My first wild hyacinth “experience” not only introduced me to an endangered species, it taught me an important lesson. I was working on reed canary grass control on a hot May day. Black flies were out in force, and the muggy air added to my misery. I was concentrating hard to differentiate between reed canary grass (bad) and prairie cordgrass and Canada bluejoint grass (both good). Working for hours in this transfixed state, the image of a wild hyacinth hit my brain receptors. My triggered response was “not a target,” and I started to move on. But then … wait! Did I just see a wild hyacinth? A state endangered species!? My brain disengaged from reed canary grass suppressor to amateur botanist. And sure enough, I was staring right at a wild hyacinth plant! Within minutes the whole crew surrounded the little plant taking pictures and celebrating. “We are making a difference!”
Late in the day, I pulled into our driveway, stopped to pick up the mail, and proceeded up the long drive toward our house. In my sleepy, end-of-work-day state, the image of a wild hyacinth hit my brain receptors again. Unlike earlier in the day, I now saw numerous wild hyacinths blooming. I stopped the car, shook off the sleepiness, and confirmed dozens of wild hyacinth blooms were poking up their blue-violet white, spiked heads in our young wet mesic prairie.
But the wild hyacinth experience does not end here. As elated and overjoyed as I was to see so many wild hyacinths, what really jolted me was where all these wild hyacinths plants were located. All the beautiful little flowers were blooming inside thick patches of native, aggressive clonal species such as sunflowers, green coneflower, purple-stemmed aster, Canada goldenrod, and tall goldenrod.
Apparently, the phenology of the wild hyacinth is to send up a flower spike above the young growth of the clonal species, get pollinated, and a short time later, be canopied over by the much taller clonal species. From my observations over the years of watching these plants, the period of time when the plants are visible can be as short as a week but typically average two weeks. I suspect this blooming strategy offers some protection from browsing deer as well. The plants are reproducing and gaining ground in this wet mesic “low quality” prairie.
Many practitioners and land managers find these aggressive native clonal species undesirable because they grab up a lot of space and appear to limit plant diversity. While I’m not denying this can be the case, perhaps there are species that need these clonal species to be successful. And maybe one of these species is the endangered wild hyacinth.
I recognize that our little wet mesic prairie restoration is still very young in respect to the ancient timeline of prairies. And you can bet that I intend to watch all of this closely. For the foreseeable future, we will embrace our “low quality” wet mesic prairie knowing it’s providing refuge for an endangered species!