The legumes are exceptionally important plants of the grassland woodland ecosystem because they are a very important food source for animals. They produce nectar from the flowers and protein from the seeds (the peas and beans). The legume seeds (the beans and peas) tend to hold their protein content longer than the grasses and other forbs in late winter. In addition, they enrich the soil by their symbiosis with nitrogen fixing bacteria (rhizobia and other bacteria) within the root nodules of the plant. The rhizobia take nitrogen from the air and convert it to nitrogenous compounds, such as ammonia, nitrate and nitrogen dioxide usable by plants, including the host legume, and other organisms.
Legumes represent the third largest terrestrial plant family on Earth, following the orchid and sunflower families.
During the decades of the 1960s and 70s, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire due to buildup of industrial sludge. Washington D.C. was dumping 240 million gallons of industrial waste daily into the Potomac. Salmon in Oregon’s Willamette River died from toxic sewage. Smog and dangerous air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides were at their highest levels, and 80 percent of children in the U.S. had elevated blood lead levels. Because of injury from the toxic pesticide, DDT, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons nearly went extinct in the Lower 48, and the Brown Pelican, our state bird, vanished from Louisiana. America had become a dirty and dangerous country.
Angered by this dismal state, Americans spoke up and Congress and President Richard M. Nixon listened. By nearly unanimous agreement of both Republicans and Democrats, the Environmental Protection Agency was born. In his 1970 State of the Union address, President Nixon said, “Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond political party and beyond factions.” The people and the politicians had come together for the good of the country and its wildlife.
Humans do not, in any fashion, have “dominion” over the Earth. Such a concept of humanity’s relationship with Earth’s biodiversity is full of arrogance and false identity. It’s pure propaganda. Mother Nature isn’t sweet, but she is certainly in charge. And the sooner we realize it, the better.
Now that we have completed the brief survey of the grasses (family Poaceae) of the shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodland grassland we can move on to the forbs. Forbs are non-grass, non-woody plants, which basically means that they are not trees, shrubs or grasses. On the other hand, herbaceous plants include the forbs along with the grasses.
In this post I will continue the list of the salient warm season grasses of the shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodland. However, I remind you that there are numerous other grass species that are part of the ecosystem, so these seven grasses (three listed in the previous post and four in this one) represent only a few important “poster children” of the system.
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is the dominant “matrix” grass of our shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodland grassland just as it is with the vast majority of all tallgrass prairie groundcovers whether in a prairie or a woodland or a savannah.
Little bluestem is a warm season grass. Grasses are divided into cool season grasses that bloom and go to seed in the spring, and the warm season grasses that bloom and go to seed in fall; and some grasses are both.
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
It was a grassland! I’ll get to that, but first a word about some of the North American grasslands of old.
It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to actually see and appreciate the vastness of the grassland prairies of the Great Plains because today they’re almost all plowed under and gone. However, there are still a few small remnants remaining as the last examples of unplowed prairie—and they are beautiful, historic vistas where the buffalo roamed and native American people followed the herds. Such preserved sites are well worth visiting.
The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Northeastern Oklahoma.
Little Bluestem in foreground.
The eighth and last member of the Shortleaf Pine-Oak-Hickory Woodland Overstory is the shortleaf pine, Pinus echinata. The seven other members were the fire-resistant hardwood species consisting of the five oaks and the two hickories that I’ve shown in the last two blog posts.
The Grand Potentate of the Overstory
In my previous post I showed you three of the seven upland hardwoods of the shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodland overstory: post oak, white oak and southern red oak. The seven members are the fire tolerant hardwoods that can thrive in a hot-fire community of grasses and wildflowers, a grassland-under-the-trees groundcover of an open woodland that existed for thousands of years before its demise. It is virtually extinct now, having been destroyed over a time initially beginning with the European invasion that began in the fifteen hundreds and its destruction compounded over the years by the increase of population and technology that sped up the process.
These are the remaining four overstory members: blackjack oak, black oak, black hickory and mockernut hickory. In the next blog I will dwell a bit on the last member, the shortleaf pine, the grand potentate of the overstory.
Johnny Armstrong, Author
Now that my 42-year career as a pathologist (which I like to think of as being Columbo behind a microscope), is a story for another time, I’m focusing more time and energy on my long-time passion for and commitment to critical conservation issues. As a first-time published novelist, I’m also discovering the new and sometimes exciting, sometimes baffling world of book promotion. Shadowshine is my first novel.
“Up there on your bookshelf between Tolkien and Watership Down is where this book belongs. As an anthropomorphic adventure that winds through the realm of animals possessing courage, savagery, perseverance, and ultimately wisdom in the face of mounting evil threats – humans disconnected from the natural world – the tale is relevant, if not necessary.”
Kelby Ouchley, author of Bayou Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country
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Shadowshine, An Animal Adventure
by Johnny Armstrong
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