Every grass has its flower.

Grasses are tenacious harnessers of the prairie.

This humble family survives the open plains and thrives in niches that others are too flamboyant to endure. Their incredibly deep roots protect them from drought, and their tall silica-rich stalks scatter the next generation. 

Though often thought of as a backdrop for peaking wildflowers, grasses are actually flowering plants themselves. They evolved to stand and spread under vast, harsh skies. While their fraternal twin the orchid family grew alluring petals and fragrances, the grasses grew into tall and limber pollen casters. Well after the first flowering plants and more recently than the dinosaurs, grasses diverged from other buds as minimalists. 

They found resilience in simplicity. 

Smooth brome, Bromus inermis

Without a need to attract insects to jumble their genes, grasses didn’t have to spend masses of energy on lavish pageantry. They dug their roots in deeper, grew a few more stickers, and when grazers or burns mowed them down, they came back sprawling. 

Minimal beauty

Their flowers stayed small and muted. They lost their petals and rearranged their bracing bracts into something more hardy. When pastures bloom, their shy brilliance pokes out of camouflaged grains. They exist as rows of envelopes, smaller florets, braiding themselves into a diversity of branching inflorescence

Illustration credit: Barnard, 2014.

Grass flowers adorn themselves with what looks like a string of pollen-covered lanterns. From within, a curious set of small internal leaves will swell, pushing feathery stigmas and powdery anthers out of the floret. 

Grasses are anemophilous, “wind loving.” Although their blooms are only half as vivid as their stalks, many make small colorful gifts to the breeze. The female pistil can come in silver, yellow or deep periwinkle, whereas the male anthers can flaunt yellow, orange, green, crimson and even lavender-purple. 

You can see them displaying their small wares right now along the grounds of the Arboretum: blue grama, big bluestem and brome all in their summer suede. 

Beginners to winners

Another reductionist adaptation is their use of spiny awls. You probably know them better as stickers. These extra bristles get caught in fur and socks to be pulled across the prairie. Some awls are bent, some are straight and some will even twist and untwist with fluctuations in humidity, screwing themselves into the earth. 

They may have replaced fragrance for practicality, but ultimately it’s had major payoffs. Swaths of pasture persist through drought, fire and storm. Twenty percent of all wild plants in the Great Plains are grasses. Not only do their populations outnumber any other group of flowering plant, their distribution is sweeping. By weight they account for 70 percent of all crops. 

Truly subdued prominence. 

Resources: Barnard, Iralee. Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. University Press of Kansas, 2014

Gardening for Bees to Celebrate National Pollinator Week

by Guest Blogger, Lorna Harder

National Pollinator Week celebrates the important role pollinators play in our lives. Bees, butterflies, beetles, bats and birds all support successful crop harvests, and healthy plant and wildlife communities.

So let’s talk about an often overlooked and endlessly intriguing group of pollinators – native bees! Nearly 4,000 species of all shapes and sizes are found in North America. Most live in underground burrows. Those that live above ground nest in tree cavities, hollowed out woody branches, or wildflower stalks. Since native bees have been around for millennia, it should come as no surprise that they are especially good at pollinating native wildflowers and many of our native fruit, nut, berry, and seed crops.

Why garden for bees?

Valuable as they are, native bee populations are in decline due to pesticides and habitat loss, but a resurgence in native plant gardening is making a difference for native bees around the nation. Your native prairie garden supports healthy native bee populations in Kansas.

As you plant your bee garden, think about flower shapes. Small bees, like sweat bees, prefer cone-shaped flowers like black-eyed Susan or Echinacea. Larger bees, like bumble bees, are able to crawl into tube-shaped flowers like penstemons and beebalm. This list identifies just some of the wildflowers and shrubs you can plant for a bee-friendly garden in Kansas!

Get acquainted with native bees. Look for these three easy-to-spot natives in your prairie garden.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leaf-cutter_Bee_(Megachile_sp.)_(18444923883).jpg

Leaf Cutter Bees

Leaf cutter bees (Megachile sp) are easy to identify because they carry pollen on the underside of the abdomen. These bees live alone, often nesting in hollowed out dead twigs. Leaf cutter bees cut semi-circles of leaves, which they use to line their nests.

https://pixabay.com/en/bumble-bee-bombus-bee-insect-2375031/

Bumble Bees

Bumble bees (Bombus sp) are buzz pollinators, because they grab onto a flower and buzz their wings so that the pollen vibrates out. Pollen is collected in pollen baskets on the hind legs. These familiar large bright yellow and black bees can nest underground, or in a variety of aboveground sites that provide winter protection. Six bumble bee species have been identified in Kansas.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/memotions/6158235259

Sweat Bees

If you work outside in summer, you have probably been visited by metallic green sweat bees (Agapostemon sp), so named because they lap up sweat with their tongues. These bees nest underground alone or communally. Pollen is collected on the hind legs.

So, as you garden for bees, celebrate these important, hard-working pollinators, get to know the natives, and BEE COUNTED!

Additional resources:






Water Smart: Steps to Establishing Your Native Plants

Originally published on April 29, 2015, here are some helpful hints from our Executive Director Scott Vogt on getting your native plants established using “waterwise” methods.

Also, due to the rainy weather during our FloraKansas Native Plant Sale last weekend, we are happy to announce we will be having a “rain check” native plant blitz this coming Saturday, May 6, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. If you missed the weekend sale, come enjoy the lovely weather and consult with Scott and our other native plant experts in the greenhouse.


Now that you have purchased your plants at our FloraKansas plant sale and hopefully gotten them planted in your landscape, you’ll want to be intentional about watering methods. It’s true, native plants are more drought-tolerant than you may be used to. However, in order to get your plants successfully established, they will still need some careful attention these first few weeks and through the summer.

Follow these steps to be “water smart” as you establish your native plants:

4-23 photo 2

The First Year

When planting: Water plants as soon as you get them in the ground. Allow the water to soak in, then water again until the soil is thoroughly moistened.

First Two Weeks: Water plants daily depending on the weather.   If it rains, skip a watering.  Just-planted roots are only able to absorb soil moisture from the potting soil.  They have not attached to their surrounding soil.  When you see new growth, the plants have begun to get established.

First Month: Unless the weather is extremely hot and dry, you may be able to decrease watering frequency to two or three times per week.  Generally, you want the soil to be dry an inch or two below the surface before you water. Too much water leads to foliar and root problems.  It is optimal to allow the soil to dry between watering because this encourages roots to grow deep.

Following Months: Water only when top inch or two of soil dries or when plants display signs of being dry.  Water deeply and infrequently.  How much water will depend on your soil and environmental conditions.  Don’t forget to check your plants during the winter months.

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The Second Year

Water deeply as needed.  During prolonged periods of dry weather water once or twice per week.  Generally, it takes plants at least two years to fully develop a sustaining root system.

The Following Years

Properly planted and watered plants should be fairly well established, and can thrive with less watering than you may expect. Drought-tolerant plants may need no supplemental water, whereas shallow-rooted plants or plants with greater water needs may need water weekly. Many plants, when selected for the conditions in your yard, may need watering only once or twice a month in dry weather.

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Best Management Practices for Native Plants (BMPs)

Drought-tolerant plants: Even drought-tolerant plants need regular water until they are established!

Young Trees and Shrubs: Young trees and shrubs need deep regular watering. During times of little or no rain, water deeply once a week until trees become established.

Fertilization: Don’t fertilize new plants.  Fertilizing during establishment encourages rapid top growth that is not sustainable by the root system.

Mulch: Mulch new plantings with 1-3 inches of mulch and keep mulch away from plant stems.

Water in the morning: Less water is lost to evaporation.

Choose the right watering method: A soaker hose applies water directly to the soil and reduces evaporation. If you are planting a few plants in an existing planting bed, hand watering can get the new plants the water they need while not overwatering the rest of the bed.

Get to know your soil: Is your soil sand or clay?  It greatly affects watering frequency and duration.  Our clay soils can only take in about an inch of rain per hour.

Check soil moisture before watering: Check soil moisture with finger or spade.  Soil should be dry an inch or two below the surface before you water.

Recheck soil after watering: At least an hour after you water (or two hours with clay soil), probe soil to see how deeply the water penetrated. If it didn’t reach the root zone, you may need to increase your watering.  If the area is soggy, try cutting back on watering next time.

Pick the right plant for the right place: Choose plants that are pest-resistant, require less water, and match the sun, shade, and soil in your yard.

Avoid planting in hot, dry weather: Plants will easily stress and not develop healthy roots under hot, dry conditions.  If you must plant in summer, plant in the cool of the morning when less water is lost to evaporation.






Planting Trees: When Visions Become Legacies

“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – Greek Proverb

A group gathered at the Dyck Arboretum this past Monday evening to remember all that has been accomplished on this plot of land since 1981 – the plant and wildlife communities that have been established, the beauty that has been added to the community of Hesston, the lives that have been impacted, and the lessons learned.  All of these fruits came from a vision, a dream, a notion of what was possible – AND a lot of hard work and determination.

And though a 35th anniversary may not seem as notable or momentous as a 25th or a 50th anniversary, this celebration is particularly special to us. It is the first significant celebration we’ve had without both Harold and Evie Dyck, our founders. In the past, we’ve had their words and ideas and presence here to help guide us. Now we, the Dyck Arboretum staff and board, volunteers, as well as the Dyck family members, continue to realize their vision through our work.

35th anniversary tree planting

On Monday, October 10, 2016, Arboretum staff and board members planted a black oak sapling in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the first tree planting at the Dyck Arboretum. That first tree, a bur oak, is shown in the background of this photo.

Aldo Leopold: Visionary and Legacy Maker

On Monday we learned about the life and work of another visionary. Aldo Leopold, a towering figure in the world of land conservation, devoted his adult life to studying nature, being in wilderness, and documenting what he heard and saw. (You may recognize Leopold’s name from several of the sculptures along our walking path.) Most notably, Leopold tended a piece of land with his wife and his five children and restored it to its most natural, most wild, most harmonious state.

I was particularly amazed to learn that, over the course of several decades, Leopold’s family planted nearly 50,000 trees on their land, restoring a small farm, with deteriorating sandy soil and a scarcity of wildlife, back to wilderness. When they first acquired the land, one of the Leopold children shared, it wasn’t much to look at. But as they all began to pitch in and work hard, their father’s vision took hold in each of them. Can you imagine – over a period of sixteen years, they planted 3,000 trees EACH YEAR? They had a vision and dream of what that land could be, but it required commitment and lots of hard work to realize that dream.

Leopold quote

Visions and Legacies

As a part of the celebration this week, we also planted a tree, a tiny black oak sapling, grown from an acorn that was collected from Leopold’s land in Wisconsin.  As we planted this tree not fifty yards away from the first bur oak that was planted here in 1981, it got me thinking about the difference between “vision” and “legacy”.

At what point does someone’s vision or dream for the future become their legacy? Is it when that person is no longer living? Is it when certain milestones or goals are reached? Does it happen slowly, over time, with each acorn or seed that is planted or sown, or with each visitor or student who learns something new? Is it when the vision is passed on, capturing the imagination of a new generation?

To play on a metaphor we use frequently here at the Arboretum, if planting an acorn represents a vision, what part of a tree’s life cycle represents legacy? Could it be when the tree that grows from the acorn drops seeds of its own?

The Dyck Arboretum pond in 1984

The Dyck Arboretum pond in 1984

Leaving our Own Legacy

When the Dycks first shared their vision with their family, friends and community members, they didn’t have much to show others to illustrate what they were dreaming of.  They only had an empty piece of land, once a couple of fields where wheat and alfalfa grew. But they planted that first bur oak tree, and the vision began to spread.

That tree is now on the eastern edge of our parking lot. It is easy to miss, but for the many acorns it drops on the pavement in autumn. Many who visit here will not notice it, nor the small plaque at its base that reads “Bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa. The first tree planted in the Arboretum, October 10, 1981.” It is only one of many trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses that have since been planted here, all playing a part in creating a living, breathing, dynamic landscape.

Meanwhile, in the median of the parking lot, there now also grows a small “Leopold” black oak sapling, the shade under which our children and grandchildren may take refuge. It is a piece of Leopold’s legacy and a reminder that our work isn’t done yet. It begins a new legacy for us here at Dyck Arboretum.

 

“We mourned the loss of the old tree, but knew that a dozen of its progeny standing straight and stalwart on the sands had already taken over its job of wood-making.”  – Aldo Leopold, “Good Oak” from A Sand County Almanac






A Year in the Life of the Dyck Arboretum

For me, December is often a natural time to look back at what I’ve accomplished over the past year and what I am dreaming about doing in the coming year. It’s an annual practice, loosely based off of the “Daily Examen“. It’s not unlike something I saw on Pinterest – decorating a jar or vessel on New Year’s Eve that you then fill throughout the year with things that bring you joy. As a way of reflecting on the year, you can reopen and read your notes at the next New Year’s Eve gathering.

As we approach the end of this calendar year, I wanted to remind myself (and you!) of all the things we experienced here at the Dyck Arboretum in 2015 – what happened on the grounds, who we met, what we accomplished and how we fulfilled our mission.

Please enjoy this photo journey through the year.

 

Winter

With the calm cold of winter, the activities of wildlife move to the center of our attention. Dave Osborne sent us this photo of a cardinal searching for food and shelter at the arboretum last February.

Cardinal at Dyck Arboretum

Cardinal in February 2015. Photo by Dave Osborne.

Early Spring

Winter and early spring are often good seasons to make improvements to the hardscaping here at the arboretum. Here, a crew from Preferred Builders repaved a segment of the path near the birdwatch area.

Repaving the path at Dyck Arboretum 2015

Repaving the path – March 2015

 

Early spring is also the best time to focus our attention on prairie maintenance. Each year, we mow one section of the Prairie Window Project, we leave fallow a second section and we burn the third section. Brad Guhr, our prairie restoration expert, is meticulous in his planning and safe execution of these prescribed burns.

March 2015 prescribed burn at Dyck Arboretum

“Ecological restoration also involves restoring our relatedness to the wild.” – Dwight Platt

Prescribed burn in March 2015 at Dyck Arboretum

Prescribed burn in March 2015.

 

With the dreariness of late winter and early spring, I often flee to the greenhouse, where thousands of native and adaptable species grow in February, March and April. By late March, some species like false indigo and bleeding heart start to bloom, transforming the greenhouse into a colorful, ever-changing refuge from the outside.

Bleeding Heart in the Greenhouse at Dyck Arboretum

Bleeding heart in the greenhouse in March 2015

Spring

We were sad to see the big weeping willow become diseased and weak over the past few years. This tree has been a fixture of the Dyck Arboretum landscape for three decades as the site of many wedding ceremonies and a fun place for children to play. Founder Evie Dyck also liked to sit on the hill above the willow for quiet reflection. Finally this past March, for the safety of our visitors, our grounds manager Brett tackled the big task of cutting it down.

Willow tree at Dyck Arboretum

Removal of the big willow tree in March 2015

 

If there is a single event that best shares our mission with our immediate community as well as further into the corners of south central Kansas, it is the FloraKansas Plant Sale. Every year, members and visitors purchase roughly 15,000 native and adaptable plants for their home and professional landscapes. Though one of the busiest times of the year, FloraKansas is my favorite part of what we do here at the Dyck Arboretum. It has been a joy for us to see the enthusiasm for native plants in Kansas grow over the past few years!

Children at FloraKansas in April 2015

Two sisters from McPherson at the spring 2015 FloraKansas plant sale, excited to go plant their native and adaptable plants

Summer

To support the educational work of the arboretum, we also rent our facilities for families and businesses. Working with our wedding renters is a wonderful part of my job during the summer – we are always excited to see the ways in which families bring their own personal style to our garden venue, both indoors and outdoors.

June 2015 wedding at Dyck Arboretum

June 2015 wedding reception in the Prairie Pavilion at the Dyck Arboretum

 

Our most successful mission-driven educational program is the Earth Partnership for Schools institute for Kansas teachers. The week-long summer institute in June has been praised by its past participants as one of the most fulfilling and impactful continuing education experience of their teaching career. Likewise, our staff and volunteers finish this week in early June with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts – for the passion for education displayed by our Kansas teachers and for the opportunity to provide tools for them to pass this enthusiasm on to their students. If you haven’t heard about this program yet, learn more here!

Botany bouquet June 2015 at Dyck Arboretum

Teachers examine the grass family during the “botany bouquet” exercise.

Earth Partnership for Schools 2015 Dyck Arboretum

The 2015 Kansas Earth Partnership for Schools cohort

 

Our annual Summer Soirée dinner and silent auction in June has grown to become a wonderful time of connecting with our members and supporters. This year’s program included music from the Tallgrass Express String Band and presentation by Michael Haddock, co-author of Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds, which was published in March 2015 by University of Kansas Press.

Summer Soirée June 2015 at Dyck Arboretum

Arboretum members and supporters chat over appetizers and bid on silent auction items.

Fall

Autumn brought several big changes and large projects for the Arboretum staff. In late August, our new grounds manager/horticulturist Katie Schmidt came on board and promptly infused our offices and grounds with enthusiasm and whimsy. Here she is taking a selfie with her new friend, Crayfish.

Grounds Manager at Dyck Arboretum

Katie Schmidt, new Arboretum Grounds Manager and Horticulturist in September 2015

 

During the late summer and fall, we also spent many hours developing content for ten new educational signs, which you can expect to see being installed around the grounds this winter. We are excited about the additional learning opportunities these signs will give our visitors.

Educational Signage at Dyck Arboretum 2015

Staff examine a life-size mock-up of the Butterfly Garden sign, created by Flint Hills Design.

 

A major highlight in September was witnessing an increased number of monarch butterflies during their migration through Kansas. On September 23, staff happened to be in the amphitheater when several hundred monarchs were taking cover from a light rain. The photo below, taken by Brad Guhr, even made it on the Wichita evening news!

Monarch migration through Kansas, September 2015 at Dyck Arboretum

Approximately thirty monarchs rest on a single branch in the amphitheater during migration in September 2015.

Winter

Of course the capstone of our events calendar here at the arboretum is the Winter Luminary Walk. We thank all the volunteers, staff and board members who made this event happen this year! And we especially thank our members and visitors for supporting our mission through your participation in our programs and your presence here on our grounds throughout the year!

Winter Luminary Walk 2015 at Dyck Arboretum

Winter Luminary Walk 2015 at Dyck Arboretum

We hope you enjoyed 2015 as much as we did! We look forward to seeing what 2016 will bring!






How to Plan an Eco-Friendly Wedding in Kansas

Dyck Arboretum, Sculpture by Conrad Snider

Many of the folks who plan weddings in our prairie garden are concerned with reducing the ecological footprint of their big day, an effort I applaud and encourage. For an organization like ours, “going green” is more than a catch phrase or marketing gimmick. Each decision to create more joy and beauty with less waste is a decision to “use [the land] with love and respect.”

And yet, I realize that planning an eco-friendly wedding can be a daunting endeavor. Luckily, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel – here are six ways our 2015 weddings succeeded in treading lightly on their wedding day:

1. Reduce consumption of disposable goods.

I get it. Disposables save a lot of time and energy – they are lighter for carrying in to the venue and they don’t require washing at the end of the night. However, using your grandma’s vintage china – even just for the head table – adds a pop of color and style, especially if you want the vintage look.  If you can’t afford to rent fancy china, or don’t have the crew to clean it up later, consider at least using SOME real dishes and cloth napkins. For the rest, make sure whatever disposables you use can be rinsed and recycled. (Or even better, go bio-compostable / biodegradable.)

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

 

2. Repurpose found items for decorations.

Kelsey and Ben, who were married here in early June, get the prize for most creative collection of repurposed items. For tableware, they mismatched vintage china and glassware, giving their “English tea luncheon” an eclectic, elegant look. In addition, they made fewer flowers go further with their test tube centerpieces – huge impact with relatively few cut flowers. Go a step further and pick the flowers yourself from your mom’s or grandmother’s garden, or from a roadside ditch! (See next tip for more on this!)

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

 

In September, Anna and Justin used a very creative selection of items from home on their tablescapes, including various jars, tins, spools of thread, old medicine bottles and vases. These, combined with burlap and a bright cobalt blue piece of fabric for a table runner, tied everything together very nicely.

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

 

3. Use alternatives to hot house flowers.

If you have several guests or members of the wedding party coming early to help out, put them to work the day before the wedding and have a flower-picking party! Abi and David did this in August and the results were simple, but stunning. Do some research to find out what wildflowers typically bloom in the roadsides or in your friends’ gardens during the month of your wedding (or visit our Pinterest boards to see what blooms here) and plan your color scheme accordingly. Be flexible and open to using what you can find – and be sure to ask permission before you pick!

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

Also, consider using fabric and/or wooden flowers, like Leah did this past October. If you want to keep your bouquet, this is a great way to ensure that your “roses” will be as good as new at your 25th anniversary!

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

4. Minimize travel.

Several of the weddings held here this year had fewer than fifty guests attending and many more had fewer than one hundred guests. In my experience, these are some of the most joy-filled celebrations we’ve had here at the Arboretum.

There are two steps in minimizing the amount of miles traveled to your wedding. First, choose a venue that is as close as possible to the majority of your family and friends. Then – and this is the hard part – edit that guest list down as much as you can. It will be challenging, but if you can keep your numbers down, you’ll be decreasing the size of your wedding’s carbon footprint enormously and you’ll help your overall budget as well. Most importantly, you’ll decrease your stress on the day of the wedding! (Many of our couples have a wedding in Kansas and then travel to another location later in the year for a second reception.)

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

 

5. Plant a tree.

One traditional element of a wedding ceremony is the lighting of a unity candle. With our Kansas winds, this can often prove challenging for an outdoor wedding. Often, we like to suggest a “unity plant” as an alternative. It fits with the mission of the arboretum, and after you add water and soil to your plant during your ceremony, you can either take it to your new home and plant it there, or – if you aren’t settled yet – you may donate it back to the arboretum and we will plant it here on our grounds.

Eco-friendly wedding Dyck Arboretum

 

6. Support a venue with a mission you can believe in.

Choosing a venue is one of the first and most important decisions in the wedding planning process. It is also one of the best opportunities to make a positive impact with your eco-friendly wedding. There are so many unexpected venue choices to consider, such as a national park in your area, or a local farm operation, or a small, non-profit, prairie garden. 😉 Do you see where I’m going with this? When you choose a venue both for its beauty and for its broader ecological purpose, you aren’t just paying for a rental space, you are supporting the mission of that organization.

Every time I introduce a new couple to the Arboretum, I always share with them our mission, which is to promote, through education and stewardship, the conservation and use of plants native and adaptable to Kansas. In a nutshell, we are about connecting people with the prairie in every way possible. Every couple that chooses the Dyck Arboretum as their wedding venue is contributing to this mission and leaving a piece of their story with the wider Arboretum community. For that, we are exceedingly grateful.