By Ruth Oldenburg
It was an fun and interesting hike in Lowell Township’s “Huckleberry Hills” led by Jesse Lincoln, an ecologist for the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Jesse discovered the property by accident when driving by one day. He noticed many native plants and investigated further to find an Oak barrens.
Michigan Natural Features Inventory defines Oak barrens as “fire-dependent savanna type dominated by oaks, having between 5 and 60% canopy, with or without a shrub layer. Black oak (Quercus velutina) and white oak (Q. alba) typically dominate the scattered over-story. The predominantly graminoid ground layer is composed of species associated with both prairie and forest communities. Oak barrens are found on droughty soils and occur typically on nearly level to slightly undulating glacial outwash in southern Lower Michigan.”
Going up the hill from the parking lot, right away we saw many treasures, among them Porcupine Grass (Hesperostipa spartea) with its very sharp seeds, New Jersey Tea shrubs (Ceanothus americans), and Goat’s Rue (Tephrosia virginiana), the later two both in flower. Goat’s Rue is a legume, and its flowers form dense clusters at the top of the stems with a pale yellow upper petal and two smaller fuchsia lower petals.
There were many large ant mounds on the property. Jesse explained that mound-building ants play a crucial role in the soil development of prairies and savannas. The ants mix and aerate the soil as they build tunnels and bring soil particles and nutrients to the topsoil from lower soil layers.
We came upon a big hill covered with a very large patch of Huckleberry bushes, thus the name Huckleberry Hills. Jesse imagines that the site was habitated by Native Americans long ago and that was their berry patch. He has never seen another as large as this one.
Jesse’s dream is that this property could become an official preserve. He has inventoried 105 Michigan native species there. He also spoke about plans to remove the many tiny Oak saplings so that the 50 year old Oaks can thrive and to leave the area open for native plants.