Thursday, 05 September 2019

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)

Welcome to the first edition of Plant of the Week. Every week will feature a native plant that is currently in bloom somewhere in Wisconsin.

Our first selection is the obedient plant. This early fall beauty has been particularly successful in 2019. It has rapidly grown and spread due to plenty of moisture along with summer sunshine.

Morphology

Physostegia virginiana is a broadleaf perennial. This member of the Lamiaceae family grows 3-4 feet tall and its rhizomes can spread 2-3 feet per year. Plants flower in late summer and fall, lasting 1 1/2 months. Flower stalks grow up to 10 1/2 inches and contain multiple flowers. The tubular flowers are white, lavender, or purplish pink, and they often have dots, fine stripes, or swirls of a slightly darker color.  Each flower produces 4 sharply angled, dull brown seeds.

Requirements

  • love the sun
  • likes plenty of moisture
  • grows in zones 3-9

Pros and Cons

They can tolerate both deer browse and clay soils. Stems tend to flop in rich soils, too much shade or hot summer temperatures. Given the right conditions, obedient plants spread quickly and may crowd out their neighbors. Hummingbirds and bumble bees love the blossoms.

July 2019

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Score big with Wisconsin Wetlands Field Trips

image of the Fish Creek estuary in Ashland County.

Fish Creek Estuary is a haven of bio-diversity at the head of Chequamegon Bay.

Make the summer of 2019 a real hit with this triple play from the Wisconsin Wetlands Association. As part of their 50th Anniversary celebration, WWA is offering field trips to some of coolest wetlands in Wisconsin. There are three field trips, all quickly coming up. So fit at least one of these into your calendar and make it a summer you will not soon forget.

image of springs in the Chippewa Moraine wetlands.

Wetlands are all about the place where water and the land meet.

 

 

 

 

Field Trips

July 27, 29019 – Wetlands of the Chippewa Moraine. Treat yourself to a diverse tour of the bogs, sedge meadows, and ephemeral ponds that make up the Deerfly Swamp State Natural Area. Wear rubber boots because this is a walk for those who aren’t afraid to get their feet wet.

August 1, 2019 – Wetlands of the Penokee Hills. You may know the Penokee Hills as part of the Gogebic Range that was the site of proposed iron mining several years ago. Take a walk through interesting wetlands that are the home of cold water brook trout, beaver, and trumpeter swans. Learn how these wetlands capture runoff and provide cool, clean water to the creeks and rivers downstream, all the way to Lake Superior.

August 16, 2019 – Paddling the Fish Creek Estuary. This fish creek is not in Door County. This fish creek feeds the Chequamegon Bay in Ashland County. This is an important Lake Superior fish spawning grounds that is packed with wildlife in an incredibly bio-diverse setting.

image of Penokee Hills wetlands.

A creek flows through the wetlands of the Bad River watershed.

Add some excitement to your summer with a field trip to one of Wisconsin’s delightful wetlands. Treat yourself and your family to an adventure into some of the most interesting and diverse ecosystems in Wisconsin. You will be batting a thousand when it comes to making nature a big part of your summer enjoyment.

Wednesday, 03 July 2019

How the Environment Affects Plants

Recently, I was asked by a young Asian student, “Do plants raised in a good environment flourish and grow bigger than plants raised in a bad environment?” At first, I wanted to dismiss what seemed like a silly question. As I headed for the creek to check on some honeysuckle and buckthorn that got treated last week, I thought more about that question. The more I though about it, the more interesting his became.

Broadly speaking, his assertion was probably true. The answer, however, changed with the species. Also, it depended on how the budding scholar defined the environment. Finally, the answer would hinge on what the young questioner thought was good and bad. Answering his question first meant understanding that the environment includes the soil, water and air.

Soil

Soil differs in its composition naturally from one place to another based on the underlying geology, as well as surface layer history like glaciation and floods. Soils fertility differs based on those factors. Human activities, most notably farming, have changed the characteristics of soil in many environments. Erosion and poor agricultural and horticultural practices have depleted many native soils. Likewise, resource extraction and industrial activities have polluted soils in many areas.

Water

We are all familiar with water pollution and its effects on plants. Acid rain harms plants, causing deforestation around the world. Toxic discharges from factories, leaking landfills, and pathogen laden runoff from factory farms pose threats to plants downstream.

Air

The air has several factors to consider. Increased CO2 from burning fossil fuels benefits some plant species, while others are unaffected or even suffer because they evolved to thrive in an atmosphere with less carbon dioxide. Toxins discharged from smoke stacks and tailpipes definitely injure most plants.

The reason I did not declare these impacts as good or bad is that under certain circumstances a particular plant species in a specific location might benefit from certain environmental degradation. Even if many native plants suffer, there are bound to be tough species that will move in and take their place.

This morning, I am walking along the floodplain of a small creek in the driftless area of Wisconsin. Because a large block of very hard rock split the southward advancing glaciers for millennia, glacial ice never scoured this part of Wisconsin like it did the rest of the state.

Farming Along the Creek

However, for the past century, farmers using poor practices caused erosion of tons of topsoil from surrounding hills. That topsoil landed in the valley below, covering the wetland adapted species and degrading the wetlands so they are far less capable of controlling flood events. The rains this spring, along with flooding last summer mean for a second year in a row, the farmers on either side of the creek will see disappointing harvests.

Aside from the money lost by the neighboring farmers, erosion has devastated those buried wetland plants and seeds. On the other hand, other plant species brought downhill with the soil, blown in by the wind or dropped by passing birds and animals now thrive in fertile topsoil with plenty of moisture. The creek corridor is a riot of growth, though most of it is invasive species that do little to recharge the groundwater or control flooding.

So what is the “correct answer” in this situation? It seems to me that the loss of topsoil from the uplands, as well as the loss of wetland plants, loss of groundwater recharge, and increased flooding downstream, more than offset any benefits.

Southern Wisconsin was a disturbance dominated ecosystem before Europeans settled here nearly two hundred years ago. Wildfire sparked by lightning and Native Americans burned the land every few years. The result was a landscape dominated by prairie and savannah. This kind of landscape is called an early successional ecosystem because it dominates soon after big disturbances like windstorms and fire.

Early Verses Late Succession Plant Communities

Today, most of the land is farmed, but woods and scrublands dominate the areas too steep or wet to crop. These woody species cannot tolerate fire. They are called late succession ecosystems because they move in after those first sun loving pioneer species. When fire disappears from the landscape, shade tolerant trees like cherry and maple are able to take over. They crowd out the scattered sun loving oaks, which cannot regenerate under the closed canopy of the darkened woodlands.

Many of the plants that once covered the prairies and savannah are now rare; with many threatened or endanger of extinction.

Effects of Farming

Because their root systems were so deep and they recycled nutrients so efficiently, those prairie and savannah plants built up fertile topsoils 3–8 feet thick. Now, through changed land use and erosion, most of that topsoil can be found more than a thousand miles south in the Gulf of Mexico.

Corn and soybeans still grow in tremendous abundance, thanks to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. That abundance allows farmers near my home to export their bounty around the world. Is that good or bad? Row crops suited for agriculture grow large and yield hundreds of tons per acre. That grain feeds millions of people around the world, How can that be bad?

Heading for Home

My notebook now holds the shrub kill observations that brought me here this morning. Almost without thinking, my entries show that the herbicide sprayed on the basal bark of those invasive shrubs is having its intended deadly impact. By fall they will be dead. In a few years their carcasses will fall over and their trunks will decay. If I continue to do my job, their offspring will join them. The native seeds I plant in their place will begin to stabilize the soil along this little trout stream.

Heading back to the truck my musings on plants, as well as good and bad environments come together. I think about the “land ethic” from A Sand County Almanac. Aldo Leopold first made this profound way of looking at the world popular. He wrote, “A thing is right when it tends to perserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

 

June 2019

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Which Garden Flowers Outcompete Brambles?

Recently someone asked me to suggest flowering garden plants that would outcompete brambles. My response was to, “be extremely careful what you ask for.” Any plant that would outcompete your brambles would itself become a management problem in your yard. You do not want a cure that is worse than the disease.

Brambles are really tough to manage. They specialize in colonizing early disturbance ecosystems such as prairies and grasslands. As woody perennials with aggressive root systems, they spread quickly, grab sunlight and shade out their competition.

Fire First Choice for Brambles

The primary management tool for brambles in natural areas is fire. Prescribed burns conducted annually for 2–3 years followed by burns every other year or two after that, reduces the density of bramble stems and promotes native grasses and wildflowers.

Not First Choice for Gardens

There are three real problems you face with prescribed fire in your garden. First, your municipality may not allow prescribed fire in your yard. It can be exceedingly difficult to safely manage fire in an urban or suburban setting. In addition, the other plants in your garden may not like fire. If this is a classic vegetable garden, that will not be much of a problem because prescribed fires are typically done in early spring before you have even planted this year’s crop. Finally, brambles do not carry fire well themselves and need an understory of leaves, grasses and forbs to create enough heat to kill the canes. It is unusual to have that kind of surface layer of fuel in a garden.

Mechanical Bramble Management

If your bramble patch is relatively small, you may just want to contain it. This may be the method of choice if you still want berries but do not want them invading the entire garden.

Install a 6-12 inch edging around your berry patch. Buried edging will keep roots from escaping into the rest of your garden.

Dig out canes that escape, removing their roots, as well. As the size of your patch increases, this method becomes more difficult to keep up with.

Chemical Treatment

In your garden, the best solution is glyphosate herbicide. Using concentrate, follow label directions for “cut stump” dilution. Depending on the actual concentration in the bottle you bought, that is usually either using it straight or cut one-to-one with water. Again, read and follow label directions for the correct amount.

How To Use Glyphosate

Place the herbicide in an inexpensive 16–24 ounce spray bottle, the kind you can buy for a couple dollars. Set the spray pattern to solid stream. Cut the bramble canes. Wearing a rubber glove, use the sprayer to apply a drop of glyphosate to the stump of each bramble cane. Yes, this is tedious work but it pays off. All you need is to wet the end of the stump, so you will be oh, so carefully squeezing the trigger on the sprayer. Again, all you want to do is cover the cane stump with a drop of herbicide. Using this technique, I can cut and treat bramble canes all day on a single spray bottle.

Using this method minimizes damage to surrounding plants and puts all the power of the glyphosate where it belongs … on the roots. Glyphosate is drawn down into the roots of the bramble where it stops a specific enzyme pathway, the shikimic acid pathway, which regulates plant growth. Animals do not produce or use this enzyme, so it is not toxic to humans.

Why Use Glyphosate

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, which means it kills any species of plant it touches. So, you really need to be careful about preventing drift or spraying the wrong thing.

Fortunately, glyphosate is very short lived. It is broken down by sunlight in a week or two. This means that your very best time to go after your brambles is before you plant your crops in the spring. You can also do it without worry during the season if that section of the garden is between crops. If you have a really bad infestation, you can cut and treat the stems, wait 2–3 weeks for the chemical to kill the roots and till up that section of garden and plant whatever you want into it.

Safety

Even though glyphosate is among the safest products on the market, you never want to spray any chemical onto plants that will be harvested and eaten. That same statement applies to organic herbicides and pesticides. Because of that, do not make a foliar spray of bramble canes. You do not want someone to come by and pick fruit off those canes after they have been sprayed. That is another reason why I recommend the cut stump application.

Recently, there has been a flurry of controversy about glyphosate, relating to a specific form of cancer. Despite the drama of late night class action legal ads, glyphosate is a safe product.

May 2019

Friday, 24 May 2019

Farming Better Wetlands

Seventy-five percent of Wisconsin wetlands are privately owned. When private landowners act to conserve those wetlands, we all benefit. Wetlands provide much of the groundwater recharge that we all depend on to make sure our wells have enough water for our homes and families. We all depend on wetlands for flood control during the spring thaw and heavy rains. They also filter out sediments that would otherwise clog our rivers and streams.

Wetlands also provide water, food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife we all enjoy. Likewise, wetlands are critical resting places for migrating birds.

Farmers’ Role

Farmers are the largest group of private wetland owners. They live on the land and make their living from the soil. As stewards of their land, farmers make decide how to best use their property. They can protect wetlands or ignore them. In the past, farmers often drained or degraded wetlands to make way for grazing and cropland.

Today, farmers take a different view of the places they used to see as wasteland. Farmers like Nick and Dianne Somers, potato farmers in Plover, are leading a revolution on the farm. Wetland are starting to get the attention and respect they deserve. Nick shares his love for the wetlands on his property in a Wisconsin Wetlands Association video, Farmers Care for Wetlands.

The Wisconsin Wetlands Association produced it as part of a six part video series, celebrating American Wetlands Month and their 50th Anniversary. They provide information and assistance to farmers and other private landowners in Wisconsin who want to preserve their wetland resources. You can also check out our Resources page.

Wetlands Future

Wisconsin farmers hold the future of our wetlands, the groundwater and biodiversity in their hands. Nick believes, “It’s something everybody should do.” When you choose to protect and improve your wetlands, you are making an investment in your family’s future and the wildlife that call you farm home. As Wisconsin’s most important land stewards, the decisions you make will ensure we all continue to enjoy the this great natural heritage.

 

Thursday, 23 May 2019

What’s in a name?

Picture of Mount Rainier

Photo Credit: United States Geological Service website.

Ever look at a map and see a lake or stream and wonder what its name was? Did you know that there are entire mountains that still have never been named? You may have a lake, pond or stream on your land that is unnamed.

Many natural features were named by explores as they crossed the continent searching for new trade and travel routes. Others bear the names given them by Native Americans prior to European settlement. Years later, as the nation was settled, the new inhabitants gave names to the rivers, lakes, ponds and streams they encountered.

Have you ever wondered what it would take to officially name that stream or pond? There is a way to make that happen, and it is not all that difficult.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is the body that creates and maintains the official listing of all named natural features in the United States. They have a How Do I page that provides instructions and the applicable form you can download and complete.

The process takes about six months. For more information contact the GNIS Manager.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Landowners Care for Wetlands

Landowners Karen and Marty Voss have owned their land near Eau Claire since 1981. They like you, the they take great pride in their land and want to do what they can to conserve it. Over the years, they have spent untold time and energy improving their wetlands. Karen and Marty did it for their own enjoyment, as well as to be good stewards of their little corner of the watershed.

According to the Wisconsin Wetland Association, “Private landowners own 75% of Wisconsin’s remaining wetlands and as much as 85% of potentially restorable wetlands, giving them a vital role in caring for wetlands.”

 

The Wisconsin Wetland Association produced this video as part of their 50th Anniversary celebration. It is part of a six part series of Wisconsin wetland videos. Check out the entire series and get better acquainted with their work.

Conservation Digest and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association are your partners in conservation. We can help no matter what kind of wetland you own or its condition. Check out our resources and events. Find out how you can improve the diversity and functioning of the wetlands you call home.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Celebrate Wisconsin Wetlands

 

picture of blooming sedge

May is American Wetlands Month. Wisconsin Wetlands Association produced six short videos that help tell the story of these incredible resources.

The first is called Wetlands: Vital Solutions. “Wetlands are among the most important parts of our landscape,” says WWA’s Outreach Programs Director, Katie Beilfuss.

Conservation Digest will share these videos with you throughout May as part of American Wetlands Month.

Help WWA celebrate its 50th Anniversary and American Wetlands Month. Discover the many ways that wetlands makes life better for all of us.

April 2019

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Got Purple Loosestrife?

Collect purple loosestrife plants in the spring and introduce beetles in a contained netted environment. Because these beetles feed on the netted plants, they multiply before release throughout the summer.

Plant the loosestrife with their beetles into your wetland, stream or lake that is surrounded by unaffected loosestrife plants. The beetles then spread to surrounding plants reducing their vigor and reproduction. As you establish beetle populations; they can prevent the spread of purple loosestrife across your property and beyond.

You can help with this process in a few ways:

  • Learn to identify Purple Loosestrife and look for PL already affected by beetles
  • Report when you find a population of loosestrife.
  • Attend the Purple Loosestrife Biocontrol Training at Beaver Creek Reserve’s Citizen Science Center on Tuesday, April 16th, from 6-7pm. No sign up necessary!

February 2019

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Rare Chance to Make a Difference

Volunteer finds and examines whirled milkweed blossom. Photo credit: Mark Horn, Conservation Media LLC.

Ever wondered what it would be like to find a truly rare plant in the wild? Are there rare plants on your property? Here is your chance. Knowing what to look for and how to identify plants is the first step. As we all know, the better you know your land, the better you can protect it.

The Wisconsin DNR trains volunteers to monitor the health of rare plant populations around the state. If you have some time to donate and want to improve your botany skills, here is a great opportunity. You will help the DNR with its conservation efforts while gaining skills you can use on your land.

The information volunteers collect is provided to property managers and added to the Natural Heritage Inventory. Wisconsin has roughly 1,900 native plant species, of which 16 percent are endangered, threatened or special concern species, meaning their populations are low or declining.

Volunteers who complete the training will check on some of Wisconsin’s rarest and most beautiful native plants in some of the state’s most pristine places, says Kevin Doyle, who coordinates the Rare Plant Monitoring Program for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Natural Heritage Conservation Program.

Picture of volunteers training to find rare plants.

Volunteers for the DNR Rare Plant Monitoring Program look for rare plants in a southern Wisconsin prairie. Photo credit: Kevin Doyle

Training sessions will take place in Cable, Green Bay, Oconomowoc and River Falls in March and April; to see workshop dates and locations and to register, search online for Wisconsin’s Rare Plant Monitoring Program. 

Find some room on your calendar this season and you can make a real difference for rare plants in Wisconsin.

Contact Kevin Doyle, DNR conservation botanist, 608-416-3377.