A matching grant from the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program will help us restore native ecosystems at Matthaei-Nichols this winter. The program works with landowners and conservation partners to restore wetland, upland, and stream habitats.

Both Gardens and Arboretum Sites Slated for Work

Eco-restoration work will occur at both the Arb and botanical gardens and is scheduled to begin in early February in Nichols Arboretum followed by Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

The goal at Nichols Arboretum is to restore approximately 20 acres of globally rare prairie and oak openings (oak savanna) natural communities within Dow Field in the northeastern portion of the Arb (see photo). The prairie and oak savanna at Nichols Arboretum are remnant native grassland ecosystems that have experienced significant encroachment by trees and invasive shrubs over many years. These ecosystems have become rare across the Midwest due to fire suppression and conversion of land for agriculture and development.

Alex Dow Field in Nichols Arboretum

A view of Alex Dow Field in Nichols Arboretum. The goal for the winter 2020 restoration work in Nichols Arboretum is to restore approximately 20 acres of globally rare prairie and oak openings natural communities within Dow Field in the northeastern portion of the Arb. The City of Ann Arbor ornithologist was also consulted about how best to conduct the work to minimize any effects on the migrating bird populations in the Arb.

Work will include multiple efforts: thinning of trees along the railroad tracks to allow more light to reach plants on the ground, thus encouraging plant growth; removing invasive plants; planting native shrubs and trees; spreading native prairie seeds; and conducting prescribed burns. The resulting more-open conditions and increased floral diversity will directly benefit insect pollinators and birds by improving habitat conditions and increasing pollinator food reserves.

Nichols Arboretum Dow Field and Savanna Restoration_Map

Alex Dow Field in Nichols Arboretum is part of the eco-restoration efforts in winter 2020 at Matthaei-Nichols.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens Cummings Fen Restoration_Map

The Cummings Fen area slated for restoration work at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Keeping the Birds in Mind

Nichols Arboretum is a prime site for migrating birds. In an effort to integrate the restoration work with the visiting bird populations and minimize the effects of the restoration on species, we are working with the City of Ann Arbor Ornithologist, Juliet Berger, says Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese.

“Juliet is helping us identify the specific trees and shrub masses that are most used by migratory and other birds in the Arboretum,” Bob explains. “Having her input from the perspective of an ornithologist is incredibly important to us as we’re often more focused on the structure of the plantings from a plant ecology perspective. Identifying those key trees and shrub masses most used by the birds will help us serving the bird populations using the Arb while the newer plants mature.”

Eastern bluebird in Nichols Arboretum

An eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) perches in a tree in Nichols Arboretum. The Arb is a prime site for migrating and resident birds.

A late-summer view of Alex Dow Field in Nichols Arboretum shows the prairie plants at their peak. According to some estimates, as little as 1% of tall-grass prairies remain in North America. (https://wrangle.org/ecotype/north-american-tall-grass-prairie). We have long worked to protect and restore this remnant prairie and savanna ecosystem in the Arb. Collaborative efforts with the U.S Fish & Wildlife Services in the winter 2020 will enhance our restoration efforts in Alex Dow Field.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens Restoration Work

The goal at Matthaei Botanical Gardens is to restore globally rare prairie fen and wet meadow natural communities in Cummings Fen in the northern portion of the property, according to Matthaei-Nichols Associate Curator Mike Kost.

“Aerial photos from the 1940s and 60s clearly show that this wetland was very open in the past,” says Mike. “Today, much of this area is dominated by invasive shrubs, especially glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus) and common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). Over the past decade, we have removed invasive shrubs from a small portions of the area but much work remains.”

The ecological restoration work planned for Cummings Fen includes cutting invasive shrubs to create open conditions and allow sunlight to reach the ground and stimulate growth; gathering and dispersing native wetland seeds to facilitate recolonization by wetland herbaceous plants; and conducting a prescribed burn to stimulate growth of native wetland vegetation and maintain open conditions.

Cumming Fen at Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Matthaei-Nichols staff and volunteers conducting an early-spring prescribed burn of the Cummings Fen area of Matthaei Botanical Gardens. A prescribed burn is part of the restoration work that will take place at Matthaei this winter in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlfe Services.

The outcome of this work will be to create approximately 20 acres of open prairie fen and wet meadow habitat in the northern portion of Matthaei Botanical Gardens. This work will benefit the many plant and animal species that require open, wet conditions, including the eastern massasauga. Reducing shrub cover will significantly increase the amount of basking habitat for the massasauga and improve habitat for its small mammal prey. Insect pollinators and birds will also benefit through increased high-quality foraging habitat.

Tree and shrub cutting and clearing at Matthaei and the Arb will be conducted by Matthaei-Nichol staff and Fish and Wildlife crews.