butterflies and beetles.

Before hoisting my little dog back into the furry passenger's seat, I managed to collect almost 50 pictures, all acquired while Molly moseyed ahead, slowly staying on the trail with her leash dragging behind her, waiting for a squirrel to jump out of the woods. She never gained a fast clip and didn't mind being tied up while I looked over asters and goldenrods, those lovely harbingers of fall. Molly's woods are pretty beat up, but if you look hard enough, you'll find something there, some semblance of what the woods may have included before the abuse. I've seen Ozark woods respond very well to rigorous fire regimes and thinning projects. Perhaps the Ozarks and her outer borders are as resilient as they possibly can be after 100 years of abuse.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Grasshopper Hollow

Several miles before we reached the overgrown parking area, what with its lush blackberry canes and rangy patches of sumac, we pulled over on the rugged Forest Service road to look at the adjacent woods. My colleagues spoke fondly of these woods, having burned them at least once in some 10 years. Usual dry chert woodland suspects were present here in small, diminished numbers, poking through the accumulated leaf litter: desmodiums, dittany, lespedezas (the native ones only), some sunflowers, a handful of native grasses. We stomped along the woodland edge, knowing that what we saw here would dramatically pale in comparison to what awaited us just past the parking area. But rather than waste our time looking at beat up woods, we found ourselves gathering nice big hunks of chert from the roadbed to take home with us. Yes, I realized then, I was in the right company.

After hauling not one, not two, but six enormous blocks of chert into the back of the fancy unblemished SUV, we finally made our way to our destination: Grasshopper Hollow, owned, thankfully, by the Nature Conservancy and not a state or federal agency. I'd heard about Grasshopper Hollow for several years now: it's the "best remaining example of a prairie fen in Missouri," and that it is, unsurpassed, the "largest unglaciated fen complex in North America." And it's in Reynolds Co., the heart of Missouri's Ozark Highlands. My colleague had told me repeatedly that I needed to see it for myself, what with my recent affinity for fen complexes and perennial admiration for prairie plants. But having traversed a veritable maze of Forest Service roads that morning, I realized that I never would have found Grasshopper Hollow for myself, despite decent map reading skills, so it was a definite boon that my colleague took us there himself.

When we finally arrived at the parking area, we gorged on blackberries, each of us eating several handfuls. We commented, as usual, on the lousy state of the woodland edge: exotic spotted knapweed moving into the woods, exotic sericea in the manmade ditches. We've all seen plenty of these non-native plants this growing season, but none of us had seen a pristine prairie fen, managed with fire and so rich with grasses and wildflowers that it was hard to even step for fear of damaging something.

We followed an old logging road to reach the fen, passing a lousy manmade lake and ditch system installed sometime in the past century to deal with the excess groundwater seeping from the fen. But just past the woodland edge was a landscape so incredibly diverse that it rendered me almost speechless; all I could muster was a barely audible "oh, my God." I learned my fen plants from books this past winter, wanting to know the plants upon seeing them in the field so I wouldn't have to rustle through field guides (which seldom -if ever- include fen plants anyway). I learned my sedges, orchids, lilies. Despite the incredible floral display I had seen earlier in the season in Ozark fens of the Niangua Basin and St. Francois Knobs and Basins, I simply wasn't emotionally prepared for the biodiversity of Grasshopper Hollow.

It dawned on me last month when my pictures of the prairie fen were met with a "huh, looks like a grassy field..." that perhaps the incredible richness of high quality prairie fens should be better explained before the pictures are dismissed as old fields. Because few people in this world can write as succinctly as Paul Nelson, I'll borrow his description of the prairie fen from his Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri:
Prairie fens are not as boglike as typical fens. Prairie fens occur on toeslopes along valley terraces or floodplains of larger streams....Soils are somewhat poorly drained to poorly drained and shallow to very deep with a neutral or moderately alkaline soil reaction. Soil fertility is naturally moderate to high. Calcareous groundwater supplies seasonal saturation. Little or no external flow is visible although localized areas of constant internal seepage occur....

Unlike in (formerly classified) deep muck fens, we could walk comfortably through the prairie fen that day, but it took deliberation. Imagine prairie grasses so thick and impenetrable that movement through the fen took a conscious effort, a slow placement of one foot in front of the other between enormous clumps of big bluestem. None of us wanted to forge even a temporary path through the pristine fen, but to walk through it, we had to step on plants. We continued to walk slowly, feeling with our feet patches of bare earth--rare patches at Grasshopper Hollow.

Among the tall prairie grasses were intermingled populations of Culver's root and Michigan lily (both pictured above), providing great splashes of white and brilliant orange to the prairie. We were there too early for the bloom period of prairie dock, but flower stalks 8 feet tall towered above, gearing up for a July bloom. Rare to Missouri wood frogs live here, along with four-toed salamanders and the federally endangered fen obligate, Hine's emerald dragonfly. A host of sedges and wildflowers native to fens thrive here in healthy populations. After we had been on the prairie fen an hour or so, a raging thunderstorm rumbled in, spilling water all over the deep soils of Grasshopper Hollow. I expected the peaty soils to hold water above ground, to turn our walk through the dry prairie fen into a mucky mess. Rather, the rainwater was quickly absorbed by the thick black soils, nourishing the root systems of grasses which reach on average 12 feet into the earth.

Grasshopper Hollow actually contains 15 separate fens representing various Ozark fen types. As the storms moved in, we rushed through the tall grass of the prairie fen into woods recently burned, judging by their wonderful open character and rich ground cover. Roughly 500 yards through the woods, my colleague pressed on ever quickly through an alder thicket so dense and thick we thought we had lost him to it. The rest of the party plowed through, breaking branches and stepping on decomposing logs to avoid soaking their boots in the wet, peaty soils. I lacked the brute force, the strength, to tear through the alders quickly. Leafy branches slapped me in the face, my hair tangled in lower limbs. I grew a little cranky about the alder thicket until I finally saw my colleagues ahead, resting on a log. (It's tough spending time in well managed, open woods and prairies and then stepping into a dense, dark, impenetrable thicket. It's no fun, really, and it makes me tense.) I think they could tell by my expression that I wanted an explanation for the alder thicket and the necessary bushwhacking it required. Why, in a beautifully managed acreage, is it there?

Apparently, Grasshopper Hollow, like many other fen complexes in Missouri, was once home to a thriving beaver population. As the beavers laid waste to the canopy above what may have been a forested fen, alders moved in, perhaps diminishing the fen ground flora. But next to the alders in full sun was a thick groundcover of pinnate prairie coneflower and prairie dock, whose large leaves measured greater than any I'd ever seen on a prairie. The prairie fen, it seemed, continued past the alder thicket. My colleague stands there waiting for me to traverse the prairie dock, looking largely diminished against the strapping waist high leaves.

We waited out the summer storm on the midslope of the woods, watching as lightning crashed to our south. Drenched, soaked to the core, we made our way back to the prairie fen to see the mist rise above the grasses and, again, the vast expanse of fen. Rare are the places in Missouri where exotic species don't have a foothold and prove a challenge to manage. Grasshopper Hollow is one of those places. Of all the literally hundreds of plant species we saw that day, not a one was exotic. No crown vetch, fescue, or even clover could find a spot to thrive in a place so well managed. While I don't know for certain, I imagine the plant list for the complex contains over 300 species. An old field, on the other hand, weighs in under 100 on a good day.