Red Grass and Rock Art

This is the season when many native prairie grasses take on a red or purple color along the stems and out onto the leaves. There are several species that turn red, but big bluestem and little bluestem are two of the most distinctive and two of the native grasses that we have on the Farm.

We’ve got at least four areas around the Farm where we’ve identified native prairie grasses. These two shots are of big bluestem in one of the three warm season paddocks located just to the east of the farmyard. This paddock has maintained a pretty good stand of big bluestem and several other native species. However, compared to last year, the other two paddocks have lost ground as the ubiquitous brome invades.

Dad always called big blue stem “turkey foot” because the seed head has that shape. The photo on the left illustrates the distinctive pattern and also shows yellow pollen clinging to the grass head that’s colored red. The photo on the right shows some other yellow colors in the warm season paddocks. There are several clumps of sunflowers that add to both the biodiversity and the esthetics, even if they’re not particularly good for grazing.

The area of big bluestem located just to the house of our house also did not do well this year. We had hoped that the stand of native grass would grow larger, but again the brome was a successful competitor and limited expansion. On the other hand, the little bluestem that’s part of the landscaping right next to the house did very well. It even expanded out into the area between the rocks that are located back away from the bunches of grass that we planted.

So, what does big bluestem have to do with Native American rock art? There’s a fairly common and distinctive motif that’s called a “turkey track”. The first image is an example on Pilot Rock near Cherokee in northwest Iowa (from a thesis by Quinn Black—complete reference available on request). This is fairly subtle rock art that is outlined for easy identification. But, there are also many examples at the petroglyph site near Jeffers in southwestern Minnesota. The image on the right is taken from a professional archaeology publication (again, the complete reference is available on request) describing a site in southeastern South Dakota. The intent is to demonstrate that the turkey track motif shown on the pottery fragment in the lower right, closely resembles the seed head of big bluestem grass. The “turkey track” motif in Native American rock art is very much like Dad’s “turkey foot” name for big bluestem.

And finally, since the season of the red grass is late summer and early fall, here are a couple of Margaret’s photos from yesterday….the last day of summer. The setting moon is from the early morning and the evening sunset is directly over the east-west Stateline. All of the photos in this post are hers. They always add an important dimension to this blog and I’m grateful for her help.

About Lone Tree Farm on Kanaranzi Creek

Recovering academic, earth scientist in phased retirement, farm manager by default, son, husband, father, grandfather.
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