Grady Oak Savanna and Greene Prairie

170718_Greene Prairie_4454_web

Donning proper clothing and bug spray, we ventured through the woods of the Arboretum’s Grady Tract (so named for the family that once owned most of the land there) to view its knolls and Henry Greene’s famous 50-acre restored prairie. It was a muggy Sunday afternoon with refreshing rain sprinkles at the top of the one o’clock hour, with temperatures in the upper 70s.

One of the plants growing in those woods, and currently in bloom, always catches visitors’ eyes, and this trip through Grady was no different. The tall flowers and the bright fuchsia racemes holding dark purple (almost black) berries of pokeweed (Phytolacca spp.) are indeed conspicuous. We used our field guides and inspected the plant in order to tell whether we were looking at the native and highly poisonous Phytolacca americana or the introduced and less toxic Phytolacca acinosa. Since the berries appeared ridged to us, we deduced it was the latter.

Approaching the knolls, the bright red of abundant sumac dominated the view. It seemed to us early for so much red; this first week of August shouldn’t already be showing signs of fall, should it? Alongside the bright red sumacs, flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata) with its pseudo white flowers, and fragrant white sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) also dominated the West Grady Knoll. Unfortunately, we could not linger long in any place due to the persistent mosquitoes that caught the scent of our carbon dioxide, despite the large amount of repellent many of us were wearing. We found ourselves hurrying along the path, despite our hearts’ desire to pause and observe.

Excited to get to the prairie, we hurried down the path while keeping our eyes peeled for wild turkey and deer. At the entrance to Greene Prairie we paused to reflect how much work Henry Greene did to hand plant and hand water more than 1,000 plants. Greene Prairie is a beautiful living testament to the rewards that come from managing and loving the land. All of us who spend laborious hours restoring the land we love can take heart and be inspired by this restored short-grass prairie. We spoke along the path about the techniques used in prairie restoration and about the continued management that is necessary to keep the prairie as free as possible from encroaching weedy species, like willow and sumac, and from reed canary grass.

Again, for maybe the fourth summer in a row, prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) flowers are missing from the prairie’s landscape. Many leaves can be seen, but very few flowers. I remember when the tall yellow flowers of prairie-dock have created a yellow umbrella over this prairie, and now I have not seen it in years.

We observed the leaves and stems of gentian (Gentiana spp.) plants—it won’t be long now before those beautiful flowers begin to bloom!

—Lisa Andrewski