Woodland Wildflowers

Virginia bluebells in Gallistel Woods

Virginia bluebells in Gallistel Woods

It was a cool and mostly overcast afternoon for our walk among the spring woodland wildflowers this past Sunday. The Visitor’s Center was abuzz as usual this time of year, with people from all over the world coming to see the Arboretum’s famous collection of blooming magnolias, crabapples, and cherry trees. About 35 of us gathered to meander through the woods to see what’s blooming.

Gallistel Woods—obtained by the University of Madison in 1934 and named after Albert F. Gallistel, who was Chairman of the Arboretum at that time—is an excellent place to see spring wildflowers. This area of was designated to represent a sugar maple basswood forest in southern Wisconsin. In the 1940s, wildflowers were planted along these trails; we headed there straight away to check out the spring action.

Large patches of blooming toothwort (Cardamine concatenate) surrounded us in the woods, alongside prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum), a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources designated species of special concern. Interestingly enough, another common name for this trillium is bloody butcher or butcher’s blood. It relies on flies and beetles for pollination, and the seeds are dispersed via insects such as ants. Their population is dwindling in Wisconsin. On the Wisconsin plants website (wiplants.org) it says this: “All trilliums suffer from picking, since one generally picks the leaves and no part remains to nourish the underground portions of the plant.”

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana) were in full swing, while others like the wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) and spring-beauty (Claytonia virginiana) were about done; we found just one of each of these flowering (garlic mustard was also in full swing . . . but let’s not talk about that right now.) Many violets are blooming, including smooth yellow (Viola pubescens) and what we think is Cananda violet (Viola canadensis) and wood violet (Violoa sororia). Also in bloom we observed woodland phlox (Phlox divaricate), wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), and rue-anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides).

Some of the ephemerals are finished up for the season like bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), hepatica (Anemone acutiloba) and trout lilies (Erythronium). The mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) did not appear to have bloomed yet—they had big unopened buds under the “umbrellas”—and the wild geranium leaves are evident in abundance.

Sensitive fern
Sensitive fern

Along the trails in Gallistel we saw fern fronds (the leaves of ferns are called fronds) unfolding from their tightly curled state. Identifying ferns seems like challenging work to me and is a skill I have yet to acquire. They are a vascular plant, but they do not have seeds or flowers, instead they use spores to reproduce. The trail we were walking on is known to have several species of fern including sensitive, goldie’s, ostrich, lady and royal, but I am not sure which ferns are which. Alas! I need to purchase a fern field guide. Had I brought a guide with me, I would have been able to see that goldie’s fronds are much more closely packed together than the sensitive fern’s fronds, and lady fern doesn’t look anything like either of those. I think what seems daunting to me about fern identification is breaking up the sea of green that blankets the forest floor into individual species, but really with a couple of fern pictures in my back pocket and knowing what species to expect in certain areas or habitats, the task need not seem so large.

We enjoyed a long and close view of a sandhill crane pair nesting at Icke Boardwalk, and of course we just had to squeeze time in to walk through Longenecker Horticultural Gardens and admire the beautiful blooming trees.

Happy Spring!

—Lisa Andrewski