This time of year, I find myself thinking about our “cool-season” native species and how they are commonly forgotten or ignored as a part of the native plant populations in Iowa. As an Iowa transplant, when I first moved here I wondered- why don’t farmers’ waterways contain native grasses instead of smooth brome? One answer I received was that our native grasses are “warm-season” species and don’t provide the green cover and protection that the ground needs during spring and fall rains. After educating myself further and becoming familiar with plenty of native “cool-season” grasses, sedges, and forbs, I saw a bit of a gap in the public collective thinking. I understand that there may be other barriers to our farmers incorporating native species into their conservation practices, but this demonstrated a common misconception that may contribute to one of those barriers.
Even land managers like myself and my colleagues can benefit to think of these species more often, namely when conducting prescribed burns. If we have both cool-season and warm-season native plants at a site we are managing, we can try to maintain a higher diversity by altering the timing of these treatments over the years. Changing the timing of these burns or other similar disturbance mechanisms can be beneficial by not favoring one group over the other.
By learning about the diversity within our native ecosystems (like at the River Products Wetland Mitigation Bank, pictured above), I hope that others can appreciate this early spring as I’m able to. Our showy warm-season giants aren’t up yet, but we have others that are, and they are filling a niche by providing cover for the soil and habitat for wildlife during the more temperate periods of the year (spring and fall)- which happen to be my favorite seasons to get outside and enjoy nature. As I manage the reed canary grass (an invasive species) in this wetland, I’m thankful that there are native cool-season plants ready to take its place like the sedges and Virginia wild-rye in these photographs.
-Kadie Robinson, Restoration Ecologist at Impact7G