Stop 5: Mowing and Succession
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Map of Nature Trail
Solidago rugosa (rough-stemmed goldenrod) Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)In the open area you will see a number of perennial plant species, including the Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) and goldenrods (Solidago spp.). These are herbaceous plants that die back to the ground each winter.

You will also see several species of grass, and patches of tiny bayberry shrubs (Morella pensylvanica) that have been repeatedly cut back by mowing.

mowed bayberry repsprouting

Sun loving plants thrive in meadows, which are great habitats to spot butterflies like the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos). If mowing were to cease, vines, shrubs and trees such those as you see behind you would, in time, dominate.pearl crescent butterfly

Plant communities such as this one were more common on Nantucket in the past, when burning by Native Americans and European settlers, and intensive grazing, especially by sheep, both prevented encroachment by taller, woody plants.

Clearing the land for farming reached its peak in Massachusetts in the 1830's, when open fields dominated approximately three-quarters of the Commonwealth's landscape, including most of Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Westward migration and the Industrial Revolution led to widespread abandonment of farms and fields, which reverted to forests through the process of succession. As succession advances, woody shrubs and vines overtake meadow flowers and grasses, and saplings of fast-growing evergreens encroach from the edges of the field. Conditions begin to favor colonization by conifers and, eventually, deciduous tree species. Over time, what was once a field can become a forest. Today, forests cover most of the formerly open farmland, and wild meadows and grasslands have become scarce habitats.

The Field Station managers maintain its fields by mowing on a regular basis. If mowing was to cease, the vines, shrubs and trees that surround the meadow would, in time, dominate it as well. Close observation reveals that even the mowed area has been extensively colonized by woody species.


doe, a deer, a female deer

One of the first trees to colonize the open fields, red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) grows in the shrub and vine community that surrounds the meadow. Among the other shrubs growing here are two species of sumac (Rhus spp.), arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), and rose species.

The isolated Eastern Redcedars (Juniperus virginiana) in the field have been deliberately left by station managers, but the trees are trimmed by the strong wind and the many Whitetailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) browsing in winter.

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Back to the start of the trail Harbor and Barrier Spit Stop 3: Beach Erosion The Ospreys Mowing and Succession Stop 6: How Plants Reproduce The Tangled Web of Vines Plants by the Pond Hidden Treasures at the Pond Wrack Lines at the Beach Folger's Salt Marsh

     The Nantucket Field Station Virtual Nature Trail is a joint effort of the following departments: Biology, Computer Science, Earth & Geographic Sciences, and ECOS. UMass Boston Home Page

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