Langham Island: End of Year Updates and Plans

Starting last August, the Friends have helped sponsor brush cutting and seed gathering “workdays” every week. Yesterday, we and staff gave a controlled burn to this once-neglected island, an especially important Illinois Nature Preserve. 

The collaborative burn represents in part the staff’s appreciation of our hard work. 

“Long lost” plants are re-appearing. The ecosystem is happy.
Grassy fuel is still thin. Our seed gathering will help change that.

The fire will do some good. But we look forward to future years with better fuel, so the fire can really do its work. According to Dan Kirk (IDNR Heritage Biologist), “This site hasn’t seen a real burn in a long time – too little fuel.” Dan authorized us to gather from nearby DesPlaines Dolomite Prairie. Old photos and descriptions tell us of the island’s “grassy banks” populated by many rare species typical of prairies and open savannas. But hardly any of the warm-season grasses had survived the shade on the island. So now we’re adding to the mix: little bluestem, northern dropseed, side-oaks grama, and Canada rye. Soon we’ll broadcast these and all the other species we’ve gathered on the island, which will lead to more natural, bigger, and better fires and – more importantly – the richer, more diverse, and more sustainable ecosystem.

Of course, those seeds will depend on sufficient light levels if they are to thrive. For now they’ll depend mostly on our brush cutting to restore those light levels. So, look at the map below!

See the blotchy pink? That’s the brush that the island next wants gone, soon!

We look forward to the re-emergence of many more endemic, endangered mallows next summer and the increasingly revived community of species they flourish among. As the invading shade retreats in response to hard-working stewards, the mallows and so many other rare species will have more and more space and niches in which to proliferate. And we’ve learned our lesson. Since, as things stand, the deer killed all the mallows we didn’t protect by our two exclusion cages, we’ll protect more next year, one way or another.

And there’s another priority, thanks to the beavers. They’ve been cutting down the few young oaks that survived in the dark of invasive trees and brush. We cut Asian honeysuckle around them … and the beavers cut the oaks.

Eriko, Karen, Espie, and Don give doleful looks at a beaver-cut bur oak.
Eriko, Karen, Espie, and Don give doleful looks at a beaver-cut bur oak.

In other words, there’s still a lot to do to restore natural biodiversity to this noble and worthy “island of rare plants.”

Join in, sometime soon? (See Facebook page for dates.)

If you would like to support this effort in other ways than the “workdays,” just let us know. Langham Island needs a diversity of talents and interests to be what it once was – and can be again!

This post by Stephen Packard and Emma Leavens

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