Visit to a nice prairie remnant
Saturday morning Kathie and I visited a very fine prairie remnant in eastern Iowa County. This site, on private land, is being managed by the Prairie Enthusiasts. It is a small remnant, but very high quality. During our brief one-hour visit we counted 44 species, including most of the "signature" prairie species (compass plant, lead plant, etc.).
There was also a nice population of rough false foxglove (Agalinis aspera; see photo). According to Cochrane and Iltis (Atlas of Wisconsin Prairie and Savanna Plants), this is a hemiparasitic annual characteristic of dry prairie sites. This species is also present at Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie, but in much smaller numbers. At the Iowa County site plants were blooming all over.
There is also supposed to be the really rare Agalinis skinneriana at this site. We looked carefully for this tiny gem, but unfortunately did not find it. Possibly we were too early, as these false foxgloves generally flower late. However, since they are annuals, there year-to-year success depends on them setting viable seed.
This site was discovered about ten years ago by a prairie enthusiast who was able to get permission from the landowner to carry out restoration work. Burning and weed control have brought about wonders. In fact, sweet clover, the usual bane of dry prairie remnants that have been burned, is virtually absent here, an impressive accomplishment.
This site also has a nice small bur oak savanna (seen at the left in the top photo). Among other things, this savanna is interesting because it is down in the valley rather than at the top of the ridge where most bur oak savannas in southern Wisconsin are found. However, in presettlement times, bur oaks were actually a major component of the lowland savannas. Now they are rare in this situation, probably because they were convenient trees to cut during early settlement activities. Those on the ridge tops were hard to log, especially with primitive equipment, and remained.
Another interesting plant at this prairie was a tall, vigorously blooming plant of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), which, according to Cochrane and Iltis, prefers wet-mesic prairies. The present site is as dry as they come, which makes one wonder what it is doing here (and how it got there). We also have some vigorously flowering prairie dock plants on dry savanna sites at Pleasant Valley Conservancy, making one wonder about the fidelity of this species.