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Prairie species that grew, bloomed, or didn't germinate during the year after sowing seeds.
Second Year of the Prairie Berm (2004)
January 12, 2006 by Evelyn J. Hadden

	berm spring 2004
The spring after sowing a prairie, some plants exhibit lush growth and others are nearly invisible seedlings.

The spring after I sowed my prairie seeds, the berm remained mostly bare. Streams of melting snow carved fissures in it, carrying off veins of light gravel and sand. Scatterings of non-native seedlings ("weeds") appeared in late March, concentrated as if dumped by parent plants.

In April, I planted some plugs on the dry top of the berm: palmate coreopsis (C. Palmata) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) from a local nursery called the Vagary. I also scattered seeds of blanketflowers (Gaillardia spp.) from elsewhere in the garden.

We had some very cool nights, and overall a cool, wet summer.

In July the first purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) bloomed, and soon others popped up all over the top and upper slopes of the berm. They joined the cheery false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides). Seedlings emerged in waves throughout the summer. Almost every week, I noticed a new plant on the berm.

In late August, a new couple of grasses started putting up seedheads. Actually, they grew from nothing to several feet long in just a couple of weeks. One stood tall and had a gold-colored cone of flower with occasional little black seeds in the cone. The other emerged with each head in a sheath of thick leaf, which then opened in a spray of tiny seeds with long, stiff hairs. These weren't part of my seed mix, and I found a few specimens scattered elsewhere on my property. I was hoping they were local native grasses, so I let them stay until I could identify them or until they became too aggressive.

In early September, the false boneset (Kuhnia eupatorioides) bloomed, a stiff broom of very straw-colored yellow from foliage that had been hidden in the grasses. There were only two specimens growing close together on the sheltered east side halfway down the slope, so they must need more protection and moisture than dryland plants like the prairie clover.

One benefit from sowing seeds is that the plants tend to grow up where conditions are right for them. This should mean less maintenance and better plant health in the future.

In mid-September, the showy goldenrods (Solidago speciosa) and a few Canada goldenrods (S. canadensis) that blew in from the surrounding area started to bloom. They were joined a couple of weeks later by the rigid goldenrods (S. rigida), which unlike most goldenrods have lovely foliage, and by the enormous New England asters (Aster novae-angliae). The asters were delayed by the deer, who kept eating off their tops, but this has made them bushier and postponed their nectar for the winter travellers, so the deer's intervention may be beneficial.

While only a few prairie plants grew past the seedling stage during the first summer, the second year saw many new plants maturing and flowering. Some of these required another winter to germinate, and others germinated the first summer, but after producing a couple of leaves, they devoted a year to growing roots. By its second year, the prairie provided interest with new plants and new growth all during the growing season, and all winter its seed stalks remained sculptural and promised an even better season to come.

berm spring 2005

Summary of Prairie Species Germination

Fairly abundant within the first two years: all kinds of asters (Aster spp.), partridge pea (Cassia fasciculata, annual that didn't reseed after 2nd year), Echinacea spp., early sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), white & pink prairie clover (Dalea spp.), pale yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Rudbeckia spp., Silphium spp., goldenrods (Solidago spp.), Canada & Virginia wild rye (Elymus canadensis and E. virginicus).

Seed that doesn't appear to have germinated: little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), leadplant (Amorpha canescens), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, seedlings don't make it to maturity), butterflyweed (A. tuberosa, ditto), wild indigos (Baptisia spp., even planted seedlings die off unless shaded among taller grasses), tickseed (Coreopsis palmata, only plugs survived, no discernible germination from seeds), foxglove penstemon (P. digitalis, though larger transplanted potted P. s. 'Husker Red' plants thrive), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), gentians (Gentiana spp.), blazing stars (Liatris spp.), wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis).

Species that only germinated very few plants: false boneset (Kuhnia eupatorioides), Canadian milkvetch (Astragalus canadensis), round-head bush clover (Lespedeza capitata), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), side-oats and blue grama grasses (Bouteloua curtipendula and B. gracilis), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), & Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

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