Spring on the Grady Tract Savanna and Greene Prairie

Bird's-foot violets (Photo: Lisa Kohlmann)

Bird's-foot violets (Photo: Lisa Kohlmann)

Six wildflower lovers decided to brave the rainstorms the weather forecaster promised on Sunday afternoon. Our walk began under a gray sky with off-and-on drizzle, though the temperature was warm enough to leave our jackets behind. We set off with our umbrellas from the Grady Tract parking lot, determined not to let the rain deter us from investigating the flowers currently in bloom. Within the first ten minutes our small group of six became four, as the rain picked up its pace. With no thunder to be heard, the four of us continued on, with visions of orchids dancing in our heads.

The infamous and invasive garlic mustard greeted with too many white flowers to count, and we discussed the importance of removing it properly (i.e., pulling it from the roots and making sure to bag it up, otherwise it will continue to flower where it lay). The invasive honeysuckle is also in full swing, creating dense walls on the west side of the Grady Tract. The non-native honeysuckle is a terribly aggressive and invasive shrub, easily spread as the fruit is very attractive to birds. If you have this shrub in your yard it is best to eradicate it, and on the Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources website you can find useful information on how to do it properly.

Wild lupine (Photo: Lisa Kohlmann)

Enough of the bad though, because there was plenty of good! We encountered large patches of blooming wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) throughout our soggy walk. The hairy puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense) we found in the East Grady Knoll was very showy in large bouquets throughout the knoll, bright yellow against the gray and rainy sky (by the time we reached the knoll the rain was really coming down—and in a horizontal fashion, as to evade our umbrellas completely). Hairy puccoon is distinguished from its near look alike, hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) we found in the Greene Prairie by its lengthier calyx lobes. Another native yellow flower we found blooming is the common yellow wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta) also in the West Grady Knoll, as well as the lavender variety: violet wood-sorrel (Oxalis violacea). Other sightings in this same area included: a hummingbird pollinating dame’s rocket (. . . I guess a bird’s gotta do what a bird’s gotta do); dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is another aggressive, ecologically invasive, restricted plant in Wisconsin, currently flowering throughout the city and will continue to do so until fall), large patches of sand cress (Arabis lyrata) and bastard-toadflax (Comandra umbellata), bird’s-foot violets (Viola pedata). The beautiful spreading Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans) was abundant and showy alongside the lovely prairie blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) and the starry false Solomon’s-seal (Maianthemum stellatum). The cream wild indigo (Baptisia bracteata) was present and lovely, though the flowers had not opened yet.

Wood-betony (Photo: Lisa Kohlmann)

Heading down to Greene Prairie from the knoll in the persistent and increasingly heavy rain fall (at this point my clothes are 100% soaking wet and there is water squishing in my shoes when I step), we saw both black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) blooming. In the prairie we were greeted with large vibrant patches of wood-betony (Pedicularis Canadensis) and yellow star-grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), speckled with swamp saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica) and eastern-shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia). The real find of the day though was thanks to a visitor named Kathleen whose keen eye spotted a small white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum) nearly hidden amongst other plants in the prairie. This is a threatened species of orchid in Wisconsin and depends on bees for pollination.

Moments after we were able to lay our eyes on the sweet little orchid, the storm severity increased as the thunder began to roll, and we decided we’d better make a speedy retreat back to our cars.

—Lisa Kohlmann