A Timberhill Tour: Hidden Prairie

West 40 with Hidden Prairie

One of the pleasures of restoring Decatur County overstocked savannas is finding hidden treasure.  The Hidden Prairie is such a treasure.  Completely surrounded by woodland it had remnant populations of many conservative prairie plants such as purple prairie clover.  Bordered by our south property line, it covers a west facing hillside overlooking West Creek, part of a forty acre track we purchased in 2005. The property to the south is a mature overstocked savanna remnant, but there were no veteran oak trees on our portion of the land surrounding this prairie.  Only 75 year old shingle oaks. (It may have been logged off in the nineteenth century.)

At the time of purchase Rattlesnake master dominated the upper portion with more mesic plants such as bottle gentian at the lower end above the creek bottom. A stand of shingle oaks extended into the prairie dividing it into two parts.   We began managing it before we owned it.  Whenever we burned the West 40 unit we used West Creek as a fire break.  Since the Hidden Prairie is between the West 40 and West Creek it has been burned annually since 2002. After we purchased it we cut down the shingle oaks that divided the prairie and thinned a stand of shingle oaks between the prairie and the south fenceline.

The above photograph of the Hidden Prairie was taken before restoration. Since then it has doubled in size. The Rattlesnake master has declined. Prescribed burns have stimulated the warm season grasses and sedges.  Virtually all rainfall is now absorbed into the soil and the natural hydrology has been restored.  Even in dry weather plants have a consistent supply of water from the groundwater seeps.  The shingle oaks cannot tolerate these mesic conditions and are dying.  The Hidden Prairie is gradually extending its border uphill to the east.

Hidden Prairie in June

We have no idea how far it will go. There are two more prairie remnants along the south fence line, above (east)of  the Hidden Prairie.  All that separates them are shingle oaks.  As the shingle oaks die I assume the Hidden Prairie will become linked with the other remnants. A few young bur oaks are becoming established there as well.  Perhaps this prairie has a savanna in its future.  In any case it is fascinating to watch the transformation.