Flowers, Butterflies and Birds on the Grady Tract

SUNDAY, JULY 10, 2011

A hot, humid, calm afternoon did not discourage five visitors from enjoying a two-hour walk on the Grady Tract and finding over 40 different plants in bloom. This is the route we took: Parking lot – T1 U2 U3 Y1 Y3 Y4 Z1 Z6 Z5 Z4 Z2 Y6 Y2 Y1 U3 U2 – Parking Lot.
Between the parking lot and the beginning of the West Grady Knoll, we observed the following in bloom: elderberry, enchanter’s nightshade, white avens, pokeweed, non-native white sweet-clover (Melilotus officinalis), bittersweet nightshade, and heal-all.
The lack of prairie fires has contributed to the invasion of native woody plants (black oak, quaking aspens, and sumac). However, prairie flowers persist, and we identified flowering spurge, St. John’s wort, daisy or annual fleabane, hairy puccoon, mullein, Illinois tick trefoil, goat’s-rue, lean-plant, sulphur cinquefoil, a large patch of yarrow near Y1, a nice display of brilliant orange butterfly weed, lots of white prairie clover (Dalea candida), and one purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) with many more to bloom next week. These were seen on the West Knoll.
As we approached the entrance to Greene Prairie, we were greeted by unfriendly mosquitoes, and walked quickly past the invading shrubs and trees. But we did notice an abundance of palegreen orchids (Plantanthera flava) – Wisconsin threatened species – and two dainty native purple-winged loosestrife plants (Lythrum alatum).
Once out on the open prairie, we slowed down and took time to appreciate the green color of the prairie, sprinkled with yellow, white, purple, and orange flowers. I was very surprised to find two white prairie Indian-plantain plants in bloom (Arnoglossom plantagineum, formerly Cacalia tuberosa, is a Wisconsin threatened species). I occasionally found prairie plantain near the same spot between 1966 and 1980. In 1996, there was an “explosion” of plants throughout the Arboretum, and only a few were found until today! Continuing our walk along the trail, we enjoyed the following: yellow narrow-leaved loosestrife (Lysimachia quadriflora), shrubby cinquefoil, prairie phlox, coreopsis, bergamot, black-eyed Susan, Turk’s cap and wood lily, New Jersey tea, spotted water hemlock, ox-eye (heliopsis), Deptford pink, white wild indigo, mountain mint, and pile-spike lobelia.
During the tour we heard the following birds: song sparrow, goldfinch, robin, blue-gray gnatcatcher, red-eyed vireo, rufous-sided towhee, chickadee, indigo bunting, common yellowthroat, and the squeak of a ruby-throated hummingbird.
Insects observed were non-native Japanese beetle, ladybug, ladybug larvae devouring aphids, lacewing eggs, bees, and butterflies – including red-spotted purple, Eastern tailed blue, fritillary butterfly, American lady, silver-spotted skipper, and common wood nymph.
For more information about the flowers we saw, check out the excellent book by Ted Cochrane, Prairie Plants of the UW-Arboretum. It is available at our bookstore.
A brief update regarding our bluebird trail – bluebirds have used five boxes, lain 33 eggs, and lost 7 eggs to date (possibly to wrens). Twenty young have fledged, and I hope to add six more to that number.
Visit the prairie often. Every week more lovely flowers will parade their colors across the landscape for you to enjoy.
—Sylvia Marek

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.