As we walk along the path through the meadow with the Science Center in front of us, we're in the middle of a wild ecosystem in the middle of an otherwise groomed and landscaped campus. The meadow is left to grow naturally and mowed only once a year. If it were never mowed, it would eventually become a forest!

Even these relatively small meadows support hundreds of species of grasses, sedges, wildflowers, mammals, insects, and birds. When there isn't too much snow, we can identify most meadow grasses in winter as easily as we can in the summer. As for flowers, all we can see are the remnants of last fall's blossoms. Here's a goldenrod, with its dried flowers on panicles. This evening primrose (pictured right) grows to be 3 to 6 feet high, and you can recognize it in winter by the 4-chambered capsules on the ends of its branching stems.

These clumps of brilliant yellow grass near the forest edge are little bluestem grass, a native species. There are a few invasive, non-native species in these meadows as well, like this phragmites. It's related to the common reed, Phragmites australis, which can grow up to 13 feet high and is often planted as an ornamental. Though it's beautiful, it drives native species away. You can tell this smaller phragmites is a grass because its stem is made up of sheaths.

Sedges, like the one I'm holding here, differ from grasses in that their stems have no sheaths, and are often triangular. Also, sedge inflorescences branch from only one point on the stem, while grass inflorescences may be on multiple branches.

These grasses and flowers produce seeds, which are prized by birds such as song sparrows in winter. Meadow voles and white-footed mice are also active at this time of year. The voles stay underground in intricate tunnel networks and feed on green plant shoots, while the mice sometimes venture outside.

Let's walk toward Paramecium Pond, and as we do, be sure to notice the red maple swamp off to our right.




Created by: Niki Zhou and Carla Holleran
Maintained by: Nick Rodenhouse
Created: June 25, 2004
Last Modified: August 7, 2004
Expries: June 1, 2005