August 12, 2011 by Joseph C. Neal
Hot Weather Welcomed by Some Plants, Animals
Our native post oaks and big bluestem grasses can take the high heat and drought. So can prairie natives like blazing stars and tall compass plants. Birds that nest in our former prairie lands, like Dickcissels, take this weather in stride. At the very least, they aren’t obviously wearing any big floppy sun hats and none that I’ve seen recently were lathered up with sunscreen. This is their time of year. The weather isn’t extreme for them.
It’s like there are whole different worlds that exist side by side. I was reminded of this on a visit to Searles Prairie Natural Area in Rogers this morning. Searles is just 10 acres, and it is all that is left of around 25 square miles of native Ozark prairie that is now almost totally built up as Rogers and Bentonville.
I parked my car off highway 102. Yards and fields outside Searles look just like yards and fields all over northwest Arkansas: brown, crisp, overdone, burned up. Except, that is, where a lawn or a flowerbed is still being watered. By comparison, Searles is seriously green, a true green zone. Native prairie plants there – the same kind of plants settlers who came here in the 1830s saw – put down deep roots and long ago evolved strategies to deal with July and August.
You see big swaths of purple. These are blazing stars, with stout straight stalks maybe three feet high and covered in the middle of this high heat and drought with lush purple flowers. They are doing this without water piped from Beaver Lake. Amidst the purple are patches of tall compass plants, marked by bright yellow flowers with many on a single stout stalk at least six feet high. They invite the heat. Each stalk has a few to maybe a dozen flowers, 4-5 inches in diameter, and these are natural magnets for all kinds of interesting bees and butterflies.
On one flower out there I can see a bee, a little smaller than a typical bumblebee, but with golden hind legs. They are so brightly colored they seem to radiate golden in bright sunshine. Turns out this is another part of what makes Searles a true green zone. Their bodies are hairy and the hind legs are big and flat. When they visit flowers the pollen sticks to hairs on their bodies. The bees periodically comb the pollen onto these special hind legs. That’s all going on while we are moaning about the drought.
In case you have missed the news, many folks are concerned that we are losing our bees. This is a concern because many agricultural crops are pollinated by bees. Bee populations look pretty high, and pretty healthy, out in the 10 acres of native prairie, but I’m not so sure about all of that that used to be prairie that surrounds it, the asphalt zone I guess we can call it.