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Prairie grasses stand the test of time

September 3, 2011
By GARRY BRANDENBURG , Times-Republican

SAND LOVEGRASS (Eragrostis trichodes) presents itself at this time of year as one of the primary grasses one may see at the Marietta Sand Prairie. Its extensive successful reintroduction as part of the management of the prairie, attests to this grass being the right plant in the right place. Sand Lovegrass reproduces by seed and tillers and it is hardy and long-lived. Its distribution ranges from Minnesota to Texas and Wyoming to New York. This drought tolerant grass is well suited for plantings on sandy soils to help with erosion control.

The original 17 acres of the Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve was purchased in June 1983. On Sept. 6, 1984 the site was dedicated into the Iowa State Preserves System. Lands that qualify for "Preserve Status" have to be unique with special combinations of native plants, topography and history. At the Marietta Sand Prairie there are several endangered plants that thrive here that have been documented by botanists.

Sand prairies are harder to come by in Iowa since most of our soils are dark loams with geologic roots going back many millennia. However, sand prairies do exist in special places, primarily due to past geologic events such as wind depositions; such is the case for the Marietta Sand Prairie. Its deep sandy deposits were brought there by winds blowing from the northwest. Over thousands of years during glacial retreats, sand accumulated and covered old soil surfaces. With limited water holding capacity, the sandy soils supported a sparse covering of vegetation. Given enough time, Mother Nature filled the void with plants that could adapt to dry conditions.

Article Photos

Sand Lovegrass is a very fine textured native species that is one of the dominant grasses growing at the Marietta Sand Prairie. To see this plant and many other as they come into their prime during late summer and early fall, take a drive to the Marietta Sand Prairie located 1.25 miles north of the Heartland Friends Church on Knapp Avenue. Sand Lovegrass starts growing about two weeks earlier than other warm season grasses and remains green into the fall. It cures well and is therefore can be a source of good quality hay for livestock. 

In 2006, an additional 212 acres of the Conrad Farm were purchased by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Fundraising, grants, private donations large and small, a generous donation from Pheasants Forever and other groups help raise the money to secure the land adjacent to the original 17 acre preserve. Those 212 acres are now part of an ongoing management program to replant native grasses and forbs.

For ground nesting birds such as the meadowlark and pheasant, the Marietta Sand Prairie is a success story worth tooting the horn about. It is working for wildlife and helping to restore and preserve some of the most fragile soils of Marshall County.

An especially good time for photographers to foray to the Sand Prairie is just after sunrise when heavy dew presents backlight opportunities. Since the grasses will be wet, one can assume the photographer will get wet also. Just dress for the situation as required in order to make great photographs happen. If you want to wait until the dew has dissipated, go later in the day. You may learn to love Sand Lovegrass.


LABOR DAY weekend is not the end of summer. For some folks it marks the transition from summer to fall, and it is true that the inevitable approach of fall and winter is getting closer. We can do nothing about the earth's orbit around the sun. Humans on earth are along for the ride.

What every hunter knows is that fall game seasons will begin soon. Squirrel, cottontail rabbit and dove seasons open in early September. Fall turkey and archery deer open October 1. Make sure all the necessary licenses are acquired, migratory bird stamps from the state and federal levels are in order, and landowner permission has been secured.

One of the basic tenets of wildlife conservation is to apply scientific processes to the game species allowed to be hunted. In our man-made world where significant landscape alterations have happened, trying to keep game populations somewhat stable with regard to their habitat is very important. Wildlife managers and hunters working together are helping to protect long term food sources for wildlife so that the post season breeding population of any species is not put at risk. This is a process that works. It is reality driven and not emotion driven. Wildlife, both game and nongame species, benefit from hunters and the habitat their license revenue protects. I'll leave you with another fact: Sportsmen and women are the primary ones who implement and pay for real-world conservation projects.


PHEASANTS FOREVER will host their fall banquet on Oct. 8, 2011. I know it is early but I want everyone who cares about wildlife to put this date on their calendar. Anyone can help wild critters and a great way to do this is to put money to work on the land. PF is one way to help. Tickets are available from Steve Armstrong by calling 641-752-8322. Stay tuned for more about PF in this scribe's future stories.


Here are several upcoming events hosted by Marshall County Conservation in the next few weeks:

Monarch Tagging will be held Sept. 7 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Grimes Farm (2359 233rd Street). Learn about where monarch butterflies go in winter? Through the Monarch Watch tagging program many discoveries about monarchs are made. Help us tag monarchs. Bring a net if you have one. Some nets available.

Nature Story Hour will be held September 7 & 21 at 10 a.m. at the Grimes Farm & Conservation Center (2359 233rd Street). Preschoolers and their adult(s) are invited to listen to fun nature stories, take a walk and explore nature's wonders. Join us on the first and third Wednesdays each month.

The Canoe/Kayak and Cook will be held Saturday, Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The float will go from Furrow Access to Three Bridges. Enjoy a short float on the Iowa River by canoe or kayak followed by an outdoor cooking demonstration at Three Bridges. Pre-registration is required by Sept. 6 by calling 752-5490. Bring your own canoe or kayak or reserve through us (single kayak $22.50, double kayak or canoe $27). Cost for cooking demo is $5 per person.

Farmers' Market Monarchs will take place on Sept. 15 from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Courthouse Square. Bring the kids and join us in the Children's Activity Area at the Main Street Farmers' Market for monarch mania. We will have a limited number of monarchs to tag and release on site or you can bring in monarchs you captured at home to be tagged and released.

Star gazing will be on Sept. 16 at the Dean Memorial Observatory at Green Castle Recreational Area (1 mile south of Ferguson) and will start half hour after sunset. The Amateur Astronomers of Central Iowa invite the public for a telescope view of the night sky. This night they will talk about the Milky Way's Nebulas and Clusters. For more information contact Jim Bonser at 641-751-8744.

Prairie Heritage Days will be held on Sept. 24 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Grimes Farm (2359 - 233rd Street). Join us as we celebrate Oktemberfest and participate in pioneer crafts and skills: candle dipping, rope making, cider pressing, buffalo chip throw and more.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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