Not all of our wildflowers insist on living “wild.”
Pioneer plants are the first to colonize disturbed ground, including construction sites and burn areas. They help recover disturbed soil by stabilizing against erosion and shading tender seedlings. What makes them pioneers rather than weeds is their willingness to share space: rather than simply taking over the place and keeping it to themselves, pioneers yield to successive, and typically more diverse, generations of plants.
For such plants, bare ground amounts to opportunity.
Yarrow is a willing pioneer where we live, and over the years I’ve been able to watch as solid patches of it gradually morph into the botanical mosaic characteristic of our grasslands: the yarrow is still there, but it’s a collegial part of the overall mix.
In the fall of 2004, we set up horsekeeping with a small field we now call the Barn Pasture. By the time we finished fencing additional fields on the other side of the driveway the next year, the horses had cropped those few acres short. High-traffic areas were trod into hardpan. Once the horses started spending most of their time in the larger pasture, the yarrow surged and, despite a fierce drought, the grasses soon followed.
Here’s a picture of part of that pasture about a year into the recovery, with our beloved Max soon after his arrival in September 2006.
Here’s how it looks today (sadly, without Max, who died in 2012).
Another pioneer, Curly-cup Gumweed, thrives in the poor soil along the gravel roads. The plant pictured here has shot up since the area was scraped clean by the road grader in early June.