Friday, September 28, 2012

New to Missouri, rev.

I really don't know what to say about the site I visited today, a pine woodland burned in late April with thinning slash on the ground:
Late April fires in normal weather/seasonal conditions traditionally hit the midstory pretty hard, but this past April, being advanced two weeks in the greening process, this fire really put the hurt on the canopy. I don't know what to say about a stand replacing fire that was implemented with slash on the ground and years of fuel loading. A few live pine trees remain on the site, and the understory is dominated by incredibly robust fireweed, a few desmodiums (averaging 5 ft. tall in flower--I had stick tights in my hair this afternoon), and a species not documented from Missouri before this fire event.

Missouri's finest botanist, the stellar Justin Thomas of the Institute of Botanical Training, worked plot settings in this burn unit recently, and leave it to Justin to find yet another new-to-Missouri species. It seems that during each growing season I hear of another new-to-Missouri species (almost monthly) that Justin has discovered. He covers more ground than anyone I know in the field, and he has an encyclopedic knowledge of vascular plants. These new species aren't the recently-split varieties, new because they weren't classified as such during the last publication of a Flora. No, Justin finds Gulf Coastal Plain plants in the bootheel, Arkansas plants in White River country, and recently, in this fireweed-dominated burn unit with all the dead pine trees and residual slash, he discovered the pine woodland plant, Eupatorium album, in Missouri. Since the first publication of this post, I have learned that he also found E. album in the gravel washes nearby this site, so this is not a fire-dependent species. 

The plant was almost in seed by the time we saw it last week, having been discovered in flower almost one month ago. In my company (the hand) was a botanist from longleaf pine savanna country, Ft. Benning Georgia, who says that this plant is in pine systems in Georgia, but normally associated with low intensity, frequent ground fires and not blazing hot, stand-replacing fires, the likes of which occurred here in the Ozarks in April. Further, said botanist has never seen a more robust specimen than the ones we saw today which were scattered all over this site. 

In Arkansas, this plant is relatively conservative and occurs in Northwest Arkansas in burn units, with the nearest location to today's site over 100 miles away. E. album is not necessarily tied to exceedingly hot fires, and can be found in typical pine-bluestem systems, the same ecotype desired in the tract visited today. 

We visited other super hot spring fire sites today and didn't find the plant, but found -expectedly- fireweed, pokeweed, and robust panic grasses. Why did E. album appear in Missouri after this extremely hot fire, in the absence of other plants, and in nearby gravel washes? Is this another disturbance dependent species in Missouri?  

Across the road from the new plant site, I found a robust Liatris aspera that reached almost 5 ft. tall, surrounded by others (pictured) which had been summarily clipped off by deer. Burn an Ozark woodland and the overabundant deer will come to eat up nature's food plot, namely the conservative forbs. Like the other Eupatoriums, E. album is likely unpalatable to deer since it was the only forb in the area untouched by the voracious hooved creatures. 


Friday, September 21, 2012

Hungry Birds

On those common occasions when I visit an earnest Missouri winery, a winery that produces wine made from grapes grown in Missouri, a winery owned by good folks who want to make a great product rather than running a winery to "grow a portfolio," I usually sign up for their email newsletters. I've subscribed to a few, maybe 10, some which deliver weekly updates (River Ridge, Commerce, every Friday) and others (Augusta Winery, Augusta) randomly, but always welcome. As an email newsletter recipient, I'm among the throngs who learn of case discounts on Norton (which I still can't afford), of live music (which I'll never hear because I don't like being around crowds of people), special pairings (which I never attend because I don't drink whites and pairings always include whites). The best part about the newsletters, however, is the actual news about the winery: how are the grapes holding up in the drought? is harvest underway? challenges to the latest vintage? forecasts on barrel tastings? I look forward to the news-ier newsletters and tend to read them in their entirety.

Last year, I learned that Yellow Farmhouse (Defiance) lost most of their Traminette grapes to the American Robins who devoured them just before harvest. What a tasty treat! This grape-snatching devastated the 2011 vintage, so this year, Yellow Farmhouse invested in simple- but effective -bird netting. On a recent visit to Yellow Farmhouse in Defiance, I saw a few sparrows jostling the netting draped over the Traminettes in an effort to get inside to eat the those big fat grapes, but they were thwarted by the careful application of the plastic netting material. "It's not very attractive," the sweet man at the tasting bar told me, "but it's effective."

In the past few weeks, I've received at least four Missouri winery newsletters with articles bemoaning the loss of much of this year's harvest to hungry birds. One St. James area winery suggests that the drought has encouraged birds to seek food sources outside of their natural settings, so they're hitting up vineyards in the area. The Norton vines were particularly hard hit this year on the Central Plateau, and next year, this winery, too, will be investing in bird netting. Another winery in the central Ozarks invested in bird netting for their Norton grapes, but no others. The Seyval Blanc was wiped out, but the Norton was saved.

Even in years of hungry bird populations visiting unprotected vineyards, Ozarkers are still producing fine Missouri wines. Before my birthday trip back home to Louisiana last week, snaking through the Ozarks I snagged several bottles of 2011 Traminette and Vignoles (since EVERYONE in Louisiana but me drinks whites during hot weather) to hand out as gifts (along with Honeycrisp apples from Moberly and kale from my yard). All well received, and summarily consumed. I suspect that as there are farm forecasts of blackbirds on rice fields, there are forecasts of songbird population impacts to wine grapes. Right? Surely someone is tracking that...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

After the Rain

Fall wildflower season is well underway after the recent spate of rain rehydrated the landscape. The desiccated 100+ degree days which seemed devoid of all natural life may be behind us this fall. During the drought, large populations of Gaura biennis exploded in blooms along long stretches of highway in certain parts of the Ozarks, while other flora (Desmodiums in particular) waited for the rain before they flowered. I don't recall seeing as much Gaura in years past, and I wonder if the lack of mowing on the roadsides this summer accounted for their persistence this year.

Nevertheless, Asters and goldenrods, Boltonia and Bidens, Desmodiums and Spiranthes, they've all perked up since the rains last week. I haven't seen as many box turtles in the woods since spring as I did this week, either. The natural world that virtually went dormant during the drought (barring a handful of species that didn't bat an eye to the three months without rain, especially glade species) is active again, just in time for float season.


Monday, September 03, 2012


The very hurricane that flooded the homes of many friends (even as far north as Prairieville, Louisiana) and left everyone I know back home without power for at least 6 days, going on 7 in some parts, dumped 3.45" of much needed rain to my yard and across the Ozarks. For the past few weeks, flocks of birds-robins, titmice, wrens, blue jays, the suite of winter birds- have discovered the fine mist sprinkler I set up for my kale and chard beds. The birds appreciate the pools of mud that occur after 20 minutes of watering, and they fight over the cheap (but effective) birdbath set up near the garden. Soaked blue jays are particularly endearing. I haven't seen as many birds in the bird feeding area of my yard since "winter" of last year.

The task begins: knock back the rust colored stalks of Silphium perfoliatum that didn't make it through the drought, smack down the Tovara that bit the dust, and watch as the resilient grape vines, eupatoriums and goldenrods set buds following the rain event. Fireline preparation begins, along with a scary visit from an inspector to make certain my terrific San Francisco-based landlady is not a slumlord. With the rangy dead stalks still standing (mostly for the wintering bees), the yard almost looks "blighted," as they say around here. I think it looks autumnal. In the eye of the beholder and all that, I guess...