It was in 1991, that I first saw the Eunice Prairie Restoration Project. Since then, I have spent many long days there collecting seed, studying prairie plants and generally learning about prairie ecology. Every moment of that time has been a gift.
I was there again yesterday albeit very briefly. A very charming and beautiful landscape garden it is.
If you just walk around the prairie, you will miss the best part of the show. The show really begins when you step off the concrete and into interior. All the that look weedy along the sidewalks is only there because four or five years ago, we installed the concrete sidewalks along the perimeter edge of the field. Doing this created a major soil disturbance which triggered weedy growth along the sidewalk edge, which has persisted and will persist for some time. But eventually, that disturbance will fade and the prairie will “settle down” and come right up to the walk like it has on much of the north side, where the side walk edge has only a few remnants of the weedy phase left, hanging on.
Step into the interior of the garden near the concrete bench at the southeastern corner of the walkway. That’s a good place to start.
There’s lots of Indian grass in this area, just about bolt to flower. Wade in and let your eyes graze as you walk northeast, toward the rice dryer, the big building to the northwest, in the distance. This is the most garden-like part of Eunice prairie, a few acres in all. Lots of low growing prairie plants are here, massed in seasonal patterns. In the spring you’ll see Pale Coneflower and a good bit of Prairie Parsley: Blue Star-Amsonia and lots and lots of Narrow Leaf Mountain Mint. The whole place is littered with Baptisias, overwhelming the eyes with bright golden-yellow color; they’re mostly Baptisia Sherocarpa, but occasionally you’ll see a few B. nuttallii and of course, the regally fabulicious, B. bracteata, my personal fave.
above, Eunice in April 11, 2013, two months after a prescribed fire, you can just barely make out some color on the ten thousand yellow, rounded orbs of Baptisia. You can tell a lot about the different moisture regimes across the site by looking at the image if you have spent some time on the ground there studying it. basically, where you don’t see Baptisia is wetter soil. Everything on the ground plain at this time of year is very low growing and lush green. Remember, after we burn, its a blank slate, everything starting from the ground-up. click to enlarge the photos
above, Eunice on October 30, 2014, (click to enlarge) the white that’s blooming is Groundsel Bush, Baccharus, with the majority of the garden, brown from native grass growth, which are at their peak fruiting time, and mostly wait-high. I harvested the field for seed, a week after this photo was taken.
The ten acre Eunice Garden is cut in half via site-soil hydrology. The western half is mostly dominant in Brown Seed Paspalum, and in the northwest, lots of Silver Bluestem, Bothriochloa laguroides, mixed in with the Brown Seed. Lots of wet species are here, including Sedges, Rushes, Rhynchosporas and other grass-likes in this western half, not a lot of colorful stuff, besides some swaths of blue of Hydrolia uniflora in the really wet spots and a Hibiscus or two. The eastern half is mostly dominant in Little Bluestem but is chocked full of biodiversity. Of course there are lots of grasses, too. Lots of Big Bluestem and Switch grass, especially along the road edge of the field on the on MLK side, some on the Magnolia side lots of Switch and Gamma.
above, after two years of fire absence, we successfully and safely did our prescribed fire in February this year, with two years of built-up fuel. Needless to say, it went up quite well. This looking to the north, on the western line, where fuel load was a little light. Brian Early, President of the Cajun Prairie Society, is seen in the distance.
just after the burn. We have a scorched-earth policy
Malcolm Vidrine, Phd.,Steven Nevitt, Jake Delahoussaye, Jackie Duncan, and Brian Early, all Society members) made up one part of the burn team.
one of the first Silver Bluestem grass seed heads of the season in full fruit.
After the initial plantings were made at Eunice in 1986-7, transplanting days were often organized to dig clumps of prairie sod from the old remnant prairie south of Eunice that Charles and Malcolm had found during their early prairie hunting days. Many years worth of prairie plugs were dug and put into Eunice and many other restorations. We’d all get together in the dead of winter and fill trailer and trucks and haul them to a garden site, where we’d replant them.
At Eunice, all of those transplants and the original seeding moved west across the field and north to the railroad tracks over the years, fighting its way through the Tallow Tree groves that held their ground. What helped with the prairie’s expansion was the clearing of the property to the west, ten acres of Tallow trees, back in the early 2000’s. When this happened we made several attempts to push back the tide of tallows on our side of the property line, and over time we have whittled it down to the two remaining islands, still quite substantial, that exist today. We have plans for for another attack on those tree islands soon. No trees in the Eunice prairie is a good thing, that’s what Charles Allen says.
Its good, too, that we pilfered plugs from Frey for so many years. Some expert-types scoffed about our digging but we had permission to do so from the owners and we knew that that prairie remnant would likely be ruined in the end, as it was last year; tilled into a rice field in September.
A crime, no less.
I am glad we dug.
a few of the Blazing Stars have started blooming. they’ll be in peak flower on day of the annual Society field trip, August 29th.
Flat-top Goldenrod, yellow, and a cluster of the skyward Kansas Blazing Stars
right in the center of the Eunice prairie, is a huge mass of Kansas Blazing Star, budded-up, ready-to-rock.
this is what that same area looked like on September 1, two years ago (Dr. Charles Allen)
looking south at the marais, without water, its dry, dry, dry, ya’ll but prairie plants don’t care, no. 🙂
Also in the center of the field, looking north, Cacalia shows you where the moisture is. To me, these stands of Cacalia are as impressive as the Blazing Stars. Not often, if ever, you’ll see this much of either in these-here parts. Large areas of Cacalias have naturalized in the wetter parts of the garden
Looking south from the top of the northwest section is a great field of Brownseed Paspalum that has the Bothriochloa and Bushy Bluestem and Little Bluestem scattered in drifts. A giant grass landscape with the tree islands in the distance
Big Bluestem grass inflorescences reach for the blue sky, left
Though its scattered all around elsewhere, a particularly massive bunch of Button Snakeroots is in the very northwest section, just near the monolithic bench, below
These are just a few highlights of a mid-August walk through and around the garden. So many things are out there. You have to step into the garden to see it. Its like stepping back into another heavenly world of visual pleasure.
Come in October where flowering is in its most robust form. All of the latest flowering plants are finishing up before the frost; a flush of flowers, and there are a lot of them for sure.
Walk through the eastern, upland part of the field in October and behold a most unique experience as you will crush under your footsteps, the meadows of Sweet Goldenrod, filling the air with the delightfully fragrant sweet honey-anise scent as you go. Its some fun. Yea.