“Water is Life”

One ecology blog definitely worth following is that of Stephen Glass, a restoration ecologist at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in Madison, WI. The arboretum is something of a “mecca” for U.S. restoration ecologists and played a foundational role in our discipline (and continues to do so).

Stephen is the President of the Midwestern chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration. I’ve been to all but one of the regional conferences over the last 5 years, and the gatherings are always encouraging.

Anyway, let’s get to his blog. He recently posted a reflection his titled “Water is Life.” The little I’ve interacted with him, he’s proven to be humble and personable, as well as a respected scientist. His words in this post are incisive and frank. They are poignant, value-laden words (as the entire discipline inescapably must be) without resorting to hyperbolic rhetoric beyond what science is pointing us towards.

Sometimes we do need to have our values and practices recalibrated, (literally) brought back down to earth, to the essence and substance of our sustenance. Stephen does that wonderfully in this reflection.

An old bathtub once served as a cattle drinking trough to catch spring-fed water. An earthen dam was constructed and cattle excluded to rebuild this wetland near Moontree Studios. The groundwater still flows.


2017 seed harvesting

Now that winter has truly arrived, I took some time to clean and organize our 2017 seed collection. This year, we received help from college students, Maria Center residents, Moontree volunteers, members of the grounds crew, and others.

We collect seeds (and plant them) to increase the plant species diversity in our restoration areas. Biodiversity is a fundamental value of conservation biology, and it’s a cornerstone of ecological functioning.

Yes, seeds can spread themselves, and they have many ways of doing so. It seems that for every species I get in the targeted collection bag, I pick up another one on my coat, pants, or shoelaces.


Seeds of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) bear little white elaiosomes, nutritious bribes for ants who move the seeds to their nests, where a new plant may start growing.

However, it’s important to remember that seeds evolved their dispersal mechanisms in the context of unbroken natural areas. Even though the land was modified by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, it has only been in very recent history that so many acres have been so regularly plowed, drained, sprayed, paved, and mowed. We have selected for a very narrow suite of native species (and alien imports like dandelions) that can withstand this regular onslaught. The less tolerant species have retreated to fencerows, field edges, and islands of small forests.

Just having a single representative plant of a given species “somewhere around here” is not sufficient for ecological function, or to support robust populations of the insects, fungi, bacteria, mammals, birds, etc that rely on them. Yes, it may eventually spread… but “eventually” on the nature’s timescale may be decades or centuries.

We don’t have that kind of time. But we do have brains, hands, and Excel sheets. Even though much of restoration ecology remains something of a black box (especially the microscopic biophysicalchemical world in the soil), we know enough to get started.

I’ll post an update later on the 2017 prairie plantings, but here I’d like to just list the species we were able to harvest in between all of our other tasks. They matured throughout the growing season, most of them ripening in late summer or fall. They grew on dry sand to wet muck. A few are small and inconspicuous, others send new shoots up 10 feet in the air each year.

Butterflies alone are reason to disperse seeds, don’t you think?

This year we gathered around 43 species. Together with 24 additional species off-site from a much-loved volunteer, we have 67+ unique species that we will be sowing this winter and into the spring.

Most of the seeds have a dormancy mechanism that prevents them from germinating immediately in the fall. The cold weather and freeze/thaw forces on the ground unlock this mechanism and allow them to sprout in the spring. Most take a couple years of growth before flowering.

For those wanting to learn more, here are a few resources:





Scientific Name Common Name
Achillea millefolium yarrow
Aletris farinosa colic root
Amorpha fruticosa indigo bush
Andropogon scoparius little bluestem grass
Angelica atropurpurea great angelica
Arisaema dracontium green dragon
Asclepias amplexicaulis sand milkweed
Asclepias syriaca common milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa butterfly weed
Aster azureus sky-blue aster
Aster ericoides heath aster
Baptisia australis blue wild indigo
Baptisia leucophaea cream wild indigo
Bouteloua curtipendula side-oats grama
Carex comosa bristly sedge
Carex grayi common bur sedge
Carex hystericina porcupine sedge
Carex pellita broad-leaved woolly sedge
Carex vulpinoidea brown fox sedge
Cassia fasciculata partridge pea
Cassia hebecarpa wild senna
Coreopsis palmata prairie coreopsis
Corylus cornuta beaked hazelnut
Echinacea purpurea broad-leaved purple coneflower
Elymus canadensis canada wild rye
Elymus virginicus virginia wild rye
Eryngium yuccifolium rattlesnake master
Eupatorium maculatum spotted joe pye weed
Euphorbia corollata flowering spurge
Filipendula rubra queen of the prairie
Gaura biennis biennial gaura
Gentiana crinita fringed gentian
Geum laciniatum northern rough avens
Heracleum maximum cow parsnip
Juncus tenuis path rush
Lespedeza capitata round-headed bush clover
Liatris cylindracea cylindrical blazing star
Lobelia cardinalis cardinal flower
Lobelia siphilitica great blue lobelia
Lupinus perennis occidentalis wild lupine
Lycopus virginicus bugle weed
Monarda fistulosa wild bergamot
Parthenium integrifolium wild quinine
Penstemon digitalis foxglove beard tongue
Petalostemum purpureum purple prairie clover
Physostegia virginiana obedient plant
Polygonum sagittatum arrow-leaved tear-thumb
Potentilla arguta prairie cinquefoil
Ratibida pinnata yellow coneflower
Rosa carolina pasture rose
Rudbeckia triloba brown-eyed susan
Sabatia angularis rose gentian
Sanguinaria canadensis bloodroot
Scirpus cyperinus wool grass
Silene regia royal catchfly
Silene stellata starry campion
Silphium laciniatum compass plant
Silphium perfoliatum cup plant
Sisyrinchium angustifolium stout blue-eyed grass
Solidago graminifolia nuttallii hairy grass-leaved goldenrod
Solidago rigida stiff goldenrod
Sorghastrum nutans indian grass
Tephrosia virginiana goats rue
Thalictrum dasycarpum purple meadow rue
Tradescantia ohiensis common spiderwort
Verbena stricta hoary vervain
Veronicastrum virginicum culvers root

Yellow River Watershed meeting coming to Plymouth Dec. 19th

“In the fall of 2014 the Marshall County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received state and federal funds to produce a watershed management plan for the Headwaters Yellow River Watershed.

The Headwaters Yellow River Watershed encompasses approximately 187,423 acres of land across Marshall, Elkhart, St. Joseph and Kosciusko Counties.  Plymouth, Bremen, LaPaz, Lakeville and Nappanee are all located within the Headwaters Yellow River Watershed.

Multiple streams and lakes within the watershed have been listed on IDEM’s 303d list of impaired waterbodies for E. coli and excess phosphorus. The project will identify critical areas within the Headwaters Yellow River Watershed that are contributing to these impairments and work with local landowners to install a demonstration best management practice in one of these critical areas to improve local water quality. ”  —Marshall County SWCD

A final watershed meeting will be held to “review work completed to date on the project and discuss future efforts within the Headwaters Yellow River Watershed… we will discuss the data and goals that have been developed for the Watershed Management Plan and determine processes for implementing work within the watershed.”

The meeting will be held on December 19th at 2:00 PM EST in Laramore A room at the Plymouth Public Library (201 North Center Street).

The number of known macrofungi in Indiana just doubled with this recent publication

The Indiana Academy of Science is a badge of pride for our state. Since 1885, it has been the professional membership organization for Indiana scientists, “dedicated to promoting scientific research and diffusing scientific information; to encouraging communication and cooperation among scientists and to improving education in the sciences.”

I’m a member and try to read what I can from the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. Since it covers every scientific discipline, there is plenty that I don’t really understand, or isn’t relevant to my discipline, but I’d do good to read a little more broadly.

I was intrigued by an article in Volume 126, #1 that just hit my mailbox, Checklist of Indiana Fungi 1: Macrofungi by Purdue researcher Scott Bates and his students (you’ll need to become a member to find the text). I don’t know much about the organisms in Kingdom Eumycota (Fungi), other than they are ubiquitous, species-diverse, and critically important to nutrient cycling and ecosystem function. Some species called mycorrhizal fungi are symbiotic with plants. They grow into the plants themselves (even into their very cells) and help transport nutrients from the soil to the plant in exchange for sugars. They exert a huge influence on soil ecology, a revelation now becoming  appreciated at a public level.

Fungus on a beech tree in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, May 2017. It may be Fomes fomentarius, but I’m not sure.

There are estimated to be 1.5-5.1 million species of fungi, of which only 100,000 have been formally described by science. There may be around 18,000 species in Indiana, of which we know only 3,000.

In a three-part series, Bates and his team first tackled just the macrofungi, which include bracket fungi, mushrooms, and puffballs (molds, rusts, and lichens will have to wait). They examined 19,000 specimen records from 72 public collections dating back to 1804. Mycology is certainly a field for the patient and systematic!

They published a list of 1,410 species of macrofungi with official records in Indiana, 54% of which (757) being officially noted for the first time. The checklist alone spans 17 double-columned pages!

Ok, it’s time for another picture. Here is a fungus I found on a rotting downed tree next to a wetland on our property. I have no clue what species it is, but I do know that it is recycling the carbon in the tree back into the web of life for re-use.

a fungus among us (sorry, couldn’t resist)

We don’t need to know everything about every species in order to know that they all play a role.

Back to Bates and company. Their work is important because it highlights that we are still in our infancy of describing major parts of the tree of life on this planet. We’ve discovered and documented essentially every species of bird and mammal in North America (though some life histories are still mysterious to us). But when it comes to small organisms – bacteria, fungi, even insects – the unseen is still largely the unknown.

The authors also noted that “many species of fungi absent from our Indiana checklists likely represent taxa already known to science.” Bates established such a new Indiana record simply by walking out of the lab and around the campus of Purdue University Northwest! Not only are there plenty of “missing” Indiana records right under our nose, “it is equally likely that a number of fungal species new to science await discovery in the state. These facts highlight the great need for continued mycological research within the state.”

Given our absolute and utter dependence on this thin layer of life hurtling through the void of space, such basic research is as urgent as ever.

The good news is that I will never run out of work to do as long as I live!