On a gorgeous autumn afternoon, Tracy Hames, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, led a field trip to the Class of 1918 Marsh on the Preserve. The walk was very well attended by students from a Forest and Wildlife Ecology course and quite a few Friends. John Magnuson also attended the talk and Tracy invited him to discuss his work on monitoring the salt in the marsh and its effects.
Tracy covered a great deal of information, both introducing the students to wetlands and wetland management in general, as well as covering the history and issues facing the Class of 1918 Marsh. He explained that every wetland is different and suggested a framework for determining the best management for a particular wetland: 1) How did the wetland function historically? In particular, where did the water come from and go? 2) What has changed since then? 3) In light of the changes, how can we restore conditions to get it to function more like it did historically?
Much of the talk pointed out the many changes that have occurred to the marsh since it was a sedge meadow in a lobe of Lake Mendota As expected many changes had to do with the flow of the water—University Bay Drive forms a levee cutting the marsh off from the lake, buildings and roads mean more runoff, more contaminants and flashier flows, and since Lake Mendota has been raised, water must now be pumped out of the marsh. Also the marsh was deepened as part of the restoration in the late 1960's, making it far wetter than the historical sedge meadow. Another significant change is the vegetation. The mowed recreation fields contribute to faster runoff and less infiltration. But the invasion of the hybrid cattails is a greater concern. These thrive with the high amount of nutrients and the stable water levels now present in the marsh, and can grow to be twenty times more dense than the native broad-leaf cattail. The current growth is far too dense for good habitat for many species. Reed-canary Grass is another invasive that can form dense mats choking out other plants.
In the discussion of opportunities for future management, Tracy suggested that perhaps one of the best things that could be realistically done in the marsh is vegetation control for the cattails. He described a cut-and-flood technique that has worked elsewhere. It turns out that cattails can actually be killed by cutting them low and then flooding them, which drowns the roots. It would be good, Tracy said, to experiment with some cattail control methods to see what might be the most practical approach in this situation.
In the end Tracy reminded us that, in spite of the many issues faced by the marsh, it still is providing services to the Preserve and the lake by managing runoff, filtering contaminants and providing habitat for wildlife and opportunities for recreation, and that it needs our protection and care to learn more about Wisconsin Wetlands Association and how you can help, please visit Wisconsinwetlands.org.
Summary by the Friends host Steve Sentoff. Photos Steve Sentoff and Gisela Kutzbach.
“This is a lot more fun than I expected it would be.”, laughed one UW student who was spending this brisk Sunday morning trekking through the Preserve with forty other hikers in search of fall fungi. To be fair, it wasn’t a passion for mushrooms that drove this student to get out of bed on this frigid October day and ride his bike to Picnic Point for a Friends Field Trip. He was there (perhaps begrudgingly, judging from the look on his face as he blew into his hands for warmth) for a class.
Along with the rest of the flock of attendees, the student was welcomed to the Preserve today by UW mycologist Marie Trest. Trest, an instructor and laboratory coordinator in the Department of Botany, has an infectious passion for fungi. As the group ventured into the woods, it didn’t take long for some otherwise-inconspicuous specimens to begin showing themselves and posing questions about the nature of their existence.
Marie picked up a dead branch containing a Stereum mushroom, also called a false turkey tail. “Can you eat it?”, muttered one participant in the back who looked suspiciously like he was in the “fulfilling-a-class-assignment” demographic. Marie smiled and answered the question the way that great teachers do, by not answering the question directly. "Knowing how to identify what you’re looking at is the first step to knowing if something is edible." Marie passed the branch around and explained that the false turkey tail is a crust fungus, so it will have a smooth underside while a true turkey tail mushroom is a polypore, which will have an underside covered in pores.
Within arm’s reach was another specimen that Marie pointed out as being on many forager’s menu, the honey mushrooms. The ones that Marie found were past their prime. Marie pointed out that a mushroom of this type (Armillaria) is considered to be the largest organism on earth. A single individual can grow to encompass hundreds of acres and live for thousands of years!
A few more steps into the woods uncovered some fascinating root-like formations called rhizomorphs. Attendees took turns inspecting the web of fungus as Marie explained how they allow fungi to transport nutrients throughout vast networks, transferring liquids to fruiting bodies and allowing fungi to travel through barren stretches of soil in search of new food sources.
Before long, participants were venturing out on their own in search of fungal treasures to bring back for identification. Under the permission of a Lakeshore Nature Preserve Teaching and Research Permit, a plethora of small specimens were gathered up and discussed. Some of the highlights: artist’s conk (used in the creation of intricate artistic etchings), puffballs (who’s spores are distributed via raindrops), jelly fungi (which consume other fungi), and the remarkably creepy and well-named wood ear mushroom. It was uncanny how the wood ear looked so much like an actual ear, a feature that caused me to consider its potential for an upcoming Halloween party. Marie noted that the wood ear is closely related to the mushrooms used in hot-and-sour soup. Trick or treat!
Xylobolus, Auricularia, Phellinus! No, this is not a wizarding spell. These are names of mushrooms that Marie identified while participants gathered up a mini-herbarium of specimens and displayed them on a fallen oak tree that served as a makeshift lab bench.
Marie also discussed the importance of fungi as a functional component in the Preserve’s patchwork of ecosystems. Fungi play a major role in decomposing and recycling organic matter and make it possible for members of other kingdoms, like plants and animals, to be supplied with critical nutrients. The food web and nutrient cycles would be incomplete without fungi.
Marie also noted that because fungi have not been as extensively documented as other realms of life, fungal species are mostly overlooked when considering conservation, preservation and restoration efforts. She is personally fond of a special group of fungi, the lichens. Lichens serve as biological air-quality indicators. Many of the lichens that were once documented in southern Wisconsin can no longer be found in this area, presumably due to diminishing air quality.
The importance of fungi and their amazing diversity, stories, traits, and appearances were all on display during this fruitful autumn walk in the Preserve. Today’s event was a great example of how Friends Field Trips support a diverse array of interested parties and how the Friends help introduce all types of people to the wonders of the Preserve. Some participants arrived eager to learn more about mushrooms. Some came to simply be in nature. A few showed up to fulfill a class requirement. No matter the motivation, it was evident that everyone had a lot of fun….even that one guy. Friends host for this field trip, summary and photos: Seth McGee
On a brisk October afternoon, Paul Quinlan led 21 nature enthusiasts into the Preserve for an engaging field trip about the trees that reside inside. Throughout the walk, Paul pointed out a variety of Wisconsin trees along with a few key leaf/bark features and environmental notes to consider when differentiating between species.
Here are a few notable insights for distinguishing between tree families:
Maples: It can be tricky to distinguish between Sugar, Silver, and Norwegian Maples in the Preserve. By looking at specific parts of the leaves and the fungi that grow on them, we can make this task a bit easier!
-Sugar maples have leaves with deep and rounded sinuses, five lobes with a sharp point at the apex. They also have the sweetest sap of the maples!
-Silver maples also have leaves with deep sinuses and five lobes. If you look at the underside of these leaves, you’ll notice a white coating which is a very helpful cue! Silver maple leaves may also feature black spots from the tar fungus that colonize on them.
-Norwegian maples have leaves with five lobes and shallower sinuses compared to the sugar and silver maples. The tar fungus also leaves black spots on the Norwegian maple leaves. Finally, if you tear a Norwegian maple leaf off a twig, you may notice that they ooze a milky white sap from the end of the leaf!
Oaks: The Preserve features White, Red, and Burr Oaks! How can you tell the difference between them all? Simple!
-White oaks have rounded lobes on their leaves. If you look at the bark on a white oak tree, you may notice that it looks lighter than most oak bark.
-Red oaks have very pointed lobes on their leaves. The bark has deep grooves (“skiing tracks” as Paul would say) as well!
-Bur oaks distinctively have deep sinuses ONLY on the bottom lobes on its leaves. In the upper lobes, the sinuses are much shallower. If you look at the cork-looking bark on a bur oak tree, you will see that it extends all the way to the branch tips of the tree— a good cue to look for!
Conifers: Check out these key cues Paul recommends to crack the conifer classification conundrum!
-White pines have long and floppy needles which give them a “delicate” looking appearance. Also, the needles are grouped into a fascicle—each fascicle has a bundle of 5 needles.
-Red pines have “stocky” looking needles that are clustered at the ends of the tree branches. On a red pine, fascicles have 2 needles each. The bark on red pines looks slightly reddish as well.
-Spruces do not have fascicles. Instead, the needles come out all along the twig. Also, if you were to cut a spruce needle in half, the cross-section would look triangular. Norway spruces specifically have needles that droop and produce very long cones.
Friends host was Olympia Mathiaparanam, who also provided this summary and photographs. Thank you all.