Prairie Meadow Update – August 22, 2013

If you haven’t checked on it lately, the prairie meadow is blooming and beautiful.   Here are a few photos from earlier this week.

Here’s the view from the edge of the woods.

prairie 1


Joe-pye Weed

prairie 3


Tall Sunflower and Cut-leaved Sunflower are the two tallest flowers, in the back and the left side of the photo.  In the foreground you can see Joe-pye weed, Boneset, Grass-leaved Goldenrod, and Flat-topped Aster.

prairie 2


Walking along the path.

prairie 4


A clump of Monkeyflower – a plant that likes very wet soil.

Mimulus ringens


And Field Thistle – a beautiful native thistle.  We think of thistles as weeds because the ones we most often see are exotics (from other places), and they are aggressive and troublesome.  But there are beautiful native thistles that aren’t aggressive.   They grow well in large gardens  (they’re very tall), and butterflies love their flowers.

Cirsium discolor

I’ve been puzzling why our prairie is continuing to be so tall.  The prairies I’ve planted at the farm are usually tall for a few years, but as they mature they get shorter.

I suspect the reason may be the amount of nutrients in the soil.  The prairies at the farm are planted in old crop fields.  At first the leftover fertilizer that’s in the ground makes the plants all grow very tall.  But after a few years the plants get more crowded – as they grow bigger root systems, and more seeds grow into more plants – so there are fewer nutrients to go around.  So the plants get shorter.

The plants in our prairie meadow are being constantly fed more fertilizer from our lawns.  The rain runs off from our lawn and from the park, down into the bottom of the meadow, and brings fertilizer with it.  The prairie meadow plants are very crowded, but there’s no shortage of nutrients –  so I suspect that our prairie will always be tall.