In January at the New Directions ecological conference way-up north, I about fell out my chair when one of the nationally recognized design gurus said something to the effect that he/she wasn’t sure if we could actually replicate a natural area via landscaping. I lost some of respect for this person instantaneously. What was this person thinking? He/she should have shown up yesterday when one of the Masters of fire ecology for the Eastern U.S. Coastal Plain, Dr William J. Platt, arrived with ten of his very capable Conservation Biology students to count species at the Chapapeela Sports Park in Hammond.
I would be happy to include that unmentioned person in either of the field trips hosted by LSU’s Hilltop Arboretum in Baton Rouge(April 10) and the Crosby Arboretum in Picayune, Mississippi(May 17) to Meadowmakers’ fields in Henleyfield, Mississippi. There he/she would see what fifteen years does after a meager attempt at prairie-meadow gardening by someone who didn’t know much at the time, armed only with ambition and shear determination(and little bits of precious seed). Anyway, I hope one day this person gets it, because right now, restoration of diverse natural flora is being done in the Deep South, and being done very well, thank you. …especially considering the high hurdles one needs to clear to actually do this work….
The class spent yesterday afternoon, about five hours, laying out fifteen plots, one meter square. We worked to find fifteen plots similar in vegetation make up. Once we got the 15 set up, we started counting species. I will just say that even I was surprised at the diversity! It is amazing how the closer to the ground you look, the more species you find. Incredibly diverse stuff for a one-and-a-half-year-old planting. We also counted the number of each of the species, all except the grasses. So we got species diversity and species richness determined.
Grasses are the dominant plants in the plantings, Little Bluestem mostly, with some Indian grass and Dicantheliums, etc. These we didn’t document, wildflowers only(you can only do this when the grasses are in flower, in the fall).
Then we did sampling of the biomass by cutting small additional squares outside of (but adjacent to) the plots. These will be weighed to determine how much fuel we have.
Dr. Platt and the “clean-up” crew take a short break during plot study-time. Kimber the Wonderdog played mostly at the water’s edge but did some serious over-seeing in between dips. She would play an occasional prank by getting thoroughly wet and then shaking water off her back right next to us samplers. What a card she is.
above: a finished plot, not much to look at, really but lots going on in “thar”.
above: each species was marked with a flag and a numbered tag so that when the fire’s done, we’ll still have the flag “wire-posts” and the tag left to find.
above: This was produced for the interpretive end of the Park design. Its one of four signs that the Landscape Architects, graphic artist Margaret Wilkinson and myself collaborated on. This particular sign is really nice, I think. click on it to see it up-close. It describes the succession of the meadow gardens through the year.
The actual experiment we are doing is counting species richness and diversity before the burn. Then we will add wheat straw in five plots, pine needles to five others and leave five without additional fuel. The hypothesis is, does pine straw, with its high temperature burning, effect seed germination more than the normal level of grass fuel?
After the burn, we will collect the ash from some plots to see what is left in biomass ash and then seed rye grass since it is so readily germinated. This may tell us if pine fuels are more beneficial to seeding by “clearing” the soil surface better. Does one set of plots show better results when seed is added after the burn?
We have gotten permission for our controlled burn from the town leaders at Hammond mainly due to the influence of our Landscape Architect Adam Perkins and the Chapapeela Park Manager Randy Albarez. The long term plan is to set these plots up permanently for each year’s Conservation Biology class to study.
I hope you can make the scene Tuesday. You’re welcome to come by and see it all go up in flames. Hot dang! You can meet the students and Dr Platt.
It should be exciting since the weather is supposed to be dry after what is probably one of our last winter cool fronts passing through, with wind in the ten to fifteen MPH range, which makes for some hot fire, ya’ll. Come on! Hope to see you there.