Monitoring Native Species at the Native Wildflower and Butterfly Garden July 2010

This is a work in progress. We opened the Visitors Center/Store on August 5 and July got away from me with all the preparations to move into the new location.

 JULY 2010

 July 4 – On the way home from Minong, I stopped at the Native Wildflower and Butterfly Garden. Picked up the trash throughout the ½ acre habitat. 


  One of our display fabric butterflies was taken. Found a cooler pack in area three. Saw something or someone trampled down the native grasses. The anise hyssop was trampled and the beloved only purple prairie clover was trampled.  Don’t know who or what did the damage.

 Next year we will need to supervise the habitat during the holiday weekend. I couldn’t be there this year because my husband passed away in Minong, Wisconsin.  He walked on between 1 and 3 a.m. on July 4 and I was with him. He died peacefully in his sleep after diagnosis of terminal cancer on February 3, 2010, the day after his 65th birthday.  My dearest, my own.

 July 6 – A little rain today.

 July 7 – Rode bike to habitat at 7:30 a.m. It is going to be muggy.  I brought sacred tobacco with me to put down tobacco at Dorothy DeJong, Will DeJong (husband), Lyn (friend of the Earth), and BonnieJo Snell’s memory bench. I took photos of grasses for identification and saw a sweet sparrow singing on the Stop Sign.  Then I scared up a monarch who I think was a fluttering female.  I think she may have deposited an egg on a milkweed plant in area two near the entrance side.  Then I scared up a yellow sulpher in area two.  Both of them were camouflaged and resting in the tall grasses. I saw two sparrows feeding at the bird feeder. 

Who are you?
Who are you?

   Then I saw this jewel of a bug in area two. I have no idea what it is.  It had orange and beige colors and looked like a butterfly larva but it flew when I got too close. It too was resting in the tall grasses on the underside of a grassblade.  Very interesting. NOTE: January 17, 2011, I am happy to say I found the ID on this insect. It is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth. Its habitat is the meadow. It does rest on grasses as we can see in photo. There is only one generation a year according to National Audobon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders.

 A little rain at 7 p.m. and I am loving how it gently falls to make the Green Nation thrive.

 Glen Moberg, Wisconsin Public Radio, stated that a wet June eased drought conditions. The article was reported in the Washburn County Register on p.4.  Moberg said, “June rain has also helped many parched northern lakes that are fed by streams and tributaries.” He went on to say, “Heavy rains eased the effects of an eight-year drought on parched reservoirs and lakes.”

 Happy Tonics staff and volunteers can attest that the rains have made the habitat florish with native grasses and forbes.  Wildflowers are budding out all over and it is a special delight after the long wait of three years.

 Grasses as viewed on July 7:

 Ray Schulenberg’s quick and easy way to tell some of the grasses when not in floweror seed:

 It it’s flat and smooth, its little bluestem.
If it’s flat and fuzzy, it’s big bluestem.
If it’s round and smooth, it’s switchgrass.
If it’s round and fuzzy, it’s Indiangrass.

Source: Wasowski. S. 2002. Gardening with Prairie Plants: University of Minnesota Press, p. 119.

Roots of grasses and forbs arrange themselves in layers so that every speck of soil is used for moisture and nutrients. Tallgrass species grow deep roots.  J.E. Weaver researched native grasses and found that long-lived tallgrass praire can have roots from 5 to 23 feet deep.  Damian Vraniak also says that the prairie rose can have 20 foot deep roots and that this little prairie charmer can survive in drought.  Prairie roots have been found to have Mycorrhizal fungi and help the plants update minerals, water and nutrients.  The fungi help the plant resist disease, improve soil structure and recycle organic matter. It has also been found according to Sally Wasowski that it is bacteria in legume root nodules (clovers) that have nitrogen-fixing properties.

I have noticed bare patches of sandy soil in the habitat.  This is called the sod layer that sits above the roots and is also known as the ground layer.  This soil is actually well-developed sod that lets rain soak in and allows almost no runoff.  This is true and I have seen no erosion in the habitat even though it is mostly sand.

I have seen some ground covers in the habitat.  There is a plantain and some moss that develop as “mat-formers” according to Weaver. I have seen some understory sedges coming into some areas of the habitat.

Insects make the prairie their home.  We have so many different species of insects and I am only learning how much I don’t know about many of them.  Take for example the jewel bug I discovered a few days ago.  We see dragonflies and they are wonderful at eating mosquitoes and other insects.  I have never been troubled by mosquitoes at the habitat.  We have many sparrows in the habitat and they also eat bugs besides the grass and flower seeds. I suspect they also enjoy small insects. 

We may want to put down some top mulch to keep weeds out and keep moisture in.  Perhaps later in the fall when it cools down we will reseed the prairie with native seed from the nearby Shoreline Restoration Project garden.     

Dropseed ISporobolus heterolepis) also called prairie dropseed. Seed head varies from pinkish brown to grayish blackish. The grassy tufts are attractive and weep. 

USES: Tiny, roundish seeds are fragrant and tasty. Kiowa’s parched the tiny grains and ground them into flour. They practically fall off the plant when ripe. I tasted them raw and thought they were tasty but too small for gathering.  Important food source for birds.  It is sand dropseed if it has dense tuft of white hair at the base of the leaf blade and leading down the sheath.  Yes the habitat has this also. Also a Native American food.

  I noticed Four o’clock flowers have been chewed off with a straight cut.  I suspect deer because they are too tall for rabbits.  The photo is of the flower head after the pink bell-shaped flower has fallen off.  The flowers are formed into a cluster.  I only saw it flower after late afternoon hence its name Four o’clock.

Native four-o-clock
Native four-o-clock

Four o-clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea)

USES:  Brew of roots used for internal parasites. In the West, American Indians used a closely related species for inducement of visions.

Prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa) Often visited by hummingbirds and occasionally eaten by deer.  Many of the phlox species have a sticky substance on their upper stems TRY THIS to protect them from insects that do not serve as pollinators.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) Known as pleurisy root, butterfly weed.  Asclepias comes from the Greek god of healing and medicine.

Hoary vervain  (Verbana stricta) Birds enjoy the seed over the winter months.

Purple prairie clover (Petalostemum purpureum) Soil is improved because the prairie clovers add nitrogen. 

 USES:  In Ireland and Scotland the seeds were ground into flour for bread making.  The leaves from a tea were applied to a wound. The root was chewed by the Ponca and a tea from the plant was made by the Oglala.

 Cottonweed (Froelichia floridana) I think I have seen this in habitat.  White flowers not much of a show.  Amaranth family.

 Prairie sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) Also known as western sage, western mugwork, white sage and wormwood and sagebrush. 

 USES:  Purification bath will restore a person. Used for ceremonies and medicine.  Before a funeral the pioneers burned in a fire before the steps to provide incense. I burn in my outside wood fire and smudge with it.  

 Yellow coneflower (Patibida pinnata)

 July 13, 2010 Brennen Mahur volunteered today and pulled flowering spotted knapweed before it spread its seed.  Each flower head contains approximately 20,000 seeds.  Can you imagine how serious this problem is with this invasive species?  I did see that succession is nicely working on a native plant that isn’t very showy.  It acts more like an annual and I don’t know its name. For the last two years (2008-2009) it was pretty intense in the start of area three.  In 2010 it is being replaced by milkweed, prairie clover and native grasses.  Jim Reimer, US Fish and Wildlife Service told me this would happen and he was right.  Jim sure knows his native plants.

 I did notice where deer had slept in the high native grasses again.  It is quite exciting to think of them hiding among the tall grasses.  I saw two monarchs in area one.  I came to the habitat about 8 a.m. and both of them were sleeping in the grasses.  I scared them up. I worked on pulling wood chips away from the native shrubs and replaced this with wood shaved mulch.  I also cut away the tall grasses around the shrubs so they would have room to grow without competition.  I noticed the Three Sisters Gardens is growing tall and nicely.  Our hidden squash behind the compost pile is growing nicely too. 

 July 14 –  A tornado touched down about six miles from Shell Lake. The sky turned black and the lightening roared.  It was near flood conditions when I returned from Spooner and decided to park my van on high ground. We were told to go to the lobby and residents sat around listening to the sirens and warnings on TV. What does this have to do with writing about monitoring?  Well, it is said that storms can become more severe in climate change. Was today any indication?  I wonder if the prairie grasses were beat down?

 There are two books I highly recommend for the Midwest gardener who may want to put in a prairie instead of paying high water bills for landscaping.  Gardening with Prairie Plants by Sally Wasowski and Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie The Upper Midwest by Sylvan T. Runkel and Dean M. Roosa.  I don’t have enough money at present to buy the books for our library so I am borrowing them from the public library.  I have used both books to help me learn how to identify native grasses and to pick up tidbits in how plants are used as food and medicine.

 July 15 – Drove the car to the habitat to check on the native tall grasses to see if they were still standing tall after yesterday’s 60 miles an hour winds.  The grasses and corn were still standing.  Just proves that tall grasses, and corn is a grass, can withstand high winds.  Grasses have a year round appeal. They are a refuge to wildlife in winter. They provide low cover for ground-frequenting birds such as sparrows.  Then in spring dried grasses and plumes are used to build bird nests.

 July 17 – Met Bob Hasman and Joan Quenan at habitat. Joan worked on weeding the wood chip path in area two (towards end and near Lyn’s memory bench).  She says, “By September I may have it weeded.” Bob and I agree it is even getting too hot at 8 a.m. We decided to start at 7 a.m. We have placed an ad in paper for volunteers to help at habitat. Still it is the out of town people who help maintain the habitat. Why we can’t interest volunteer local citizens is beyond me.  I am grateful though for two youth who come from Shell Lake High School to help.

 I am seeing the prettiest grass heads now that have a purple or rich brown color.  The stems appear with some purple in them I believe.  At first I thought they were tall blue stem but the seed heads appear like a fountain on tall stems.  Another mystery to be solved. It started raining around 3 p.m. and through the night. Torrents for awhile.

 July 19 – Beautiful sunny morning at 60 degrees.

 July 24 – For the past week I have been focused on learning to identify native grasses. Well, Urika!  I have identified Switchgrass now. The early stages show white stiff hairs between the grass joints and it looks like a V. Then the smooth stem grows and when the purple flower head comes out at the tip, you can notice a purple vein before the purple grass blooms. It is quite unique and pretty to see this magnificent prairie grass. Switchgrass appears to be making colonies in the habitat.  My sister is here visiting and my niece left today to return to Massachusetts. We had a fundraiser bike ride around the lake sponsored by Vitality Village. Erica, my niece was able to meet some of the riders.