Get Rich and Happy with Phenology

Phenology will make you rich and happy. Ask any person who likes to watch/study plants, animals, and/or climate if their life is richer and happier because of their observance of phenology, and they will unanimously agree.

I’m not talking about monetary riches. The study of phenology has made very few people rich in dollars. In fact, many people I know spend a fair bit of money in their pursuit of phenology studies (i.e., birders). I am referring to the put-a-smile-on-your-face, educational, blood pressure-lowering, life enriching observance of the natural world around you. 

Phenology is the observance of cyclical and seasonal natural events. These phenomena occur all around us in nature: plants blooming or setting seed, migrating animals arriving or leaving, the first or last killing frost of the year. For millennia, these kinds of observations have been not only interesting and enriching to our human ancestors, but they have been critical to health and survival. Being successful with agriculture, hunting and gathering required an intimate connection to the natural world through careful observations and record-keeping.

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Gray hairstreak on Leavenworth eryngo.

Why phenology?

The USA National Phenology Network provides great insights and resources related to the study of phenology. They highlight some good reasons for observing phenology. I’ve added to their list and included my perspectives as well.

1) Detecting Climate Change Impacts – Quantitative documentation of the natural world through scientific data collection is critical to understanding the effects of a warming planet. From professional scientists to common folks practicing hobbies of citizen science, phenologists help us better understand what is happening in the natural world around us. If we didn’t have scientific observations to help us learn about changing trends, we might never recognize the changes until they become glaringly obvious and have negative, irreversible impacts. Think of the boiling frog metaphor here. Collecting data on annual trends in weather, the timing of life cycles of plants, and the migration patterns of animals all give us sound evidence to monitor changes in our planet.

2) Ritual Celebrations – We are social creatures that enjoy regular celebrations, and it is easy to connect them to phenology. There are the obvious examples of fall color festivals and cherry blossom festivals. For me, even religious and cultural celebrations have a relationship to phenology. Christmas has a deep meaningful connection to the long, cold nights and dormant prairie of the winter solstice. A favorite September music festival always happens around the peak of the fall monarch butterfly migration and the flowering of Maximillian sunflowers. Butterfly milkweed in bloom tells me it is time for our early June Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) summer institute.

3) Enjoying A Connection to Nature – Connections to the natural world make us happy and feed our souls. Even if folks from Psychology Today, BBC, and The Nature Conservancy didn’t vouch for it, I’d say this is true from my own experience. Experiences in nature enhance our connections to friends and family and solidify memories for a lifetime. At our EPS summer institutes we examine children’s increasing disconnectedness to nature and how we can reverse those trends. Teachers regularly recall how important outdoor events in their own childhood left lifelong positive impressions and important connections with people. The thrill of catching blinking fireflies with neighborhood kids, the sounds of buzzing cicadas around shortest nights of the year, witnessing a toddler son’s first taste of a tomato in the garden, watching the arrival of bald eagles fishing over big rivers in the heart of winter, observing sunsets with grandparents, and so many other examples have been shared. These sorts of positive experiences inspire many to want to share a love of nature with succeeding generations.

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Iralee Barnard and Susan Reimer find happiness in spending a day on the prairie counting butterflies.

Personally, I am drawn to the phenology-loaded pursuits of native plant conservation, and butterfly and bird watching. I spend time at Kansas Native Plant Society board meetings focusing on ways to best educate Kansans about the fascinating flora across our state. Annual butterfly counts in Harvey County and at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve document summer butterfly populations and contribute citizen science to the North American Butterfly Association that monitor continental trends. Kansas bird watchers organize under the Kansas Ornithological Society and passionately spend weekends and holidays throughout the calendar year in all weather conditions across the state to document in detail the presence of bird species.

Collectively, the folks I have met at these events are smart and endearing, generous with their time in teaching others, fun to be around, and happy doing what they are doing. I am proud to call them my tribe.

If I had more time, I would extend my interests to hunting and fishing as well. I eat meat and I can’t think of a better and more meaningful and enriching way to live and eat than to be a hunter and gatherer. Most hunters I know are very biology-literate and are also good stewards of the land.

Inspiring the next generation

The efforts of these groups help us better understand the biology and ecology of Kansas. In subtle and inspirational ways, they inspire others to follow their lead, and it is my hope that this infectiousness will extend to the next generations as well. After all, they are the future caretakers and stewards of natural Kansas.

One of the most famous phenologists was Aldo Leopold. In the early 1900s he studied phenology through spending weekends at “The Shack” with his family along the Wisconsin River. His observations, land stewardship practices, hunting outings, and scientific studies as a professor were all synthesized into the poetic writings of the book A Sand County Almanac. Leopold’s thoughts on land conservation and specifically his chapter entitled “The Land Ethic” will guide many of our Dyck Arboretum activities and events in our coming 35th anniversary starting this fall.

We think they will make you rich and happy.

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Aldo Leopold (Aldo Leopold Foundation)

Kansas – A Rich Heritage of Environmental Education

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Photo by Brad Guhr.

The prairie is central to our environmental education in Kansas (Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City, KS).

It is Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) summer institute time again at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains. For the 10th year in a row, we are hosting teachers from around South Central Kansas for a week to learn about, plan, practice, and celebrate the environmental education process of teaching students about natural and cultural history of the native Kansas prairie. This year’s EPS summer institute with its 33 teachers (our largest group ever), 482 years of collective teaching experience, and ample enthusiasm for providing prairie project-based, hands-on education for their students provides the perfect setting to be thinking about environmental education in Kansas.

I have taken a bit of time to inventory, categorize, and provide a brief description of the vast array of environmental education resources in Kansas. It turns out to be a pretty rich heritage indeed.

State-Sponsored

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Our state-funded conservation entity Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism has a focus on just those things. They promote hunting, fishing, and camping opportunities throughout the state and connecting people with outdoors Kansas. Their long-running Outdoor Wildlife Laboratory Sites (OWLS) Program is a great promoter of establishing native wildlife habitat on school grounds.

Museums and Zoos

Exploration Place – This was a favorite end-of-summer destination for my boys when they were younger. They were first attracted to thExplorationPlacee blocks, climbing/play areas, and model train set, but eventually became hooked on the hands-on exhibits featuring wind currents, stream morphology, weather, and geology. The most memorable visit was when retrieving an errant mini golf shot led to three hours of getting wet and sandy in the Arkansas River under the watchful eye of the Keeper of the Plains.

Flint Hills Discovery Center – One of the newer facilities in Kansas that not only wonderfully interprets the natural and cFlintHillsDiscoveryCenterultural history of the Kansas Flint Hills Prairie, but it is also an architectural and landscaping gem.

Kauffman MusKMlogo-croppedeum – A Museum of Mennonite Immigration and History in Kansas. They interpret the natural Kansas setting encountered in the 1870s, have a collection of wildlife in taxidermy, and the surrounding outdoor landscape features one of the oldest reconstructed prairies in Kansas. A good destination for school field trips and summer educational programming for youth.

The University of Kansas Natural History Museum & Biodiversity Research Center – For more than 140 years, scientists and students have collected and studied liKansas+Biological+Survey+official+logofe on Earth. The museum has more than 8 million specimens of plants and animals, including prehistoric and living species gathered from every continent and ocean.

Sternberg Museum of Natural HistoryMuseum feaSternbergtures include a replicated fossil dig site & a discovery room with hands-on activities. While I have not been there, I understand it features a great collection of marine and flying reptiles and fish fossils from the Cretaceous Era.

Sedgwick County Zoo – Accredited wildlife park and major attraction in Wichita that has become recognized both nationally and internatilogoonally for its support of conservation programs and successful breeding of rare and endangered species. Having over 2,500 animals of nearly 500 different species, this zoo ranks as the number one outdoor tourist attraction in Kansas. They also do a nice job of interpreting the native fauna of Kansas.

Sunset Zoo – City zoo of PathManhattan is home to over 300 animals representing more than 100 mediaview.aspxspecies.

Tanganyika Wildlife ParkFamily-friendly destination in Goddard where parkgoers have up-close, hands-on interaction with the animals.

Environmental Education /Nature Centers/Botanical Gardens/Arboreta

Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Educatiokacee logo cleann (KACEE) – A statewide non-profit association of many public and private agencies, organizations, businesses and individuals promoting and providing quality, non-biased and science-based environmental education in Kansas for 45 years.

Chaplin Nature CenterA 230-acre nature preserve chaplin_entryv2with four miles of hiking trails and environmental education for all ages along the Arkansas River near Arkansas City.

Dillon Nature Center – 100-acre park/arboretum with a pond opened in HutchinsonDillonNatureCenter in 1994. The visitor center includes a nature display gallery with dioramas, interactive exhibits and live reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Great Plains Nature Center – Experience 240-acre Chisholm Creek Park via 2 miles of accessible trails through wGPNClogoetlands, prairie, and riparian habitats. The visitor center has dioramas that feature Great Plains ecosystems including their plants and wildlife.

Konza Environmental Education PrKEEPogram – 8,600 acres of rolling hills marked with flint and limestone dominate the landscapes around Manhattan KS. The Kansas State University Biology Department conducts prairie research here and The Nature Conservancy owns the land. Trained docents will lead your group in an activity that highlights the biology, geology, ecology, and history of the tallgrass prairie.

Botanica – The Gardens are decorated with a collection of botanica20 elegant sculptures, flowing streams, fountains and waterfalls that complement the beauty of plants and that create a visually stunning atmosphere. Facility rentals as well as educational, artistic, and cultural experiences are plentiful.

Bartlett Arboretum – This 105 year-old botanical gem features state champioBartlettn trees, picturesque views of waterways, bridge and pergola architecture, a quaint location for an outdoor wedding, art classes, a tulip festival and an outdoor concert series.

Dyck Arboretum of the Plains – 28 acres established in 1981 in Hesston featuring hundreds of species of native and adaptable wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees. Whether planted with Printhorticultural intention or as prairie-based ecosystems, Kansas native plants are promoted here in ways pleasing to both people and pollinators. Pay a visit if you are looking for scenic facility rentals, recreation, environmental landscaping, ecological restoration, Great Plains seminars, environmental education for teachers, and an acoustic music concert series.

Conservation/Specialized Educationkansas-audubon-icon

Audubon of Kansas – Promotes appreciation and stewardship of ecosystems in Kansas and the heartland, with emphasis on conservation of birds, wildlife, prairies and other habitats.

Kansas Land Trust – By crafting customized conservindexation agreements with landowners, KLT helps permanently protect Kansas lands of ecological or agricultural importance and of historic, scenic, and recreational merit.

The Nature Conservancy of Kansas – The leading logo-nature-notaglineconservation organization working to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. Areas of current focus in Kansas include the Flint Hills, Red Hills, Osage Cuestas and Cheyenne Bkhslogo2v2ottoms.

Kansas Herpetological Society – Encourages conservation, scholarship, research, cooperation, and dissemination of scientific information regarding the herpetofauna of Kansas.

Kansas Native Plant Society – Encourages awarenessKNPSdecal and appreciation of the native plants of Kansas in their habitats and in our landscapes by promoting education, stewardship, and scientific knowledge.

Kansas Ornithological Society – A statewide organization devoted specifically to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds. kos_larkCollectively, the KOS has unrivaled knowledge about the status, distribution, ecology, and identification of the state’s avifauna.

 

 

 

Research

Kansas Biological Survey – A University of Kansas research center of natural sciences research, environmentaKansas+Biological+Survey+official+logol mapping, conservation and education. Scientists work with graduate and undergraduate students, as well as visiting scholars on research covering water, air and soil quality; land use; threatened and endangered species; global change biology; environmental engineering; and aquatic ecology and watersheds.

Teacher Groups

Kansas Association of Teachers of Science (New Picture (19)KATS) – KATS shares ideas and techniques for teaching science education to Kansas students.

Kansas Association of Biology Teachers (KABT) – CKABTBanner2016v2urrent and former educators interested in advancing the practice of science teaching within and beyond the borders of the state of Kansas.

 

Natural Areas

Natural areas rich with flora and fauna can be found around the state featuring prairie and wetland ecosystems. In southwestern Kansas, the Cimmaron National Grassland features shortgrass prairie. Tallgrass prairie is featured in the Flint Hills at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Maxwell Wildlife Refuge features Smoky Hills mixedgrass prairie and herds of bison and elk. Marshes critically important in the Great Plains Flyway include the rare inland salt marshes at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms, the largest interior marsh in the United States.

Now get out there and find and engage with these great environmental education resources in Kansas!

Connection Between People and Prairie

At Dyck Arboretum of the Plains, we invest considerable effort in helping interpret Kansas prairie plants and ecosystems. Our educational programming, winter lectures, plant sales, and outreach celebrate the many benefits that come from Kansas native plants and the ecosystems they support. With our next spring education symposium entitled Prairie and Plains Indians Bonds, we’d like to expand our focus to people and culture.

Leopold quote

Kansans today certainly value their connection to the land. How we get our food is one of those ways we are connected. Kansas produces many grains through commercial farming operations. Small farm and gardens produce fruits and vegetables for local farmer’s markets. Small farms also produce poultry, pork and lamb. Prairie ranchers produce beef cattle. Hunters have a close connection to the land and birdwatchers and photographers do too.

These land-connected demographics, however, are shrinking with each successive generation. With advances in technology and an increasingly global economy, it becomes easier and easier to disconnect from the land as most of us acquire all our needed resources by driving to the nearest store. We as a collective population continue to lose ties to the land and each generation continues to lose connection with our natural and cultural history.

Indigenous Peoples were very connected to the land. The prairie was their grocery store, pharmacy, and general store. Their spirituality was closely tied to their natural surroundings too and a great reverence was given to the elements of earth, air, fire and water. While the Plains Indians of many different tribes received great benefit from prairie vegetation and wildlife, their actions, helped care for the prairie as well, even if unintentional. Frequent use of fire for purposes of hunting, clearing vegetation for safe lodging, and various cultural rituals increased fire frequency on the landscape, minimized the presence of woody plants, and even expanded the extent of grassland ecosystems in the Great Plains and Midwestern prairie regions.

With European migration to North America, great changes on the landscape began to occur. Human population density has definitely changed. The estimated North American population of Indigenous Peoples in 1492 was 3.8 million (Reference) and today’s North American population is roughly 150 times that at more than 567 million (Reference). Over that same time span, there has been a 99% loss of tallgrass prairie and a 68 percent decline in mixed-grass prairie from historic acreage (Reference). Needless to say there, has been a great decline in the connection between prairie and people.

At our April 2 symposium, we will explore the rich bonds between prairie and people, better understand how they were broken, and learn about ways they are being restored. I hope you will join us for this day.

Loss of Honey Bees

WikipediaHoneyBeePhoto

We are hearing a lot in the news about the loss of honey bees, which we know is a potential threat to our food systems. But before I address this topic further, allow me to say a bit about insect diversity. The world of flowering plants is diverse with an estimated 352,000 species worldwide, but its diversity pales in comparison with the insect world that is estimated to be 15 times more diverse, with a species count of somewhere around 5.5 million species. Approximately 20,000 new species of insects are discovered each year. It is estimated that we may currently know only about 20% of the world’s existing insects. I share this to say that topics related to insects are complex and that we are far from having all the answers about any topic related to pollinators.

Now, back to honey bees. A 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture report states that honey bee colony loss has experienced an eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent per year. Recognized factors for this decline include viruses and other pathogens, parasites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is a name that was given about ten years ago to this population loss that is often seen suddenly in bee hives.

Pesticide contamination, and specifically the group of neurotoxic insecticides called neonicotinoids, is coming under increased focus as a possible cause of CCD. The insecticide is applied to the seed coat of many common crops, taken up by plant roots, and translocated to all parts of the plant, including flowers and pollen. Neonicotinoid use in crop protection has increased dramatically in the last 20 years and significant financial investments have been made to implement this effective group of insecticides.

Whether or not neonicotinoids that are showing up in beehives are causing CCD is not something I can answer here. Some European countries think there is a connection and have begun to ban the use of neonicotinoids. The validity of the connection between neonicotinoids and CCD is a complex issue that can only be answered with unbiased, scientific research. If chemical producers feel strongly that neonicotinoids are not contributing to CCD, I think that they would want to be pouring money into reputable research to clear their products from blame.

The viability of natural ecosystems and healthy food systems relies on both native pollinators and honey bee populations. Local farmer and beekeeper, Deborah McSweeney, has invested significant time researching and living this topic and also knows a lot about bee population collapse. She will be our featured presenter next Tuesday evening as part of our Winter Lecture Series. Join us to learn more about this topic.

 

 

Winfield (and the PWCS) On My Mind

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When summer vacation ends and back-to-school plans kick in, my thoughts affectionately turn to “Winfield.” For so many, this one word moniker for the Walnut Valley Festival (WVF) in Winfield, KS is synonymous with great music on stages and in campgrounds around the clock.  For my family the WVF, which occurs annually in middle to late September, has been a cherished time for reunions with friends and family, camping, great food, an easy-going time of retreat, renewal, and making memories that last a lifetime. Anticipating its 44th year, Winfield is adored by ~15,000 people annually that flock to the Cowley County Fairgrounds. Some come early for “Land Rush” to stake their coveted claim along the shady banks of the Walnut River and invest weeks of vacation, and others come for a day of stage acts, workshops and to enjoy one of the international championship competitions featuring flat pick/finger style guitar, mandolin, banjo, hammer/mountain dulcimer, auto harp, and fiddle.IMG_4643Feistylarger

My connection to Winfield began in 1998 when a grad school graduation gift of festival passes from my uncle/aunt Royce and Marge started a running 17-year love affair with this experience. Listening to music with my dad, visits to my uncle’s Buzzard’s Roost Camp, witnessing epic wee-hour jams in the Pecan Grove, the flood-displaced year at Winfield Lake, planning meals, and hanging out with friends, have all profoundly shaped my Winfield memories. My boys have attended nearly every year of their lives and their experiences have included everything from long toddler naps under my chair at the finger style championships, ukulele workshops, kid jams around the campfire, running down the levee, racing the ever-present train, playing catch on the Stage Two hill, and more. They hold the Winfield experience up there with Christmas and 4th of July.

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This time of the year also brings great anticipation for a new season of the Dyck Arboretum Prairie Window Concert Series (PWCS). Coordination of the PWCS fell into my lap in 2011 and in spite of my lack of experience with concert promotion, the Winfield experience has made coordination of the PWCS a labor of love. Winfield has had a profound effect on the artists I invite to the PWCS as it did for my predecessor, Miner Seymour and his brainchild, the Old Settlers Inn in Moundridge. Memorable performances over the years at Winfield from Mike Cross, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, The Wilders, The Greencards, The Steel Wheels, Tommy Emmanuel, Hot Club of Cowtown, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Waybacks, and many more have certainly shaped my musical preferences towards Americana and roots music featuring masterful instrumentals and tight harmonies. Half of the featured artists in the coming 2015-16 PWCS season have strong ties to Winfield.

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When the monarchs fill the air, and the Maximilian sunflowers blaze with yellow, it is time for my family to migrate south to Winfield. Whether I see you there or at the PWCS (our surrogate Winfield), I know we’ll be enjoying great music together and making memories.

In Awe of Insects

“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
Edward O. Wilson

Take a moment during your next foray outdoors and observe the level of insect diversity around you. Hint, searching out vegetation and as much plant species diversity as possible will make your exploration more interesting. You can either passively observe or more aggressively make collections with an insect sweep net and it never hurts to have a copy of the color book Insects in Kansas handy. General observations are interesting enough, but counting and recording the species observed (no formal identification necessary) only increases the level of education and interest.

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We do this at the Dyck Arboretum with kids and adults all the time. The findings in our diverse prairie garden on one side of the sidewalk always produce much more insect diversity and inspire greater awe and fascination than the mowed fescue lawn side.

 

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This is no surprise, really, when you consider how much more habitat, cover, protection, and food the prairie garden holds. Concepts including ecosystems, food webs, trophic levels, herbivores, carnivores, etc. are easily discussed with this simple exercise.

FoodWeb

Conversations often migrate towards how important insects are to humans, our survival, and quality of life. Insects pollinate our crops including many fruits, nuts, and vegetables, they provide us with honey, beeswax, cotton, silk, and tobacco, they perform valuable services as scavengers, they serve as food for many birds and animals, they help keep harmful plants and animals in check, and they have been useful in medicine and scientific research.

People in 80% of the world’s nations enjoy insects as food, and this number will continue to grow as world human population growth continues to outpace food production (take a look at this recent Food and Agriculture Organization United Nations Report to understand how common entomophagy is in the non-western world). Sure, one can find annoying, harmful, and even dangerous examples of insects too, but for humans the benefits far outweigh the detriments.

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Deep fried insects in Thai Quisine (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Insekten.jpg)

 

There are fascinating stories to tell about symbiotic relationships between plants and insects, insects as pollinators, brood caretakers, and navigators, and even gruesome ones about insects as scavengers, parasites, and vicious predators. You probably know about the important relationship between milkweed and the monarch butterfly, but did you know that grasshoppers consume more biomass on the prairie than either cattle or bison? Or how about the perilous story of how the male preying mantis becomes food for the female both during and after copulation? There’s a father’s day story you won’t soon forget.

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There are about 900,000 identified species of insects in the world which makes up approximately 80% of the total wildlife species. Entomologists estimate that they have only been able to identify approximately 3% of the world’s species which push total species estimates to 30 million.

Take a few moments to study the following chart of common insect orders to better understand what is out there, have some fun exploring, and as I once heard a great elementary teacher tell her students, “turn your ‘eeewwwws’ into ‘ooohhhhs’!”

Hopefully you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the fascinating world of insects. Your life may even depend on it.

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A New Must-Have Plant Identification Book for Kansas

Oenothera macrocarpa (MO evening primrose) - photo by Michael John Haddock

Oenothera macrocarpa (MO evening primrose) – photo by Michael John Haddock

For 35 years, Janét E. Bare’s popular book Wildflowers and Weeds of Kansas has been one of the standards for plant identification in Kansas. When I moved back to Kansas in 1998 with a fresh botany/ecology degree, a new job in environmental consulting that required plant identification, and a desire to know the name of every plant I could find, I knew that Bare’s hardback book with mostly black and white photos had to be in my library. The going rate for this 509-page out-of-print book was around $100 at the time and I felt lucky to find a nice copy at a used book store in Kansas City for $50.

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For Kansas, I have collected to date what I consider to be fourteen helpful plant identification resources (see list below). In addition to Bare’s multiple decades standard, they include a number of good paperback books with color photos, some with line drawings and county maps, and the behemoth 1402-page hardback resource Flora of the Great Plains as the most comprehensive, but very technical resource without photographs. For years, I carried a bulky collection of these books in a backpack and always had the rest close at hand back at the car or office.

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Allium stellatum (pink wild onion) – photo by Michael John Haddock

Thanks to a new publication by University of Kansas Press, however, wildflower identification in Kansas just became much easier. Janét Bare teamed up with two of the most talented botanists in the state, Craig C. Freeman and Michael John Haddock (both with publications of their own – see below) to produce the updated Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds, a must-have resource for plant enthusiasts.

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Zizia aurea (golden alexanders) – photo by Michael John Haddock

As the dust jacket states, “For purposes of identification, conservation, study, or the simple pleasure of thumbing through, it is a resource without parallel.” It has 742 color photographs, up-to-date nomenclature, taxonomic descriptions and a dichotomous identification key, and interesting information with regard to habitat, commonness, moisture preference, phenology, ecology, herbal/medicinal traits, DNA and more. My one critique of the book is that it does not include helpful county presence maps (only has region presence codes), but I’m sure the authors considered this and figured that including these maps would add even more pages and size to an already large 518-page resource.

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This book has descriptions for 1,163 species of wildflowers and a handful of woody plants (an increase from 831 species in Bare’s earlier book) and covers roughly 56 percent of the state’s native and naturalized flora. It could be labeled both a coffee table book and a comprehensive field guide. (To get a copy signed by Haddock, come to our Summer Soirée on June 28.)

Glandularia canadensis (rose verbena) - photo by Michael John Haddock

Glandularia canadensis (rose verbena) – photo by Michael John Haddock

Put this new book in your backpack along with Iralee Barnard’s new grasses resource and H.A. Stephen’s woody plants book (see list below), and you should be able to identify most common plants found on an outing in Kansas.

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 Happy botanizing! ~Brad


 Helpful Plant Identification Books

(in addition to the new Kansas Wildflowers and Weeds by Haddock, Freeman, and Bare)

Atlas of the Flora of the Great Plains
Great Plains Flora Association
Iowa State University Press, 1977

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

Field Guide to the Common Weeds of Kansas
Prepared by T. M. Barkley
Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station and Division of Biology, Kansas State University
Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station contribution number 82-547-B
University Press of Kansas, 1983

Flora of the Great Plains
Great Plains Flora Association
T.M. Barkley, Editor
University Press of Kansas, 1986

Kansas Grasses
Clenton E. Owensby
Kansas Publishing Inc., 2004

Kansas Prairie Wildflowers
Clenton E. Owensby
Iowa State University Press, 1980

Roadside Wildflowers of the Southern Great Plains
Craig Carl Freeman and Eileen K. Schofield
University Press of Kansas, 1991

Sedges: Carex
Roberts H. Mohlenbrock
Southern Illinois University Press, 1999

Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines in Kansas
H.A. Stephens
University Press of Kansas, 1969

Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains
James Stubbendieck, Geir Y. Friisoe, and Margaret R. Bolick
Nebraska Department of Agriculture, 1994

Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide
Michael John Haddock
University Press of Kansas, 2005

Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands
Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa
Iowa State University Press, 1999

Wildflowers and Weeds of Kansas
Janet E. Bare
Regents Press of Kansas, 1979

Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest
Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa
Iowa State University Press, 1989

 

WARNING: The Monarch Butterfly is Threatened

Monarchs ingest toxic cardiac glycosides when their larvae eat milkweed leaves and advertise through their adult warning coloration: “look out for me…I’m poisonous!” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may very soon be issuing its own warning on behalf of declining populations for this bright butterfly under the banner of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A petition was submitted in August 2014 by The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, The Xerces Society, and Dr. Lincoln Brower to encourage listing of this species on the ‘threatened’ list. A ‘threatened species’ is one that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

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Dramatic Population Decline

The following graph (Graph courtesy of the Monarch Joint Venture) shows over the last 20 years the area of monarch overwintering colonies in the forests of Central Mexico, which is their only overwintering location.

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Figure from Monarch Watch

Their population trend of precipitous decline is discouraging. The part that is encouraging, however, is that we know exactly what the problem is – prairie habitat loss; specifically, the loss of milkweed (Asclepias spp.), the monarch host plant. Americans do not like to be restricted or forced to spend money on anything and a threatened listing under the ESA will do just that. It is my hope that we can avoid listing of the monarch butterfly and restore its population, but this will require both education and action. The action part is what I will address here. If you live in the following monarch corridor, you must take action now.

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Figure from Monarch Watch

What Can We Do?

It can be fun, easy, and rewarding to establish milkweeds and I challenge everyone reading this post to take personal action in increasing milkweed populations in the coming growing season. There are two easy ways to do this: 1) establish milkweed plants in the areas you landscape, and 2) distribute milkweed seed in a nearby unmowed area.

  • Plant Milkweed Plants – Landscaping with native plants is rewarding and South Central Kansans have eight commercially-available native milkweed species they can plant, including Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), syriaca (common milkweed), A. tuberosa (butterfly milkweed), A. viridis (green antelopehorn), A. speciosa (showy milkweed), A. sullivantii (smooth milkweed), A. hirtella (prairie milkweed), and A. verticillata (whorled milkweed). These species can be purchased at the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains spring plant sale, Monarch Watch, and Prairie Moon Nursery. Plants establish and flower in the first year with proper care and provide beauty and insect nectar sources in addition to host plant larval food for the monarch.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

  • Distribute Milkweed Seed – Surely you know a grassland area along a nearby creek or waterway, in a park, or along a roadside that gets mowed or burned only periodically to keep it free of trees. Collect some seed from a nearby prairie or even buy some seed of the species above from a native seed nursery (good sources include Prairie Moon Nursery and Missouri Wildflowers Nursery), get permission to plant, and distribute your milkweed seeds in the fall or early winter so that germination will happen and establishment will begin the following spring. Common milkweed ( A. syriaca) is the species most preferred by the monarch and is easiest to acquire and establish. Distributing seed is a very cost effective and easy way to establish milkweed were it doesn’t currently exist.

Common milkweed (Aslepias syriaca) with monarch eggs

Do you remember the massive flocks of the passenger pigeon? Of course you don’t – Martha, the last known individual died in 1914. Your grandparents or great grandparents, however,  may have been able to tell you first hand stories. First hand experiences with monarchs may be something we currently take for granted. If we don’t act now, these encounters with monarchs may be something our grandkids or great grandkids never experience. Don’t let this happen.

Fighting for Water

(Interested in Kansas water issues? Learn about our Kansas Water Symposium on Saturday, March 7 at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains!)

 

“Whisky’s for drinking and water’s for fighting.” ~Mark Twain is often given credit for this quote

Kansans for decades have utilized a seemingly endless supply of water to drink, to bathe, wash clothes, manage sewage, generate power, irrigate lawns, and grow crops. We give it little thought, we turn on the tap and it is there – clean, plentiful and inexpensive. Most families pay much more per month for their smart phones than for water.

The law of supply and demand is certainly in effect here to keep our water cheap. We have developed a state infrastructure making the availability of water plentiful and we access it in two main ways. Kansas reservoirs capture an average precipitation of 30-40 inches for use across much of Eastern Kansas, and one of the world’s largest underground water tables, the High Plains or Ogallala Aquifer, supplies water for most of Western Kansas. In South Central Kansas, we benefit from both supplies.

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Experts are telling us though (and common sense should too) that this unbridled use cannot last. Our Kansas population continues to grow along with our collective thirst for water, and our water supply is not increasing to keep pace. The Ogallala aquifer as a whole is declining in its level, and stream sedimentation is diminishing the capacity of reservoirs. A recent 2013 presentation by Tracy Streeter, Kansas Water Office Director, shows that, depending on the region of Kansas that one examines, the trend lines of decreasing supply and increasing demand are set to cross each other in coming decades and in some locations coming years.

The sobering unknown factor in this discussion of water supply and demand is weather. Over the last 50 years or so, we have been lucky to have above average rainfall and below average temperatures. The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) helps us track this information and is one of the most widely-used indices to measure drought in North America. The PDSI measures the intensity and duration of long-term drought using precipitation and temperature data to determine how much soil moisture is available compared to average conditions. In a 2012 presentation by Tony Layzell of the Kansas Geological Survey, he shares the following graph of PDSI data in South Central Kansas:

You can see that the two most recent significant drought events of 10-15 years in duration last happened in the Dust Bowl and the 1950s. For those of us that didn’t experience either of these drought events, the mini-drought of 2011 and 2012 gave us a little taste of relentless heat and drought, and it was distasteful enough. Here is the pending reality and problem – the law of averages is catching up with us and we are due for another drought event. Whether a little five-year event or a whopping multi-decade drought, it is coming.

We shouldn’t ignore this reality, hope that it never happens, and stick our heads in the proverbial sand in search of more prehistoric water that won’t be there or new reservoir storage, which is extremely expensive to create. Rather, we can proactively begin to appreciate how precious our water resources are and begin to use them more wisely. To survive, we will simply be forced to do so.

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Center-pivot irrigation, a common sight in Southwestern Kansas (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crops_Kansas_AST_20010624.jpg)

Solutions are available. Agricultural irrigation uses 85% of our state’s water and efficiency improvements are being made there already, but a drought will certainly force us to shift away from corn towards more traditional dry-land crops. Fossil fuel power generation is water-intensive and may diminish during a drought, but renewable alternatives are also available to pick up the slack. How we landscape our yards, parks, golf courses, etc. could significantly curtail municipal water use by shifting away from thirsty cool season grasses and utilizing more native, warm-season vegetation. We could be recycling our cleaned sewage water into drinking water; The City of Wichita Falls, Texas has been forced to do so because of a 5-year drought and cut their water supply demands over that period in more than half. The fact that North Americans wash clothes, flush toilets, and irrigate lawns, gardens, and crops with drinking water is laughable to much of the world’s population (including some other developed nations too) where access to clean drinking water is not a laughing matter. Thankfully, Kansas is in the midst of developing A LONG-TERM VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF WATER SUPPLY IN KANSAS and is considering all of these conservation solutions in addition to looking at increasing supply.

There are so many more issues to consider when discussing this complex topic of water. We invite you to the Dyck Arboretum’s Kansas Water Symposium on Saturday, March 7 and explore the above issues with eight experts speaking on a variety of water topics.

Winter Dreams of Prairie Gardens

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We are near the longest nights of the year when your landscape is cold, brown, and sometimes snowy with few creatures stirring. But soon, if not already, you will be having visions of coneflowers and ground plums dancing in your head.

Since landscaping labor is not taking up your free time at the moment, now is the perfect time to be thinking about and planning the logistics of your spring or fall prairie garden.

Here are a few things you can be doing during the months of winter to prepare for your prairie garden:

Identify Desired Area

Identify the area you want to plant and measure the square footage. With a generally recommended planting rate of one plant/2-4 sq. ft., knowing your planting area will allow you to estimate the number of plants you need and help establish a budget (~$4/plant).

Install Edging

Edging around your prairie garden is not only aesthetically pleasing, but functionally critical to establish where you should stop weeding and start mowing. Garden center options include plastic, metal, wood, or brick, but my favorite is Kansas limestone. A good source in Central Kansas is the Florence Rock Quarry where I last acquired an inexpensive load for $20.50/ton.

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Embedded limestone for a garden border.

Acquire Mulch

Mulch is essential to reduce water and nutrient competition for new prairie plants, reduce weeds, and slow soil moisture loss. Garden center mulch is always available in easy-to-transport bags but, you also have to pay for it. Many municipalities offer free self-serve mulch or a friendly request to a local tree-trimming contractor may get a pile delivered right to your desired location. A layer of newspaper under the mulch will give a bit more biodegradable weed protection in the first year.

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Newspaper under mulch is a great first year weed barrier.

Plan for Bermuda Grass Eradication

Believe me, you don’t want it in your prairie garden. If your site gets plenty of sun you most likely have it; delay your planting till late summer so you can eradicate this species during its growing season. This is the one scenario for which I use herbicide and plan for two to three glyphosate treatments (e.g., Roundup) in the months of June-September to eliminate this very difficult-to-weed warm-season grass.

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Killing Bermuda grass is essential before planting.

Hardscape Features

Water features and feeders attract wildlife, seating allows you to relax in your garden, and weatherproof artwork adds beauty.

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Leopold Bench (http://www.aldoleopold.org/AldoLeopold/LeopoldEvents.shtml)

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Petersen Elementary’s Artwork by Erin Dresher Dowell

Consider Sun Exposure and Other Notable Features

Sun exposure and notable features that affect soil moisture such as low spots or downspouts will affect your plant choices. Consider structures or tree canopies that will block sunlight anywhere from straight overhead to about 45 degrees off the southern horizon. Prairie plants can thrive with at least six hours of sunlight. With less sunlight you should consider more shade-tolerant woodland understory species. Water from downspouts will wash away mulch.

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Consider the amount of sunlight your garden area receives (Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Solar_altitude.svg)

Pick Plants

Peruse our Dyck Arboretum plant library and keep an eye out for our spring and fall plant sale lists. Have fun choosing the plants that fit your preferences with regard to season of bloom, flower color, height, dormant season texture and color, wildlife attraction, and more. See our website for further tips and ideas on landscaping with native plants.

Attention to these items in advance will make your native landscaping endeavor much more successful and enjoyable. Enjoy your winter planning during the darkest days of winter and signs of spring will be here before you know it!