Patience on the Prairie
What are your predictions for 2018? Will we have a female president? Will the lesser prairie chicken no longer be a species of concern? Will we have world peace? Will an Oklahoma team make it to the NCAA Final Four?
While we enjoy taking stabs at forecasting the future, by no means are we psychics. But as conservationists, we can tell you it is highly probable you can view another 10 acres of beautifully restored prairie in the rolling Cookson foothills of the Ozarks. This highly-diverse prairie will be beaming with native wildflowers and forbs, waiting for conservation-oriented individuals like you to visit and marvel at its beauty.
J. T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve | April 04, 2013
Pictured above is one of the many prairie restoration units at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve. Plants in the photo include gayfeather (liatris pycnostachia), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), and rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium).
In four to five years, we will enjoy the fruits of staff labor from recent prairie restoration efforts at the J.T. Nickel Family Nature and Wildlife Preserve near Tahlequah. Last month, staff planted 83.4 lbs of hand-collected native wildflower and forb seeds on approximately 10 acres that was once a bermuda and fescue cattle pasture for grazing.
“Since our restorations efforts began in 2000, we have restored 585 acres of prairie at the preserve. With this recent restoration effort, it took us a year to collect the seeds and only one day to plant them," Preserve Director Jeremy Tubbs said. "Now we let Mother Nature take over and wait for the seeds to germinate and grow.”
When restoring prairie from hand collected, local seed, it is essential to first learn which species should be reintroduced, where those species can be found, and when those species are ready to be harvested. We typically collect 50 or more species. Some of the dominant tallgrass species include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), rosin weed (Silphium intergrifolium), compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), lead plant (Amorpha canescens), rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccafolium), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), gayfeather (Liatris pycostachya), and coneflowers just to name a few.
After the seed/seed heads are collected, they are dried and then processed through a hammermill. The hammermill will free seeds from their pods, capsules or heads and get rid of waste and large stems. The most effective method of seed germination at the preserve has proven to be the use of a No-till drill which creates a small furrow in the surface of the soil and drops the seed into the furrow at approximately 10 pounds per acre. After the seed has been drilled in the restoration unit, it is important to consistently control invasive species that can decrease diversity or create a mono-typical habitat. Consistent prescribed fires every one to three years is essential for the production of a tallgrass prairie. Fire increases available nutrients, promotes many native plant seeds to germinate, and will allow the native plants to have a competitive edge against invasive species that may not be fire tolerant.
Along with invasive control and fire, the third tool required is patience. It can take years before much of the seed germinates and grows into a reproducing plant. “Restored areas will provide important habitat for nesting and wintering birds, deer, quail, turkey, and small mammals,” Tubbs said. “Ultimately, our efforts will enhance the connectivity and ecological functionality of the Ozark ecosystem.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.