On a beautiful Sunday morning, Seth McGee, Biocore Laboratory Manager, led a band of 9 Friends to experience the Prairies. As we walked up the hill past Bill’s Woods, Seth paused for a public service announcement: how to identify poison ivy, growing along the roadside, by its alternate leaf attachment. Box elder, which can also exhibit three leaflets, has leaves that are attached opposite from one another. Eve Emshwiller related that the jewelweed, growing abundantly nearby, is reputed to relieve the skin irritation caused by poison ivy.
When we reached the Biocore Prairie, Seth told how Ann Burgess and Curt Caslavka got permission for UW biology honors program students to learn ecology by restoration of this badly degraded land, beginning with 3/4 acre in 1998. By 2016, the land under restoration had increased to 12 acres, making it the largest laboratory on campus. Seth compares this highly manipulated living laboratory to an Erlenmeyer flask. As one example, he showed us a map of the prairie with the dates of burning identified for individual 20m2 areas. While it is recognized that fire is essential to prairie restoration, this burn study can help to determine the optimum frequency of burning.
Seth showed us some of the other student research projects and identified the plants in bloom, including Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense), bee balm (Monarda spp.) and milkweed. He concluded with a thorough comparison of Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) to Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum). The Prairie dock’s large basal leaves are covered in rough hairs that trap moisture and the drying wind. Its leaves stand upright and act as big “solar panels”. The Compass plant leaves, which rise higher, are deeply lobed to withstand the drying effects of sun and wind. As we thanked Seth for showing us the Prairie, Roma Lenehan pointed to a pair of cedar waxwings searching for their own nest site in the Prairie. Report and photos by the Friends host Doris Dubielzig.
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