MISCANTHUS SINENSIS

Miscanthus sinensis, a widely planted ornamental grass in urban landscapes, can become invasive in the wild.

Do you know that screech owls begin setting up territories around the first of January? Or that the peak rutting period for bison is mid-July through mid-August? Or that the first of several earthquakes on the New Madrid fault occurred Dec. 6, 1811?

These are bits of information included in the 2018 Iowa Phenology Calendar that was researched and written by Leland Searles. He is the Iowa ecologist I interviewed recently for an article about promoting native plants in the roadside ditches of Scott County.

As we talked, we touched on other topics, and he said he'd send me a copy of his phenology calendar, phenology being the study of the natural rhythms of life.

If you observe the natural world, its processes and life forms, you already study phenology, even without the fancy word, Searles said.

Centuries ago, people whose survival depended on hunting and gathering became very adept at knowing the cycles of animals and plants. Nowadays, we have largely lost that.

But how interesting to know that there are still people, like Searles, who observe these things and share their knowledge with the rest of us. His calendar gives tips on the best time to put out hummingbird feeders, for example, or when to watch for the Perseid meteor shower.

The calendar also contains amazing photos of various rare and unusual (to me, anyway) plants and animals, such a pied-billed grebe and a prairie onion in seed. Also, firedot lichen, altostratus clouds and a spider wasp.

Main page photos include thunderstorm clouds, flowering spurge and dotted beebalm, all photographed in Scott County while Searles was doing his roadside plant surveys.

Maybe you already have all the 2018 calendars you need. But if you're curious, Searles' phenology calendar is available for $25 plus tax and shipping (I know, not cheap, but you could think of it as a book) by contacting him at leewardecology3@gmail.com or by using links at his business website: http://www.leewardecology.com/watershed-calendar.php.

BEWARE THOSE ORNAMENTAL GRASSES! Ornamental grasses have become widely used in Midwestern landscapes, but there is evidence that they can become invasive, crowding out native plants (a bad thing), when they escape into the wild.

About 50 different varieties are sold in the United States, many originating in China. One that Brian Ritter, director of Davenport's Nahant Marsh Education Center, is particularly concerned about is miscanthus sinensis, commonly known as plume grass or Chinese silver grass.

Once established, it spreads by underground rhizomes, and there are several big patches of it near Nahant, he said. In addition to the ecological concerns, Ritter said the grass is highly flammable, causing a fire hazard/safety concern.

All it would take to ignite a big patch growing by the roadside is for someone to flick a cigarette or throw a spark and whoosh.

"It's another reason to plant native," he said.

As for how the miscanthus gets to Nahant, Ritter said he thinks people taking yard waste to the nearby Davenport Compost Facility may be losing seeds in the wind and that passing cars and trucks push the seeds into ditches where they take root.

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