We took a walk today along the east side of the Mississippi River just down stream from Coon Rapids Dam. The park here invested about ten years ago in a major prairie restoration project which has been paying off big time in recent years. The following is a sampling of the scenery, mainly focusing on flowering plants in the prairie areas, but there are a couple of woodland plants and a few other items of interest as well.
I've numbered the photos so you can provide suggested identifications of any items you recognize. For some photos, you can click to get a larger image. Most larger images are not more than 1700 pixels wide, and will appear in a window with scrollbars.
4) This person must have really loved plants.
I'm not certain on the insects but can identify most of the plants.
â2. Black-eyed Susan
3. Canada Thistle (weed)
5. Some kind of vetch. Probably cow vetch.
6, 7. Monard fistulosa (bee balm, wild bergamot)
9. Bird's foot trefoil (weed)
10. Black-eyed Susan and common yarrow
19. Culver's Root
26. Vervain (genus Verbena). I'd have to get a closer look at the leaves, but I'd guess Verbena hastata - swamp vervain, since the leaves look lance-shaped. It could also be hoary vervain.
I'm no good with the plants but:
17. Indigo Bunting
21/22. Ebony Jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)
I know only number 4
Jaf, you are very good! I didn't know many of those. There's just one I have to disagree with you about. #3 is not Canada thistle. Not sure yet what it is yet though.
Ugh. #3 appears to be spotted knapweed, a true pest.
I may have identified #3. It looks like spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa). It is a non-native plant that actually changes the soil composition to favor its own reproduction. Not good!
Damn. We should have killed it when we had the chance!
18. Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tartarica), another annoying invasive
20. White Campion (Silene latifolia), naturalized from Europe
I've been to that park, it's awesome.
Jordan, #20 doesn't look like white campion to me. Look at the base of the flower (calyx). Also, the picture shows the flowers to be grouped together in a way that is different from campion. But I'm still not sure what it is.
#20 should be Saponaria officinalis or Bouncing Bet.
I'm all for ecological restoration, especially of prairie ecosystems. If you're thinking about undertaking a prairie restoration project of any scale, I recommend Packard and Mutel (ed.) 1997, The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook. Unfortunately, and I speak from personal experience, it's virtually impossible to put things back exactly the way they were.
Tallgrass prairie is an early successional stage on the eastern Great Plains. To persist, it requires periodic disturbance, or it will succeed to forest. Before euro-american settlement, it was maintained by lighting- and human-set fire, on a 2-5 year return interval; and by grazing, chiefly by bison. Simulating those agents is problematic: fire scares the neighbors, and grazing is unprofitable if managed sustainably. Mowing isn't a very good substitute, because nutrient cycling is inefficient and thatch builds up, and because many of the characteristic plants require fire and/or grazing to reproduce.
Beyond the disturbance factor, some key components of the original biota, like predators and pollinators, are missing, while the weeds - introduced invasives like those in photos 3, 5 9, 18 and 20 - are here to stay. Most weed species thrive with frequent disturbance. Some have seeds that can remain viable for decades, and have built up practically inexhaustible soil seed banks. Without careful preparation and management, weeds can quickly dominate a restored prairie.
Having said all that, I'd love to see more projects like Coon Rapids Dam. A restored prairied may not be an exact replica of what was there 300 years ago, but it can be a reasonable facsimile. It just takes a perpetual commitment of money and labor. Public support is the biggest challenge for prairie restorationists, because without donated funds and volunteer labor, few projects will succeed in the long run.
Leopold said, "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen." Prairie restoration can help open eyes. It's a good sign that prairie restoration has captured the public's imagination in parts of the tallgrass region. I hope it spreads.