Teasel Cutting at Cowbane

Surrounded by industrial plants, farm fields, and encroaching subdivisions, Cowbane Prairie Natural Area Preserve in Stuarts Draft is an oasis for wetland loving wildflowers. It is one of 65 protected Natural Area Preserves which are scattered around Virginia and managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Natural Heritage Program. The program’s South River Restoration Projects Specialist Steve Gaines invited HMNs and fellow outdoor enthusiasts for a recent morning of cutting seed heads off the invasive common teasel plants at the Cowbane Preserve. Teasel is a threat to the native plant population here that the Natural Heritage Program is striving to protect. While accomplishing this task, we were treated to a generous dose of learning and appreciation for this area’s increasingly rare ecosystem.

“On the western slope of the Blue Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley, Cowbane Prairie NAP protects outstanding examples of wet prairies, mesic prairies, and calcareous spring marshes which were once common natural communities in the Shenandoah Valley. These communities have been reduced over the years by agricultural and industrial development. Eleven rare plants including queen-of-the-prairie (Filipendula rubra), blueflag iris (Iris versicolor), and marsh-speedwell are found at the preserve.” – https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/natural-area-preserves/cowbane

Seven HMNs and a fellow nature enthusiast met Steve at the Cowbane Preserve on Saturday morning, August 14. Its public inaccessibility that helps protect it gave us a bit of a late start, but we made up for it. Equipped with pruning clippers and buckets and (mostly) protected from the briars with long sleeves and pants and gloves, we strode into the fields, along the paths, and around a seasonally wet area where the tall teasel stalks were congregated to remove their seed heads and hopefully prevent this year’s seeds from being sown. As our buckets filled, we emptied them into big black plastic bags provided by Steve for secure disposal.

Our efforts will likely be followed up in the spring by DCR staff conducting spot herbicide spraying of the rosette leaves that are the first year growth of teasel.

Steve led us on side wanderings to find cardinal flowers just past prime bloom, swamp rose mallows in full bloom, queen-of-the-prairie non-longer blooming, and a host of other plants. We learned how to identify native viburnums and persimmon trees, round rushes and sedges with edges, and about the lesser known but tremendous invasive threat of brown canary grass that has become well established at this preserve, outcompeting native cat tails. With a little luck, we may be invited back in June to experience the queen-of-the-prairie in its showy, full bloom.

Thanks to Steve for organizing this interesting outing for us!

Adrie Voors, Cohort II, August 2021

The photo at the top of this post is of Ann Murray, Cohort II, at Cowbane Preserve on August 14, 2021. Photo by Jeanine Botkin, Cohort VII.

The hot and happy crew at Cowbane Preserve. From L to R, John Bauman, Jeanine Botkin, Phil Henning, Angie Cromer, Adrie Voors, Lora Steiner, and Ann Murray seated in front. Not pictured is Karen Milne. Photo by Steve Gaines with John’s phone.

Click on a photo below to start a slide show to see them better. Thanks to Jeanine Botkin and Lora Steiner for the photos!