Naturalists' Knowledge Enriches Love of Prairie Plants
Even obnoxious species have a place, if not on prairie, in our hearts
by Dorreen Yellowbird columnist Grand Forks Herald
plants, like we humans, can differ from each other. Some have healing spirits, while others might be obnoxious
With the help of environmentalists such as Glinda and Richard Crawford, I've come to know some of the formal names of some prairie plants, their history and details about different species in this area. And I have been introduced to some unpleasant plants.
One such plant that grows blithely, its leaves fluttering like the apron of a grandmother standing in a prairie garden waving to grandchildren, is a most beautiful flower called the purple loosestrife (Lythrum). It is a visitor from Europe whose greedy disposition has ruined an estimated 500,000 acres and is especially tough on wetlands like the Red River Valley, because it destroys wildlife habitat.
Glinda Crawford, a UND professor, has taken aim at this prolific out-of-control flower. She and I walked the English Coulee a few days ago and she pointed to the plant. I remembered seeing it and thinking it was quiet beautiful.
Many people in this area thought the same thing. Purple loosestrife was sold in nurseries as a garden plant and grew in popularity because it is not only beautiful, but also easy to care for. The problem? It grows too fast. It's a gluttonous plant that has no boundaries. It will elbow out other plants and stand proudly in their place.
The university cleared English coulee of purple loosestrife last year, but it is blooming again with millions and millions of tiny seeds just waiting for a ride on the wind to cattail territory down the coulee a bit.
Sarah Vogel, the former agriculture secretary, dubbed it a noxious weed a few years ago. That has put some skids on its spread.
Glinda Crawford not only does policing, she also protects and nurtures. I first became acquainted with her when she was rallying the region to protect the purple cone flower. It was being assaulted all over the prairies, but I am most familiar with the species of the flower that grows in the western part of the state. You could barely walk through the prairie grass without tripping on a hole where some purple cone hunter had harvested the plant. When sold, they used to bring a good price.
I know the plant well. It has been in part of our family for generations. It has a wonderful healing spirit. It is that healing spirit that put it at risk. Fortunately, and through the efforts of people such as the Crawfords, regulations have been passed and the word is out. I have seen the plant. It seems to be recovering nicely.
The Crawfords have a connection to the prairie. They have turned their yard into growing, flowering wild prairie plants. When Glinda first told me she had planted wild prairie in her yard, I wondered how a yard full of prairie growing tall and out of control, would fit with "manicured" Grand Forks lawns. I admit, I was skeptical. When I saw the Crawford's wild prairie yard, I was amazed. There are tall, gray leafed plants just below taller reaches of the big blue stem. White daisies and yellow leafed flowers peek through tangled grass in just the right way. It was prairie showcased.
Plants on the prairie are less dramatic individually because there are so many and they fit into the landscape so well. Plants never try to outdo each other in the open prairie. Each has its season. There is rarely a time on the prairie -- from the crocus blooming in the last snow of spring to the brilliant gold and yellow plants of fall -- when the prairie isn't beautiful.
It is good to know there are people who see and enjoy the spirits of these small prairie beings like I do.
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