Friday, May 27, 2011

A Walk through the Glade

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)

Passing through eastern Iowa last week, I explored rugged bluffs along the Maquoketa River contained in the Indian Bluffs Wildlife Area.  Most of the landscape is wooded with typical upland forest, dominated by white oak, red oak, sugar maple and basswood on loamy soils, but scattered along the rim of the bluffs overlooking the canyonesque river valley, dolomite bedrock protrudes from the soil and creates a unique habitat.  Thin, droughty soil limits development of vegetation to a savanna-like community known as a glade.  With a lower density of trees - many of them old cedars stunted in height or girth - the glade environment allows more sunlight to penetrate the canopy, in turn allowing many prairie plants to flourish.  During my visit to several of these small, but very interesting spots, I found colorful displays of shooting star, wood betony, blue-eyed grass, hoary puccoon, and yellow stargrass.

Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis),
overview (above) and close-up (below)

Yelllow stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta)

Blue-eyed grass
(Sisyrinchium campestre)
Hoary puccoon
(Lithospermum canescens)

I also found several forest wildflowers growing alongside the prairie plants: wild geranium, wood anemone, and showy orchis.

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)
Showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis)

(Erigeron pulchellus)
Interestingly, I also found species that I often find in "in-between" habitats such as glades: Seneca snakeroot, Robin-plantain, and colombine.
Seneca snakeroot (Polygala senega)

Colombine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Although comprising a tiny fraction of the landscape, glades harbor a significant biodiversity.  Their steep, rugged, rocky, and often remote locations make them difficult to access, but I always seek out the glades whenever I am in bluffland country.  Enjoying their "atypical" flora and their high vistas of the surrounding landscape are always worth the effort.