Plant Profile and Peregrinations – Part 2

(Read Part 1) Provenance matters. Indian-grass is a good case in point. Mass produced range-land selections have been extensively used in Government set-aside programs far away from their origins. They do very well which is desirable in agronomic ways. Trying to enhance such plantings with prairie forbs has proven impossible—at least in the projects that I am familiar with. There are good examples even in forestry about the importance of local ecotype.  The University of Illinois Forestry Department compared pulpwood production of Eastern Cottonwood at several of their regional research stations. Local seed source was always superior! That should also be a big lesson as well for our restoration work in prairie, woodland and wetland. Stay local.

Now that IDOT does a little less mowing I have noticed that Indian grass has established dense strips along the east service road fences along I-55 north of town. I assume that all of that constitutes non-native strains. A bit south and away from the interstate indigenous Indian grass occurs between the service road and the railroad right-away. It has been there forever and is still not spreading! Most foreign invasive species are selections as well. Their lack of natural enemies in addition to breeding for superior fitness has made them super aggressive. One such species for us is what most call ‘Sericea’. Some southern land-grant research stations have even rather recently made selections with less tannins and therefore better forage. So I am told.

That stuff dominates the Mississippi black-land prairie remnants, a most rare natural community. I was told they do not even dare to burn these remnants as Sericea then becomes even more aggressive and invasive. Here I have battled it for decades. Even light infestations will not go away completely. You think that you have got it, and then several years later you find a nasty big patch. Seed bank or re-infestation by ever present super abundant deer? Who knows? If we can breed and select for fitness and other supposedly superior attributes, perhaps we can do the opposite. Find plants that are puny with poor seed-set or virus damage. Perhaps the newly created puny selection can be used to dilute the fitness of current infestations.

We hear much about the ‘knowledge and information society.’ So we force our students to study math and the ‘hard sciences’ not the biologic sciences except perhaps for medicine. It is in this technological world that we seek the grand solutions to society’s problems. I am very proud of our grandson. He studied hard persevering through trying times. Now he is an engineer with Tesla at their huge battery factory in the Nevada desert. He has done well for himself. Society pins much hope on new technologies as we deal with climate change. Just another thought: not so much is said about the above desert location. You have to bring in everything, especially water. And then there are battery ingredients, rare earth minerals that have to be mined from somewhere. Eventual disposal? No doubt someone is thinking this all through. Here’s hoping.