Plants of the GDS Prairie

I live a block away from a suburban middle school. When I first moved here, the school did not exist. Instead, there was a cornfield at the end of our block. I would stand with my toddler son at the edge of that field so we could watch the farmer drive his tractor amongst the corn stalks in the fall. We’d often find ears of corn in our front yard, and were never certain whether they’d been dropped by children or raccoons.

About 13 years ago, the corn fields were replaced by a middle school. Glacial Drumlim middle school (GDS) was built on the top of a large hill on the property, and the corn fields were converted into acres and acres of lawn. Ecologically speaking, I think it was initally a wash. While some wildlife has adapted to benefit from the corn fields and happily “steal” the grain in the fall, most of our native wildlife does not find anything of value in those fields. Likewise, the grass that replaced the field when the school was built gave very little to wildlife in terms of food or shelter.

That has changed over time. The retention pond, which initally held just water and was surrounded only by rocks, is now ringed with cattails, bulrushes and other native and non-native plants. Geese rest among the reeds in the spring, and red winged black birds swoop at visitors’ heads, warning them to stay away. When you walk along the edge of the pond now, every few steps bring the high-pitched, squeeky “ribbet” and subsequent splash of green frogs startled from their positions on the edge of the water. Fish (where did they come from?!?) swim over the landscape-fabric at the bottom. It isn’t exactly a natural enviornment, but it is starting to mimic one pretty well.

Diversity is increasing at the GDS retention pond

And the retention pond is not the only place where new habitats are forming. The middle school teachers have been slowly building patches of restored prairie in the large front lawn of the school. There are currently three patches of prairie, the largest of which is perhaps a third of an acre. They contain a fair number of native prairie plants at this point, and some invasives. What plants are there? Which are thriving? Which are struggling? How will the prairies change over time? Which plants grow near each other? Which do not? These are the questions I’m hoping to answer over time by observing the prairie. I’m starting with the prairie I call “GDS Prairie #1” – an imaginative name, I know. It is the westernmost prairie on the school grounds, furthest from the pond and closest to the neighboring farmer’s field. It appears to have the least biodiversity of the 3 prairie patches, so seems the easiest place to start. It is also the patch with the most trees, so I belive it was planned as an oak savannah rather than a open prairie. Oak savannahs were, at one time, very common in our area.

A mix of native and invasive plants calls the GDS prairie home.
Small oak, elm and poplar trees grow at the far end of the prairie
Which plants will we find growing and thriving here?

Over the next several weeks (months?) I plan to share pictures and plant profiles of some of the plants you see in the pictures here. Some are very familar to me. Some are not. Some are native to our area. Some are not. Let’s learn about them together!

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