Thursday, January 29, 2009

Wiregrass Planting

The Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) burning that occurred last November was reported in this week's Charleston Mercury. Later today, we will head out to another Longleaf Pine stand and plant some of the 15,000 Wiregrass (Aristida stricta) plugs that were purchased and delivered yesterday. Wiregrass evolved with the native Longleaf Pine ecosystem and appears to be critical to the health of the ecosystem.

It appears that fire is essential for production of viable seed by these plants. Wire grass may actually be the most important, if not the most obvious, species in a longleaf pine savanna, because it is the plant that produces most of the fuel for the fires that sustain the community. Longleaf pines themselves do not produce enough fuel to keep their “home fires” burning. If it weren’t for wire grass and the fires it sustains, the savannas would cease to exist. That is exactly what happens when fire is suppressed in these communities. -- Carolina Environmental Diversity Explorations

Therefore, as part of our efforts to restore the Longleaf Pine habitat, we are planting Wiregrass that was grown from seeds we harvested from plants naturally established at another site on the Francis Beidler Forest property.

The wildlife accustomed to the open longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem -- wild turkeys, fox squirrels, bob-white quail, and red-cockaded woodpeckers -- virtually disappeared, replaced by the inhabitants of denser pine forests. The intricate interplay of life adapted to longleaf pine ecosystem was slowly dying.

Today, longleaf pine is an ecosystem in trouble everywhere in the South. Of the estimated 90 million acres in the pre-settlement forests, only about 2 million acres of mostly second-growth longleaf pine remain in scattered patches. Less than half of that is found on public lands. Those stands of longleaf in private ownership continue to decline, as landowners replace the longleaf with faster growing species such as loblolly pine. And, despite our increasing knowledge about the beneficial role of fire, especially fire during the growing season, many landowners still do not burn their longleaf pine forests, or do not burn them often enough. -- U. S. Fish & Wildlife

Even without the full compliment of plants in our Longleaf Pine plots, a dozen or more Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are often spotted moving through the stand at Mallard Lake.

Images by Mark Musselman

No comments: