Greene Prairie and Grady Tract Savanna

SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2013

It was a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, but a few avid hikers met me at the Grady Tract parking lot and we ventured off into the woods. We paused at the intersection of U1 and U2 at the Grady Kettle Hole Forest and I spoke about how this area is called a Kettle because when the area was glaciated, a piece of the glacial ice became detached and melted, leaving this depression in the earth called a kettle hole. Be careful if you visit this area because the ground is covered with Poison Ivy!

Big Bluestem and Indian grass

I identify the poison ivy plant by looking at a few characteristics of the plant, first thing I look at are the leaves and I remember the rhyme “leaves of three, let it be”, but there are a lot of other plants that have three leaves, so I asked everyone to take a closer look at the plant. I pointed out that where the three leaves meet, the stem is red. Another defining characteristic is that the Poison Ivy plant is actually a vine and will climb trees and other surrounding plants, as seen in the photo below.

greene Prairie with compass plant

Someone asked about the Virginia creeper plant that was found growing beside the Poison Ivy and I said that Virginia creeper is also a vine and resembles the Poison Ivy plant, but is not poisonous, it does not have a red stem and it has 5 leaves, not 3.
We continued to hike towards Greene Prairie searching for butterflies as we hiked. We looked through some milkweed plants, hoping to see some Monarch Caterpillar larva, but we had no luck. We started to hike on the trail Y1 and then we noticed our first butterfly. It was very dark and flew erratically; it was a Wood Nymph butterfly. Wood Nymph butterflies are common and love to feed on prairie plants; this explains why we saw the butterfly where the forest opens up and the terrain becomes a prairie. As we hiked through the West Grady Knoll, we saw a lot of Wood Nymph butterflies.
We finally arrived at the trail “Z1”, where the Greene Prairie begins. I told everyone how Professor Greene started this prairie and planted 133 different species of prairie plants and grasses. He started the prairie by carrying large amounts of sod to the prairie that contained several plant species. As he continued to plant over the years, he tried to seed the prairie and found that seeding the prairie was just as successful as transplanting pieces of sod. He decided to save himself a lot of work and spread seed every year instead of using sod. When we started hiking in Greene Prairie, I immediately noticed how open the trail was and that is because a forestry mower ran through portions of Greene Prairie and chopped down trees and shrubs that were invading the prairie. We enjoyed seeing all different kinds of blooming prairie plants like Wood Betony, Smooth Phlox, Bergamot, St. John’s Wort and Compass plants. A large area of the prairie was filled with blooming compass plants; it was so gorgeous I had to take a picture.

We kept searching for butterflies while we were in Greene Prairie, but we did not see any! I have heard from several Naturalists that most butterfly populations are low this year due to last year’s drought and the cold, wet weather we had this spring. We walked from trail “Z6” to “Z3” and I pointed out that the area use to be filled with shrubs, but now it just had prairie plants growing since the mower took out all those shrubs. I told everyone to keep visiting this particular area because a beautiful plant called Indian Paintbrush was known to grow there before all the shrubs invaded the area. Hopefully with that part of the prairie restored, Indian Paintbrush along with other native prairie plant will flourish. We did see two Sandhill Cranes off the trail and we waited to see if they had any chicks with them, but we only saw the two adults. On our way back to the parking lot we did see another butterfly that was mostly white flying through the Evjue Pine Forest. We assumed it must be the common Cabbage White butterfly. After a long hike in the heat, we were all happy to stand in the shade for a while as I answered any remaining questions.
Samantha Bailey- 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.