Saturday, August 8, 2015

Huffman Prairie at Wright's Flying Field in Dayton

August is an ideal time to visit Ohio's prairies.  The tall grass prairie remnants of Ohio constitute less than 1% of our original prairie.  Most of those lands were tilled long ago for agricultural purposes. This blogger has covered many of these historic sites in the past, including the well-known cemetery prairies- Smith and Bigelow, and the Daughmer Savanna Prairie posts which are here and here.

Huffman Prairie restoration
While visiting Dayton, Ohio for the Midwest Native Plant Conference I was invited out to see Huffman Prairie. It is situated squarely on the grounds of the Dayton Heritage National Historic Park at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The prairie is managed by the Five Rivers Metroparks, one of Ohio's excellent park systems. It is open to the public. You too, can take a self-guided tour and enjoy the new interpretive signage along the trail.

Historic plaque
You'll find an historic plaque on the site noting that The Wright Brothers flew and perfected the world's first practical airplane at this location in 1904 and 1905. It was also the location of the Wright School of Aviation where many of the world's first pilots were trained.

Our group gathered in front of the Wright's hanger.
Our prairie tour included some knowledgeable guides, including Jim McCormac of Ohio Div. of Wildlife, Dave Nolin and Beth Burke from Five Rivers Metroparks and my traveling companion and outdoors man extraordinaire, Jim Davidson.

The timing of my first visit was fortuitous, as a new book has been released documenting the lives of the Wright Brothers.  Orville and Wilbur Wright were interesting characters and David McCullough's enthusiasm for the story was obvious during several recent media interviews.  I am now looking forward to reading the book!

Ohio native plant community

But we were here to study the plants, not the history. This prairie holds an abundance of the plants one would have found in Ohio's original prairie plant community.  Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea and Blazing-star, Liatris spicata are the major players in this pink and purple pallet set in a sea of grass.

Dragonhunter lurks in the grass
Prairies are magnets for interesting insects hiding among these forbs and grasses.  Unlike the average manicured lawn, prairies are teaming with biodiversity.  The many species of prairie plants lend themselves to even more species of animals, including birds beetles, butterflies and this dragonfly- the Dragonhunter, Hagenius brevistylus.  One of the largest, fastest and most fierce of the dragonflies, the Dragonhunter is known for feeding upon- other dragonflies!  A key to its identity is the great big body and the little-bitty head.

The increasingly rare Monarch butterfly 
We also saw several Monarch butterflies flitting about the flowers and paying particular interest to the milkweed growing within the prairie. We are fortunate to have this 112 acre bio-reserve to provide needed habitat for our best known migratory butterfly.  Monarchs seem to be having a little better recruitment this year, but we won't know the whole story until they gather in mass in Mexico this winter.  It is heartening to know many people are interested in the welfare of this iconic insect and milkweed is gaining a new popularity amongst gardeners and habitat managers alike.

Go Monarchs and go to Huffman Prairie!  There is plenty of biodiversity to see.

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