Pond Project: Planning for pollinators – plant grass

The backbone of my pond naturalization project will be little bluestem. One of the most widely distributed native grasses in North America, it is tough and adaptable, handsome, and companionable to all the showy flowers anyone could want in a meadow or eastern prairie. It is not nearly as tall as big bluestem, so you can look out over an expanse of little bluestem. It is not as fussy about soil fungi as lovely Indian grass, so you can start with little bluestem and let it create the soil into which you can plant fussier plants in subsequent years.

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is a neat bluish-green clump for most of the summer.

Little bluestem seed awns.
Little bluestem seed awns.

It starts to elongate its flowering stalks in late summer, getting about mid-thigh high in most soils. It really comes into its own in late September and October when the leaves turn red and the seed awns are fluffy and white and catch the slanting autumn light. It is great winter fodder for herbivores. Bison like little bluestem hay, and so do domestic rabbits.*

Little bluestem thrives in dry and sandy soils, which is what we have got. I won’t put it in the damp soil next to the pond – that is the future home of blue flag iris, swamp milkweed, and cardinal flower. The dry, sandy surround of the pond – remember this is an old farm pond, not a naturally occurring wetland – will be planted in a flowery butterfly-attracting meadow of, yes, little bluestem. Continue reading Pond Project: Planning for pollinators – plant grass

A visit to Prairie Alvar on Cape Croker

Neyaashiinigmiing prairie
Alvar grassland at Cape Croker

This past Saturday I had a chance to visit an extraordinary place: the alvar grassland on the shore of Georgian Bay near Cape Croker. The trip was organized by the Field Botanists of Ontario and led by Jarmo Jalava and Tony Chegahno.

The beauty of the place was both breathtaking and subtle. Breathtaking, because the alvar lies under the towering limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escapment and is bounded on two sides by the rocky shores of Georgian Bay. Subtle, because a flat expanse of grass, dominated by poverty oat grass (Danthonia spicata), over which dance the flowers of the common weeds, white sweet clover and Queen Anne’s lace, is going to look a lot like, well, like any old field. It is only when Tony and Jarmo directed me to really look at what was growing did I understand that this is a splendid example of native grassland such as can be found nowhere else in the province. Continue reading A visit to Prairie Alvar on Cape Croker