Bluejackets to Jello

Ohio Spiderwort Bloom

Bluejacket bud

Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, also called Bluejacketis a beautiful native forb that produces one bloom each morning. These forbs bloom constantly and profusely from May through July. The flower of the forb is innately sensitive to the day’s rising temperature and each bloom shrivels, essentially dissolving, into a gelatinous fluid by midday. This sensitivity also allows the flora to act as an environmental indicator, responding to air quality and radiation. The spiderwort’s petals change color from blue to violet in reaction to air quality, with the degree of color change an indicator of the amount pollution in the air. As previously stated, this forb is also a sensitive to radiation, and has been used to detect very low radiation levels in its immediate environment. In response to radiation exposure, the forb’s blue stamens turn pink.

Tradescantia ohiensis

Tradescantia ohiensis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This species of spiderwort is a clump-forming, herbaceous native perennial that grows up to 3′ tall with dark bluish-green, arching, unbranched, leaves. Each 1.75 inch wide and 18 inch long vertically-channeled, alternate leaf appears as if it has been folded in half lengthwise as one of a possible eight nodes along a round, smooth or glabrous central stem. The .75 inch to 1.5 inch in diameter, three-petaled, blue flowers occur in a small cluster on the stems at the top of the plant. The forb flowers from late May into early July in the midwestern states and goes dormant in late summer. Each spent flower produces several, tri-sectioned seed capsules that when mature, split into 3 sections, to produce 3-6 oval, brown seeds per capsule. The forb’s root system is thick, fleshy, and fibrous, sending off occasional offshoots nearby making it ideally suited for propagation via root division.

An adaptable plant, Spiderworts tolerate a wide range of growing conditions but prefers moist to medium wet, well-drained, acidic, sandy soil in full sun to part shade. Their leaves respond to harsh weather conditions, competition from other plants, or age by developing brown blotches or becoming yellow in color. Caution should be exercised when planting the Spiderwort in areas with ideal growing conditions since they tend to self-seed and can become somewhat aggressive competition, forming colonies and crowding out other nearby natives. However, it must be noted that when planted in shady conditions, flower production may be less profuse.

Growing conditions, including climate and soil type have an effect on the geographical distribution of a plant. The Ohio Spiderwort is geographically distributed from Ontario south to eastern Texas and eastward to include populations in the midwest as well as northeastern and southeastern states. More statewide specific distribution can be found on the USDA’s Tradescantia ohiensis distribution map. Common throughout Illinois, Ohio Spiderwort’s native habitat includes moist to mesic prairies, black and bur oak savannas, limestone glades, thickets and woodland margins, moist or riverside meadows, and roadside or railroad ditches. Widely scattered, these plants sometimes appear in sizable colonies in disturbed areas. In nature, the Spiderwort is a companion to Big Bluestem, Switchgrass, and Indiangrass as well as Lanceleaf Coreopsis, Bee Balm, Golden Alexander and Pale Purple Coneflower.

Pollination is vital to the survival both the native flora and fauna of an ecosystem. Pollination ecologists have identified several invaluable relationships between the Ohio spiderwort and native fauna. Perhaps the most important relationship is between the forb and bees for they are the predominate pollinators of these flowers as well as most flowering plants. Bees, specifically the long-tongued bees, honey bees, bumblebees and Halictine bees feed on the Spiderwort’s nectar and in the process carry pollen from one Spiderwort flower to another flower of the same species, leading to successful pollination of the forb. Other fauna such as Karner blue butterfly, Syrphid flies, Leaf beetles, White-tailed deer, Cottontail rabbits, Box turtles, snails, and various species of birds use the Spiderworts as a food source, feeding on stray pollen, foliage, or seeds. The non-toxic foliage, particularly its flowers and stems, are added to salads and said to have a flavor similar to asparagus.

Commonly found in prairies, the beautiful Ohio Spiderworts play an important role in ecological restorations. Not only does it provide a food source for many native fauna species it also acts as gauge in determining the health of a habitat. Plant a few spiderworts in your garden to help establish a sustainable landscape!

Resources

“Bumblebee Behavior.” Bumblebee. N.P. 1997. Web. 12 Jul.2012.

“Tradescantia ohiensis Raf.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. N.D. University Teas at Austin. N.D. Web. 12 Jul. 2012.

“Tradescantia ohiensis Rafinesque.” Flora of North America. eFloras,  Missouri Botanical Garden & Harvard University Herbaria.  2008. Web. 7 Jul. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Definitions and Line Drawings of Botanical Terminology.” Illinois Wildflowers. N.P. 2002. Web 6 Jul. Web. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Flower-Visiting Insects of the Ohio Spiderowort.” Illinois Wildflowers. N.P. 2002. Web. 6 Jul. Web. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Ohio Spiderwort.” Illinois Wildflowers. 2002 N.P. Web 6 Jul. Web. 2012.

Ichikawa, Sadao. “Somatic Mutatiion Rate in Tradescantia Stamen Hairs at Low Radiation Levels: Finding of Low Doubling Doses of Mutations”The Japanese Journal of Genetics . 47 (6) 1972: 411–421. Web.

Tenaglia, Dan. “Tradescantia ohiensis Raf.” Missouri Plants.  N.P. N.D. Web. 11 Jul. 2012.

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Restoration in Progress

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke (Photo credit: pchgorman)

During the past three decades, public interest in prairie restoration has grown significantly. The motivations to participate in ecological restorations vary; for me, working to restore a piece of the prairie, both as a volunteer steward and as an individual, provides a source of spiritual renewal. Not only am I spiritually, but also physically renewed in the process of reclaiming the land and building a piece of the prairie. Sweat equity is a rejuvenating tonic!

An ecologically sound and thriving prairie landscape is built using a complex and diverse plant community comprised of many different species of grasses and forbs. In fact, restoration ecologist, Roger C. Anderson has identified the four components required to recreate an ecologically sound prairie.

Four ingredients necessary for ecological restoration
to be successful include: (1) a vision of what the ecosystem
being restored should be like when the restoration is finished,
(2) an understanding of the ecological processes needed to
restore and maintain the ecosystem, (3) knowledge of the
specific restoration skills and management practices that
are needed, and (4) public support for goals of ecological
restoration and confidence in the principles that form the
scientific basis for restoration. Research can contribute to all
of these components (Roger C. Anderson).

With these four elements in mind, one must also consider that “…each restoration site is unique in terms of its original ecological attributes, kinds, extent, duration and  intensity of human disturbance, and management activities, each restoration solution must be unique” ( Stephen Glass). After thorough ecological assessment of the site, the first physical restoration step requires the removal of invasive plant species from the site. Stephen B. Glass, a restoration ecologist, believes a restoration plan that “…ignores the fundamental causes of the pest species invasion and just treats the symptoms,” will result in a continually frustrating battle between the restorer and the invasive species. He suggests that when one tackles the underlying cause for the invasive species prevalence in a habitat by treating it like a “repair job.” Look at “…what you know, what you don’t know, and what you will need to learn to solve the [restoration] problem” (Glass). Specifically, look for an “… altered hydrology, or soil disturbance, or increased soil fertility. If the underlying cause is not dealt with, then continued frustration and [re-occurrence of invasive species] will be likely” (Glass).

In a previous post, Invasives Begone, I outlined the steps for land preparation in the restoration process. Therefore, once the invasive plants have been dealt with, the seedbed prepared, the next step is to reconstruct the plant community. Native plants are given the greatest opportunity to thrive if local ecotype seeds or plugs are used to reestablish the health and biodiversity of an ecosystem. After the seeds or plugs have been planted, the rest of the first growing season is spent watering and weeding the seedbeds. The second season requires spring removal of dead plant material and weeding. The first blooms are likely to appear during growing season two or three.

Below, I have linked two videos that exemplify a restoration in progress. The prairie restoration demonstration video produced during the 2010 Chicago Lawn and Garden show does a great job of illustrating the steps of the restoration process.

How to Restore a Prairie

The second video also does a nice job of showing the annual progression of a Minnesota prairie restoration garden.

My North American Tallgrass Prairie Restoration/garden

Related articles

Resources

Anderson, Roger C. History and Progress of Ecological Restoration in Tallgrass Prairie. Pp. 217-228. Chapter 13, INHS Special Publication 30: Canaries in the Catbird Seat, Univ. of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana 2009. Print.

Glass, Stephen B. “Thoughts on Restoration Management.” WingraSprings, N. P. Web. 6 Mar. 2012.

If You Build it They Will Come

A Restored Prairie: Liberty Prairie Reserve

Tallgrass prairies that once covered millions of acres of the American Midwest, including Illinois, now cover less than 1% of its original area. Recent interest in prairie restorations and landscaping with native plants have begun to make a bit of progress in re-creating one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems in the world. Native prairie plants are resilient, drought-resistant, and attract many species of native wildlife, including birds and butterflies. For information about butterflies and other insects native to northeastern Illinois, visit Ron Panzer’s website.

Birds and butterflies require three essential elements in their habitat: food, water, and shelter. The natural food, shelter, and water provided by prairie plants will attract the widest variety of birds and butterflies. Another bonus is that prairie plants help to establish a food web where the butterflies and their larval stage caterpillars serve a major food source for birds and other wildlife. So, “if you build it, they will come.”

Knowing that our efforts to re-create a prairie ecosystem would increase the native fauna in our own backyard, made us want to forge quickly ahead! Once we had selected the restoration site, we quickly realized that the project was going to take years to accomplish. As seasoned DIYers, we knew that our dreams and enthusiasm were always greater than our time and endurance, nevertheless, determination to make a positive impact on our environment prevailed. We decided that the restoration project would be much more doable by dividing the designated restoration area into smaller, more manageable portions. Our property’s plat of survey coupled with measurements taken in the designated restoration area shown below in green provided us the dimensions needed to sub-divide the region in to manageable pieces. Once we had selected the sub-site section and prepared the seedbed, the next task was to design the garden.

Land Plat with Designated & Divided Restoration Areas Displayed in Green

Graph paper supplied a grid that helped us accurately design the gardens. The grid system enabled us to map out the size and shape of each sub-section site, as well as plot the site’s other physical features that will influence the prairie garden such as shrubs, trees, or creek. Drawn to scale, the plot’s square footage could be determined. Determination of the site’s area helped us calculate the number of plants and their placement on the site. As a general rule, forbs are to be planted twelve (12) inches on center and grasses planted eighteen (18) to twenty-four (24) inches on center. Below is a layout for sub-section H and a photo of the partially prepared slope.

Restoration Sub-section H Plot

Partially Prepared Sub-section H slope

Proper flora balance is recommended to promote the establishment of adequate ecosystem biodiversity and provide a visually appealing garden year round. Sub-section H has a fairly steep slope, which required the installation of fascines to help limit erosion. Deep-rooted forbs, grasses, and sedges were used in conjunction with the fascines to more permanently stabilize the soil.

We selected most of the plants for our creek side restoration project from those listed in the Native Plant Guide for Streams and Stormwater Facilities in Northeastern Illinois prepared by the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Services’ Chicago Metro Urban and Community Assistance Office, as well as  Swink and Wilhelm’s book, Plants of the Chicago Region. The USDA guide helped us choose plants that were well matched to our garden’s sun exposure, soil conditions and type. Armed with our garden design it’s now time to build fascines and grow native plant “plugs” for installation in our garden.

Local & national birding information:

Crimson Switch Grass

Who knew that Switch Grass, Panicum Virgatum, a perennialturns a brillant crimson color in the fall! These grasses are absolutely gorgeous against the browns and ambers which predominate the fall prairie tones.  Started from seed and planted as seedlings, these one year old plants were installed to stabilize a hillside. Switch Grass is commonly used to prevent soil erosion because its deep fibrous root system extends into the soil to a depth of ten feet. A comparative root depth diagram can be seen on Minnesota’s DNR web page. Deep soil penetration of the Switch Grasses’ root system acts as a natural herbicide by blocking weed growth, as well as, increases the soil’s fertility, permeability, and organic material!

Switch Grass

Switch Grass is of fairly hardy stock, tolerant of prairie soil conditions ranging from moist to dry. The grass requires full sun to part shade for optimum growth. This tufted grass, a native of North America and a dominant species of the Tall Grass Prairie, grows to about 36 inches tall and 20 inches in diameter with seed heads reaching to a height of five feet. The Switch Grasses’ large size and upright growth also provides wildlife protection and nesting sites. The attributes of this native plant help to sustain the prairie habitat. Both man and nature can reap ecological benefits by planting a few Switch Grass plants here and there.


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