Click Here to view meadow management plan.
Are Meadows Ecologically Significant?
Meadows are ecologically valuable habitats because their open, sunny character supports plants and animals that fare less well in shady forested areas. Butterflies, nesting turtles, and grassland birds like the Northern harrier are dependent upon large clearings, and may be dependent upon native vegetation as well. Other birds such as swallows, blue birds and kestrels are drawn to a meadow’s expansive openness, which they use as feeding and nesting grounds. Thickets and shrubs at the meadow’s edge are home to birds such as the common yellow throat, eastern towhee and grey catbird. Meadows are usually bathed in full sunlight, which favors the growth of wildflowers, ferns, grasses, sedges, and rushes, which attract butterflies, moths, dragonflies, bees, flies and a whole host of other insects. Many other species benefit from the productivity of insects and pollen in meadows and include them in their wider territory. The dense foliage allows reptiles and small mammals to hide and hunt for food.
Unfortunately, open habitats like meadows and fens are declining in the lower Hudson Valley due to development pressures and natural succession. Natural succession is the tendency of an open clearing to revert to forest over time, passing first through the stages of meadow and shrubland. Ideally, protected landscapes include habitats in each stage of succession in order to accommodate the greatest variety of species present in that ecoregion.
Are Meadows Easier to Manage than a Manicured Lawn?
You bet they are. Meadows are usually only mowed once a year or even every several years. During the growing season, plants are permitted to grow and act as habitat for insects, birds and small mammals. Also, unlike a manicured lawn, meadows don’t require fertilizers, which run into watersheds and cause fish die-offs and water pollution.
PRLC Meadows and their Management
PRLC manages a meadow at three of its protected preserves in Pound Ridge. The smallest – Fancher Meadow – provides a meadow roadway viewshed on Fancher Road. The 5-acre Clark Meadow abuts a large wetland and the woodlands of the 70-acre Clark Preserve located on Autumn Ridge Road. And, the 3/4-acre meadow at the 43-acre Armstrong Preserve is part of the ‘outdoor classrooms’ of the Armstrong Education Center.
Guidelines for meadow management vary according to geography and climate, and therefore species composition. An established meadow might require mowing only every two to five years, with different patches or swaths cut in different years. In restoring meadows that have lain fallow, we generally follow the recommendation to mow annually in fall, after meadow dependent birds and insects are gone for the season and after seeds have had a chance to mature and disperse. However, it is advisable to cut infestions of invasive species like Asiatic stiltgrass before seeds have formed – therefore, earlier in the season. We use a solar-rechargeable weed trimmer to selectively control invasive species during the growing season. In regions without heavy snow cover, it may be best to mow in spring before the birds arrive. The organic cover and food will provide habitat for winter wildlife. Keep the cutting height to a minimum of 6 inches, except on the meadow perimeter, where meadow meets forest. Here, it is best to maintain a “soft edge” of gradually increasing height with understory and mid-story shrubs.
Common Milkweed is a valuable native plant and an annual, as it sets seed each year and then dies. Mowing milkweed before it goes to seed can eradicate it from a meadow, depriving Monarch butterfly caterpillars of their only known food source.
PRLC staff is interested in documenting the current diversity of its preserved lands in order to direct future land management and local land acquisition. Our surveys help us to adaptively manage the preserves and meet our goals of preserving biodiversity.
The Armstrong Preserve’s meadow is a small opening in the forest that may have been kept open for grazing animals and is now a hotspot of both diversity and invasive, non-native species. Designated an “old field” by the NYSDEC Ecological Community Classification System, the meadow would quickly fill in with shrubs and small trees if left un-mowed. Initial surveys of the Armstrong Meadow revealed that the meadow had become dominated by invasive plants including garlic mustard, mile-a-minute vine, Japanese barberry, Wineberry, Japanese stilt grass and Asiatic bittersweet. In order to better support the growth of native plants (and therefore more suitable meadow habitat), we designed a management plan to both restore the meadow and feature it as one of our educational outdoor classrooms at the Armstrong Preserve and Education Center.
Click Here to view meadow management plan.
PRLC volunteers have since removed most of the invasive plants from the meadow and replanted much of the fringe with locally sourced native shrubs such as Northern bayberry and Red chokeberry. We have also scraped away about an inch of topsoil from a portion of the meadow that had been infested so completely that the soil was covered in thick thatch and contained excessive amounts of seed from undesirable plants. Ernst Conservation Seed in Pennsylvania provided us native meadow seed that quickly established cover over the soil and should withstand deer browse.
Meadows have a strong cultural history in the northeast, serving many uses. You will find that the meadow at Armstrong is closely connected with our “working backyard” outdoor classroom. Our honeybee hive is located in the meadow, serving as both a teaching tool and a natural resource. The bees pollinate our edible and native wildflower gardens, provide us honey and wax, and engage our visitors in making connections to land, food, and health. Apple, Pawpaw, and Black cherry trees planted in the meadow will soon provide us, and the preserve’s birds, insects, and animals, with a delicious and nutritious food source.
We asked 2013 summer intern Nick A. to complete a plant survey of the Clark Preserve meadow. His work provides a baseline reference to gauge the current condition of the meadow and changes over time. Nick’s study also afforded us the opportunity of evaluating the results of an inadvertent summer mowing. Included here in brief are Nick’s observations, methods, and results. His work carries forward in the field as we plan annual stewardship activities at the Clark Meadow.
Description of the Meadow
The Clark Preserve meadow is about 200 meters long by 100 meters wide. It is an open and gradually inclining field to the west, and a marsh in the lower land to the east, divided by a stone wall and a line of trees. To the north of the meadow is a private residence located on Stone Hill Road. The preserve surrounding the meadow to the south, east, and west is a relatively young mixed hardwood forest typical of the lower Hudson Valley.
Narrative from Nick’s visit to the Meadow in June 2013…
The Entrance to the meadow is at the southern tip. For the first twenty meters the meadow is very thin and predominantly Common Milkweed and Canada Goldenrod. Both are not yet in bloom and Japanese stilt grass is growing nearby. As the meadow widens, at the base of the hill, there is large amounts of Milkweed and Goldenrod with several types of fescue grass growing to between 1-2 meters. Most wildflowers in bloom were found below grass cover, such as the wild basil, bird fetch, and red clover, and, at the time of my visit, only the Fleabane could be seen above the grass/Milkweed/Goldenrod. Ferns and vines (Poison Ivy and Virginia Creeper) were scarce, and the Multifloral Rose and Japanese Barberry were only found in small singular sites at the very top of the meadow’s small hill and at the bottom of the hill near tree line and the stone wall. While observed all through the month of June the meadow appeared to be growing healthily and quickly with a decent variety of species, most of which were native. The grass growth made the meadow very difficult to walk through by mid-June, and even harder to find or identify the lower growing plants. Growing Bull Thistle had not yet flowered and was hardly noticeable.
Color-coded Plant Species Map of the Clark Meadow
Highlighted are specific areas where the most prominent wildflower species were observed growing during the 2013 summer season. Nick surveyed the meadow by walking to 17 randomly selected survey points throughout the meadow between June and August. The map does not include grass species and, most importantly, reflects the condition of the meadow in late summer after it was accidentally mowed in mid-July. Species listed on the left side of the legend are native or naturalized, while those listed on the right are invasive.
A Sample of Native Species Found in the Meadow Prior to Mowing
|Catchweed Bedstraw||Galium aparine|
|Bird Vetch||Vicia cracca|
|Slender Yellow Woodsorrel||Oxalis dillenii|
|Bead Fern||Oniclea sensibilis|
|Red Clover||Trifolium prantense|
|Common Milkweed||Asclepias syriaca|
|Poison Ivy||Toxicodendron radicans|
|Virginia Creeper||Parthenocissus quinquefolia|
|Bull Thistle||Cirsium vulgare|
|Lady Fern||Athyrium felix-femina|
|Common Dandelion||Taraxacum officinale|
|Common Fleabane||Erigeron philidelphicus|
|Canada Goldenrod||Solidago canadensis|
|Wild Basil||Clinopodium vilgare|
|Gray Dogwood||Cornus racemosa|
Narrative from Nick’s Visit to the Meadow, August 2013 (after accidental mowing)
After the accidental mowing of the entire western section of the meadow, the dispersal of species is instantly notable. Milkweed, the most dominant species, does not regrow once cut. Although continuing as a prominent specie of the meadow, only the specimens small enough to evade the blade, survived. Goldenrod is entirely removed from this section. Since the grasses have been cut, large streaks of Bird Vetch and Wild Basil occupy the center of the meadow’s main area. Red and Strawberry Clover are also more prevalent and blooming in areas previously choked by grass. Bull thistle Flowers that had grown to about 1 meter tall, are no longer growing, but some thistles that had not yet begun to bloom before the cut are blooming now. In the absence of Milkweed and Goldenrod, Stilt grass has started to grow further north into the meadow from the southern entrance. Bead Fern has also taken advantage of Milkweed’s cutting, and is growing alongside Stilt grass and poison Ivy. These have replaced Milkweed as the dominant species on the lower side of the small hill, near the stone wall and row trees. Garlic mustard is found among the Ferns, but all specimens found had not yet flowered indicating that these rosettes were first year growth. Virginia Creeper, Dandelion, Mulitfloral Rose, and Japanese Barberry are still as scarce the meadow as they were before the cut. Poison Ivy, however, has spread with the mowing and is now found throughout the entire meadow, most heavily towards the south. Mowing also helped reveal the large variety of grasses that previously were unnoticed.
The invasive Garlic mustard is a biennial, meaning that it has a two year life cycle. Pictured here is the plant in its first year. To limit the spread of this invasive plant, cut it before the seed heads form in the second year.
High School Students’ Research
Armstrong Meadow Summer 2010
Research and planning to preserve the Armstrong Meadow.
Credit: Ben and Alex Sarnoff and Arden Ivens Anderson, Seniors at Fox Lane High School, Summer 2010 Community Service Project
Credit: Students of the 2008 Spring AP Environmental Class at Fox Lane High School, Teacher Drew Patrick