Greene Prairie and West Grady Knoll Tour – Naturalists’ Notes

SUNDAY, JUNE 29, 2014

This windy, sunny, Sunday afternoon before the 4th of July we were treated to a spectacular display of flower fireworks on the Grady prairies. Over 35 native prairie species were in bloom.
Before the show began we walked from the parking lot to the West Grady Knoll through a shady landscape of green. This provided an opportunity to discuss restoration and invasive species management of our northern dry pine forest, dry (xeric) oak woods, and oak savanna.
The knoll is an oak barrens or dry sand prairie that was here hundreds of years prior to the University’s acquisition of the land in 1941. It was kept open by natural fires followed by farmer Grady’s grazing cows in the late 1800s.
This relict of native prairie was burned in April this year. Two weeks ago we observed only a sprinkling of flowers with a promise of more to come. Today we were treated to a beautiful exhibit of bunches and bunches of brilliant orange flowered butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, nestled amidst green prairie grasses. It has been many years since I have witnessed such an explosion on the Knoll! Also, very showy was goat’s rue, Tephrosia virginiana. The pink and yellow pea-like bunches of flowers held above feather like gray-hairy leaves covered the central portion of the Knoll. Near this area we noticed quite a few small, delicate white flowered prairie larkspur, Delphinium carolinianum. Incidentally, Larkspur is poisonous to cattle and is one of the few species that was planted on the Knoll. Purple leadplant and prairie clover flowers added their spark of color.
Our next destination was Greene Prairie. At the entrance we could not help but notice and discuss the large area of very invasive reed canary grass, Phalaris arundinacea, covering the entire south edge. Research continues as the grass creeps along to destroy more acres of prairie.
A short distance down the trail we were thrilled to walk among a large display of prairie fireworks. Scattered throughout the green grasses and sedges, the magenta flowers of smooth phlox, Phlox glaberrima, seemed to glow! Smooth phlox is a Wisconsin Endangered Species.
The center of the prairie near Z6 was not very colorful today. In the weeks to come silphiums, goldenrods, liatris, asters and many more will bloom.
As we approached the southeast corner a huge area of water-hemlock, Cicuta maculata, caught our attention. The plant is lovely but all parts are deadly poisonous especially if eaten. Best not to touch this plant that resembles Queen Anne’s Lace. Water hemlock has tiny white flowers in a flat-topped compound toothed.
On the opposite side of the trail we spotted a few orange wood lilies, Lilium Philadelphicum. Also a nice surprise was finding a plant we rarely see on Greene Prairie. Prairie Indian plantain, Arnoglossum plantagineum, is a Wisconsin Threatened Species. It has a broad, flat-topped cluster of nearly white flowers. The leaves are as wide as long, and whitish beneath. In 1996 there was an explosion of this species, and today, only one plant was found. Isn’t it interesting that certain species seem to bloom in great profusion only some years. I have noticed that this occurs for different species every 10 to 20 years. Have you noticed this also? Have you wondered why?
Walking towards the NE end, near Z5, we enjoyed a stand of white flowered tall beard-tongue, Penstemon digitalis. Second was spreading dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium, which incidentally produces a glycoside containing latex especially toxic to dogs. Dogbane has fragrant showy clusters of tiny pink striped bell shaped flowers. Dogbane is one of my favorite plants because the beautiful iridescent dogbane beetle, Chrysolhus auratus is almost always found on it starting in mid-June. Do not confuse it with the iridescent Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica, which has white spots on the edge of the abdomen. The Japanese beetle is native to Japan and China and was introduced to New Jersey in 1916. It’s an exotic pest that devours over 300 kinds of plants.
Birds that we heard or saw include indigo bunting, great crested flycatcher, tree swallow, chimney swift, red-eyed vireo, chipping, song and field sparrow, common yellowthroat and yellow warbler.
At the end of the tour we checked for ticks and found none. Also, there were very few mosquitoes because of the wind. So, I encourage you to visit the Grady Tract prairies to enjoy the above-mentioned flowers and the parade of flowers that will follow in the weeks ahead. My hope is that you will continue to be aware and appreciate the rich diversity of the prairie landscape.

Sylvia Marek, Arboretum Naturalist

Our bluebirds have fledged 21 nestlings. They have 13 babies in 3 nests. There is a new nest with 2 eggs. (I expect more)

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.