By Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager, and Dave Pro, Ashland Property Steward
The Delaware Nature Society is in the process of converting some of the Coverdale Farm Preserve grassland areas from cool-season, exotic agricultural grasses to native warm-season grasses and wildflowers. The process takes years, but is well worth the wait. Our goal is to convert over 50-acres, which will provide a diversity of native meadow species, and create much better habitat for a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects, and much more. Dave Pro and I led a group of DNS members on a walk through the meadow last week to showcase how it is coming along. The answer…beautifully! Wildflowers such as Wild Senna and Partridge Pea were in full bloom, as were native grasses such as Purpletop, Indian Grass, and Big Bluestem. Wild Bergamot was just finishing up its bloom, and multiple species of butterflies were still nectaring from these plants.
The scale of this project is impressive. For a project of this size, 50 seeds per square foot are planted, representing over 20 native plant species. The federal government, through a “habitat restoration lease”, pays the Delaware Nature Society to do this project through the Early Successional Habitat program. To prepare the site for seeding, we first had to wipe out the existing non-native, cold-season grass that existed here. Then, the meadow was seeded over late-fall, and a cover crop Winter Rye, was also planted to prevent weeds from getting established. We then had to mow the new meadow several times in the first year to prevent any annual weeds that did get established from flowering. The young meadow plants don’t really start to show themselves until the second year of growth. Now that the meadow is established, we were able to conduct a prescribed burn this spring. This helped to remove built up thatch from previous winter mowings, giving the young native plants room to grow and photosynthesize.
Wildlife has responded to the meadow transformation. Many species of birds can be found in this location now, and include nesting Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, and a variety of sparrows, warblers, and other species such as Orchard Oriole. With the abundance of flowering plants available, butterfly numbers have increased. Monarch butterflies were easily seen on our walk last week as they nectared on the remaining Wild Bergamot. Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent, Tiger Swallowtail, and Black Swallowtail were all swarming the meadow as well. In the past, with few flowering plants, we would have had a tough time finding these species here.
Some of the wildflower species that we planted in this meadow include Bush-clover, Tall White Beardtongue, Early Goldenrod, Black-eyed Susan, Marsh Blazing-star, Partridge Pea, and Wild Senna. Now, other native plants are coming in on their own as well, including Common Milkweed, and Butterfly Weed.
This is just one of the many habitat restoration projects that the Delaware Nature Society is conducting on properties including Ashland Nature Center, Coverdale Farm Preserve, Middle Run Natural Area, Dupont Environmental Education Center, and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center. We will offer more free walks for members in the coming months, and we would love to show you some of these wonderful places.