By Josh Mayer, guest blogger
Some may think that the summers in Wisconsin are far too short, but even more fleeting is the spring ephemeral season. In the forest, before the green canopy drapes the forest floor in shade, a bevy of wildflowers emerge and bloom in a wondrous display. On the prairie, the flowering display is much different in the spring than it is later in the summer and fall. There really is never a bad time to get out and about!
Bloodroot, trout lily (both yellow and white), the numerous species of trillium and anemones are just a few of the flowers you might see if you take a walk in the woods before full leaf-out. On the prairie, you may come across bird’s foot violet, prairie smoke, puccoons, wood betony, and shooting stars.
There are many great places around Wisconsin that you can visit to see these ephemeral plants in action. In particular, there are many state natural areas that fit this description. Here are a few of my favorites:
Pleasant Valley Conservancy. This site is located just 30 minutes west of Madison and contains a variety of natural communities including oak savanna, prairie, and wetlands. In the oak savanna, you may find Jacob’s ladder, large-flowered bellwort, yellow lady’s slipper, large white trillium, and Dutchman’s breeches. In the prairie, wood betony and bird’s foot violet are abundant. It is also a great site to see red-headed woodpeckers and Eastern bluebirds. Note that the terrain here can be somewhat steep depending on the trail taken.
Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie. Located just a few miles away from Pleasant Valley Conservancy and situated on a low ridge, this prairie is wedged between farm fields. I have observed beautiful displays of prairie smoke, pussytoes, shooting stars, puccoons, wood betony, and large-flowered trillium. Note that there is a small two-car grass parking area.
Tellock’s Hill Woods. Located near Clintonville in Waupaca County, this site has fantastic displays of large-flowered trillium, Dutchman’s breeches, spring beauty, and downy yellow violet. The terrain here is hilly but not overly steep.
Plover River Woods. Though a late spring partly foiled my visit to this site in Marathon County last year, there were still nice showings of Dutchman’s breeches, large-flowered trillium, squirrel-corn, bloodroot, spring beauty, and wild geraniums. Plover River Woods is a flat and easy walk amongst the trees.
Ellison Bluff. Doubling as a Door County Park, Ellison bluff has very nice displays of large-flowered trillium, yellow lady-slipper, downy yellow violet, and large-flowered bellwort in addition to great bluff-top views.
Smith Drumlin Prairie. This is another nice site just 30 minutes from Madison, this time to the east. Owned and managed by The Prairie Enthusiasts, it is another great site to visit as the seasons change with beautiful displays of shooting stars, puccoons, bird’s-foot violet, prairie smoke, pussytoes, and wood betony. Note that parking here is on the side of the road.