A unique perspective of flora of the northern fringe of the sandhills is an ode written by Clarence Nollett during his time ranching in South Dakota, 15 miles northwest of Crookston. He describes the local flora in his self-published work – written from a self-expressed rancher’s perspective – as prepared from 1993 to 2000, while living on the ranch where he was born. Plant types include prairie grasses, legumes, colorful forbs and woody trees and shrubs.
The history for the ranch starts in 1918-19 when Felix Nollett paid $29 per acre for 320 acres, Clarence Nollett said. Martin and Irma Nollett carried on at the ranch. This was the range country where Clarence grew to appreciate different flora and the places where they abundantly grew and thrived.
While was growing up in the 1930s, he "thought we were in the forgotten part of the world." The land and its livestock, as well as the outdoors were especially enjoyed.
When a youngster, Clarence remembers walking the 3/4 mile to the mailbox south of the house. "We would pick wildflowers during the walk," down the country lane. Nollett said. "Mom would trim them and put them in a vase" for appreciation in the kitchen.
One reminiscence he mentioned was arriving late for classes at the country school because of the time spent gathering flowers. The wild rose is one plant he especially enjoyed then.
Nollett returned to the ranch land in October 1953, after his service in the Army. The youthful interest in blooming plants started again with in the 1960s upon winning a $100 savings bond for first place in a state conservation district competition.
Days among the prairie lands were some of the best times of my life, Nollett said. "One day with a range conservationist was one of the best days of my life," he said. He learned about grassland features, plants and other new things and realized that "prairie is an amazing feature of our area."
This awareness lit a spark of interest. Clarence focused on plants he could appreciate nearly every day on the ranch, and thus began his work to write about plants of the prairie.
His flora book was compiled from about 1993 to 2000, he said. It started with a personal inventory with text about the grasses and wanting to put a name on them. Pictures were then added for many other species, including legumes and forbs with their flowers.
"I hope I have left some footprints that someone can follow."
His words begin with a preface and then an account for Big Bluestem, a prominent species of the "true prairie." Nollett then writes about Little Bluestem and Indian Grass and some of their features of particular interest. Switchgrass has its own account. For each of the many other plants denoted, his rancher’s perspective is indicative, while also included are floristics, plant uses, scientific name and perhaps other specifics from readily available references. Poems are included, including one from Robert Frost, a great American poet.
Personal essays are reading to enjoy, especially those about the family farm (with numerous pictures from the place during the years), then about range and grass management, financial considerations, marketing and conservation. Quotes from scripture and authors of renown are included to convey important perspectives cattle man Nollett realized and came to personally know.
Cattle at the ranch were sold in 2002, though he stayed at the place for several more years before moving to Valentine.
He remembered the flora of the hills, and a favorite plant was the shell-leaf penstemon, as indicated during a personal interview during the latter months of 2016. A picture hanging in his residence shows this species with a windmill in the background so is a prominent appreciation in his living room.
An original version of "Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie" was initially given to the Valentine Public Library, years ago. It is an over 400 page compilation with some pictures, loosely bound in a large notebook and catalogued as a research book with limited distribution to patrons. Its dedication is to his parents Martin and Irma Nollett, who "helped nourish my interest in plants and birds," he said.
His work was done to inspire future generations, as conveyed by the tome’s preface: "I want to create an awareness, stimulate the curiosity, and help to develop an understanding and an appreciation for the things found in our surroundings."
Nollett is still a member of the Great Plains native plants society, Hermosa, SD. A signing event and presentation for the reissued “Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie” occurred on March 31 at the Cherry Hills estate at Valentine, where he currently resides. Marvanna Logterman helped to get Nollette’s work published and to make it more readily available for the public to appreciate as a resource to learn from.