For the last Eighteen years of my life I have lived in the state of Massachusetts so the prospect of moving halfway across the country to start my first job after graduating college was daunting. Also, the idea of living alone for the first time was a little haunting. But after my first month here the time I’ve spent at Midewin has been quite rewarding. Life at Midewin has been anything but mid, it has been quite fun! I had to start by learning the lay of the land (which is overall quite flat) which included dangers to avoid such as the Wild Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), that upon touch and upon the sun’s rays hitting you will cause a reaction that causes your skin to burn and create a rash. When encountering said plant while walking through the prairie one needs to either steer clear or raise their arms above their head so that their arms don’t come in contact with the phototoxic plant.
Vegetative villains aside, my overall orientation to the prairie was swift and informative. We went over good places to collect seed, the history of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, all the various facilities and operations they have, and much more. As we got into the swing of things, mornings became essential hours in which to do field work so we could escape some of the most heated hours of the day. In the AM was when we found and collected many plants that had seed such as Carex stricta and Carex bickenellii.
A majority of seed that we are looking for come from sedges, a grass-like family of species that is slightly tricky to identify so we were put through a workshop of how to tell what a sedge is as well as what sedge is what. In that workshop one person gave us a helpful rhyme which goes like “sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have joints all the way to the ground”.
Besides seed collection we have had the joyful opportunity to partake in other projects that happen at Midewin such as bird surveys and hydrological testing. With those experiences we learned a lot about the different bird species that make a home at Midewin and why certain birds prefer certain grass heights as well as the great importance that hydrology plays in the health of Midewin as we tested streams and ponds for various characteristics. All along the way we have familiarized ourselves with the prairie and its characteristic species that make it different from other places in America, including two of my favorites the prairie dock plant (Silphium terebinthinaceum ) and the compass plant (Silphium laciniatum). The dock plant has an ingenious self cooling system that pumps refreshingly cold water up its stem. It’s always fun to go up to a dock plant and lay your hands on it to feel how cold it is relative to the plants around it!