Greene Prairie and Grady Oak Savannas

SUNDAY, JUNE 3, 2012

Before I forget—an answer to a question that came up before we started our hike: What are the Arboretum rules about smoking on trails? I checked with Molly Fifield-Murray on this one and she says she is not aware of a policy. Of course, any smoking materials should be disposed of properly.

To me, the Greene prairie seems particularly dry compared to seasons past, but you wouldn’t guess from the lush green. The deep deep (even 6+ ft deep) roots of the prairie plants are an adaptation that allow the plants to access water from far below the dry surface.
Many plants are in bloom. Our list included golden Alexander, butterfly weed (just barely starting to bloom), common yarrow, fleabane, false dandelion, ragwort, wild quinine (starting to bloom), hairy and hoary pucoons, sand cress, Deptford pink, spiderwort, grey dogwood, flowering spurge, leafy spurge (an invasive plant), white and cream wild indigos, lupine (just a few remaining blooms, but most with large seed pods), vetch, southern blue flag (we spotted just one, at the very end of its bloom), blue-eyed grass (actually an iris family plant, not a grass), yellow star grass (this one is actually a lily family plant, so also not a grass and not particularly related to blue-eyed “grass” either!), pale spiked lobelia, phlox, Seneca snakeroot, thimbleweed (anemone), tall meadow rue, tall cinquefoil, sulphur cinquefoil, old field cinquefoil, northern bedstraw, prairie alumroot, tall beard-tongue, large-flowered beard-tongue, and….one mystery plant.
There was just one lone mystery plant and it was a bit off trail so we couldn’t get quite close enough to make out the details of its tiny white flowers. It seemed like it could be Solomon’s plume or (false Solomon’s seal) – except that it seemed to be blooming too late and also seemed to hold its leaves too close to the stem…it just didn’t look quite right. After the tour, I went back to the visitor center and was glad to run into Arb guru Susan Carpenter. Susan was juggling caterpillars, a mouse, and a broken table but still was happy to examine the photo I took of the mystery plant and walk out with me to the native plant garden to discuss the possibilities. After some examination, we decided that yes, it must indeed have been Solomon’s plume, and just a late bloomer that hadn’t yet fully extended its stem or flower cluster, hence the compact appearance.

We discussed a little about hairy vs hoary (in the context of the pucoons). Hoary refers to a quality of hairiness—soft and downy, often appearing as a silvery covering. “Hairy” is not used all that often (usually there’s a more specific adjective used) but in this case refers to hair that is less soft and downy than that of hoary pucoon. Note, of course, that we’re not actually talking about hair but rather to hair-like protrusions called trichomes that extend from the plant’s epidermis, or surface. There are perhaps 20+ botanical adjectives used to describe the different qualities of plant hairiness. Hoary is one of these adjectives. Other types of hairiness, just to name a few, include hispid, strigose, tomentose, tomentellous, and puberlulent. These fabulous adjectives are just another of the many reasons to love plants!
We also saw an amazing oak gall – furry and red polka-dotted. I looked this up and discovered it is a wool sower gall made by the wasp Callirhytis seminator. This gall is specific to white oaks.
Enjoy these beautiful late spring days at the Arboretum!
Sara Cohen Christopherson, 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.