Bison Meadow Park
The Garden Club of Nashville helped fund the dry-stack stone walls on the front corners of the Meadow.
The City of Forest Hills established Bison Meadow in 1994 as a Tennessee Bicentennial Project.
The 2½-acre park is sited on a terminal branch of the historic Natchez Trace. This “old Indian path” itself followed the path of buffalo, elk, and other large animals heading to the big salt lick on the Cumberland River.
Landscape architect Tara Armistead designed the park with an undulating curve of green grass surrounding an area planted with wildflowers and natural grasses. Prairie ecosystems of Indian grass, and big and little bluestem were once abundant across the Middle Tennessee landscape. Bison Meadow is similar to a Middle Tennessee “barrens or prairie” natural area that is now rare.
Bison Meadow is at the corner of Hillsboro Pike and Tyne Boulevard. A small parking area is on Hemingway Drive.
A fiery skipper butterfly fuels up for fall on Bison Meadow’s purple asters, the colorful perennials with starry-shaped flowers. Butterflies love them for the nectar, and caterpillars for their foliage.
The fiery skipper is sometimes mistaken for a moth for its soaring flight and triangle wing position. It also feeds on milkweed, sneezeweed, and thistles.
The aster, known since ancient times, was once burned to scare away snakes. A September birth flower, the flowers grow from eight inches up to more than five feet.
The partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) is a legume native to most of the eastern United States. Its slender stems hold small pinnate green leaflets that fold up when touched, giving rise to its nicknames Sleepingplant or Sensitive-plant.
The plant features small yellow flowers marked with red center. The flora attract bees and ants seeking its nectar, and the common sulfur butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves. Seed pods are favorite nourishment for birds.
It is an excellent species for planting in disturbed areas for erosion control and improved soil fertility.
American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) grows up to eight feet tall with large green leaves. Flowers range from green to white and produce dark purple berries that are a food source for songbirds including cardinals, waxwings, and mockingbirds.
The leaves, which taste similar to spinach, and stems, which taste like asparagus, are a traditional food in southern Appalachia. They must be properly prepared and cooked because many parts of the plant are poisonous.
Colorful spiderwort (tradescantia virginiana), also known as spider lily or lady’s tears, is decorating Bison Meadow with vivid purple flowers. The showy blooms, up to two inches across, last only about one day each, with a new flowers opening in succession every day for several weeks.
Spiderwort attracts birds, butterflies, and bees, especially native bees and bumblebees. New shoots of the long narrow bright-green leaves are edible, cooked like asparagus or bamboo shoots.
The plant grows up to three feet tall. It prefers moist, acidic soil but will grow in clay soil and under black walnut trees.
Wild mustard (sinapis arvensis) grows one to three feet high with small yellow flowers. Also known as charlock mustard, wild mustard spreads rapidly, and a large plant can create up to ten thousand seeds.
The leaves are edible in the juvenile state. The flowers also feed small bees and such butterflies as the cabbage white.
The plant is closely related to white mustard, whose seeds are used for the condiment.
Bison Meadow lies fallow until spring brings fresh greenery. The park was mowed in the fall for several reasons, says City Arborist Parke Brown.
Cutting back the surrounding plant life draws attention to the bison topiary—and also allows them to enjoy more sunlight and less competition for resources when growing season begins. This reduced competition also allows established perennials to emerge with more vigor in the spring.
In addition, the mowing helps identify areas that need replanting, focus more attention on desirable native plants, and eradicate unwanted invasives.
The plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) adds a vivid blast of color among fall wildflowers. Often called “calliopsis” in the South, the plains coreopsis is found in many states and parts of Canada. Historically, the Zuni Pueblo people made deep-red dye for yarn from the blooms.
Plains coreopsis, an annual, grows quickly and dies with the first frost. It reseeds abundantly, often producing new plants in the same spot the following spring. It grows up to three feet tall.
The plant prefers full sun but will take partial shade. It does best in well-drained soil.
Vernonia gigantea, commonly known as tall ironweed or giant ironweed, is a relative of sunflowers in the Asteraceae family. A frequent autumn sight in fields and meadows, the tall ironweed produces clusters of purple flowers radiating from a single stalk.
Though the blooms have no noticeable floral scent, the plant supplies an excellent source of nectar to a large variety of butterflies and bees.
Various species of ironweed are found in at least 40 of the 50 United States, and Vernonia gigantea itself can be found in at least 25 states, primarily east of the Mississippi.
, the purple passionflower also known as maypop or wild apricot, got its name from 17th-century Spanish Jesuits in Peru who thought the corona of the flower resembled the thorn of crowns worn by Jesus.
The fragrant purple and white blooms appearing July through September attract a variety of butterflies. The passion butterfly, in fact, is so named because its larvae feed exclusively on species of passionflower.
The people of ancient Peru used the flower as a sedative, and today it is still used as an ingredient in anxiety treatments. The maypop fruit (see November 2014
) is a favorite in recipes and as a staple for wildlife.
Bordering the paths in Bison Meadow are clusters of Torilis arvensis, commonly known as spreading hedgeparsley, or simply hedge parsley. The annual herb grows in a variety conditions and prefers full sun. It is sometimes found growing in soil containing limestone gravel.
The small white flowers sitting atop round slender stalks attract bees, wasps, beetles, and other small insects. Caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly feed on its tasty foliage.
You can spot the difference in male and female Eastern Redcedars (Juniperus virginiana) growing in Bison Meadow with just a glance these days: The female trees sport an abundance of bluish-green berries absent from the male trees.
The hardy Eastern Redcedar, a medium- to slow-growing evergreen, loves full sun and can reach up to 40 feet in height. They are frequently seen growing along fence rows and often are one of the first trees to re-populate a site that has been cleared.
The fruit (which resembles a berry but is actually a fused seed cone) is eaten most famously by cedar waxwings but also by other birds ranging from bluebirds to wild turkeys.
The state tree of Tennessee, Liriodendron tulipifera, commonly known as tulip poplar or tulip tree, has burst into bloom in Bison Meadow. Also known as yellow poplar, the tree actually is a member of the magnolia family, not closely related to true poplars.
The tulip tree, the tallest hardwood in the eastern U.S., works well in landscaping as a shade tree. It grows fast and typically creates a well-formed symmetrical shape. The fragrant nectar attracts hummingbirds, cardinals, finches, and other wildlife.
The hardy tree is resistant to disease and thrives in a variety of soil and light conditions.
The Yoshino cherry (Prunus x yeodensis) trees in Bison Meadow share the spotlight along Hillsboro Pike as fragrant pink-white blooms burst out to beautify the drive through Forest Hills.
Yoshino cherry, also known as Japanese flowering cherry, can grow up to 40 feet high and a crown spread of about the same. It is an attractive component to landscape plans as its vibrant blossoms give way after about two weeks to dark green leaves that show off interesting branching patterns.
The tree tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, and prefers full sun or partial shade.
Purpleleaf Winter Creeper
Even through ice and snow, the Purpleleaf Winter Creeper or Wintercreeper Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei coloratus) provides a spot of color in Bison Meadow climbing the trees and as groundcover under the cedar grove.
The prolific ivy-like plant's deep green summer foliage turns a dark plum color during the cold months but never loses its leaves. The hardy species is frequently used to cover bare ground and areas under shrubs and shade trees. It is an excellent option for erosion control.
Wintercreeper tolerates a wide range of soil conditions and is thrives in urban environments.
The namesakes of Bison Meadow, the nine steel sculptures created by Alan LeQuire collectively named "Bison," are included on a new public art website, explorenashvilleart.com
, which provides maps, tours, links, and descriptions of little-known city art.
The bison contain Hicks yew, shown here, and emerald arborvitae to fill and create the shape of armatures. The hardy Hicks yew (Taxus x media
'Hicksii') is popular for hedge and landscape planting because it can take a wide range of soil conditions and tolerates full sun to full shade. It can reach eight feet tall unless pruned frequently, and can be planted close together to create a dense hedge.
Passion Fruit Vine
The passion fruit vine Passiflora incarnata, known to many as maypop, is a common wildflower throughout the southern United States. Its fleshy fruit can be substituted in recipes for its cousin, the more commonly known commercially grown passion fruit. The name maypop comes from the Powhatan Indians of Virginia who called the plant maracock. Cherokees called it ocoee, and named the Ocoee River and valley after it.
The fast-growing perennial vine can grow eight feet high or more and thrives in full sun. It is one of the hardiest varieties of passionflower, and its fruit provides food for wildlife well into late fall.
At this time of year, you’ll find big showy blossoms of Asclepias variegata, commonly called white milkweed or red-ring milkweed, decorating the paths of Bison Meadow. As many as thirty individual white flowers cluster like a snowball sitting atop a single stem.
The genus name commemorates the Greek god of medicine Asklepios in honor of the many medical uses of milkweed for conditions ranging from warts to pleurisy. White milkweed attracts significant populations of honey bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. It is an important food source for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies.
Joe Pye Weed
Butterflies and bees consider Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) a delicious favorite for late summer and early fall pollination. The perennial plant grows five to six feet tall or more with attractive light purple, mauve, or rose-colored flowers blooming from July to September.
The plant is named for Native American healer Joe Pye‚ ”Jopi” in his native tongue, who used the plant to treat typhus, circulation and digestive problems, fever, and sweats. The hardy plants tolerate dry to moist soil, and will take partial shade but prefer full sun.
Ox-eye sunflowers usually reach three to five feet in height and grow three or four feet wide.
The golden blooms atop tall stems of ox-eye sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides) can easily been seen while driving by Bison Meadow this time of year.
The hardy plants tolerate dry to moist soil, and will take partial shade but prefer full sun.
Ox-eye sunflowers usually reach three to five feet in height and grow three or four feet wide.
Hummingbirds and butterflies as well as bees love the colorful nectar tubes of bee balm (Monarda). A member of the mint family, bee balm spreads readily in an open sunny area like Bison Meadow, though not as aggressively as other mint varieties.
Bee balm can grow up to four feet tall and blooms mid- to late summer. The plant also goes by the names horsemint and Oswego tea — the latter dating back to Boston Tea Party days, when a variety of Monarda was used to replace Chinese tea as the colonists' drink of choice.
Tucked among the pastel wildflowers in Bison Meadow you'll find a burst of bright orange from Asclepias tuberosa, also called milkweed or butterfly weed. This perennial grows two to three feet tall with clustered blooms at the top and requires full sun.
The flower attracts butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other insects with its vivid coloring and abundant nectar. Native Americans used the root for lung ailments.
Although the plant has the nickname milkweed, it does not have milky sap.
The lovely light-pink blooms decorating the edges of paths along Bison Meadow are primrose, Oenothera speciosa. The fragrant wildflower thrives in open areas like fields, meadows, and sunny spots in woodlands.
The primrose naturalizes easily, and tolerates tough conditions like poor soil. Bees and butterflies love the blooms, which are rich in pollen and nectar.
The Eastern Redbud trees along the fence row in Bison Meadow provide an early burst of color to drivers and pedestrians passing the field.
The tree's spectacular purplish pink flowers combined with its early blooming make Cercis canadensis popular for ornamental landscapes and attractive to bees and butterflies.
Purple Dead Nettle
Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum), considered a weed by some and a nutritious edible herb by others, is beginning to bloom in Bison Meadow and in yards throughout Middle Tennessee.
It is called "dead" nettle to distinguish it from stinging nettles, and is a member of the mint family of plants. It usually grows from 2 inches to about 6 inches tall. Its long blooming season allows bees to gather nectar from it when few other nectar sources are available.
Eastern Red Cedar
The Eastern red cedars along the western edge of Bison Meadow, like most cedar trees in the area, are "volunteer" trees that were not planted intentionally. They start as seedlings after seeds are transferred from one area to another by birds and other animals.
Eastern red cedars are native to Middle Tennessee, and this hardy species grows in nearly any type of soil including rock. The trees become seed-bearing in about 10 years and produce cones every two to three years.
Emerald arborvitae, replacing the Hicks yew originally planted, provides dense foliage for the steel armatures that give the Bison Meadow buffalo their shape.
Emerald arborvitae grows to about 15 feet tall and three to four feet wide in a narrow pyramid shape when left natural and unsheared. The evergreen conifer is often planted for screening because of its density, which also makes it a good choice for filling in the armatures.
Pin oak trees in Bison Meadow have begun changing colors, ranging from soft gold to deep red to rust brown.
Pin oaks (Quercus palustris) are popular in urban settings because they grow quickly and tolerate drought and poor soil. When mature (15 to 20 years old) the Bison Meadow pin oaks will produce acorns from late September to early December, a favorite of squirrels, blue jays, woodpeckers, and mice.
Look closely along the paths at Bison Meadow, and you'll see patches of purple Asters blooming — a true marker of the change of seasons.
They get their name from the Latin word for star, and they begin blooming in response to shorter days. Asters are found in red, pink, purple, and white. Asters are hardy plants, very drought tolerant, and easy to grow. They are rich in nectar and attract bees and butterflies.
You know it must be autumn: cooler weather, shorter days, and Bison Meadow ablaze with goldenrod.
Canada goldenrod or Solidago canadensis, a sun-loving perennial with showy yellow flowers, usually blooms in late summer through fall and grows three to six feet tall. Among its benefits are its attractiveness to birds, butterflies, and predatory insects that devour pest insects. It grows and spreads rapidly in naturalized areas. Goldenrod is frequently blamed for hay fever but actually plays very little part in allergic reactions.
What an unusual summer we are having! Even as it begins to feel like fall these amazing wild sunflowers are blooming along the back section of the meadow. With their uncommon height they tower over the bluestem grasses and earlier contributions to the meadow.
Helianthus Maximilian or Maximilian sunflower is one of the dominant sunflowers in the garden. They take full sun and require next to no care. When bison traveled the meadows they would eat them nearly to the ground, creating natural pruning and keeping the flowers much closer to grade. The butterfly, dragonfly, and bees visiting the meadow have been truly a sight to enjoy this year!
Black-eyed Susans are thriving in the summer heat. One of the first native domesticated garden flowers, the wildflowers are members of the aster family.
They grow up to three feet tall with four-inch flowers and can bloom from midsummer through the fall. The flowers attract birds, bees, and butterflies. Juice from the roots is a traditional cure for earaches.
As spring comes to an end and the heat arrives so does the Fleabane. Erigeron modestus ‘A. Gray’ has created a gentle background as you wind through the meadow.
The wildflower on the right is in the aster family. It requires full sun and will tolerate dry conditions. Enjoy blooms all summer as well as visits from butterflies collecting nectar.
Spring has arrived in Bison Meadow! The lovely Baby Blues (Nemphila menziesii) are blooming beautifully along the curves. Black-Eyed Susans are emerging from their dormancy, and there's a great showing of tall sunflowers along the back section of the meadow.
Two more of the bison have been changed from yew to arborvitae to encourage beautiful topiary we all can enjoy for many years to come. It will a beautiful year in the meadow; come by and walk around.