tallgrass prairie detail

As published in The Southeast Journal August 22 to October 24, 2019

August 22

I live in Silver Plains, a loosely defined area in the RM of Morris that is intersected by PR 205E. The CN rail line that runs beside PTH 75 from Winnipeg to Emerson is 140 metres west of us.

Over the years, CN has had troubles with snow accumulation on the tracks. And, snow build up where the tracks intersect with 205 has often made the highway virtually impassable. I’ve watched as rail crews cut down willows and mowed tall vegetation beside the tracks to reduce snow collection there. This was not working. So, someone at CN decided to spray a metres wide swath on both sides of the tracks with a potent herbicide. This was a couple of years ago. Next to nothing was growing adjacent to the tracks the first and second year. At the end of last year some plants emerged. Now the sides of the tracks are lined with creeping thistle*, Cirsium arvense. It’s as if CN seeded the plant. During a recent drive to Winnipeg I saw that these rows of thistles extend all the way to the City. And, I was told they go to the border as well.

  Cirsium arvense, CN tracks

bee helenium Helenium autumnale 11JL09 02 rgm

Reeve Ralph Groening has recently said the RM of Morris Council is turning its attention to quality of life issues. When I queried him on this he said that means, “more park benches and walking paths”. Things that will make outdoor life for humans more pleasant.

But, what about the little guys?

You know, the second most important* collection of animate species on the planet:

the insects.

Where would we be without the pollinators? What would life be like without birds?

Tallgrass Prairie remnant just north of Letellier on east side of PTH 75

I recently learned the phrase “Native plant” doesn’t mean anything to most residents of the RM of Morris. I was campaigning for election to the RM Council and while talking with people I realized that most of my neighbours do not know there are two kinds of plants growing in communal areas. Well, neither did I until about 10 years ago.

When I became aware of Native plants and started researching them I learned that early settlers of North America made a mistake. They did not keep in check many plants which tagged along in bags of grain and such or were imported for various reasons. Today we are living with the consequence: A host of introduced plants proliferate in highway ditches, along riverbanks, and in unused fields and field edges.

In 2014, I ran for Councillor of the Rural Municipality of Morris. I wanted to get elected in order to initiate a process of succession. On my campaign handbill I called it PRIDE OF PLACE under which I said:

We really need to do something about introduced weeds on roadsides, railways, and undeveloped fields. Starting a process of succession is the way to go. Native plants are much better neighbours. ...

I also suggested that the RM of Morris form a Conservation District with neighbouring RMs of Roland, Rhineland, and Montcalm.

While campaigning, I drove around much of the RM, hand delivering handbills, and shaking hands with and speaking to people. It was an interesting experience; I learned a lot, met some fascinating people.

imitating a horse

One of the most powerful forces in human society generally goes unnoticed. It's like putting on shoes; something one does without thinking because a habit was formed when one first started putting on shoes. Such a habit is a good thing:

Having to think about which shoe to slide a foot into first would waste time.

Conventions are habits on a grander scale. They are, in the abstract, neither good nor bad. Like habits they are obliged without thinking. And, like habits, they can have harmful effects.

wild strawberry - Fragaria virginiana 10JN04

wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
90% of domestic strawberries originate from this species

I was recently asked whether Tallgrass Prairie plants can be eaten, whether there is any practical value in them for humans.

In fact, 40% of the flora species that we are familiar with have been or are used as food or medicine. Some are used ceremonially. And a few are used to make things like dyes.

Have a look:

 

Part of the problem many people encounter as they seek to change things, particularly to change human conduct in relation to other species on planet Earth, is the language currently used by "environmentalists".

globe

New words, using old words in new ways, or a little editing here and there is necessary to articulate an inclusive vision. Take for example an oft' bandied about phrase:

THE ENVIRONMENT

What does the label mean exactly? An environment can be both small and large. Inside a terrarium is a micro-environment. Outside of a terrarium is another environment: a house. Outside of the house is a macro-environment.

Canada thistle

creeping thistle, Cirsium arvense

Seed from Cirsium arvense was inadvertently imported from Europe to North America in the early 1600s; it tagged along in bags of grain seed. The plant received its current common name — in North America — when it appeared alongside grain crops in what is now called New England. The grain seed had been imported from Canada. Hence, those early settlers thought the thistle came from Canada.

Elsewhere the plant called Canada thistle has many names:

Lettuce From Hell Thistle, Corn Thistle, Cursed Thistle, Field Thistle, Green Thistle, Hard Thistle, Perennial Thistle, Prickly Thistle, Small-flowered Thistle and Way Thistle.

hover fly, white panicle aster

hover fly, white panicle aster

During the process of replanting a property to Native, keeping exotic flora at bay is the biggest challenge. There are, however, other sources of trouble.

One of the reasons for replanting is Native flora provides habitat and food for Native fauna. Trouble is the animate creatures are eager for Native plants. For example, we transplanted some water horsetail (that we found growing in a ditch) at the edges of our pond. Within an hour of digging the new holes and placing the transplants in them, a muskrat ate them. All of them, even the roots. Jackrabbits, meanwhile, have eaten to the ground a number of shrubs that were too small when we planted them out. They're hungry in the spring and they seem to love woody plants at that time of year.