Tracking the Prairie Burn: a few days post fire

It takes only a few days after a maintenance burn for the prairie grasses to begin to return.  I suspect this is faster than if it was a wildfire: controlled burns should be a bit cooler because extra fuel (debris) has been removed and the fires are not set on really windy days or during droughts.

prairie burn fire maintenance landscape

I can’t tell from the clumps whether these are big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)  or Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), but I do know both were  quite prevalent in this field before the fire.

golfballs burned in a prairie fireWhat I do notice are the clumps themselves.  All the native to North America grasses that I am familiar with are clumping grasses rather than mat forming grasses (like most lawn grass species).  Clumping has the wonderful quality of allowing space between the clumps (kind of like these golfballs from a nearby course that were misfired into the prairie reserve itself and which didn’t burn very well) and it is in this spaces that the regions of the Great Plains and the microclimates of a particular prairie express themselves: forbes.

After the prairie fire, the mikweed plants get down to business

Sorry about the blurriness. You are looking at milkweed coming in.

“Forb” is the fancy pants name for the flowers that come up in the fields.  The specific flowers and grasses shift with the hills, one mixture growing on the upper southern slopes, a quite different mixture on the north-facing slough bottoms.  I have yet to find a mature prairie monotonous.


grasses return after prairie maintenance burn

It’s not just the grasses and forbes that are coming back now: after about a week, here coming the bumps!  Check out this picture:

These are NOT grass clumps (“tussocks”), these are the lumpy bumpy humps of underground ant colonies pushing up from below.  They don’t seem to break open and spill out ants, but they are connected to the activity of the ants below the freshly burned prairies.  Maybe they come up to munch on the new roots that are sprouting as the grasses rejuvenate?  I don’t know.  So much learn!

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