Beauty and Bloom: Grady Tract

SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 2011

In short and in order of importance: 1) Calopogon spp. (Grass Pink) is in bloom and is gorgeous. 2) We didn’t find any ticks.
The slightly longer story: The delicate and stunning orchid known as grass pink is in abundant bloom. I have never seen this orchid before – I thought perhaps it was just because of bad timing – that I hadn’t been in the prairie when it was in bloom. But after checking in back at the Visitor Center and chatting with Molly Fifield Murray, I learned that it isn’t spotted in every year. When I saw the blooms on Sunday, I immediately wondered if it was what I thought it was and did a quick flip through my trusty Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum (2nd Ed) field guide. And indeed, it was: Calopogon oklahomensis. Well, perhaps that. Or else maybe C. tuberosus? Our trusty field guide notes that these two species (one of which may be a hybrid) are nearly indistinguishable. In either case, it’s a rare orchid, and I think I can speak for all 19 of us when I say that we were thankful for the opportunity to see it.
And about ticks: In the several decades of cumulative naturalist memory, I believe that few ticks have been seen in the arboretum—until recent years. And this year, it appears the ticks are making up for lost time. So far, only wood ticks, not deer ticks, have been spotted, mostly on Curtis Prairie. This is (relatively) good news, because deer ticks, not wood ticks, are the ones that carry Lyme disease. After a walk through grassy or brushy vegetation at the Arb or elsewhere, however, it’s a good idea to form a tick-check habit. It’s also a good idea to take preventative measures such as tucking your pant cuffs into your socks. Because of the tick lifecycle, spring is the time when ticks are most active – looking for a meal. It is possible that we are now past the peak of tick activity. It is also possible that the ticks haven’t moved in on the Grady tract yet. In any case, I was glad that we didn’t find any.
With deer ticks (which have not been seen at the Arb), the risk of Lyme disease transmission occurs after the tick has been embedded for more than a day or so – which is another reason to stay vigilant. Even if you find a deer tick that has already started feeding on you, it’s likely no big deal—as long as it’s removed quickly. Lyme disease is a nasty illness and is increasing in incidence – so it’s good to be aware and informed!
But back to beauty and blooms: Also in flower on the Grady knoll and the Greene prairie: hoary pucoon, spiderwort, sand (rock) cress, shooting star, golden Alexander, yarrow, hawkweed, false dandelion, a few cream wild indigo, prairie blue-eyed grass, yellow star grass, prairie phlox, large-flowered beard tongue, and certainly others that I am forgetting.
Lupine is almost entirely done blooming, although we managed to find a couple scraggly purple-blue blossoms left. We noticed that the lupine had been extensively munched – deer, we guessed? We also found a bedded-down area in a lupine patch on the Grady knoll that looked like it was a fawn’s nap spot. Lead plant was not yet in bloom. Wild onion looks about to bloom.
Oh, and after chatting with Sylvia Marek back at the Visitor Center, I learned that we may have missed some green orchid – a good reason to go back to the Grady Tract soon!
-Sara Christopherson, Arboretum Naturalist

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.