Field of Science

Suppressed memories may be a good thing

This week heralded the beginning of the harvest of permanent prairie plots to get biomass data. Fortunately your memory of previous harvest seasons and how much work it entails dims, and you get newbie graduate students who know no better. Only 1/4th of a square meter is harvested but it can be a pretty impressive amount of vegetation in a community where the herbaceous vegetation reaches 2.5 meters in height and so dense it impedes your movement through it. While others were snipping TPP was marking out the portions to harvest and after just 1.5 hrs my hands and arms were covered in little scrapes, punctures, and abrasions such is the nature of prairie vegetation this time of year: hard, dry, sharp-ended and sharp-edged, like little hack saws. Unfortunately TPP's high mileage back was sore, so attention turned to sorting the bags of vegetation into piles back in the lab: grasses, forbs, various legumes, any exotic species, and a hemiparasitic plant. This is a really "fun" activity and much harder visually than you might imagine, but not so hard on the body. Harvesting is half done, and the sorting just barely started. Pile on the lower left is silky bush clover (Lespedeza cuneata), an invasive Asian legume. The 2nd image shows a thicket of this legume where it has all but replaced the prairie vegetation (except for the big grasses). It's so thick you have trouble walking through it, and it's essentially impossible to get rid of. Even if you nuked it with herbicide a sizable seed bank remains. Sad.

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