Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hometown Prairie Project

I think it's long overdue that I gave my own hometown some love and attention for their efforts in making the community and city a healthier, better looking place.  Tipp City is located in Miami county in west-central Ohio and best known for being a stop along the long-extinct Miami and Erie canal, Spring Hill nursery, and the annual Mum Festival in the fall.  For a little over a decade Tipp City has been purchasing farm land outside of town along the Great Miami River with Clean Ohio Conservation Grant funds to convert the agriculture into prairie.  The major reason for this has been an effort to protect and safe guard the well fields and underground aquifer the city and surrounding area gets its potable water supply from.

Lost Creek prairie preserve just east of Tipp City along the Great Miami River and Lost Creek

In addition to that it's an obvious improvement to the look and feel of the landscape with wildflowers and warm season grasses coloring up your drive in and out of the east end of town.  It's vital habitat and foraging ground for numerous birds, mammals, and insects as well.  A definite win-win for nature and the city!

Aerial view of the prairie preserves (courtesy Google Maps) with their boundaries marked (to best of my knowledge)

As of now three parcels of land totaling over 350 acres have been taken out of crop production and planted/seeded to tall grass prairie with a slew of nearly all native prairie associated species.  The aerial image above shows the three prairie projects and their boundaries (note: the boundaries were drawn by myself and may not be on the nose accurate) relative to the town itself.  This particular post focuses on the Lost Creek prairie preserve located along Tipp-Elizabeth road east of town (the yellow box on top above).

Lost Creek is typically nearly bone dry by July but is flowing nicely due to recent rain events

Lost Creek prairie preserve gets its namesake from the tributary of the Great Miami River that flows along the eastern border of the prairie before terminating into the Miami at the back southeast corner of the preserve. Typically by this time of year the creek is nearly bone dry but thanks to recent rain events it has managed to keep flowing into July; something I wish I saw more often.

Looking out across Lost Creek Prairie 

Normally the dry creek bed is a sure sign of wildflower fireworks out in the sea of maturing grasses!  Big blue stem (Andropogon gerardii), indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis) are spread throughout with a healthy mixing of summer bloomers.

False sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and black-eyed Susans (Rudbekia hirta)

During my visit this week the false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) was really kicking into gear with its dark golden color standing above the sea of green below.

Can you see the predator trying to blend in on these black-eyed Susans?

Coming into peak bloom around the same time are the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta).  In good years you will see large patches of the grassland covered in the rich yellows of them as they beckon their pollinators to pay them a visit.  Not only do they draw the pollinators but predators as well.  Can you see the goldenrod crab spider (Misumena vatia) blending in in the photo above?

Showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense)

Pretty now but a pain later are the tick-trefoils (Desmodium spp.).  I'm sure many are familiar with the little brown, flat, and velcro-like seeds that get stuck to your clothing by the dozens come late summer and fall.  This particular species is showy tick-trefoil (D. canadense) and adds a splash of blue-purple color in the mid-summer months.

Another view across the prairie

I drive past this particular spot all the time and love to watch the progression of the vegetation as the year waxes and wanes.  It's hard to believe that the uniformly drab yellow-brown winter scene can turn into an explosion of color and life each year.  Nature truly is quite the magician!

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) in full bloom

My favorite wildflower currently showing off its stuff is the lovely wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).  Its flower heads almost seem like lavishly painted alien spaceships hovering in the humid July air.  They add a wonderfully different color to the prairie's palette and attract honeybees and bumblebees in droves.

Field Brome (Bromus arvensis)
Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula

Most of the warm season grasses are still purely vegetative at this point in the year but one of my favorite of Ohio's grasses, sideoats grama (B. curtipendula) was just starting to drop its feathery stigmas and bright red anthers.  Already in fruit was the non-native field brome (Bromus arvensis); an attractive grass from one of my favorite Poaceae genera.

Black-eyed Susans in peak bloom

Despite being very common in the prairie planting as previously mentioned, it's hard not to take more photos and admire the black-eyed susans in peak bloom again and again.

Grey-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

Just beginning to open its fertile disc flowers was the grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) among the other yellow-colored wildflowers.  Their drooping ray flowers (petals) put on quite the show when bunched together in attractive clumps.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) was probably not part of the original seed mix and has since integrated and naturalized itself within the prairie planting.  While some may have issues and negative feelings towards this unwanted 'weed', I love its presence in both terms of its aesthetic value and its high quality as a butterfly and insect attractant.

Honeybee on common milkweed blooms
Wild Blue Sage (Salvia azurea)

The honeybees sure do love the milkweed flowers as just about every plant I came across was buzzing with activity and excited pollinators.  A welcome addition to the seed mix but not an indigenous species to Ohio is wild blue sage (Salvia azurea).  This species is native to the south-central and southeastern states and blooms later in summer with its salvia-like blue flowers.

The more modern "prairie" across the road from Lost Creek

Just across the street from the Lost Creek preserve is the much more common and modern "prairie".  I'm very thankful my hometown has had the wits and foresight to set aside some land for preservation and revert it from a monoculture of grain to a woven tapestry of summer wildflowers and tall grasses.  Here's hoping that the future sees the town purchase more property to preserve and reclaim from agriculture.  As I mentioned before it truly is a win-win for our wells and aquifer's sake as well as our landscape!


  1. Always nice to see more of this happening so far east. Most people don't realize that prairies existed well into the Shenandoah Valley and eastern Ontario, and elements of it could be found right up to the coast. Michigan, Ontario, and Ohio seem to be growing in appreciation for this nearly lost portion of our natural heritage. I usually sell the concept to the disinterested on the matter by telling them that we have cacti in such places! Prairie just needs to be marketed as something on the "exotically native" side of the landscape.

  2. Always love the prairie or meadow pictures.