Archive for the ‘Plant Communities’ Category

A Rare Shale Glade

There are limestone glades, sandstone glades and even shale glades.

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This one is a shale glade.

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You can tell by the shale on the surface. Glades are determined by the amount of rock at the surface.

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Patches of mosses and lichens grow on the glade,

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and not on the surrounding hills.

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Now comes the exciting part: This glade is the only one of its kind in North America! There is shale on other glades, but it isn’t the same age as the shale on this one.

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Glades the age of this one are so rare that they’re considered a globally endangered plant community!

I Wonder …

I wonder if a spring and/or summer starts out dry and goes into a severe drought, if a plant might bloom but not use all of its buds at that time?

What else would explain a small group of flowers on this butterflyweed during first week of September? The plant bloomed in June, but didn’t produce any seedpods.

What would cause these seedpods to start growing when there had been no flowers blooming? Were the earlier flowers pollinated and ready to grow and develop, but the drought was to severe or heat to severe that the seeds wouldn’t have developed right?  (The pods started growing before the above flowers bloomed.)

So, does the plant or is the plant able to postpone in hopes of more conducive weather?

Sheer Determination

Buffy and I hiked up the dry creek bed on Eagle Mountain where we hiked often in the winter and spring. A Christmas fern that I found on one of those hikes was still alive. I was shocked! Shocked because we’re 11 inches behind in rainfall.

The fronds were 6-8 inches long.

The little fern grows on the rock in the foreground that’s green with mosses.

The mosses weren’t dried out, except in a few places. There must be some condensation at night from the humid air. Maybe the fern has a way to compensate too. The cavity it grows in looked to be a tight fit.

Buffy and I took a few minutes to just sit.

The creek bed isn’t the easiest for walking.

A parula warbler gave it’s buzzy call that rose in pitch. A Carolina wren repeated “tea kettle.”  Occasionally the wind added its leaf-rustling noise. With the ravine behind me, it gave me a good view of the sandstone glade that rose up from the creek.

Sandstone glades are a dry rocky plant community. They differ from the sandstone barrens on my rural property by the percentage of rock at the surface. Lots of mosses and lichens grow on the rocks and ground on glades. The trees can be stunted from the harsh conditions. There are also limestone barrens and glades.

I usually only investigate the glade here during the winter. The Eagle Mountain area has an abundance of rattlesnakes. Need I say more?

Funnel Weaver Spiders

The state did this prescribed burn of my barrens (similar to a prairie) on March 3. They burned the whole barrens, into the woods and down to the creek. The barrens soon started greening with a warm winter of confused seasons. It may look harsh but it will be a thing of beauty in no time. Grasses will be taller, flowers will bloom in profusion, unless there’s a drought.

The sprouting barrens really show cased the webs of funnel weaver spiders. Buffy and I walked on into the woods, down to the creek and up the hill. Walking toward the sun really highlighted all the webs. (I counted 36 webs when I had the picture enlarged on the computer back at home.)

Funnel weaver spiders are also called “grass spiders.” They build their webs close to the ground and hide in the mough of the opening. The web’s not sticky. It causes a vibration when an insect, spider or other creature crosses the wide part of the web. The spider feels the vibrations and rushes out to grab its prey. The spiders have 8 legs and 2 body parts (cephalothorax and abdomen).  They have pairs of eyes, hairy body and legs, and body length to about 1 inch.

Funnel weaver spider web

Reindeer Moss

Obviously, we don't have any reindeer in southern Illinois to eat this reindeer moss


The sun shone through a clear blue sky with no clouds. The temperature was in the upper 40’s, with a light wind from the west. Buffy and I followed an old tractor road down into a ravine on the Shawnee National Forest land next to my property. The ravine was deep, with steep sides narrowing down to the creek. The creek had a steady flowing sound from the recent heavy rains.

Yesterday, we had another strong line of storms with tornadoes headed our way. It began to weaken when was only 15 minutes from us. That was a might much to go through after the tornado that hit Harrisburg, Illinois 3 days ago.

Today felt so calm, so peaceful, like the storms had done a deep cleanse of the area.

We crossed the creek and headed up the east slope. The sun was just right to highlight the greens of the large patches of moss and the grayish-green of the lichens. The picture (above) is a small patch of reindeer moss. The one below shows larger clumps of it 12 and more inches long.

Reindeer moss (Cladina subtenuis) isn’t a moss, it’s a lichen. It grows in small mats or rounded clumps. It’s spongy during wet times, and becomes dry and brittle during dry weather.

Lichens are actually 2 species living together in a symbiotic relationship — a fungus and an alga. Symbiotic means each depends on the other for survival. The fungus is the body of the lichens, and surrounds the green alga. The alga supplies nutrients for the fungus, which has no chlorophyll and can’t photosynthesize its own food. The fungus provides a “house” for the alga.

Buffy and I walked around a while longer, and then took our time going back to the truck. I too felt cleansed by this day and by our slow meandering hike; I felt so relaxed, so relieved, taking deep breaths … which I’m sure had nothing to do with the steepness of the slope.

Sandstone Barrens

You won’t find me and Buffy staying home when the temperature’s to reach 70 today and then drop to 33 tomorrow. We made a casual loop thru both barrens and the ravine.

My property is U-shaped with 13 acres of Shawnee National Forest land coming in the center from the south. A wet-weather creek runs through the wooded ravine (left in the picture). Woods and a sandstone barrens occur on both sides of the ravine. A barrens is a grassy plant community, similar to a prairie, only with more trees.

My property is a registered Land and Water Reserve, a program through the Natural Heritage Division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It was accepted as a reserve because of the barrens, which is an uncommon plant community, and because of a few threatened and endangered plant species. A Land and Water Reserve is one step below a nature preserve. It allows us to hunt and camp on the land. Neither are allowed on nature preserves. ATV’s, horses and trespassing are not allowed. We aren’t allowed to cut trees or do anything to alter the land. It will always remain a reserve.

The trees in the barrens are predominately oaks and hickories … and pesky sumacs. The state does prescribed burns, alternating barrens, according to the management plan. Without these burns, the sumacs would increase along with other trees, and the barrens would eventually become a woodlands. Fire doesn’t hurt the prairie plants because of their deep root systems. It does control invasive plants which have shallow roots.

The height of the little bluestem grass and the abundance of flowering plants depends on the amount of rainfall through the growing season. The tall grass in the barrens is beautiful covered with dew in the early morning, with snow and/or ice in the winter, when the tall seeded stalks blow in the wind, and late in the summer when flowers bloom in abundance and in many colors. The barrens is also definitely beautiful in the light of a full moon.

Sandstone Bluff and …

First part of a 2-part blog.

It was probably better I didn’t know the elevation from the truck to the base of the sandstone bluff. The trail was steep enough to require switch backs. Buffy and I hiked at Stone Face, a site on the Shawnee National Forest.

The view from the base of the bluff extended 15-20 miles into a blue haze. We followed the trail along the bluff. It wasn’t the easiest place to hike with the ups and downs, and with so many rocks at the surface. I kept taking pictures of the bluff, turning often to check for picture possibilities behind me. Imagine my surprise when I turned and there was a black vulture on a ledge! Another one walked out of a crevice to join it.

I took a few pictures. Buffy and I then walked a little farther and stopped. We sat side-by-side, eating a snack. She was content just to sit, looking around and smelling the smells. A light breeze rustled dry leaves remaining on small trees nearby. No traffic sounds reached us. No other people were there. I prefer to hike where there’s as few people as possible. That way I can completely immerse myself in the experience.

We started back the way we came. The vultures were ….

Continued in a second blog for this trip.