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
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
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.