Monarch Meadow comes to life, even in November | Outside


Five years ago, we began the process of converting our 3.7 acre hayfield to a Monarch prairie with a seasonal seven-tenth of an acre wetland in the center. The first two years were the necessary evil, carefully applying a herbicide to the plot to rid it of hay-field plants, mostly allochthones.

It was not beautiful during the growing seasons of 2017 and 2018. As with the process of cleaning a child’s room, it has to be worse before it gets better! Granted we kinda enjoyed the rolling hills with hay grass gently blowing in gentle waves on windy days. It was equally satisfying to see the field freshly mown or with round bales scattered around.

Without an eye on the shore, we gave the hay just to get it mowed and rid it of invasive trees and non-native shrubs. For almost 20 years, however, we gazed at the field and imagined it to be a low-grass prairie with a wet sedge meadow in the center. What an exhibit of native plants that would be a refuge for wildlife.

We listed the land in a Federal Natural Resources Conservation Service program in 2016 and work began the following year. The program was designed to encourage plants that are pollinator friendly for special insects. It is often referred to as the “Pollinator Project”, but the program was later referred to as the “Monarch Habitat Development Project”.

This delighted my endless Jackie as she loved monarch butterflies and would include them in her science studies for her classes when she was teaching in elementary school. Of course, in addition to monarchs, we would attract butterflies of all species, other pollinating insects and grassland birds, from the tiny dickcissels and wren of sedges to large wild turkeys.

The backdrop for all the wildlife would be these gently rolling acres of many native plants in a regular blooming sequence from early spring to late fall. It’s a slow start at first and I cautioned Jackie to maintain her enthusiasm for the first few years as we planted and cultivated the native species, and they would gradually thrive and overcome the non-native (“weeds”).

We are now completing the second growing season of the project and after the first seedlings in early 2019 and two years of overseeding and mowing we are seeing results! There is a strong presence of native grasses, sedges, rushes and wildflowers and there is every indication that they will thrive with continued fire management and spot herbicide treatments.

This morning at dawn, I received a text from dear friend Terri Gorney. We share a love of November, and we exchange jokes every year, at the beginning of the month, sometimes with a card or text / email with a quote or a passage from a read. Today, first thing she sent this text with a passage from Stillwater Road by Gladys Taber. I read it and looked outside and realized that the author could have walked our trails, through the woods, along the bog of the swamps and up to the prairie and the meadows. open.

So I did the same. I dressed for the cool, wet, drizzy morning and ventured outside. My footsteps led me to Monarch Meadow and the north rim trail gave me amazing views of the hills. I smiled at the results as more things become noticeable as the non-natives become more of a background for the natives being welcomed. The grasses, small barbon and gramma of lateral oats, are now that beautiful golden bronze of November. To think that two years ago, there was none.

There are a few late-flowering brown-eyed Susans and New England asters that provide some color, but most of the color now is the wonderful earth tones of the seeded and senescent plants. One catches my eye, the wild senna. It is a legume and with which I had little experience before this project. It is native and produces a cluster of beautiful mustard yellow flowers which are wonderful for pollinating bees and butterflies, especially many species of sulfur butterflies.

I loved seeing their bright blooms among the wild lavender herbs and bergamot in July and August. Now their locust-like leaves turn a muted yellow-brown and where there were once clusters of yellow flowers now hang long, thin, black pods, exposing rectangular seeds when opened. Striking, they are.

You want our tracks now, Jackie. You would be happy and smile with our results.

Now in November the leaves are spreading sheets of gold and red on the ground. The open fields take on a cinnamon tone and the blackberry cane in the swamp is frosty purple.

– Gladys Taber

Fred Wooley is a naturalist, writer and passionate about land preservation / restoration. He lives in part of an old farmhouse overlooking a large swamp in northern Steuben County. He can be contacted at [email protected]


Chris B. Hall

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