Tom's Blog

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sand cherry; an interesting shrub in prairies

Sand cherry (Prunus pumila) is widespread in Wisconsin but has a high Coefficient of Conservatism (9), an indication of its rather specialized habitat. As its common name implies, it is found at sandy habitats such as dunes, sand prairies, barrens, and bracken grasslands (per UW-Madison Herbarium web site). It also occurs on the North Unit at Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie, where it is able to survive frequent fires.

Sand cherry was first reported at Rettenmund in the 1950s by Curtis' student Orlin Anderson and has appeared in the numerous species lists that have been made since that time. However, since biennial burns were begun in 2002, we only see it in alternating years, that is, the year that the North Unit is not burned. In those years, the stems make attractive flowers which are easy to spot. It is probably also present in the burn years, but only as short, nonflowering shoots which are not very visible.

According to the U.S.F.S. Fire Effects web site, sand cherry grows primarily as a short sprawling rhizomatous shrub. It is widespread in habitats with significant fire history. Both the stems and shallow-depth rhizomes are top-killed by fire, but deeper rhizomes survive, and serve to reestablish the plant.

Since this is an off-year for North Unit burns, sand cherry can be easily seen along the trail to the top of the knoll. Look for the attractive white flowers on short woody stems.


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