This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V23", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Mr. Lorin Blodgett writes: - "I read with interest your recent address on" The Origin of the Prairies," merely a notice in the daily papers. I hope you will give it in full in the Monthly.
I had the fortune, more than forty years ago, in 1839-1840 - to travel many hundreds, almost thousands - of miles over these prairies; beginning at the small ones, of which there are a few in Western Ohio, set like gems in the then dense woodland, and going west through constantly enlarging dimensions, until in Illinois, and beyond the Mississippi, some of them stretched a hundred miles or more.
These prairies were then singularly inspiring and beautiful - as the world was at the beginning - and it appeared a misfortune to disfigure them with the rough occupation of the Hoosier settler. 1 have walked a prairie ridge on the rolling prairies of Illinois and Wisconsin for an entire day without seeing a fragment of timber bounding the horizon. Everywhere, even then, the origin of these prairies was discussed, and while the general agreement was that the annual fires kept them treeless, it was also clear that in the beginning water was the leveling agency. I have never seen a satisfactory illustration of the vegetation, or flora of the prairies. The almost equally beautiful "Oak Openings," best developed in Wisconsin, lying alongside or surrounding the prairies everywhere, had an entirely different flora. Yet these were annually burned over, and often severely, thinning out all the smaller trees. The soil of the prairies is not that of a lake or river bed, nor is there any evidence of water subsidence long continued. Yet in Iowa and other rich sections it is penetrated with humus and vegetable remains for almost ten feet below the surface.
The composition of the prairie soil proper is quite uniform, always from one to five feet of dark, dry loam, with lighter and more retentive soil below, ending always in a stiff sheet of clay, with cemented gravel mixed bottom. Below this very general formation is often loose sand and gravel, as in Wisconsin, or limestone, or the lead-bearing formations, so general in the West.
In 1853, I saw well-grown forests almost, on the prairies near Rock River, which were naked when I saw them in 1839, - the farmers having planted a few acres, usually of locust or poplar. I have seen nothing of the recent results of forestry planting. Who has reported on them, or who will do so?
The prairies deserve a closeness of study they have not yet received - their soil, vegetation, contour and characteristics generally. The fires by which the grass is, or was annually burned, are less formidable than is supposed. I have walked across a line of this creeping fire many times. The turf is very strong and peculiar, but the grass short.
I hope you will give us your address in full."
[The address referred to was a verbal one, and we have no manuscript thereof. Notes were made for the public body before whom the address was delivered, and the abstract will probably appear in their proceedings; if so, we may reproduce them in the Gardener's Monthly, if we can find room without crowding out the valuable original contributions of our correspondents. - Ed. G. M.]