Tom's Blog

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wood lilies

Now is wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum) time, although there are few places where you can see this handsome prairie plant . Last evening Kathie and I led our annual field trip to Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie, famous among the cognoscenti for its outstanding display.

I'm not sure why this prairie plant is called a "wood" lily. I've seen a few at the edges of woods, but generally it is found in dry prairies.

It is one of those species that deer love to eat, and if you have any significant deer population you probably have very few wood lilies. One of the reasons that Rettenmund may be such a great wood lily site is that deer are never found there. This tiny (16 acres) prairie, a prime Prairie Enthusiasts remnant, sits in the middle of a large open agricultural area, with a major county highway providing almost constant traffic. There is no cover here for deer, which may be what has saved it. Whatever the reason, the middle of June is prime time to visit this great State Natural Area.

Although once widespread, habitat destruction has virtually extirpated wood lilies from many states. It is listed as endangered or threatened in many states. In Wisconsin it has a coefficient of conservatism of 9, (on a scale of 0 to 10), emphasizing its rarity and restricted habitat range. If plants are found they should never be disturbed.

Kathie has been raising wood lilies from seed for a few years now. This is an exercise in patience. The seeds germinate well but the first year send up only a single tiny leaf. The second year there may be two leaves. The third year a few more. What the plant is doing is building a bulb, and flowering does not occur until this bulb is well formed. At Pleasant Valley Conservancy, the only wood lilies that she has been able to maintain have been carefully placed inside wire cages where the deer can't get to them. This isn't the most natural way to cultivate a species, which makes the Rettenmund Prairie population even more thrilling to see.

The display at Rettenmund should be going on for the next week or so. Get out and see it. Directions can be found at this link.


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