Wonderful Wildflowers

posted in: Local Conservation, Plants | 0

It’s not often that you’re surrounded by the fruits and flowers of your labor.

But that was the case for the Field Conservation Department last Thursday at Peter Spring Field. Peter Spring Field is a 20-acre agricultural field owned by the town of Concord, Massachusetts, and leased to the local, organic growers at Hutchins Farm. According to the lease, written by the Concord Natural Resources Commission, a quarter of the field is reserved for conservation use. The area is occasionally used by nesting turtles, but over the years and in partnership with Hutchins Farm, the Field Conservation Department at ZNE has nurtured the area into nearly 5 acres of astounding wildflowers! Walking up to the field this time of year is an awe-inspiring experience, with early sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) towering over an understory packed with other gorgeous wildflowers and native grasses. 

A sunny field of tall wildflowers dominated by yellow early sunflower, with a prominent clump of pale purple wild bergamot and a small number of black-eyed susans.
The lively blossoms of early sunflower (in yellow) and wild bergamot (in lavender) are some of the most common wildflowers blooming at our wildflower restoration site in Concord, along with horseweed and black-eyed susan.
A silvery stalk of sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) amidst a clump of Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata).

We’re not just here to admire the wildflowers today, though. This is the second annual vegetation survey that we’re conducting here in Peter Spring Field– categorizing and quantifying this field and its change over time is a vital piece of conservation management. In 2016, Dr. Windmiller and the team worked with Hutchins Farm (supported by grants from the Concord Garden Club and Disney Conservation Fund) to seed the field with a custom wildflower and grass mix. Over time, we have added new plants to the mix by establishing new experimental plots, and we’ve also seen rare “volunteers” pop up through natural seeding!

The activity in the field is palpable this time of year– each blooming flower is buzzing, crammed with eager pollinators. As we meander through the field, preparing for our formal survey and reacquainting ourselves and USFWS colleagues with common plants, Bryan and Ryan do aback-of-the-envelope estimate d: taking the number of bumblebees they count in a 10-foot radius and extrapolating to the rest of the field, they estimate that the field contains about 18,000 native bumblebees! Matt keeps a weather ear out for birds, as well; by the time we stop for lunch, he’s recorded more than 20 species seen and heard from the field.

For our vegetation survey, we have two major goals: try to identify every species of plant in the field, and try to compare what we see this year as opposed to last. To best accomplish these goals, we set out 12 “transects,” or straight lines, parallel across the field, straight northwards. Teams of two or three stop every 25 feet along these transects and record,within a 1m radius, the height of the tallest plant, the three most dominant plants, and every other species of flora visible within the circle. The average height of the plots this year went up more than 25cm (likely due to there being less of a drought, in comparison to summer/fall 2020), and in some plots, the early sunflowers towered more than 2.5m (8+ feet). We’re still working on analyzing the composition of the field, but in 2021, we observed at least 57 species, compared to the 47 we notched in 2020! This field is a huge win for wildlife, and a possible blueprint for future restoration efforts– and we can’t wait to find out what we’ll see next year!