Sensory Delights

There was something stinky in the kitchen trash, but kids were already sitting down for breakfast and I wasn’t wearing shoes to take it out, so we opted to diffuse some essential oils to mask the smell.

It being fall (at last!), we decided to try some fall scents – and arrived at a blend that delighted us all day long.

See my diffuser there? I’m no essential oil enthusiast (MLM + uber-questionable health advice = Rebekah’s not a fan) but I’m allergic to a lot of fragrances, so blending my own smells lets me screen out the stuff that gives me sneezes!

I liked it so much, I put it in again today just for the joy of it (no stinky trash needed.)

In case I forget, it was 4 drops cedarwood, 4 drops cinnamon bark, 2 drops cloves, and 10 drops orange.

Respite from the Heat

Squash love heat. They need warm soil to germinate and a long hot season to bear good fruit.

But even squash have their limits.

From mid-July to mid-August, twenty out of thirty days were above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

I got a few zucchini from my four large hills, but they were few and far between – not like the bumper crops one expects.

Zucchini blossoms

I barely saw any squash blossoms, and those I did see stayed mostly closed – not an ideal situation for pollination.

But, in God’s mercy, the temperatures have cooled to the low 90s for the past week – and I was delighted to discover plants full of wide open blossoms when I went out to water this morning.

Wide open!

Thank you, Lord, for this respite from the heat!

A Berry Nice Arrangement

It’s been two years now since I last taught the Fall of Mankind (I was having a baby around this time last year so I took a year off teaching 3-year-old Sunday School.)

In the meantime, my berries – used to pantomime forbidden fruit – have gone missing. So I was off to the store yesterday to find something in the floral section. Unlike the last time I went searching (five years ago?), I couldn’t find anything that was almost exclusively berries. All the berries were a part of a bigger arrangement of flowers.

It just so happened, though, that several arrangements were in the basic colorway of our main living space – and so I did a bit of impulse buying.

A couple of minutes snipping and arranging the three sprays of artificially flowers I bought and now I have a pretty arrangement above the china hutch.

My new floral arrangement

And some forbidden fruit. I also have the forbidden fruit I was looking for.

A 5th Wheel and 3rd Time’s a Charm

Shiloh and Frank had eye appointments today. I needed to take all the kids because Daniel had already gone into work late so I could take Tirzah Mae to an orthodontist appointment this morning.

I was SO on top of it. The kids were in the car and we were on the way in time to be there 15 minutes early. I was rocking this.

We went over some train tracks with a jolt. The cement truck behind us started acting weird.

We stopped at a stoplight.

A woman with a construction vest knocked on my window. She was the cement truck driver. “I’m sorry, but you lost your spare tire back there.”

Yep. I took a U-turn and put on my hazards. Grabbed the tire and rolled it to the back of the van. Hefted it in. Turned back around.

About a block off from the eye office, I had a hunch. When I pulled in, I checked my phone. Yep, the reminder text was not from this location.

Good thing I was still ten minutes early despite the tire. The other location was about ten minutes away.

I took another U-turn (since the parking lot wouldn’t let me take a left). I drove down the road I thought the other location was on – and passed where it should be.

I pulled off onto a side road. Checked Google maps. The other location is a mile north – but didn’t the text reminder say this street?

By that time, I was already on my way to location 2. I won’t get the kids out until I know for sure I’m at the right place.

I ran in and the receptionist confirmed – the right location was a mile south and five miles west. He’ll call and let them know I’m on my way.

Got out to find the big kids had been super helpful and unbuckled their younger siblings. We only arrived at the correct location a half hour late.

The eye doctor saw us lickety-split. Both kids see just fine.

We made it home with only planned stops and no U-turns, despite Louis’s fear that I wouldn’t be able to find my way home and would instead route us through England!

Recapping Kindergarten (2021-2022)

Tirzah Mae was a rather old kindergartener – she turned six just a couple months in. Louis has been a rather young kindergartener – he turned five a mere week before we started our school year in July of last year.

I took this into account in my plan and intended to take things very slowly in a sort of kindergarten-lite.

Since we do most of our “subject work” together as a family, Louis’s individual work was just phonics, handwriting, and math.

Phonics: American Language Series K, with supplements

Young and male as Louis was, I knew we were going to need to take it slow with phonics. So I printed some supplemental material to give us more practice than the American Language Series K provides. I appreciate The Measured Mom blog, so I went there first and found just what I’d hoped for: an alphabet letter find, a beginning sounds coloring page, and some beginning sounds clip cards. Hedging my bets, I also opted to have Louis do his workbook pages for ALS-K in a page protector with a dry erase marker so he could redo a page as many times as he needed to. Turns out, I was really glad I had.

It only took a couple of lessons to discover that the phonemic awareness Tirzah Mae had just arrived at through singing and chanting and whatever did not come quite so naturally to my brand new five year old. He could kinda-sorta isolate beginning sounds, but definitely not ending sounds. And segmenting and blending sounds? Nope.

I began to panic. Why had I gone all gung-ho purchasing the same curriculum I’d learned to read with before I’d had a chance to read up on the science of reading? I should have done my research better and gotten a good Orton-Gillingham program that could meet all my students’ needs, whatever might come. I should have gotten Logic of English.

But I hadn’t gotten another curriculum, and since he was just barely five and since I was able to identify the problem (phonemic awareness), I started him on the fast track of the Phonemic Awareness Program. We worked on it for a semester until I observed he and his younger sister playing all sorts of word games together, switching out rimes, making new rhymes, blending and segmenting like pros, and demonstrating, well, phonemic awareness.

Back to ALS-K, and this time with good success. We spent 2-3 days on each lesson, learning the sounds of each letter and the consonant digraphs and to read one-syllable short vowel words. (Yes, the printables from the Measured Mom were very helpful.)


I wanted to be really careful here to get the letter formation down without overextending my young boy’s fine motor control. So I spent two days on each letter, using chants from the Kindergarten Works blog. The first day, we formed the letter in the air with our finger and then wrote it a few times with a dry erase marker on these letter cards (I had him use his finger to erase in the exact same path that he’d used to draw the letter in the first place.) The second day, we wrote that letter in a sand tray and then completed the corresponding “letters of all sizes” worksheet from The Measured Mom (uppercase and lowercase worksheets) .

After we had finished both uppercase and lowercase letters, we started a program called Sylladot. I met Carla Cox, the author of the Sylladot phonics curriculum, at the Great Homeschool Convention in St Charles Missouri back in March. Ms. Cox gives away copies of the kindergarten book to mothers of five-year-olds – and when she discovered that I had a seven-year-old who was just now working on vowel digraphs, a five-year-old, and a four-year-old nipping on the five-year-old’s heels, she gave me three copies of the kindergarten book. When I got the book home, I was able to see that Tirzah Mae was really too advanced for it, but that it might serve Louis very well. The first 30 or so lessons focus on learning the names of the letters of the alphabet and how to write them – and I was ready for some new handwriting work, so this seemed good to me (also, I typically focus on sounds such that my kids say /F/ instead of /ef/ when they’re asked to read an eye chart so learning the letter names might be handy!)

I have really enjoyed the clever little pictures and sayings that help the kids remember the names and formations of the letters. Unfortunately, I don’t think Louis could have started with this as his phonics program last fall since his fine motor development probably wasn’t far enough along then. (Beth-Ellen, on the other hand, will likely not have any problem starting Sylladot for her Pre-K next month. I also plan to use Ms. Cox’s alphabet chart and teaching technique for the little girls’ preschool “circle time” next year.)

Mathematics: Shiller Math Kit 1

Perhaps with Louis I will finally get my money’s worth from Shiller Math. He hasn’t asked for a workbook yet, at any rate.

I personally love Shiller Math. Manipulative-based, scripted lessons for low prep, and everything is in the box. The only thing I don’t like (well, apart from the songs that I find cheesy and not particularly helpful for learning) is the log sheet for recording lessons. It’s way too difficult to decide what to do next. So what I’ve done is make a spreadsheet with lesson numbers and names on the first column, a group of columns labeled “Dates worked on”, and a final column marked “Date completed”. After we work a lesson, we mark the date in a “dates worked on” box. If Louis has clearly mastered the concept of that lesson, I mark a line through the remaining “dates worked on” boxes and write the date in the “date completed” column.

Generally speaking, we did one new lesson and one review lesson daily, which took around 20 minutes (hello, Charlotte Mason). For review, I started with the oldest incomplete lesson and did the next incomplete lesson the next day and so on until we were reviewing the lesson we had just done the day before. Then we’d start again at the beginning with the earliest incomplete lesson. So far, I’ve really enjoyed this approach and feel like Louis also appreciates it.

So What’s Next?

We’re planning a pretty boring first grade year – it’s pretty much kindergarten redux. I plan to continue with ALS-K and Sylladot both, using Sylladot as supplemental work while we’re keeping our progress through ALS-K slow. The next part of Sylladot does not have a lot of handwriting, so I’ll be having him do copywork to practice his script. We will continue with Shiller Math, but I did have Math Mammoth 1 printed just in case we need to supplement with some workbook-type work. Louis and Tirzah Mae will also be working together through Core Knowledge’s What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know.

Recapping 1st Grade (2021-2022)

Tirzah Mae has now finished up her first official year of school as compulsory education in the State of Kansas begins at age 6 (and she was six as of September 2021.) For the most part, we continued on with what we’d been doing for her kindergarten year, except that now she wasn’t the only student working (which somewhat dampened the cries of “not fair”, albeit not as much as I would have liked.)

As previously mentioned, we do the majority of our “subject work” together as a family, with only the “skill subjects” of reading, writing, and arithmetic done individually.

Phonics and Reading: American Language Series K (part 2)

I learned to read using this program, then called Little Patriots Read. My mom had me do it all in my kindergarten year, but I chose to slow it way down with Tirzah Mae. The ALS-K order of phoneme introduction is single letters (CVC), consonant digraphs and blends, mother E words, r-controlled vowels, vowel digraphs, and then diphthongs. We completed all the short vowel work in kindergarten and did the rest (mother E words on) here in 1st grade. I also opted to do only the phonics and readers without the spelling, writing, and vocabulary workbook.

I spent way too much energy the first semester trying to make sure we were reading the stories that matched the phonics lesson (really using skills that had been taught several days or weeks prior) and asking the provided “comprehension questions.” Midspring, I finally came to my senses and just had her read and narrate whatever stories came next.


I started the year giving some instruction on the placement of letters on three-lined paper (you know, with the dots in the middle) since we’d focused on letter formation without the use of lined paper in kindergarten.

Then it was copywork, copywork, copywork. She copied the autobiography she’d (spontaneously) written in kindergarten (with mama’s edits for legibility.) She copied the ten commandments. She copied some catechism questions and answers. And she copied lots of happy birthday greetings for cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents.

Mathematics: Math Mammoth 1

I won an electronic copy of the entire sequence of leveled Math Mammoth worktexts back before I’d started schooling any of the kids. I was impressed by what I saw – a well-organized mastery-approach curriculum that I am able to print for about $25 per year at The Homeschool Printing Company. I had intended to switch to Math Mammoth once the kids finished the Shiller Math kit 1 (somewhere around 3-4th grade), but Tirzah Mae’s “wanna do a workbook” from last year made me bite the bullet and get her started on it this year. I did have her use some of the unit cubes from the Shiller Kit to help her conceptualize things a little better (rearranging is easier with 3D objects vs drawings on a page!) – but found that the 1st Grade workbooks are pretty good at making math concrete.

So What’s Next?

Now that Tirzah Mae has finished all six of her ALS-K readers, she is also the proud owner of her own library card (I remember well when I finally completed Sounds of Joy and could get my own card!)

1st Grade was mostly a continuation of kindergarten for Tirzah Mae – but next year we’ll be using all new curriculum. She’ll be learning cursive with Logic of English’s (LOE) Rhythm of Handwriting, doing phonics/grammar/spelling/vocabulary/etc. using LOE’s Essentials, and doing writing using projects/ideas from Brave Writer’s The Writer’s Jungle. She’ll be reading to me, to her younger siblings, and on her own for reading fluency practice. For math, she’ll be continuing on with Math Mammoth AND doing some Shiller Math kit 1 (because she saw the Shiller stuff at the Great Homeschool Convention and regretted giving it up.) She and Louis will also work together through the Core Knowledge book What Your 1st Grader Needs to Know.

Recapping Morning Time (2021-2022)

We officially called wraps on the 2021-2022 school year in the middle of June – we’ll be back at it next week, Lord willing. But even once we were officially “done”, we continued morning time – it’s something of an anchor for our days.

For us, morning time has been a matter of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I started doing morning time as soon as I finished breakfast but while the kids were still dawdling over it sometime in the 2019-2020 school year and it has continued to work well for us.

Morning Worship

We start morning time with the Scriptures. I open with “Let’s hear what God’s Word says” and then read a passage, closing with “This is the Word of the LORD”, to which we all reply “Thanks be to God.” This is our church’s customary formula for Scripture readings and we want our children to be comfortable with the format.

I added Scripture memory to our rotation in January – I had been intending to do so but had a hard time arriving at a perfect system. Finally, I decided that, despite not having a perfect system we were going to just jump in. We practice the children’s current memory verses from Sunday school daily and then practice 2 “back verses” from the preschool repertoire at church and 2 back verses from the ones that go along with Tirzah Mae and Louis’s Sunday school class.

Also in January, we started working on the New City Catechism as a family during our evening worship, so I review a couple of back questions and answers and we listen to and sing along with the song for the current question.

Daniel and I have long agreed that we think memorizing extended passages of Scripture is ideal for retention, understanding, and application, so for our last interval, I added a longer Scripture passage for us to memorize. We practiced Psalm 1 right after our Scripture reading – and there’s little more delightful than hearing Shiloh leading the others in “are like chaff, which the wind drives away.” This seemed to work well and I hope to memorize one short passage per interval in our next school year.

This year, we read the Psalms and Proverbs, memorized Psalm 1, and memorized the first 22 questions of the New City Catechism.

Poetry and Nonsense

Our next section is on the silly side. We start with a nursery rhyme, then read a poem, then a few jokes, and end with some trivia.

We’ve read all of the nursery rhyme collections our library owns, so I’m just cycling through the three I own and enjoy: Kate Greenaway Nursery Rhyme Classics, Tomie DePaola’s Mother Goose,, and The Glorious Mother Goose. We got through all three this year.

For our poetry, I check out a book of poems from the library (Dewey Decimal system 811, Children’s Nonfiction). When we finish, I check out another. If I happen to not have another queued up when we finish one book, I grab a collection we own and read the next poem in that collection until we’ve got another library book to peruse.

Poetry Read:

  • R is for Rhyme: A Poetry Alphabet by Judy Young
  • Lots of Spots by Lois Ehlert
  • You and Me: Poems of Friendship by Sally Mavor
  • Dinosaur Dances by Jane Yolen
  • Animal Fare by Jane Yolen
  • Sleigh Bells and Snowflakes compiled by Linda Bronson
  • The Stable Rat and other Christmas Poems by Julia Cunningham
  • The Glorious Christmas Songbook by Cooper Edens and Benjamin Darling
  • At Christmastime by Valerie Worth
  • Bird Watch by Jane Yolen
  • Water Music by Jane Yolen
  • Dear Mother, Dear Daughter by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple
  • Birds of a Feather by Jane Yolen
  • A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

Reading jokes at morning time began when Daniel was traveling at the end of 2020 and would send the kids voice messages with knock knock jokes. The kids enjoyed them and I realized that puns are a pretty great learning opportunity too (hearing Louis giggle at a joke as he says “It should be ‘joke’ instead of ‘yolk'” is pretty great.) Just like with the poems, I check a book out of the library, we read it, and then I check another out. If I happen to plan poorly and run out of jokes, we just go without.

Joke Books Read:

  • My First Knock-Knock Jokes by Jimmy Niro
  • Bell Buzzers: A Book of Knock-Knock Jokes by Michael Dahl
  • Nutty Neighbors: A Book of Knock-Knock by Michael Dahl
  • Doctor, Doctor: A Book of Doctor Jokes by Michael Dahl
  • Family Funnies: A Book of Family Jokes by Michael Dahl
  • School Buzz: Classy and Funny Jokes about School by Michael Dahl
  • Teacher Says: A Book of Teacher Jokes by Michael Dahl
  • The Classroom Zone: Jokes, Riddles, Tongue Twisters & “Daffynitions” by Gary Chmielewski
  • Let’s Eat in the Funny Zone: Jokes, Riddles, Tongue Twisters & “Daffynitions” by Gary Chmielewski
  • The Medical Zone: Jokes, Riddles, Tongue Twisters & “Daffynitions” by Gary Chmielewski
  • The Science Zone: Jokes, Riddles, Tongue Twisters & “Daffynitions” by Gary Chmielewski
  • Ribbit Riddles by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg
  • ABC Animal Riddles by Susan Joyce
  • Otter Nonsense by Norton Juster

Finally, we enjoy some trivia. I’m not sure when or how we started, but we began reading a “did you know” book at the end of morning time and discovered that we really enjoyed learning random little things. We’ve mostly been writing through the National Geographic Kids series “Little Kids First Big Book of…”

Trivia Read

  • National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Big Book of Why 2 by Jill Esbaum
  • National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Big Book of Why by Amy Shields
  • National Geographic Kids Little Kids First Big Book of Science by Kathleen Weiner Zoehfeld

So What’s Next?

When we start up again, I plan to continue on as we have been with only a couple of adjustments. We’re going to add some extra memory work between our catechism review and nursery rhymes (we practiced my phone number and our address during our last interval and I think we’ll start with the books of the Bible for the next school year.) I also feel like morning time sometimes ends with a whimper when attention starts to wane on our trivia – I’d like to finish off more decisively with a hymn. Then there’s a clear “we’re done” to mark the transition from the table and to chores.

Notes from Lift by Daniel Kuntz

In The Liberal Arts Tradition, Clark and Jain argue that the ancients considered gymnastics and music to be an essential component of early education (perhaps even THE essential components of early education.)

As a mother of many young children and a not-particularly-gymnasticly-oriented person, I have lots of questions. What do the ancients mean by gymnastic? Of what benefit is gymnastic training? How does a gymnastic education fit into the whole idea of a liberal arts education (that is, an education fit for free men)? And, in what manner did the medievals interpret the classical emphasis on gymnastic training?

Cover of Lift by Daniel Kunitz

When I saw Daniel Kunitz’s Lift: Fitness Culture from Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors in my local library’s catalog, I hoped it could help in answering these questions.

Alas, it was not to be.

Kunitz seems much more interested in telling the story of his beloved Crossfit and creating an ancient mythology for it than in uncovering a historical understanding of fitness. He mentions that “In Athens, the three great gymnasia – Plato’s Akademy, Aristotle’s Lykeion, and the Cynosarges – were also sites of the era’s three major philosophical traditions, directed by philosopher-athletes” but offers no assistance in understanding the interplay between philosophy and athletics.

For an understanding of the early Christian attitude toward athletics, Kunitz falls even further short, stating without reference that “Christian denigration of the body as inherently sinful… certainly contributed significantly to the deterioration of athletics in the Roman era as well as in the Middle Ages” and leaving the whole Christian conception of the body there.

Kunitz does somewhat better at detailing a history of modern fitness, but his own obsession with Crossfit and the “New Fitness Frontier” clouds his ability to tell a clean story. He derides an emphasis on fitness for the sake of slimming down, but fails to make a good case for why fitness for the sake of looking like Hercules is better. He is dismissive of jogging and other aerobic pursuits as pointless (despite advocates stated desire to either improve cardiovascular health or to attain or maintain healthy weight), but fails to make a compelling case for the endless improvement (always seeking a new personal best) that he considers the ideal.

The optimization of the body is Kunitz’s goal – and perhaps the goal of fellow members of the New Fitness Frontier – but such a goal falls flat to my mind. The body is not an end in itself. It exists for a higher goal – the glory of God. So, for me, fitness is not about achieving my body’s greatest potential but about being fit to accomplish the purposes I know God has for me: fit to serve as my husband’s helpmeet, fit to mother and educate my children, fit to serve within my church and community however God should lead, and so forth.

Which means my search to better understand the meaning and value of “gymnastic education” as conceived by either the ancients or the medievals continues.

The Big Bad Plants: Kansas Invasive Transformers

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have frequently been frustrated by the dearth of good information regarding locally invasive plants. Attempts to find a comprehensive list for Kansas have been met with failure after failure until I found the document entitled “Coefficients of Conservativism for Kansas Vascular Plants (2021).” This has it all – every plant in Kansas, complete with native and non-native species and a ranking of the invasiveness of each non-native species (along with a whole lot more). But it’s not super user-friendly for someone who just wants to know which baddies to avoid – which is why I’ve pulled out just the worst of the non-natives here: the invasive transformers.

Invasive transformers produce offspring far from their parent plants and they also dominate and transform the natural spaces that they invade. They “can change the character, condition, form or nature of ecosystems over a substantial area relative to extent of ecosystem.” (Brian Obermeyer, quoted from here)

These are the biggest, baddest guys on Kansas’s block. If you’ve got them on your property, you should get rid of them posthaste (I tell myself as I sigh – I’ve got my work cut out for me since we have at least five species of these guys on our lot!)

When available, I have linked to the description of the plant on Mike Haddock’s incredibly helpful Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses website. Otherwise, links are to a variety of sites where information on the plant can be found.

Invasive transformer multiflora rose sprawling under our one intact stand of mature American elm

Herbaceous weeds

Latin Name
Common NameNotes
Alliaria petiolatacommon garlic mustard
Carduus nutansmusk-thistleThis is a category C noxious weed in Kansas, which means it is well-established throughout the state and has a control program in place
Centaurea solstitialisyellow star-thistle
Cirsium arvenseCanadian thistleThis is a category B noxious weed in Kansas, which means it is well-established in parts of the state and has a control program in place
Convolvulus arvensisfield bindweedThis is a category C noxious weed in Kansas, which means it is well-established throughout the state and has a control program in place
Dipsacus fullonumfuller’s teaselThis is a county option noxious weed in Elk, Franklin, Greenwood, Linn, and Woodson counties and has a control program in place
Dipsacus laciniatuscut-leaf teaselThis is a county option noxious weed in Elk, Franklin, Linn, and Woodson counties and has a control program in place
Lespedeza cuneatasericea bush-cloverThis is a category C noxious weed in Kansas, which means it is well-established throughout the state.
Lythrum salicariapurple loosestrifeKansas has a quarantine forbidding bringing this species into the state or propogating it within the state
Securigera variacommon crown-vetch

Grassy Weeds

Fields of invasive-transformer smooth brome. We are currently working on eradicating brome from our prairie restoration site.

Latin Name
Common NameNotes
Bothriochloa bladhiiCaucasian bluestemThis is a county option noxious weed in Greenwood county
Bothriochloa ischaemum var. songaricaKeng Turkestan bluestem
Bromus inermissmooth brome
Bromus japonicusJapanese brome
Bromus tectorumdowny brome

Bushes and Trees

Invasive transformer Callery pear in the middle of our prairie restoration site.
Latin NameCommon NameNotes
Elaeagnus angustifoliaRussian olive
Elaeagnus umbellataautumn-olive
Lonicera japonicaJapanese honeysuckleThe Kansas Forestry Service has provided information on controlling Asian bush honeysuckles
Lonicera maackiiAmur honeysuckleThe Kansas Forestry Service has provided information on controlling Asian bush honeysuckles
Lonicera tataricaTartarian honeysuckleThe Kansas Forestry Service has provided information on controlling Asian bush honeysuckles
Pyrus calleryanaBradford pear or Callery pearThe Kansas Forestry Service has information regarding controlling Callery pear; the Dyck Arboretum blog also details the problems with Callery pear
Rhamnus catharticacommon buckthorn
Rosa multifloramultiflora rose
Tamarix parviflorasmall-flower tamariskKansas has a quarantine forbidding bringing this species into the state or propogating it within the state
Tamarix ramosissimasalt-cedarKansas has a quarantine forbidding bringing this species into the state or propogating it within the state
This Russian olive survived the tornado, even as all three sheds around it (and the Siberian Elm and Eastern Red Cedar behind it) were destroyed

Aquatic Plants

Latin NameCommon NameNotes
Hydrilla verticillataRoyle hydrilla
Lythrum salicariapurple loosestrifeKansas has a quarantine forbidding bringing this species into the state or propagating it within the state
Myriophyllum spicatumEurasian water-milfoil

What plants really are invasive in Kansas?

Since moving to Kansas, and especially to Prairie Elms, I’ve become something of a fan-girl of the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains. Their “Prairie Notes” blog has been formative in my growing understanding of the prairie ecosystem and the multifaceted value of “playing nicely” within our native plant communities.

I love that, while they’re focused on native plant communities, the folks over at the Arboretum aren’t native-nazis – they even sell some non-native plants at their twice-yearly plant sale.

I’d like to think I’ve internalized some of their philosophy, planting mostly native plants around my home and making plans for a little prairie restoration towards the back of our lot.

But as I’ve been busy identifying plants on our property, attempting to eradicate the invasives, and plant or support the “goodies”, I’ve grown frustrated at the lack of information and the contradictory information about invasive plants.

Virginia Creeper growing on a fence between us and our neighbor. An aggressive grower? Yes. A weed? Depends on who you talk to. Invasive? It’s a native – we might or might not like it, but this is its home turf (whatever Chace may say.)

Most recently, I borrowed How to Eradicate Invasive Plants by Teri Dunn Chace from the library – and then felt like throwing it against the wall. Chace classifies pretty much anything that spreads on its own as invasive, regardless of its nativity or impact on ecosystems as a whole – so bee balm (Monarda), a native that self-sows and spreads via rhizomes (especially in a cultivated garden environment), is lumped in with Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), an Asian import that is actively transforming the prairie, crowding out numerous native species and offering only substandard nutrition to the birds that are feeding on its berries and dropping them everywhere.

Chace declares this spearmint to be an invasive (it is a ready spreader – which is why I’ve planted it in my tire planter) – but Freeman’s document says spearmint is a casual alien (with very little impact on Kansas’ native ecosystem)

This sent me (yet again) on a quest to find a truly useful tool for evaluating the friendliness or thuggishness of various plants within Kansas. And, this time I finally hit paydirt. (What did I do differently this time as compared to the dozens of times I’ve searched for the same information? I have no idea.)

I found a presentation by Brian Obermeyer (pdf link) of the Kansas Nature Conservancy which stewards the nation’s largest prairie remnant, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Obermeyer describes a four part invasiveness index and references Craig Freeman of the University of Kansas. I followed the Craig Freeman thread and found it – a list of all plant species in Kansas (pdf link) with invasiveness index for each! Jackpot! (I realized after the fact that Freeman is also co-author of one of my favorite plant field guides: Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines in Kansas.)

The invasiveness index (as described by Obermeyer in the above linked presentation) is as follows:

  1. Casual alien
  2. Naturalized non-invasive
  3. Invasive non-transformer
  4. Invasive transformer

Casual Alien

Sweet William is one of a very few non-native perennials I’ve planted here at Prairie Elms. It’s a casual alien within the state.

These are non-natives that grow in Kansas but “do not form self-replacing populations”. Examples include Kansas’s field crops of wheat (Triticum aestivum), soybeans (Fabaceae Glycine) and cotton (Gossypium hirsutum). These exist in Kansas because of man’s continued inputs. Planting these will not harm Kansas ecosystems (that is, apart from what you might be destroying to cultivate them).

Naturalized Non-invasive

My aunt shared these daffodils with me – they’ve filled in a bit since I took this photo three years ago. Daffodils are naturalized in Kansas.

These consistently sustain a population in Kansas without human cultivation but “typically do not invade semi-natural or natural habitats”. Daughter plants are typically near their parents. Examples include grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides), Bachelor’s button (Centaurea cyanus), and dwarf bearded iris (Iris pumila) – garden plants that have a tendency to self-sow or spread via vegetative means. Depending on your goals, you may or may not want these in your garden. If you want a monoculture lawn, for example, these may not be your friend. If you want to fill a large space with pretty flowers without spending a lot of money or huge amounts of time, these may be just the ticket. Either way, they are not destroying Kansas’s native ecosystem (whatever Chace may say).

Invasive Non-Transformer

Flower bed enemy number 1 at Prairie Elms, the invasive non-transformer Bermudagrass. I think Bermudagrass is what God spoke of in Genesis 3:18 when he said “[the ground] will produce thorns and thistles for you.” (ESV)

Now we’re starting to get to what the US government is talking about when they use the term “invasive” – these plants are “invading” semi-natural and natural areas and disrupting them. They “produce offspring, often in large numbers, at large distances from site(s) of introduction”. Because they spread at a large distance from where they are initially planted, the choice to plant these has impacts beyond one’s own yard and that of his next door neighbors. These are plants like common periwinkle (Vinca minor), dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon var. dactylon), and Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila). In the interest of preserving Kansas’s native ecosystem, I don’t want to be planting these. (Side note: of the dozen or so trees that we lost in the recent tornado, most were the Siberian elms for which Prairie Elms was named. Thankfully, our recently planted American elm escaped damage, as did the small stand of American elms toward the middle of our property.)

Invasive Transformers

Amur honeysuckle, center midground, is the big baddie (invasive transformer) that worries me most at present. That wasn’t there four years ago when our power company cleaned up the space under our power line.

These are the big, bad boys. Like the invasive non-transformers, they are producing offspring far from their parent plants – but they’re also dominating and transforming the natural spaces that they are invading. They “can change the character, condition, form or nature of ecosystems over a substantial area relative to extent of ecosystem.” These include Bradford/Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), smooth brome (Bromus inermis), Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), and Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). The responsible Kansas gardener will not only not plant these, but will work to eradicate them from their land posthaste. (We have all four of the above named species here at Prairie Elms and have only just begun the fight.)

For my own purposes (prioritizing the removal of the most harmful non-native species and ensuring that I’m not planting species that are invasive in my area), I am preparing a list of all of Kansas’s invasive transformers and non-tranformer invasives along with links to their identification.

I will link those here once I have them complete.