It’s been a crazy year of weather. If we were just to list the highlights it would sound like we were in the midst of an apocalypse movie… wildfires, heat waves, floods, droughts…
Here in Southwestern Wisconsin we are in the midst of a drought. It was an almost snowless winter followed by an early and unusually hot spring, then a late frost, then by a summer without rain and temperatures in the 9oF˚s and low 100F˚s. We’ve been setting records all over the place. We’ve broken temperature highs and record lows for rain.
While the corn is stressed and lawns are brown and crunchy some prairie plants are happily carrying on. It’s been a beautiful year for leadplant. We’ve been finding small leadplants throughout the prairie. What has been most spectacular this year is the bushes that have flowered throughout the prairie. Since we have not burned for a few years we have leadplant bushes… 3 feet high. Currently the drought does not seem to be affecting the leadplant. (Next year may tell a different story.) Why is leadplant still green and flowering when other plants are shrivleing up? It may have something to do with the fact they their roots can go down 15-20 feet or maybe more. With roots this deep they may be tapping into an unground water source not available to a lot of our cultivated plants, whose roots are mostly along the surface. Due to the deep roots many prairie plants are drought tolerant… this does not guarantee they will survive a drought, but it gives them a fighting chance of surviving.
Back in 2010 I posted a table of some prairie plant roots. To see the table check out my post ‘In awe of prairie roots…’
If history is your thing you might enjoy Garden History Girl’s post ‘Prairie Studies, J.E. Weaver’ about his study of prairie plant roots. This post includes lots of great root images and link leading to pdfs of his original research.