This is haying season and the grass surrounding our “yard,” the acre or so that we regularly mow around the house, garden, chickens and orchard, is quite tall and thick. One neighbor mows, rakes and bales all of the fields around us including ours for a split of the hay. In our case, he takes all but what I need for the chickens and the gardens and in exchange he grades our driveway, plows us out in the snow and provides occasional emergency help like the day I got a 30 foot piece of black plastic conduit wrapped so tightly around the bush hog blade that Jim and I couldn’t free it. That is another story from another day.
Watching the uncut hay blow in waves in the wind reminds me of the song “America The Beautiful,” with the line amber waves of grain.
Jim is tall and his beast, the mastiff is in that grass, standing.
The yard is cut in three levels right now, the area closest to the house is mowed with a lawnmower, from there to the edge of the fields around the trees that we have planted was bush hogged a couple of weeks ago and the fields are awaiting their first seasonal mowing as it is cut into hay. Each level has its own display of wildflowers and as I look them up, I realize that almost none of them are native plants. Some more invasive than others such as the multiflora rose, autumn olive, Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven), kudzu (fortunately we aren’t dealing with this one on our land) and stickweed. The Autumn Olive was actually introduced and encouraged by the Department of Agriculture as a yard ornamental and though we have never planted one, we spend our time pulling and mowing them to keep them from taking over. Tree of Heaven is one of those you see in Parade Magazine as a quick growing tree for your yard, “buy it now for shade in 3 years” spiels. They also are invasive, though I have recently seen an article that it may be dying out on it’s own, we can only hope.
This is Moth Mullein, not native Mullein and though pretty, it is also an import and is so prevalent in some states that it is considered a noxious weed.
Daisies like the yellow ones above and these from the edge of the driveway were introduced from Europe and are now found in most states.
Red and white clover are also European imports and it is difficult to buy pasture grass seed that doesn’t contain one or the other, they are good nitrogen fixers along with Hairy Vetch which is used as fodder and is also European.
As we look at our trees on the mountain, few are native species. Nearly all of the native grasses have been replaced by grasses from other countries. It isn’t just the flora that has been affected, also the fauna. We live with invasions of Nutria, stink bugs, gypsy moths, ladybugs, Hemlock wooly adelgid that is killing the hemlocks. Insects killing the ash trees, blights that killed off and nearly made the American Chestnut extinct. At the time of the European settlers, the American Chestnut was a predominate species in these mountains. Many of the old farm houses are built with Chestnut wood beams and if you have ever had the pleasure to stay at Big Meadows Lodge on the Skyline Drive, it is built of American Chestnut. The woods we see now would look alien to the settlers and the Native Americans that lived and roamed these mountains.
Some of these species have been deliberately introduced for a specific purpose and it has back fired. Others have crept in; in or on the hulls of ships or in their water ballast, carried by migratory birds, accidentally brought in imported produce and plants or released from research facilities.
The prairies of the west have suffered similar fate and few if any stands of native prairie grass still exist, grasses that were taller than the men that cut it. The wetlands are host to non native grasses such as Phragmites australis that is choking out the native marsh grasses and the oyster beds, changing the ecosystem; and snakehead, zebra mussels and catfish overwhelming the animal populations.
The environment has changed, but we don’t have to continue to contribute to the destruction of it. Research landscaping and flowering plants before you use them. Buy from nurseries that specialize in native species. Pull and destroy non native invasive plants before they choke out the native ones. Support efforts to restore some of the majestic native species such as Chestnuts and Hemlocks. We each need to do our part. We can’t return to the past, but we can each do our part to halt further degradation of the ecosystem.