The lawn is emerald green. The trees leaf out. Violets dot the lawn with splashes of lavender. The inevitable dandelions bloom. But from a distance, the prairie is brown.
It is only 11 months since I prepared the land and seeded this prairie. So, this is my first spring and I don’t really know what to expect. Snow blanketed the prairie from early December until mid-March, leaving me to wonder what happened to tender seedlings under all that cold. Did anything make it?
From a distance, it’s brown. A closer look reveals something quite different. A vole tunnel proves that even under the snow the prairie was alive. Plants of all sorts are forcing their way through crab grass residue. Camera in hand, I snap photos of each different seedling, hoping to know now what flowers I may see later this year.
Some of the plants are robust, clearly in their second year of growth. Some are tiny, first-year babies. All that I see so far are ‘forbs,’ ‘a herbaceous flowering plant other than a grass.’ I have yet to spot any prairie grass but trust these species are coming and must assume they emerge later.
Back in the house, I sit with photos and a prairie seedling identification guide in hand. (Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers) It is a tad disappointing to find that the best I can do is say that a plant is an aster of some type or a cone flower of some type or a sunflower of some type. In some future year I may be skilled enough to recognize the differences at the seedling stage, but for right now, no.
Because I am me, I am overly eager to do something to curtail the dandelions in the prairie. I can hear one of my brothers in law already, “Aren’t dandelions a native plant?” Ha. Ha. I know not to talk with them about the challenge with dandelions, crab grass and barnyard grass!
It’s a delight to find that my baby prairie is back and thriving. Already I can spend hours walking around and through, watching as new seedlings emerge. Discovering, learning, experiencing something new every day.
An editorial by Dick Doak in the Des Moines Register suggested ‘painting Iowa’s landscape’ with prairies. Establishing native prairie as a botanical signature for Iowa in the same way saguaro cacti are for Arizona. Restored prairies across Iowa would invite everyone to discover, learn, and experience an amazing piece of nature. I’m all for it.