Grady Savanna and Greene Prairie


On this 9/11 Day of Remembrance we experienced a beautiful 84o summer-like September afternoon on the Grady Tract. Fluffy white clouds drifted gently across the bright blue, blue sky and the breeze kept mosquitoes from being a nuisance.

We began our walk at marker T1 and noticed an abundance of white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), a weedy shade-loving native. Also very noticeable were large native American pokeweed or pokeberry plants (Phytolacca americana). The smooth blue-black fruits on red stems will soon be devoured and spread by birds. In the early 1980’s I found only one plant in the Leopold Pines but now it appears to be the dominant understory plant in the Evue Pines and in the nearby savanna restoration (marker U2). Incidentally, the introduced Indian pokeweed (Phytolacca acinosa) also has dark blue-black fruits, but they are ridged.

Continuing our walk toward the west Grady Knoll (U3) we were delighted to find a few lovely pinkish-lavender rough blazing star (Liatris aspera) glowing brightly underneath the canopy of small aspens and sumac shrubs as well as a few clumps of Indian grass displaying their tan feather-like seedheads. Years ago when there were more controlled burns to set back the woodies, the area was covered with brilliant blazing stars, bronze Indian grass and little bluestem with fluffy white seed heads.

Despite the very woody growth on the West Knoll (Y3 – Y4), little surprises were found – a few showy goldenrod and a light sprinkling of compact violet savory -leaved or flax-leaved asters (Ionactis linariifolia). I can remember years ago how I enjoyed the sea of short bluish asters (both flax-leaved and silky), large bunches of showy goldenrod, and drifts of little bluestem in pink fall color.

Next came a view of the open prairie. The dominant color was bright yellow and we identified the following: several goldenrod (Solidago) species including showy, dyer’s weed or gray, Riddell’s, Canada or common, stiff, and grass-leaved (Euthamia); showy and unusually short sawtooth sunflowers; Rudbeckia triloba, R. hirta and R. subtomentosa; and a few short prairie dock flower stalks.

Blue bottle gentians were scattered throughout the prairie like rare gems. Some years we find fringed, stiff, creamy, and a downy or two, but not this September afternoon.

About 25 different kinds of plants were in bloom and among them were a few asters (Symphyotrichum) – purple New England, white frost, heath, and calico, and violet-blue smooth aster.

The tall native grasses, big blue, Indian and switch were very short and not showy. Some years the grasses are six feet tall and cover most of the prairie.

We saw one Monarch butterfly and two mating Eastern tailed blues. Lots of busy bumblebees were seen and heard. Are you aware that there are 12 native species in Wisconsin and 10 kinds were identified in the Arboretum this summer? Tiny crab spiders entertained us and crickets and long-horned grasshoppers chirped, trilled and chanted.

The only bird we saw was a hummingbird!

I ended the tour by reading “Odyssey” from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. If you have not read this essay, I encourage you to do so. You will learn fascinating things.

There will be two more tours on the Grady Tract and Greene Prairie. Join us on September 18 and October 2. The asters, goldenrods, and gentians should continue to put on a pretty show. Fall color on the prairie can be beautiful. Do not miss the opportunity to receive the gifts of autumn that are waiting for you if you come, stop, look, and listen. May peace and beauty surround you.

Sylvia Marek, Naturalist

Bluebird Update:
Bluebirds nested in 6 of our 15 boxes.
Eggs Laid – 38
Hatchlings – 31

*Fledglings – 29

Notes from the Naturalist: Grady Tract – Greene Prairie, Sunday Tour, September 11, 2011
Sylvia Marek, 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.