Sunday’s tour of the Grady Tract took us through two of the Arboretum’s restored communities: northern xeric (dry) forest and oak savanna alongside a restored prairie.
The tour began with a pleasant walk along the Evjue Pines, a re-creation of a northern xeric (dry) forest. This type of community is normally found in northern Wisconsin. The dominant tree species are red pine (Pinus resinosa), jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and white pine (Pinus strobus). All three species are wind pollinated and produce winged seeds. Red and Jack pines are shade intolerant, whereas white pine is somewhat shade tolerant. The Arboretum is constantly working to clear the understory of this community from invasive species including honeysuckle (Lonicera X bella), buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).
As the tour continued, we left the cool shade of the woods and ventured into the sun on our way to the West Grady Knoll, a restored oak savanna. Oak savannas once covered 5.5 million acres in southern Wisconsin at the time of European settlement. Today, this type of community has all but vanished. Oak savannas are commonly defined as grasslands with scattered oak trees. In the Vegetation of Wisconsin, botanist John Curtis defines an oak savanna as an area containing more than one tree per acre but not having more than 50 percent canopy coverage. As we walked along the sandy trail, we observed the “stick-tight” seeds of Illinois tick-trefoil (Desmodium illinoense), the beautiful flowers of white and purple prairie clovers (Dalea candida and D. purpurea) and the small white flower clusters of flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata).
Further down the trail we observed the yellow pointed petals of sand evening-primrose (Oenothera clelandii) and the greenish white leaves of white sage (Artemisia ludoviciana).
After traveling south off the knoll, we arrived at the entrance to Greene Prairie. This beautiful fifty-acre prairie was hand planted by Professor Henry Greene from 1942 through the early 1960s. He created this masterpiece using seed, sod, transplants, and seedlings raised in the greenhouse. In total, Greene planted 133 prairie species, including 12,000 seedlings and mature plants that he planted by hand!
Unfortunately, this Sunday the trails in Greene Prairie were closed due to wet conditions so we were not able to walk in this gorgeous area. Plants that I expected to see in bloom included smooth phlox (Phlox glaberrima), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), yellow coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), compass-plant (Silphium laciniatum) and thick-spike gayfeather (Liatris pychnostachya).
We had a pleasant tour of the Grady Tract this Sunday. It is a very beautiful and peaceful section of the Arboretum. I love this area and recommend it for all!