A Visit to the Lewis Prairie

By Jolene Esposito, Center for Urban Habitats
October 9, 2019

As Marketing Manager, I am responsible for managing and promoting CUH’s content. I also think it is valuable (and educational!) to know what each team within CUH does as part of their work. Two weeks ago I joined Ezra Staengl, Emily Luebke, and Drew Chaney (members of the survey crew) on a site visit to the Lewis Prairie to learn about the team’s process.

Interesting find of the day: I learned that this is a praying mantis egg sack. This non-native Chinese mantid is highly invasive and predatory (it is the mantis you might commonly see in your backyard).

The Lewis Prairie is a three year restoration project on a powerline right-of-way clearing, but the goal for the day was to collect data on the condition of vegetation in the restoration area. While I observed, the team measured and marked two sample plot areas and then began carefully going through each plot to identify all vegetation found within the plots.

Stake and tape marking the corner of a sample plot on the Lewis Property.

The team’s ability to accurately and efficiently identify vegetation on the plots impressed me. I quickly realized that this team is knowledgeable and thorough, and the process of plant identification is quite interesting. If there was a particularly challenging plant, the team used a handy mobile app called Flora of Virginia to aid in identification.

Survey crew team making their way to one of the sample plots.

When the team finished identifying all vegetation in the plots, they did an assessment of the surrounding area – called ‘the outs.’ In doing so, the team noted anything of interest outside the plots. For example, a unique plant not found in the plots, a tree outside the plot with a large limb casting a shadow over the plot, or other notable details.

After 3.5 hours in the field, the team packed up. The data collected will aid in monitoring the progress of this restoration. I learned a great deal after spending only a short time with the survey crew. In fact, I found myself trying to identify common vegetation around my apartment complex later that evening. More importantly, I learned that this project has the potential to increase plant richness in our region. Remnant and restored Piedmont Prairies tend to have more plant richness than other natural plant communities in this area. Much of this plant community on the Lewis property was lost because of a powerline company’s herbicide application on the land several years ago. Powerline right-of-ways present an opportunity for pollinator conservation. Restoring the land with local, native species is critical.

At top: Looking up through Andropogon virginicus (broomsedge) found in abundance in the Northwest Powerline Right-of-Way plot. All photographs by Jolene Esposito.