New Years Day was a lovely day for a walk along the berm with every twig sparkling in the sunshine.
This year the snow and cold arrived in the middle of November and never left. You've got to get out and enjoy the beautiful days that do come.
Sometimes the grass cutters aren't great respecters of the naturalization areas. In the above picture they mowed a swath through the naturalization area, ignoring the "do not mow" sign.
And sometimes a minor obstruction diverts the path of the mowers and effectively expands the area left to the care of mother nature. This spring I placed a log (picture below) on the edge of the 2010 naturalization area to protect a spruce tree that had been damaged by the mowers. However, it seemed like every time I passed by, this log had moved a short distance away onto the short grass between the spruce tree and a crabapple tree. I would return it to the original spot only to find it had moved once again the next time I came by. Eventually I gave up and there it stayed, in the mower's path for the rest of the summer. That seemed to be enough of an excuse for the mowers, and they just gave up mowing the upper part of the berm. The grass grew unruly, the sumac encroached, and poplar suckers sprung up.
It was a bit of a mystery who kept on moving the log back until one day I happened upon a couple who were using the log as a private place to sit and be together.
This Giant Puffball is a particularly nice specimen. It is about 8inches in diameter, and can easily fool you that someone has lost their volleyball. Giant Puffballs are supposed to be edible as long as the flesh inside is still creamy white. This one has been there for a few weeks so I imagine it is no longer worth harvesting.
I first approached Manordale Public School for help planting trees along the roadside berm in the fall of 2008. The city provided the trees and the kids, parents and teachers came out one Saturday morning the next spring to enthusiastically if not expertly plant several hundred trees. I was surprised how easily it all came together.
The main location that the city had permitted for the initial planting was a 40m by 40m plot of weedy grass that had been regularly mowed but was otherwise entirely neglected since the dirt had been piled up to make the berm around 1995. Natural selection (primarily by the field mice) was pretty rough in the first few years. Many of the trees were girdled, others struggled to rise above the thick blanket of tufted vetch and birds-foot trefoil that covered the area for the first couple of years after the mowing ceased. The result is that there continues to be plenty of areas where the grass still dominates. This year, however, with the trees growing larger and the sumac spreading I have started to view them as a bunch of connected grassy glades amongst the trees as opposed to vice versa, a bunch of young trees amongst the tall grass. It only took a decade.
The grass is hanging in tough though, only in the deepest of shaded areas has it become patchy enough that bare ground is starting to be visible. The grass will even tolerate a dense thicket of young poplar saplings. Sumac alone does not provide enough shade to suppress grass, however in a few spots the combination of a tree growing up through the sumac does suppress the grass. The spreading Red-Osier Dogwood bushes and some of the spruce trees also provide enough shade to out-compete the grass.
Some clumps of perennial plants such as goldenrod will also out-compete the grass once they are established, but what has surprised me is the relative lack of these sorts of tall wildflowers in the area. I would have expected many more of the tall roadside weedy plants to invade once the grass cutting stopped. There is some Canada Thistle that is starting to spread, and some milkweed but it is a slow multiyear process. Some wildflowers such as Clover, Yarrow and the Birds-Foot Trefoil have even declined. The only places where Bull Thistles thrive are locations where I have removed the grass in order to plant more trees.
Last Friday a tornado swept through Craig Henry just north of Manordale knocking down trees and damaging many roofs. Yesterday I went over to the Bruce Pit to check out the damage to the forest there. The tornado took out the heart of the forest south of the pit there, about 30 acres of mature forest all told. As you can see in the above picture many trees were snapped off, and many more were uprooted. I find it amazing how localized the damage is. The path of destruction is only about 200 to 300 meters wide. Here in Manordale, about 500 meters south of the tornado's path, I watched the storm pass while standing at the front door. There were a couple of good severe gusts but the rainstorm was quite brief and not exceptionally heavy. I was a bit surprised that the power cut out and I only really became aware of the extent of the damage in Craig Henry and Arlington Woods on Monday.
As for the roadside berm area, I only noticed one large poplar tree knocked down close to Ben Franklin Park. I feel the roadside area got off quite lightly considering the wind gusts I saw from my house. The hybrid cottonwood poplar trees grow extremely quickly but seem to have a weak grasp on the ground.