At the Arboretum we talk a lot about how to support pollinators with native plants because we are concerned about the sharp decline in their populations. However, frogs and toads have experienced sharp population declines as well, but without the fanfare and media attention. In fact, nearly one-third of the world’s amphibians are threatened or extinct. Perhaps it is the slimy skin, bulgy eyes and webbed toes that make us less sympathetic to their plight. Whatever the reason, we need to put it behind us and rally around these lovely little hop-alongs before it is too late!
What is Making Them Croak?
Many factors have led to the dramatic declines in amphibian populations world wide. One prominent issue is habitat destruction and pollution. Amphibians are especially susceptible to these issues because their skin is part of their respiratory system. Even small amounts of pollutants in water systems can seep into their bodies through their permeable skin layer. Or, a change in the habitat such as logging or damming can change the humidity levels within a forest, making it uninhabitable for amphibians with very specific living conditions.
Rain gardens are a great way to attract frogs and toads to your area. Amphibians are lovers of cool, damp places, such as the shaded banks of a rain garden, which provide ample shelter and attract a plethora of insects for a froggy buffet.
Catch the rainwater from your roof in a shallow depression, and plant the edges of the depression with water loving natives like marsh milkweed, cardinal flower, switchgrass, and Virginia iris. Visit our previous post for more info to start your own rain garden, or attend our Native Plant School class on rain gardens.
Fungus Among Us
Cytrid fungus is devastating the world’s frogs. While we haven’t yet pinpointed how and why the past ten years have seen such dramatic increases in cytrid fungus spread, we do know the pet trade has made the problem even worse. Exotic animals shipped from around the world bring with them exotic pathogens. This exposes native frogs to illnesses they never evolved to resist. Demand for exotic pets also hurts frog populations due to over harvesting specimens from their home country. All in all, it can be a sketchy business. Do your part by not keeping rare and endangered frogs as ‘pets’, and never release a ‘pet’ into the wild. When handling native frogs, leave them in the same area you found them to avoid potentially contaminating new populations.
Eye on the Fly
While the frogs are watching flies, you can be watching the frogs! Be part of the citizen science effort to track frog populations with FrogWatch USA. Learn their calls, spend time outside, contribute to a nationwide science initiative — a fun way to spend spare time in the spring and summer!
I hope to start my own rain garden this year in my side yard. If I get any froggy visitors, you can bet there will be a blog post about it!
Six years ago I wrote my first ever Dyck Arboretum blog post about our “Teenage Prairie” Prairie Window Project (PWP) reconstructed prairie. The birth and development of this project was the focus of my early years here at the Arboretum from 2004 to 2010 and at times it indeed felt like developing progeny. Sticking with that maturing prairie/human metaphor, I’d say this prairie today would be in the young adult stage. While it is still maturing, it relies much less on the parental influence of Arboretum staff and its changes from year to year are more subtle.
I recently gave a 40-minute webinar presentation about the story of developing this PWP prairie. I enjoyed remembering all the educational and community building opportunities this project intensively afforded over a 7-year period and how it still serves us today. From that presentation, I will summarize through images and interpretation the stages this reconstructed prairie has been through.
This reconstructed prairie was a gleam in the eye of Harold and Evie when they started the Dyck Arboretum in 1981. With native gardens already established here, they also wanted visitors to experience the feeling of visiting a larger prairie ecosystem. I was tasked with oversight of this project when I started working here in 2004. Preparations began in 2005 to turn 18 acres of agricultural ground south of our hedge row to a prairie.
We wanted this prairie reconstruction to be developed with local ecotype seed collected with in a 60-mile radius, knowing that the plants would be best suited to local fauna, soils, and climate. No other prairie in Kansas had been restored with local seed, and we knew this site could be a unique future seed source for creation of other prairies. We set out to visit more than 100 nearby blueprint prairies to collect data on their plant composition, study the butterfly and bird populations they supported, and scope out where we would best be able to hand-collect seed. Visits to these prairies on a regular basis helped us secure the grass, wildflower, shrub and sedge seed needed to plant a diverse prairie at Dyck Arboretum.
To best mimic the species composition of the blueprint remnant prairies we were observing, prairie restoration literature suggested that we should be aiming for a wildflower:grass ratio of no less than 50:50 and perhaps even has high as 80:20. Other target planting parameters included at least 50 lbs of seed per acre, a minimum of 50 seeds per square foot, and as much species diversity as possible. Five different plantings between 2005 and 2010 met these parameters and more than 120 local ecotype prairie species were planted into the PWP during that time.
Planting our seed mix with a seed drill or mechanical planter wasn’t realistic given the unique shape of our planting areas and diverse shapes/weight/textures of the seed mix. An alternative plan was to establish a planting grid that would allow for even distribution of seed using 5-gallon buckets. We assigned two buckets and a volunteer per planting unit, distributed seed (sand added for bulk) evenly to all buckets, and instructed volunteers to evenly cover their flag-marked planting unit.
Prairies require regular disturbance management of grazing and fire to maintain healthy ecosystems and prevent the invasion of woody plants and non-native cool-season grasses. Selective pulling of certain invasive, non-native species was key early in the PWP planting’s development. Once the desired prairie vegetation built sufficient roots after about three years and became well-established, a rotation of mowing (to best simulate grazing), burning and leaving residual has been implemented ever since.
More than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students have been invaluable in collecting data to monitor populations of plant and wildlife species. Their efforts have helped us understand changes in groupings and species as the planting matures and management continues.
Education into the Future
Our PWP reconstructed prairie is regularly used by preschool, K-12, and college students to learn about the plants and wildlife important to the natural history of Kansas. Community bird and butterfly enthusiasts regularly monitor the species that are found within. And visitors seeking recreation on our paths enjoy the prairie backdrop that enhances their Arboretum stroll.
The Prairie Window Project prairie reconstruction on the southern part of our grounds has been a valuable tool to promote prairie conservation, education, and community building with our membership. This project has been at the heart of our mission to cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land. Pay this prairie a visit sometime and let us know if and how it may hold value for you.
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few.
Maybe it’s the swaying grasses in a gentle breeze or pollinators clustered on the top of a coneflower on a warm spring day. A primrose opening in the evening like a beacon in the night. The vibrant combination of black-eyed Susans and blazing stars growing harmoniously with little bluestem. Or the vital role native plants play in the overall healing of the land.
Whatever your inspiration for creating a prairie landscape, hold onto that dream, but also prepare yourself for a surprise. In my experience, when working with native plants, the resulting benefits of your effort will surpass anything you can imagine.
Connection to the Land
There is something special about native plants. They grow with you in a sense. As their roots grow deeper, you begin to understand the importance of the landscape you have created.
If you live in the prairie, a prairie landscape creates a sense of place. It reflects your connection to the native landscape. This connection is good for you, but also good for the land.
Assist the Environment
Over the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in native landscaping. These plants are naturally adapted to our soils and climates. If properly sited, they require less care, have fewer problems, and create habitat and year-round beauty. A prairie habitat attracts many different forms of wildlife, including birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects.
The prairie is an important part of the web of life in the vast Great Plains. Your native landscape, though small, is one part of a patchwork prairie that, when pieced together, has tremendous environmental benefits.
Aesthetics that Reflect the Prairie
There is a paradigm shift happening on what is considered appealing in the landscape. Not only what is attractive, but what is acceptable to have in your landscape. More and more people are moving away from the traditional lawn by replacing them with vibrant landscapes of diverse wildflowers, grasses, trees and shrubs.
Often we start growing a prairie landscape for what it does for us. However, the special beauty these plants provide will attract a host of other admirers, including our neighbors.
It’s difficult to quantify the savings you gain after a native landscape is established. Savings of time, water, chemicals, and fuel for your mower are long term savings from your investment in native plants. As these plants work in harmony with nature, you benefit in many different ways. These plants will bring a smile to your face as you see the beauty and the return on investment they bring.
Each landscape is a personal choice that expresses your interests and vision. Whether you are planting a small foundation bed with natives around your home or reclaiming an overrun pasture, you have decided that you want more from your landscape. This timeless landscape is so vital to our environment.
If you are motivated to start a native landscape and need help with your landscape design or have questions about where to start, attend one of our Native Plant School classes or read previous blog posts about design or pollinators. We would be happy to help.
I don’t know what your resolutions are for 2020*, but one of mine is to spend more time outdoors. Whether working in the garden, fishing along a stream or simply taking a walk with a friend or loved one, there are not many activities that can benefit us more than spending time outside away from screens.
I would like to encourage you to start 2020 off right by determining to intentionally get outside to connect with the land. I realize there are additional perks, but here are five benefits of spending time outdoors:
It is well documented that people are not getting enough sleep. Our harried schedules and longer work days don’t usually allow for much time outdoors. Spending too much time indoors away from natural light disrupts our circadian rhythms, which changes our sleep patterns. We can synchronize these rhythms by spending more time outdoors. Take in the sun for a better night’s sleep.
I’m reading a book this month that promotes the many benefits of moving. Not moving to a new city, but physical movement. It doesn’t really matter how you make it happen, but simply reminding yourself to get outside and then intentionally going for a walk has incredible physiological and psychological benefits. It boosts the good chemicals in our bodies to help us reduce stress and anxiety while sustaining a positive self-image. A little time outside helps to keep everything in balance, mind and body.
Increased Vitamin D
There is a balance we need to take, but exposing your body to the sun around the noontime helps increase vitamin D in our bodies. There is evidence that low Vitamin D levels in the body increase the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Sunshine helps keep our bones stronger and lifts our spirits. It only takes 10-15 minutes of sun exposure several times each week to do some good. So make a point to get out into the light – just don’t take in too much sun.
This a big one for me. Every time I force myself to get outdoors and closely look at nature, I am amazed. The intricate beauty of a coneflower in bloom, diverse pollinators, Mississippi Kites flying around, snow collecting in switchgrass, birds earnestly searching for food before a rainstorm and so many more experiences help signal my body to slow down. I can’t explain it, but it works every time.
Take in the Fresh Air
Whether it’s the freshness after a rain (Petrichor), lilacs blooming in spring or newly turned soil, the smells of nature are subtle, but powerful. The fresh air of the outdoors has tremendous calming qualities and often conjures up memories from the past. Step outside to breathe some fresh air!
What are we waiting for?
I think most of us know all about these and other benefits from experience. And yet, if you’re like me, we struggle to remember those benefits when we most need them. Ironically, I don’t get enough outdoor time even working at the Arboretum. But when I do, I have found that it is good for my mind, body and soul. That is why in 2020, I am striving to spend time enjoying the outside world. I encourage you to join me.
*From Wikipedia , 2020 (MMXX) is the current year, and is a leap year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2020th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 20th year of the 3rd millennium, the 20th year of the 21st century, and the 1st year of the 2020s decade. 2020 is really a cool year when you think about it.
This is the time of year I get the most reading done. With no vegetable garden to tend and little watering to do, I finally have a little time to cozy up with all the books I have been neglecting through the year. Specifically, books related to nature and the environment. If you want to stay connected with nature through these long, cold evenings, choose one of these great reads. And don’t forget to join our nature book club! Here are a few book reviews to pique your interest.
This non-fiction story follows Bair through struggles and self discovery as she grapples with the fate of the family farm. A story many Kansans can relate to, Bair is torn between her love of the land and the destructive agricultural practices her family uses to make their living. Set in western Kansas, readers are treated to sunny vistas of shortgrass prairie, colorful sunsets and relaxing horseback rides. Though at times I felt the prose was lacking, the story never lost its grip on me. An important warning cry for the Ogallala aquifer, and a call to action to protect this precious resource.
Published in 1992, this books continues to provide perspective into human civilization’s contentious relationship with planet earth. Made mostly of dialogue, the reader enters an “adventure of the mind and spirit”. Through simple, well-paced conversations between teacher and pupil, we get a fresh look at our agricultural society, and how humans might have arrived at such a violent relationship with the land that sustains us. Sure to spark conversation, this is an impactful, thought-provoking book. It continues to color my thoughts and actions long after I returned it to the shelf.
I won’t give away too much since this is on our nature book club list! Lab Girl is a non-fiction account of Jahren’s life and work in the natural sciences. An accomplished geobiologist, she offers a story that is part memoir and part love story – a love of plants. Hope Jahren dives deep into the mysterious and life-giving qualities of plants, soil and seeds. It’s not a quick-paced book that enthralls you, and at times I wished it moved along at a faster clip. But it may just be the perfect book for late winter, when you’re dreaming of summer and the return of green things.
Keep a look out for more book reviews this winter and early spring. I am on a mission to finish a new book each month so long as the cold weather holds!
I really enjoy the work we do here at the Arboretum. I am deeply rooted in the Kansas landscape. Having grown up on a farm, connecting with the land seemed like an easy thing for me. However, I never really noticed the small details and intricacies of the plants that grow here until I started working at the Arboretum.
The Arboretum is almost 40 years old. From our founding, building relationships with the land was our foremost charge. The 1981 mission was to “foster and appreciation of the natural beauty of Kansas”. Our growth since those humble beginnings is linked to the timelessness of our mission and connecting people to the Kansas landscape.
As you know, connecting to the land has never been more important. With concerns of habitat loss, declining bird populations, fewer pollinators, or decreasing biodiversity, your connection will have a powerful impact as you learn more about your role in making positive changes. What you do will make a difference.
Knowledge is powerful. Whether in personal or work relationships, in working with plants, or anything else, the more you know the deeper the connection grows. Relationships grow as we learn, relate and spend time interacting with each other or with the elements of nature that surround us. The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains’ mission to ‘cultivate transformative relationships between people and the land’ is all about building relationships through continuous learning.
It is my wish that each of you find a personal connection with the land that makes your life better. As you develop this connection, other positive impacts will naturally happen. Stewardship, conservation, appreciation, enjoyment and reflection are personal responses to a profound connection to the land.
In the coming year, we invite each of you to share in experiences that inspire you and deepen your own connection to the land and with the Arboretum. It is our desire to make your lives richer as you find solace, comfort, joy, anticipation, and discovery in the events and activities centered around our mission.
Whether you support the Arboretum by giving financially, attending events, sharing about our work with your friends and family, or providing your expertise and energy through volunteering, your participation makes this place better. Your commitment to this shared mission deepens our relationships not only with each other, but also with the land.
December in Kansas is the time to enjoy textures in the landscape and appreciate dormancy. These textures have been present during earlier months, but they have been obscured by the bright, colorful eye candy that more dominantly draws our attention.
The waning purples, yellows, reds, and greens of fall have served their purposes of pollinator attraction and energy production and finally given way to the variously rich shades of brown in winter. These remaining warm hues of frugal colors make shapes and textures stand out more prominently in the prairie against itself and the sky.
The previously perfect ovals of grey-headed coneflower seed heads, slowly release their grip on propagules, only to uncover another perfect oval.
The white hairy pappus of a variety of grasses, asters, and goldenrods, which will eventually carry away its host seed in the wind like a parachute, is particularly eye-catching in the way it reflects light while held on winter stems.
From a prairie management perspective, wintertime is the best time to see and root out invading tree stems with their obvious coarse textures that are otherwise hidden by greenery.
The past twelve months have been filled with personal challenges for me and I have not always been thankful for the many blessings in my life. Often we look at the problems we are dealing with, but neglect to see and be grateful for the gifts we have been given.
The other day I found this poem and it was a good reminder to me to not let the cares of this world keep me from being thankful. I am thankful for the relationships I have with family and friends. I am thankful for the people we serve. I am thankful for the work I do, and the beauty all around me. Trials can be turned to gratitude if we change our attitude.
We walk on starry fields of white And do not see the daisies; For blessings common in our sight We rarely offer praises. We sigh for some supreme delight To crown our lives with splendor, And quite ignore our daily store Of pleasures sweet and tender.
Our cares are bold and push their way Upon our thought and feeling. They hang about us all the day, Our time from pleasure stealing. So unobtrusive many a joy We pass by and forget it, But worry strives to own our lives And conquers if we let it.
There’s not a day in all the year But holds some hidden pleasure, And looking back, joys oft appear To brim the past’s wide measure.
But blessings are like friends, I hold, Who love and labor near us. We ought to raise our notes of praise While living hearts can hear us.
Full many a blessing wears the guise Of worry or of trouble. Farseeing is the soul and wise Who knows the mask is double. But he who has the faith and strength To thank his God for sorrow Has found a joy without alloy To gladden every morrow.
We ought to make the moments notes Of happy, glad Thanksgiving; The hours and days a silent phrase Of music we are living. And so the theme should swell and grow As weeks and months pass o’er us, And rise sublime at this good time, A grand Thanksgiving chorus.
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1896
HAPPY THANKSGIVING FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT THE DYCK ARBORETUM OF THE PLAINS!
Life flies by for all of us and it is easy to miss or forget what happens in a given month. When reviewing recent photographs on my phone, I was pleasantly reminded of all the richness that happened over the last four weeks or so. October in Kansas is that great fall transition period between summer and winter, hot and cold, green and brown, and fast and slow when there is SO MUCH to see. For those that feel that they endure the extremes of Kansas to revel in the moderation that comes with fall, October is your time.
I was reminded from these photos of our Dyck Arboretum of the Plains mission – cultivating transformative relationships between people and the land. Let’s review in the following photos the richness that can be found in that interface between the plants/wildlife of Kansas and the people that enjoy this place in October.
October 1 brought a monarch “fallout” when their migration was interrupted by strong south winds. They momentarily took a break from their journey and sought shelter in our Osage orange hedge row.
Local monarch enthusiast, Karen Fulk, took advantage of the fallout to capture and tag monarchs with identification numbers that help other monarch observers in Mexico or elsewhere to better understand the speed and location of their migration.
Santa Fe Middle School students from Newton were able to witness the end of the monarch fallout on October 2 and also enjoyed various activities on the Dyck Arboretum campus that included insect collecting, plant sampling and measuring tree height. The Dyck Arboretum’s Kansas Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) Program curriculum has a lesson that teaches students how to measure tree height with five different methods including estimation, shadows, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.
On October 6, former and current Dyck Arboretum board members hosted tours of their homes and land near Hesston for Arboretum Prairie Partners. Lorna and Bob Harder gave a tour of their solar photovoltaic-powered home and surrounding prairie landscape and LeAnn and Stan Clark hosted everyone for dinner on their patio surrounded by extensive native plant landscaping.
Hesston Elementary students took a field trip to the Arboretum on October 10 to conduct a leaf scavenger hunt, learn about monarch migration, observe different seed dispersal mechanisms and study insect diversity in the prairie.
Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary in Wichita, a Kansas Earth Partnership for Schools participating school, engages their students in environmental education with hands-on activities such as beekeeping. Students tend the bees, grow and maintain native plant gardens as nectar sources, and regularly camp on their grounds to learn more about the natural world around them.
On October 17, Walton Elementary (another Kansas EPS School) students came to the Arboretum to collect seed and study how seeds disperse. They each had a target plant they were searching for and from which they were aiming to collect seed. They did the same last year, germinated the seed in their greenhouse over the winter, and had a successful native plant sale in the Walton community.
Bethel College environmental science classes visited the Arboretum on October 24 to learn about the native plants and wildlife of Kansas, natural resource management, and ecological restoration. When students become interested in and well-versed about the natural world around them, they will turn into more informed and better-educated environmental decision-makers of the future.
Part of establishing a rich sense of place for people in any one location involves not only natural history connection cultural enrichment through the arts. The Dyck Arboretum’s Prairie Window Concert Series (PWCS) features eight live music performances each season. Our 2019-20 season was kicked off with October bookend performances featuring Mark Erelli on September 29 and recently The Steel Wheels on October 26.
On October 29, a stunning cold front rolled through Kansas and chilling temperatures caused delicately-held leaves on trees like ash, maple, Osage orange, and ginko to fall within hours. Social media posts were featuring leaves dropping quickly that day all over Kansas to make for a memorable fall day.
The 2019 Eco-Meet Championships will be held at Dyck Arboretum in early November. In late October, organizers and high school teams from around the state were visiting the Arboretum to prepare for the big event. The competition will allow some of the brightest science students from around the state to showcase their knowledge on subjects including prairies, woodlands, entomology, and ornithology.
The cold nights and relatively warm days of late October have allowed the grass and tree leaves to show off their bright colors that have been hidden all growing season by the green pigments of chlorophyll. Seed heads are opening and dispersal mechanisms that catch the wind or lure animals are on full display. Good ground moisture and warm temperatures are still even allowing for a bit of late-season flowering from some species.
I’ll leave you with a video (sorry for the terrible camera work) of one of my favorite sights of every October – when the aromatic asters are in full bloom and late-season pollinators belly up to the nectar bar on a warm fall day. Enjoy.
It is time to give some props to the plants that don’t always play nice in the urban landscape. Over the past month, I have enjoyed finding value in the undesirables.
In recent years, we have culled tall and aggressive native plant species from our plant sales because they become weedy and dominant in small manicured gardens. They out-compete shorter, slower-growing species for which we also find value. But even though some of these species may be landscape bullies, they still provide nectar for pollinators, food for seed eaters, vegetation for host-specific insect larvae, and beautiful flowers to please the human eye.
In some of the low-maintenance habitat areas here at the Arboretum, I’ve been recently admiring the profuse blooms and insect-attracting abilities of the following species:
Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis),
western ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii)
tall joe-pye weed (Eupatorium altissimum),
brown-eyed susan (Rudbeckia triloba),
tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum),
common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca),
compass plant (Silphium laciniatum)
prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)
Maximillian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
While I would not recommend these plants for the more manicured parts of your yard where you weed, mulch, and tend for a tidier look, consider these “undesirables” for more wild places around you. You will only find a couple of these species for purchase at our plant sales. But you can find all of them in the landscapes around our grounds and I will be happy to pick some seed for you to take home and disperse in your wild places. The insects and greater ecosystem around you will benefit!