I learned two new things today:
1) Decomposed prairie grass makes much better soil than the leaves off trees:
Prairie grass, with its long roots, makes some of the best farming soil in the world, said Ken Olson, a soil scientist at Southern Illinois University. Decomposing grass creates a dark soil full of organic matter, superior to that created by trees.
Farmers from Germany snapped up the land from New England Yankees, who’d bought and partitioned it for sale. Steel plows ripped through the tough roots, sounding like gunfire, according to historical accounts.
2) Earthworms were killed off in parts of North America (in this case Illinois) by glaciers, and didn’t make a comeback until settlers brought them over from Europe.
As a result, the native flora at Spring Creek evolved in soils where worms weren’t an important component. Yet in Europe and Asia, trees like buckthorn evolved with the worm present in soils and therefore adapted to it.
When European settlers arrived about 200 years ago, they brought the earthworm to Spring Creek along with European plants like buckthorn.
By rapidly cycling nitrogen into the soil, the worm changes it, creating an environment that’s conducive to European buckthorn. Also, earthworms prefer buckthorn leaf litter, digesting it more quickly than oak leaf litter.
So together, the worm and buckthorn have formed an alliance that’s pushing out native trees. How this will ultimately change ecosystems like Spring Creek’s is unknown, but it’s not likely to benefit natives.”
Seems to me that European settlers have a lot to answer for. As a North American settler in Europe, I’m here to settle an old score (kidding).
There’s a blurb about conservation of the Easter Prairie Fringed Orchid in the article as well, if you’re interested.