Prairie 5 – My Perspective – True Flood Plain Prairies

DHEC stream team with Wingate University interns at Thompson Creek

Located on the south side of Halfmoon, I am one of three prairies that are considered to be true flood plain prairies. I sit approximately 195 feet from Thompson Creek and am one of the closest prairies to the creek. My previous lives were spent as an agricultural field followed by a pine stand which was part of a large pine plantation of Loblolly Pines. I always knew I had more potential than just farmland and in 2018, the pine stand was thinned, and I was carved out, able to experience the sunlight again.

Loblolly Pines still border my edges on three sides, but the fourth side is unique. To my left you will notice the pines are less prevalent and have been replaced by a hardwood tree with dark spots on the bark. These hardwood trees are Tulip Poplars, which is why I earned the nickname, Poplar Grove. Another interesting plant that can be found along my left edge is Shortleaf Pine. I was one of four prairies that received some Shortleaf Pine saplings along my border. Shortleaf Pine was chosen because it is the pine tree that historically is native to the area. I am proud to say some of my saplings have survived, which is more than most of the other prairies can say. Some other trees in the understory include Eastern Red Cedar and Sweet Gum.

I spent the first year recovering from the logging trucks, tractors, and other equipment that rolled over me. The following year was when things started to get exciting, and I was planted with a native seed mix. Using a seed drill, the seeds were pushed into my topsoil and left to germinate. For the first three years I did very well, showing new species and growth each year. However, ghosts from my past life as an agricultural field still haunted me. An invasive plant known as Johnson Grass began taking over my edges and creeping further into the prairie, slowly outcompeting my much more valuable, native plants. To solve this problem, I was included in the prescription burn that scorched through Halfmoon in February. I watched as the flames slowly crept through the pine stands toward my edges and could feel the heat radiating off the fire. I waited in anticipation for the Johnson Grass to ignite. As the flames reached my edges, their power grew with each plant engulfed until it reached the early spring sprouts I had already started producing. The flames quickly fizzled out and came to an abrupt stop. The remainder of my old, dry vegetation was spot burned and the green sprouts were left to mature into Spring.

As spring came, the Johnson Grass sprouts began to shoot up intermingled with another grass species. As the season progressed, the Johnson Grass was slowly outcompeted by one of my native grasses, Indian Grass. The Indian Grass spread quickly and grew to heights over four feet. While a few Johnson Grass plants could still be found, their density was finally less, and I was excited to see what this new native grass had to offer.

As the season progressed, I surprised my Prairie Keeper with new plants almost every week. Lance-leaf Coreopsis, Black Eyed Susan, Grey-headed Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Little Bluestem, Bushy Bluestem, Splitbeard Bluestem, and Thoroughworts are just a few of the magnificent species I hosted this year. I was bursting with color – yellows, purples, pinks, and whites. I also sported my Prairie Keepers favorite plant, Wild Bergamot. She said that my Wild Bergamot population was one of the healthiest on the property, they towered over her at 5’9’ and on one occasion she counted eight different species of insects using my blossoms at one time including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies, Skipper Butterflies, Hummingbird Moths, and Bumblebee species.

Wild Bergamot with pollinators.

Wild Bergamot with pollinators.

Due to my diverse plant population, I am home to a large insect population. A summer intern found over thirty species of insects on and around my vegetation such as Praying Mantis eggs, Monarch Butterflies, Bird Grasshoppers, Green Lynx Spiders, and many more. Other wildlife also visited me this year including White Tail Deer, Coyotes, and Rabbits. White Tail Deer carved pathways along my edges and crisscrossed through my center, using my tall grasses as bedding in the fall. I watched them grow into their curiosity and venture off into the forest, occasionally seeing them return for a snack. Coyotes stalked the pre-cut deer paths and left scat surprises for my Prairie Keeper to discover, scat that was full of rabbit hair. Luckily not all the rabbits were hunted and some even created a burrow beneath a clump of Indian Grass to call home.

My location on the south side of Halfmoon makes me more difficult to access than other prairies, especially after a rain, but despite that I still received some visitors this year. In addition to the prescription burn team, I was also visited by Wingate Interns in the Spring and Fall. The interns had a chance to walk around my pathways and see some of the native plants they had not yet seen. I was also visited by interns and a professor from Francis Marion University here to study insect populations. The professor and interns stayed until it was dusk and witnessed what seemed like hundreds of fireflies flashed over me and through the pines. Firefly populations have been declining in recent years, with eighteen species facing extinction. Hosting such a large group of fireflies all at one time was something special to me.

This year was full of excitement from prescription burning to new and improved plant populations, I can not wait to see what next year brings. Am I ready? Born ready.

As told to Brianna Bergamini – Prairie Keeper