Curtis Prairie Walk – Naturalists’ Notes

SUNDAY, JUNE 8, 2014

In anticipation of walking through the narrow trails that cut diagonally across Curtis Prairie, I noted at the beginning of our Sunday tour that there are ticks in the Arboretum and that it is good practice to do a “tick check” after a walk (and perhaps a more thorough check later). As I talked about ticks, one experienced visitor pointed to my leg—and, whaddya know, a tick. I took the opportunity to let others get a good look and then I flicked it off of my pants. It was the only tick that we saw during the tour – at least that I heard about! Good timing…I guess?

We came back to the subject of insects at the end of the tour again, when we were observing the bubbles made by “spittle bugs” on plants in the native plant garden near the Visitor Center front entrance. As suggested by a young visitor, the bubbles, or “spit” is, indeed, protective. It helps hide and insulate the immature form (nymph stage) of the insect.

Curtis prairie is lovely, full of beautiful blooms and the soft green colors and textures of late spring. In bloom (and not necessarily in this order) we saw: white and cream wild indigo, yellow star grass, blue-eyed grass, Canada anemone, meadow rue, cinquefoil, Carolina rose, prairie phlox, bedstraw, harebell, yarrow, spiderwort, bladder campion, Seneca snakeroot, shooting star, vetch.

We saw two members of the family Apiaceae (sometimes called the “carrot family”) in bloom – angelica, and golden alexander – and talked about the characteristics of this group. A main characteristic is the umbel shape of the inflorescence—which is sort of like an upside-down umbrella. Note, however, that the umbel takes a variety of shapes in the family – some are rounder, some more flat-topped, etc. Queen Anne’s lace is a common roadside member of this family with a flat-topped umbel. (Because of the characteristic flower shape, this family used to be called the Umbelliferae. This changed to Apiaceae when there was a change in the regulations for botanical nomenclature (20ish years ago?) that requires that all family names end in –aceae.) In the native garden, large flowered beardtongue and lupine are in bloom (as well as other plants already mentioned above).

Enjoy the rest of the June prairie season!

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.