Tom's Blog

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Early prairie flower blooms in fall-burned sites

Generally prairie burns in the fall are not too successful because grass, the principal fuel, has not yet fully cured. However, last fall was especially favorable for curing and prairie burns were quite successful.

The advantage of a fall burn? You don’t have to burn in the following spring. Depending on the weather, a spring burn might have to occur late enough so that species that flower early, such as pasque flowers, take a major “hit”. (I once watched a whole hillside of stunning pasque flowers at Koltes Prairie get burned up!)

Last fall two outstanding prairies were burned in the fall, thus giving them a “head-start” for this spring: Walking Iron and Black EarthRettenmund.

Yesterday, Kathie and I visited these prairies to see how they had responded. Although this has been a cold March and early April, lots of early prairie species were above ground. Pasque Flower Hill at Walking Iron Prairie indeed had quite a few pasque flowers (Anemone patens) in flower, although the major bloom will probably be next week.

Pasque Flower Hill at Walking Iron County Park in April 8, 2017. This prairie was burned the previous fall.
Lots of new growth scattered across the site, and a few dozen pasque flowers.

Pasque flower in bloom at Walking Iron. Pascha is Latin for Easter, which is often the time this species is in bloom.

Prairie smoke, a species that is especially prolific at Walking Iron.
Early buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis). This species is the earliest bloomer in the Upper Midwest, but
generally found only in mowed lanes or other areas where the vegetation is short.
Because of the burn at Walking Iron, all the vegetation is short, so early buttercup is thriving.

At Rettenmund, where pasque flowers are fairly uncommon, shooting star shoots were all over the South Unit. Also, wood betony was in bud everywhere, prairie smoke was in the vegetative state but flourishing, and there were lots of rattlesnake master shoots.

Wood betony with a few buds already showing, and a vigorous rosette of shooting star;
the South Unit (burned Fall 2016) at Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie

From now until the end of October, there should be something new to see each week at these two nice prairies in western Dane County.


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