Maintaining a small prairie remnant in southeastern Wisconsin

pith helmet

Well-known member
Nice. I've seen white flowered trilliums here and there in the Kettle Moraine State Forest but this one was new to me. Unfortunately our place is pretty much just a showcase of the invasive species of Wisconsin.
MS is the same, if it can grows in Asia or Africa, it loves it here: climbing fern and privet hedge. Cogon grass is the very worst.
 

nathane

Active member
It is fantastic that you are doing this. From a country with no natural spaces left, where everything, wild included, has been shaped by human intervention, it's great to see some (ironic I know) human intervention to help restore the older natural state. Well done.
 

slowlane

Observer
About a week and a half ago I finished removing garlic mustard from the area I had been working. The western half of the low area is now pretty much garlic mustard-free. Well for this year anyway. The seeds already in the ground are still viable for 7 years so it may be just as bad again next year but hopefully not. I'll remain cautiously optimistic that there will be less come next spring. The last day I was removing it, I noticed the part of the plant that the seeds form on was starting to develop so removal season was pretty much done. I don't want to risk transporting any seeds to other areas of the site. The far eastern end of the low area has an even bigger infestation of garlic mustard but seems to be lacking many native plants so I'm glad I started where I did. In the fall I'll start buckthorn removal up on the hills. Even though I won't be pulling any more garlic mustard, I still plan on coming out to the prairie to see what's blooming and continue my plant species inventory I've been compiling.

Here are a few pictures of the area I cleaned up. I never took any overall before pictures so there is no real comparison shots. There is a ton of buckthorn growing down here and a thicket of scrubby black cherry as well. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do as many of the native understory plants down here depend on partial shade to exist, but since the tornado years ago wiped out the couple of big old bur oaks, the black cherry and buckthorn are providing the shade now. I really want to get rid of the buckthorn and maybe thin some of the black cherry but I don't want to lose the understory plants. I'll probably consult with the Conservancy to figure it out.

Garlic mustard gone. In the middle of the frame is a big cluster of buckthorn growing around a fallen oak stump. The leafy clumps in the grass are Bloodroot plants which depend on partial shade to grow. Removing the buckthorn may cause it to eventually die out. Not sure what to do here.


Beyond this dead oak trunk is a wall of buckthorn behind which you can just make out the westernmost prairie hill. But the garlic mustard that inhabited the foreground is gone. Lots of goldenrod starting down here but it won't bloom until late summer


More bloodroot. This was sort of the epicenter of the garlic mustard infestation on the west end. Most of the scrub is black cherry. They can eventually grow into very large trees but probably not when this clumped together.
 
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slowlane

Observer
Yesterday afternoon I spent about an hour just walking around the hilltops in the prairie which is really starting to come alive now. We had a rainy day followed by a couple of hot sunny days; perfect for the prairie plants. There is so much blooming out on these hills it is really spectacular. To top it off I found a Wisconsin endangered plant, Wild Hyacinth, on one hill. A lone plant but still neat. I took a bunch of pictures. Here are my favorites.

First, a couple of overall pictures of the hills.





There was a ton of downy phlox growing on the hills especially in the prairie/tree borders.


Downy Phlox.


Blue Eyed Grass. Actually an iris but very small. The flowers are about the size of a dime. Another very abundant plant on the hills.


Prairie Smoke.


Lupine. It was everywhere in the trees along the northern border of the site. One of my favorite flowers.


Cream Wild Indigo.


Hairy Puccoon. Similar to Hoary Puccoon. Another plant I haven't seen in anywhere else around here.


Seneca Snakeroot.


Wild Columbine (red flowers) and Wood Betony (yellow flowers).


Wild Hyacinth. A Wisconsin endangered plant. The definite highlight of today's visit.
 
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slowlane

Observer
Wow. What a feel good story. Many thanks and attaboys to you for taking this on slowlane!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Thank you. It's been an interesting project. I'm really looking forward to start cutting out the buckthorn this fall. It will make a much more dramatic change than the garlic mustard.
 

Pappy

Active member
Fantastic! I was just sent here by a buddy. This botanist approves. Great effort. If I lived closer I would offer to help with the weed removal.
 

slowlane

Observer
Unfortunately I broke my left foot at work last Friday. A 30lb metal grate fell about five feet and the corner landed right on my foot. It broke the second metatarsal completely in two. I go in for surgery tomorrow morning. So this project will be on hold for 6-8 weeks while I recover. It's a bummer. I'll miss a lot of the plants blooming this year. Hopefully I can get back out there again in late July/early August.
 

nathane

Active member
Unfortunately I broke my left foot at work last Friday. A 30lb metal grate fell about five feet and the corner landed right on my foot. It broke the second metatarsal completely in two. I go in for surgery tomorrow morning. So this project will be on hold for 6-8 weeks while I recover. It's a bummer. I'll miss a lot of the plants blooming this year. Hopefully I can get back out there again in late July/early August.
Ouch, hope it works out ok
 

slowlane

Observer
Well I'm back at it again. My left foot is healed up good and my leg strength is back. I've been able to ride my bicycle since early August and started hiking again a couple weeks after that. Now my foot is basically back to normal, though there is now a metal plate and six screws in it. So today was the first time I've been back to Eagle Center Prairie since late May. I missed a lot of the plants growing and blooming throughout the summer and my species list that I had been working on ends May 23rd. I'll make a new one next year.

So now starts the major work that needs to be done here; buckthorn removal. Buckthorn is a large shrub/small tree that was imported from Europe in the late 1800's as an ornamental and hedge plant. Well it escaped and went completely out of control in southeastern Wisconsin. Buckthorn is crazy aggressive and adept at invading the forest understory, displacing native vegetation, and creating an impenetrable thicket of crap in its place. It is so successful because it leafs out earlier than any native forest floor plants shading them out, and it seems to suffer no deseases or pests in this region, maintaining perfect glossy green leaves all spring summer and fall. Also even an average sized female plant can produce several thousand berries a year. These berries, which are mildly poisonous, are eaten by birds, giving them intestinal distress which leads to the seeds being spread far an wide across the area. Buckthorn will grow in pretty much any soil type, and there is a second variety, smooth buckthorn, that loves water and invades the borders of marshes and fens. All in all it is a true menace of an invasive plant.

Unsurprisingly Eagle Center Prairie did not escape the onslaught of buckthorn. The low area in the middle of the site is pretty much overrun with it and I don't think I could ever get a handle on that area without drastic measures. The south facing slopes, which contain most of the prairie plants, are where I will spend the majority of my time because they the least disturbed areas of the site. Since I do this as a volunteer only a couple of times a month, there are still a few years worth of buckthorn removal to be done on these hills alone.

Today was the first day of the buckthorn removal project. I started on the first hill which is probably the best condition of all buckthorn-wise. I quickly realized that I need to get some small marker flags to stick where I cut the buckthorn so I can find the stumps in the grass to treat them with herbicide. I decided that until I can mark the cut stumps, I'll just go to the thick infestation around the big bur oak between the first and second hills. I've read that you want to treat the stumps as soon as possible, best being an hour or less after cutting. So I set a timer for 30 minutes, cut until that went off, and them painted the stumps with the herbicide. I repeated this process for a couple of hours. I've got about 1/4 to a third of the buckthorn cleared from around the tree and you can actually see the trunk now. It was probably quite a stately oak before it got ravaged by the tornado 10 years ago. It's still interesting though with a trunk comically too big for the small clump of foliage it supports. Judging by the size of it's trunk, I would guess the bur oak is probably around 200 years old.

Buckthorn around a big bur oak between the first and second hill.


The result of a couple hours of clearing and treating stumps. I just use a hand pruning saw and brush the herbicide on so it takes some time. This tree suffered extensive damage from a tornado 10 years ago but it survives, unlike many standing dead oaks at this site. I wish I could have seen this place before that storm.
 
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slowlane

Observer
I'm making some good headway on the buckthorn around the big oak tree. The weather has not been cooperating too well over the past month. Three of my days off it rained which prevented any herbicide use, so I couldn't cut. There have been a few good days too and I've put in about 15 hours since my last post. I've refined my technique quite a bit. I now use my flags to mark off the area I'm going to cut, which is usually about 10 to 12 feet square. Then I cut all of the buckthorn out of that area. With the high density and amount of buckthorn, this usually works out to about 30 minutes of work including carrying the cut stuff to the brush pile. Last I get the herbicide and brush it onto the cut stumps, starting at one corner of the marked area and fanning across it. The little work areas will hopefully result in me not missing too many stumps with the herbicide because there are hundreds of them and most are small, about pencil-sized diameter. The area around the oak tree is really starting to open up nicely. There is some native sumac among the buckthorn which I left. Neatest of all are the fair amount of small 2-4 foot tall bur oaks that were hidden in the western end of the thicket.

Here is a picture after today's work. You can now see the hills to the west that were completely blocked from view before. To the right edge of the frame there is still a fair amount of buckthorn to remove which is what I'm concentrating on next.


Here is a view looking back the other way. The hill behind the big oak is where I'm headed after I finish up around it. The buckthorn reaches about halfway up the slope before it thins out to solid prairie plants.


Here is one of the small bur oaks that were hidden in the buckthorn. I have a feeling some of these small trees are quite a bit older than their small size would suggest because most of them appear to be repeatedly browsed by deer, stunting their growth.
 
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