Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Morning at Forest Hill Nature Area

This morning I went to Forest Hill Nature Area located at 11297 Rich Rd., Alma, MI.  Forest Hill Nature Area is an old farm property of approximately 90 acres that currently owned by the Gratiot County Conservation District and managed as an educational facility by the Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District.  I have volunteered as a nature guide at Forest Hill for much of the last decade, but since beginning my current position in 2009 my volunteer hours have been few and far between.  I am kind of on a if you absolutely need me and if I am available I will come out basis right now - I volunteered a total of 2 days this spring.


Several Farm buildings remain on the site including a barn, a small grainery, and former hog barn that has been converted to classroom space.

 Much of the landscape has been manipulated to provide a diversity of habitats including woodlands, wetlands, ponds, old fields, and successional habitats.  Several mowed paths lead through the various habitats.  A large map is posted near the classroom building to orient visitors to the site.

The area that i was interested in today is the section listed as Native Grassland on the trail map.  This area has undergone extensive manipulation over the last few years.  The majority of it has been burned, treated with broad-spectrum herbicides, disced up, replanted, and burned again.  Unfortunately, all of this manipulation does not appear to have helped maintain a stand of native grasses and wildflowers in this field.  Walking through the field I found the following wildflowers:

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)

Lance-leafed Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)

Common Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
While these plants are all well and good to find in a native grassland, there was one major problem.

White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba)
Much of the grassland has been overtaken by White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba).  While I like this plant and it is a great plant for pollinators, it should not be a dominant plant in a native grassland - it's not native.

Looking back at photographs of the same area from last year, the plant was present in some of the photographs but was not the dominant species that it has become this year.  Many of the plants are over 6 foot tall.  I wonder if the repeated burnings and other treatments have caused the superabundance of this non-native plant in this "native" grassland.  White Sweet Clover produces large seedbanks and fires are known to help this plant grow by scarifying seeds and increasing germination rates.  It might be time for Forest Hill Nature Area to aggressively treat this area with a broadleaf herbicide and start the grassland restoration over again from the beginning.

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