i’m digging these prairies set on hills out west of me in wisconsin.
muralt bluff prairie lies along a curving ridge in the contact area between wisconsin’s glaciated and drifltess areas. there are fantastic displays of wildflowers from spring till fall, with several rare species represented.
it was a slick climb up (courtesy of the rain earlier in the morning), but the dense stands of wild bergamot and tall bell flower along the muddy wooded trail made up for the effort. the prairie itself and the view of woods and rolling farmland from the ridgetop were fabulous.
first id’s of grey-headed cone flower and prairie rosinweed!
on to green county! my dad and brother were along for the trip this time, and we did a day-long tour of the county with five sna’s.
green county is in the driftless area, the part of wisconsin (and neighboring minnesota and iowa) that was not smoothed and altered by the wisconsin glaciation, as the rest of the state was. different terrain but still southern wisconsin.
our first stop was york prairie, which contains remnant tallgrass prairie, a multitude of native plants, and rare and threatened plants. the sandy soil and rocky terrain were a new experience in prairie for me, and a light shower gave the walk a different energy part-way thru. first id of hoary vervain and golden alexanders!
one of the largest low prairie remnants in wisconsin, faville prairie was once a part of the 2,500-acre crawfish prairie. shifted hydrology in the area has led to drier conditions in part with more woody species, and a wetter sedge area.
this was one of the sites whose preservation aldo leopold fought for, and it became a sna in 1952. it was a terrific stop, with several first-time id’s of forbs for me. thanks to the uw-madison arboretum for allowing me to walk this land, as visits are restricted.
waterloo prairie is a couple parcels of land along stony brook, one with a fen and many seepages, the other with a larger wet prairie meadow. i visited the latter, moving thru a small wood with wet, boggy patches thru-out to get out into the open.
as was the theme of the day, sandhill crane calls rattled back and forth over the meadow’s expanse.
young prairie is a sizable remnant wet-mesic prairie in the southern kettle moraine area, though it was pretty dry given our general lack of rain the last while in this part of wisconsin.
dthis early, there was little flashy growth to call our attention, but seeing the very beginnings of this year’s prairie grass was a subtle excitement. just the muffled crunch of last year’s vegetation and an open-air walk were enough to make the early trip worthwhile.
this trip also marked our last sna in walworth county!
snapper prairie is another remnant prairie that formerly stretched for 2,500 acres in the floodplain of the crawfish river (a tributary of the rock). it floods at times due to the clayey nature of the soil, and there are plants more common to fens present like riddell’s goldenrod, valerian, and an orchid. but of course none of them are out yet.
there’s something very strange about visiting prairies in the middle of winter, when they’re snowfields with desiccated plants poking up out of the white here and there. you know there’s so much life lying hidden and silent beneath that snow just waiting, and the wind blows steadily. it’s difficult to imagine how brilliant the grasses and flowers will look and smell in just a few months. but it’s also good to know this place at a quieter time that is just as much a part of its life cycle(s) as the full bloom of high summer.
swenson wet prairie is now a part of the avon bottoms s.n.a. but it was established as its own site, so i’m counting it. it’s a wet prairie in the floodplain of the sugar river near where the river meets taylor creek. there’s also a sedge meadow and river bottom savanna(!), and a number of oxbows. its frozen state this december is gorgeous.
chiwaukee prairie is one of the largest prairie complexes in wisconsin and one of the state’s most intact coastal wetlands. it spans thru-out a series of streets and houses, but has large segments of unbroken land too. it sits on swale and and ridge topography where lake michigan’s shoreline has receded in stages since the last ice age. over 400 species of plants find a home here.
tho’ mainly dormant now in late novemeber, the plant cover is still lovely in its dryness, especially in the winds off the lake. thanks to the wdnr for caring for this land, and to uw-parkside and the nature conservancy with helping acquire the land from developers.