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.
The overstory consists of relatively fire-resistant trees (recall that this woodland plant community was sustained by periodic hot fires).
There are only eight true card-carrying members of the shortleaf pine-oak-hickory woodland overstory. They are post oak, white oak, southern red oak, black oak, blackjack oak, mockernut hickory, black hickory and the shortleaf pine. The first three are shown in this blog and the others will follow in future blogs addressing woodland grassland restoration.
Post Oak; Quercus stellata
In this post, I’ll begin a discussion of some of the salient features of the shortleaf pine-oak-hickory plant community, the foundation of the ecosystem that I am in the process of restoring. It’s a big project in which I’ve been involved for more than a decade.
This ecosystem was the dominant plant community of the Upper West Gulf Coastal Plain Ecoregion, encompassing northwest Louisiana, southwest Arkansas, northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma.
Millions of years before Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and email, before telephones and telegraphs and the postal service, the rodent forest-folk of Shadowshine: An Animal Adventure spread their news through the Canopy Connection. It was all they needed to stay informed and up to date.
The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio cresphontes, is the largest butterfly species in North America. While its North American presence is primarily restricted to the southern United States, its southern native range extends as far as Columbia and Venezuela in northern South America.
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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