Monday, April 22, 2013

An amazing field of purple

Well, well - rejoice! Another "Earth Day" has fallen upon us like a crashing meteor of discarded plastics, and... Wait! I promise not to express cynicism about this day, and all of the environmental posturing that ensues, like I did HERE.
Just remember, every day is Earth Day on this here blog!
While traveling down U.S. Route 52 in southern Ohio during yesterday's epic field trip into the hill country, I was nearly struck dumb by a field of purple. I had to wheel the car around, and visit this spectacularly colorful meadow! It's not that the brightly hued plants were a mystery in need of solving - I knew their identity at 60 mph with a fraction of a glance.

Our botanical protagonist is the lovely Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia. This is the same species that comes up in your yard, too, although probably not in these numbers. The violet is more native here than you or I, and in this case is easily holding its own against the VERY nonnative turf grass. Go, violets!

It was the scope and scale of this violet-covered field that made me detour off the road for an inspection. There were several acres of the plants, and I utterly fail to see how anyone could pass by this scene and not briefly fall into a contemplative revery over the lush lavender-misted meadow.

Your blogger is man enough to lay in a field of flowers. One of the basic rules of nature photography is to try and become one with your subject, and that often means dropping to the ground. I took scores of photos; the potential setups were endless!

This is what the field looks like from the perspective of a native pollinating insect, and many of them were roaming the violet patch.
I will admit to a bias. I generally despise turf grass. We've probably planted,collectively, an area the size of New Jersey of the stuff in this country. For legions of guys, their primary hobby seems to be mowing grass, often into opposing cross-hatched rows. If a purple blotch of a violet, or day-glo yellow dandelion or any other chlorophyll-bearing "alien" dares surface, they are promptly nuked with some of Scott's finest chemical agents of botanical warfare.

Why and how we've developed a turf grass metality is beyond me. The ideal in this grassy world is to create a yard that resembles the emerald felt of a pool table. Then, lurk along its edges just waiting for any other type of plant to surface. When one does, the indignant homeowner runs out and bayonets it with a ramrod full of toxins.

But why? To my eye, the violets in these photos are one million (to the 3rd power) more interesting than a flawless monoculture of grass. I think that most people, at least subconciously, feel the same. If this four acre field were perfectly manicured green grass, I doubt if it would elicit even a comment from the numerous passersby. However, filled with violets as it is, I am sure that I am not the only one that reacts favorably, and I'd bet two irises and a wood betony that others have u-turned and whipped out the camera.

An ornately patterned Meadow Fritillary, of which several were coursing over the violet field. Why? Because their host plants are (drumroll...)... violets! The "frits" that landed themselves in this meadow were like kids in a candy shop. They probably hardly knew where to turn, so overwhelming was the density of the violets that they require to lay eggs upon, and that their caterpillars must chew to grow and morph into these stunning butterflies.

Abutting the colorful meadow was a large lawn, and a quite typical one at that. The landowner has been diligent about purging any and all invaders from his neat turf grass. But if he/she is the one that permitted the adjacent field to run wild with violets, an Earth Day medal to him, I say!

This photo shows, with striking clarity, a very simple change that anyone with a yard can make to truly help the environment. Banish the turf grass mentality, and allow some diversity to creep into the yardscape. Better yet, plow up a good chunk of grass and plant it to native plants. The choices are myriad, and nearly all of our native plants are a million times (to the 3rd power) more beneficial than the nonnative stuff.

In fact, to help get the native plant message across, we started the Midwest Native Plant Conference back in 2009. This year's event will be held on the weekend of July 26, 27 & 28 in Dayton, Ohio. You'll find it to be a treasure trove of information about native plants and the good that they do, courtesy of a fine lineup of expert speakers. Keynoting the 2013 conference is Mr. Native Plant himself, Dr. Doug Tallamy. His book, Bringing Nature Home, has done as much as anything to open people's eyes to the value of conserving and encouraging native plants.

The complete scoop on the Midwest Native Plant Conference is RIGHT HERE. I hope you can make it. We have a blast, and even have some awesome field trips where you can see lots of cool native plants (and animals) with your own eyes. CLICK HERE for registration info.


Hernán Tolosa said...

Beautiful species, I don´t know before reading your note its existence. The flower is similar to Viola odorata, but I´m amazed it grows in sunlight between the grass,different as do V. odorata in shadows or poor light conditions

Bill said...

It was great to join you on your trip to the meadow! It was like ol times walking with you at the Longaberger Golf Course, Dawes, Blackhand Gorge etc etc and having you naming plants and pisssshhhing birds! Thanks for inspiring me to stop and appreciate the beauty of nature in my otherwise 90 mile an hour with my hair on fire world!

Kathleen said...

Beautiful violets! Thank you. I am working on making my lawn similar to that meadow- I am a good ways there.

Dawn Fine said...

What a lovely field of violets! I would have stopped also! Did you find any plastic?