Wild Parsnip. Is it invasive or just a weed?

By Bill Kleiman, The Nature Conservancy at Nachusa Grasslands

Pastinaca sativa, wild parsnip lives two years, with flower and seed set on year two. Every June you will find us mowing it somewhere on the preserve, as this is when they are in full flower.   We also use our weed spades to cut the root which looks like a carrot.  Before the flower stalk bolts a broadleaf herbicide is effective.

Parsnip does not compete well in prairie plantings or prairie remnants, except where the vegetation has been disturbed by some past issue, like brush encroachment.  Parsnip does well in low competition areas where past disturbance has left a simple plant community.  We mowed a bush honeysuckle thicket several years previously and it filled with wild parsnip a few years later.   I sprayed a pasture to reduce brush and a few years later there was the parsnip.

There are various weeds we put some effort into in case their small populations might increase if left alone.  Weeds like parsnip, king devil, butter and eggs.  You may have such a list.  Then there are weeds that are everywhere, like the exotic cool season grasses, so we shrug our shoulders and don’t attempt to control them.

Our resources are limited so we manage what we need to, and not more.

Here is a link to some resources on invasive weeds:


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Prescribed fire pumper units

by Bill Kleiman, The Nature Conservancy, Nachusa Grasslands

At Nachusa Grasslands we use several vehicle mounted water sprayers on our fires.  We call them “pumper units”.  Photo above is a crew about to start their test ignition.   You don’t see backpack water sprayers as most crew are assigned to a pumper unit.

The pumps we use are piston pumps because they use a small amount of water per minute and produce a high pressure.   These work well for our grass and leaf litter fires and are common in the Midwest.

Centrifugal pumps are the standard on wildfire crews you see across the nation.  Centrifugal pumps typically produce modest pressure, and can pump a lot of gallons per minute. This is good in that you may knock down an escaping fire with all that water output, and bad in that you may run out of water before that escape is extinguished.

Below is one of our units.  Note rake strapped at an angle such that it does not hit you in the head when you start the pump motor.  Our name is on the rake so we get it back at the end of the day.  The hose is yellow so you see it in the grass. The hose is a narrow diameter so it is light weight to maneuver easily.  The drip torch holders are made from wood painted black. The laundry detergent bottle in the box is filled with Class A foam.  “Add two caps of foam” says the print on the side of the tank fill.  And it all fits in the bed with the tailgate up.  The tank is 70 gallons which is about ten gallons too heavy.

Our water tender is a 425 gallon tank with a high flow centrifugal pump mounted in a truck. It is to fill all the other pumpers in the field and carry extra tools.

I wrote up a short summary of pumper units designs: https://www.illinoisprescribedfirecouncil.org/uploads/1/0/5/8/105892833/pumper_unit_design_suggestions_2019_bk.pdf


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The Way of the Warrior Sedges

By Kevin Scheiwiller of Citizens for Conservation

As many practitioners know, wetlands can be one of the most frustrating and resource demanding areas to restore. Countless wetland plantings have shown a large flush in native diversity in the first few years just to be overrun by the seed bank of the “wetland thugs;” cattails, reed canary grass, and phragmites. At Citizens for Conservation, we had left most of our wetlands alone for this reason. That was until we enlisted the help of the warrior sedges.

Who are the warrior sedges? These 10 species of Carex were hand selected based on their tendency to be able to withstand invasion by the wetland thugs in the few remaining local remnant wetlands. They are all highly rhizomatous species, that when planted in a focused manner can create a tight native matrix strong enough to keep out the invasion of the wetland thugs.

So what? Why replace one monoculture with another? We have found that while these warrior sedge matrices are dense enough to keep out the thugs, they are not inhibiting the growth of other native wetland species such as Sneezeweed, Monkey Flower, Mad-Dog Skullcap, Blue Flag Iris, and others. All these wetland associates have coevolved for millennia and still seem to understand how to grow together.

The hardened restoration ecologist will wonder how long this wetland planting will keep out the wetland thugs. Time will be the true test, but after a decade of using this technique we have been able to reclaim pothole wetlands and a long stretch of streambank. All of which requires a very small amount of maintenance after year three of this method.

For a detailed explanation of the process see “The Way of the Warriors.” https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/uploads/5/8/4/6/58466593/the_way_of_the_warriors.pdf 

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Planting prairie #97 with the full monty

By Bill Kleiman, The Nature Conservancy

The photo above is from this season of  a 2010 planting, our 97th at Nachusa Grasslands.  There is a lot of gayfeather and white indigo. Harder to see are the thimbleweed, coreopsis, lupine, various sedges and grasses.  It looks great but Cody and I  thought it might turn out dull.

The well drained silt loam soils were planted with hay from 2000 to 2005, then converted back to corn until we planted the field to prairie in 2010.

We were concerned that the seeds and roots of the hay field were going to show up and swamp our prairie seeds.  We discussed only planting seed from combined prairies.  This would have been easy to obtain but lower diversity.

We ended up deciding to plant the full monty of hand harvested seed.  We  planted 134 species at 50 pounds per acre of bulk weight of seed. This weight includes chaff and stems.

This is in our Stonebarn Savanna unit. Here is a link to the planting summary we wrote back in 2010.  It has the species lists, techniques used, map, soil map, etc.:



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Propagating false toadflax, Comandra umbellata

by Bernie Buchholz, Steward at Nachusa Grasslands

Bastard toad flax (Comandra umbellata) is a hemi-parasitic plant prominent in most of the remnant prairies at Nachusa Grasslands.  It is known to lightly parasitize most all of its neighbors.  Despite collecting thousands of seed over the past 20+ years, we have had virtually no germination in our plantings.  We tried every imaginable combination of scarifying and stratifying, various planting depths and addition of soil from existing stems.

We decided to try a genetic rescue.  We’d move pollen from one population more than a mile to the receiving population and hope the resulting seeds would germinate.  The biggest challenge is that Comandra flowers are a few millimeters across.

With high precision tweezers under a microscope my wife harvested tiny pollen bearing anthers.  She then delivered it to the stigma of the receiving flowers that had been previously bagged with nylon netting to prevent the regular pollinators – flies and small bees – from beating us to it.  I held each stem against the wind, and she dabbed the stigmas with pollen, carefully avoiding the five surrounding anthers.

We’ll soon collect the resulting fruits, plant them, and hope to see seedlings next Spring.  In the meantime, the Chicago Botanic Gardens is looking for mycorrhizae associations among the various populations and a separate genetic analysis to determine if the Comandra is all part of a mammoth clone or distinct populations that we might cross pollinate.

2005 crew at Nachusa who collected Commandra and Stipa.

Update: Our limited experiment of twenty-five transfers yielded only a single fruit. But Emma Leavens, the researcher from Chicago Botanic Gardens, subsequently determined that some of our Comandra populations are significantly different genetically from others. We will use that information next year to select the most promising matches for cross pollination when we try a larger sample.

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Baseline vegetation survey linked to photos

By Bill Kleiman

For a recently protected tract I developed a baseline vegetation protocol that seems doable, statistically sound, understandable, and visual.

First I created numbered sequential random points.  There is a way to get GIS to randomize these points but I learned that later.  What I did was lay this aerial photo over a piece of cardboard and used a pin to make random holes.  Then I used GIS to enter the points by eye.

Then the team uploaded this map to Avenza maps app on our tablet.

The survey team walked to where they were hovering over each point on the tablet.  They placed a meter square quadrat and recorded species and cover.

Then they took a photo looking down and a photo looking north.  We used a range pole with numbered tags.  Example photo below.

Here is a link to a summary of the first baseline we did using this protocol:  https://www.middlerockconservationpartners.org/vegetation-baseline-survey.html

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Seed drier

by Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grassland Project Director

At Nachusa we hand harvest with scissors and buckets several thousand pounds of seed from a few hundred species of plants.  When we bring in our seed it typically needs some time to dry so it does not mold.  We have found that blowing in a small amount of air into a barrel of damp seed will dry it out quickly.  We have 51 drier tubes to dry 51 barrels of seed at one time!

This system is on its second year and we like it so I made a document if you want to build your own.  We placed this document on NachusaGrasslands.org in the Stewardship tab at https://www.nachusagrasslands.org/seed-drier.html

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