The damp weather on the afternoon of September 25th was perfect for searching along the trails of the preserve for fall fungi in all of their fascinating textures and colors. Marie Trest, teacher of the UW Madison Fungi lab course, guided almost eighty fungi fanatics through how to identify some of our local fruiting bodies. With their gills, tubes, teeth, puffballs, forking corals, shelves, and cups, fungi have as many functions in the forest as there were logs to overturn and leaves to comb. Each fungi found had a unique role hinted at by what substrate they were emerging from and the forms they took on. We also learned how to take spore prints to help identify some mushrooms that look similar to one another. Fungi recycle the dying plants and animals of the forest floor into the nutrients needed by new, emerging life. Fungi are pathogens, they provide medicine and food, and they form close symbioses. At the heart of nearly every ecological process, there is a fungus. A special thanks to Marie for sharing her expertise with us and impressing on us just how important and beautiful these too often overlooked organisms are.
Report and photos by Matt Chotlos.
As a sleepy tree frog awoke in the coming dusk of a muggy September evening, its bulbous eyes would have noticed something odd about its usual view from the fieldstone wall at the entrance to Picnic Point. An alien invasion of more than 30 bobbing lights bore down swiftly upon its stone cubby, giving it no choice but to retract back into its daytime guise of being a particularly rotund clump of lichen. To the frog’s relief, the lights mostly sailed right by in the hands of arachnid enthusiasts making a bee-line for the webs strung upon the stone wall’s gates. Puffs of corn starch mist illuminated by eager beams lit up a tapestry of silk between the dark cast-iron bars.
Harvestmen (daddy longlegs) researcher Guilherme Gainett led us on a captivating night-time hike with help from spider researcher Siddharth Kulkarni. The two Sharma Lab experts wove their own web of arachnid facts and stories around the countless eight-legged critters we were finding. Harvestmen and spiders, while they look similar, are two distinct varieties of arachnid. Contrary to popular myth, harvestmen are not venomous like their spider relatives. They also have only one discernible body segment (see picture below). Spiders, in contrast, have a distinct thorax separated from their abdomen by a narrow, flexible waist called a pedicel. Additionally, harvestmen lack the ability to make silk and cannot make webs like their spider cousins.
Orb webs, sheet webs, funnel webs, and other ingenious works of architecture took form before our eyes between leaves and branches. These different web forms tell stories not just of different ways of life, but also different spider evolutionary histories. Some spiders wait for prey to trap themselves, while others actively cast their nets upon prey, or "fish" by swinging long sticky lines. Did you know the organ spiders use to create their silk is called a spinneret? The spinneret is composed of many microscopic "spigots" that each produce a single thread that is woven together into the strands we can see with our naked eyes.
The sparkling jewels of spider eyes glittered from the ground too, as wandering spiders hunted through the leaf litter in the hundreds. We learned that just as cats and dogs have a reflective “tapetum lucidum” layer in their eyes that helps with night vision, so do many spiders! Appreciating this glimpse of the multitudes of arachnids one can find in the Preserve deepened my sense for what little we still know about the eight-legged creatures that live with and around us in Madison. Siddharth told us that for every species of arachnid known to science, there may be another yet to be described.
Stay tuned about further arachnid-themed events in the future as we work with Guilherme and Siddharth to continue to learn about all the eight-legged creatures that call the Preserve home.
Report by Will Vuyk. Photos provided by Eve Emswhiller, Guilherme Gainett, and Will Vuyk.
On a sunny Saturday morning at Frautschi Point, twenty students, community members, and long-time Friends stared intently at a basswood tree about fifteen feet off the trail. The basswood, though a remarkable species in its own right, was not the subject of this intense scrutiny for its own merit alone. This was no tree walk; our leafy friend was abuzz with fluttering warblers. As accomplished birders Jill Feldkamp and Roma Lenehan led us around the forested trails of Frautschi Point, we saw a number of woodpeckers, thrushes, and of course, the sought-after migrating warblers. Just before emerging out into the Biocore Prairie, some of us in the far back even saw a bald eagle!
While many of those in attendance did not have binoculars, we were granted an incredible opportunity to see otherwise distant warblers up close at the Biocore Prairie Bird Banding Station. There we observed the work of the banding team, who graciously allowed us all to crowd around in wonder.
The birds kept on accumulating as we walked down the prairie’s northern forest edge, bathed in warm September sunlight. Jill had warned us before the start of the trip that the bird forecast was poor for today, but as two rose-breasted grosbeaks flew over us as we returned to the parking lot, it confirmed our trip was anything but.
Roma documented that we encountered 32 different species! A sizeable flock, that.
Photos and report by Will Vuyk. Bird list provided by Roma Lenehan.
On August 21st, Dr. Marjorie Rhine, a professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, led a wonderful and enlightening hike called Insect Superpowers in Japanese Culture and Ecological Systems. With 8 attendees present we walked around the Lakeshore Nature Preserve to the Biocore Prairie and ended our hike at the Eagle Heights Community Garden. We started by looking at the rain garden near the Picnic Point entrance. Dr. Rhine, pointed out our first insect, a cicada on a leaf. She then followed up by showing us a haiku by Matsuo Basho “Stillness-the cicada’s cry drills into the rocks." Along the way, we discovered several fascinating superpowers that insects possess. Did you know that dragonflies experience time differently than us!! They can observe and process information more quickly than we can!
We ended our hike at the Eagle Heights Community Garden, where Dr. Rhine, showed us the best spot to find butterflies. We spotted a few monarch butterflies! Report and photo by Diana Tapia Ramon.
On Sunday, July 24th, UW Emeritus Limnology Professor John Magnuson led an educational tour of the Class of 1918 Marsh. In total we had 11 attendees join the trip. We started at Picnic Point Parking lot and followed the walking trail that circles the marsh. Throughout our tour, John provided historical information about the marsh-did you know the marsh use to be a corn field! We also discussed salt runoff impacting the marsh. We finished the tour at the boardwalk lookout which provided a view of the pond hidden behind the cattails! Report by Diana Tapia Ramon, with photos from Glenda Denniston.
On a clear, muggy morning at the entrance to Picnic Point, a couple from Dubuque Iowa, a visitor from Omaha Nebraska, and an assortment of Madison residents and students gathered. All brought together by their interest in foraging, these people were attending Food for Thought: Wild Edible Plants, an enlightening field trip led by Eve Emshwiller, UW Madison Professor of Ethnobotany, and Kelly Kearns, retired WI DNR Invasive Plant Coordinator.
Before moving on to the plants themselves, the event began by leafing through a collection of foraging books recommended by Eve and Kelly. The titles included cookbooks like Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw, The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora by Alan Bergo, as well as more traditional foraging guides like Wild Edible Plantsby John Kallas and the Peterson Field Guide to Wild Edible Plants. Most highly recommended, however, were books by Samuel Thayer (The Forager’s Harvest, Incredible Wild Edibles, Nature’s Garden) whose lived experience as a forager directly informs his expertise on the subject and his writing. Look to his website to see which plants are covered in each of his books: https://www.foragersharvest.com/sams-books.html
All being found just within the plantings around the preserve welcome kiosk, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus), prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) and cattails (genus Typha) volunteered themselves as the first exhibits of the trip. It must be noted that the collecting of plants, for foraging or otherwise, is not allowed in the preserve. However, our leaders Eve and Kelly had special permission to do so just for this event, so we did get to nibble on a few of these plants we would normally have to find elsewhere.
Milkweed gets its name from the milky-white substance it contains within its stems and leaves. This substance, called latex, is toxic, but it loses this quality after boiling. Boiled milkweed flower buds and very young pods (some foragers recommend two or three changes of water to completely flush the toxins) become safe for human consumption.
Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) is a non-native, weedy species that tastes quite similar to spinach (even better than spinach by some accounts). It can be eaten raw or cooked.
Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is another common exotic weed, and it was named “oleraceus” to recognize how good it is to eat! Prickly lettuce (Latuca seriola), another edible, can be distinguished from sow thistle by a row of spines that run along the midrib of each leaf, and by the way it holds its leaves perpendicular to the ground.
Right behind the sow thistle and prickly lettuce, in the small pond directly adjacent to the Picnic Point entrance, were the cattails. Sometimes referred to as a wild “supermarket” for all of its different edible parts, Eve clarified that only certain parts of the cattail are good to eat in each season. Kelly recommended that the green male cattail spike can be steamed at buttered like corn on the cob, and that you can collect bright yellow pollen from the slightly older male flower spikes. The pollen can be used for baked goods, which doesn’t much change the flavor, but adds protein and turns your dough bright yellow.
Before moving further into the preserve, Kelly brought out some day lily (Hemerocallis sp.), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and bee balm (Mondarda sp.) samples to share with the group. Yarrow is good for teas, while all parts of the daylily flower are edible – even the little stamens have a slight peppery taste.
Once inside the preserve gates we learned that native and European highbush cranberries (Viburnum opulus var. americanum or V. opulus var. opulus respectively) are hard to distinguish. They require that you use a hand lens to look at the shape of the small glands present on the petiole right under the leaf base. If the glands are concave (Eve referred to these as “little bowls of yuck”), the plant is non-native V. opulus var. opulus and bears unpleasantly bitter fruit. If the glands are convex, the berries should be palatable after the first frost!
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is another edible fruit found in the area, and is familiar to many people under the guise of elderberry syrup, a common supplement for immune system support. In addition to the dark purple berries, the flower blossoms can also be used for a variety of culinary purposes, like being fried and battered as fritters or being part of a sparkling elder flower cordial with lemon or sumac.
Walnuts were next along the stone wall, and we learned that native black walnuts (Juglans nigra) do have a distinct taste from the European walnuts you find at the store. There is a man who collects local black walnuts from yards around Madison, processes them and sells them for a hefty price at farmer’s markets: https://spectrumnews1.com/wi/milwaukee/news/2021/10/13/collecting-black-walnuts
Eve recommended that you get the walnut husk off as soon as possible, and then one of our attendees chimed in from experience that it takes three weeks for the exposed nuts to dry and cure before eating. Many other Wisconsin trees and shrubs have edible fruits and nuts. The serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), and oaks (Quercus spp.) were mentioned by Eve and Kelly on this field trip. Acorns from the white oak group were recommended over red oak acorns because of their lesser tannin content. They need to be mashed and flushed with water to remove the tannins, then dried and used as flour.
Once we were back on the main path out to picnic point Kelly pointed out black currants (YUM!), grape vine tendrils (YUM! Exquisitely tart), and dogbane (YUCK! Don’t eat anything called “bane”). Also in the YUCK! category, always avoid bittersweet nightshade and white snakeroot. Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) produces bright red berries that are attractive to young children but can be fatal. White snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is so toxic that one can die from drinking the milk of a cow that ate it. “Milk sickness,” or being exposed to the snakeroot toxin through milk, is rumored to have killed Abraham Lincoln's Mother.
Surprisingly, while stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) can give you a painful rash, if cooked it is a tasty and nutritious green. Wood nettle (Laportea canadensis) similarly can be cooked and eaten. Even common yard weeds, like dandelions (Taraxacum spp.) and the broadleaf plantain (Plantago major), can be of use to foragers. All parts of the dandelion are edible, and Eve suggested trying to make “dandinoodles” from the stalks of dandelion flower buds as described in Stephen Barstow’s Around the World in 80 Plants (not to be mistaken for another book with the same title by Jonathan Drori). Just boil with salt as you would regular pasta noodles! See also http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?tag=dandinoodles). The broadleaf plantain is not as much of a culinary plant as it is a useful medicinal for making poultices. Kelly affirmed that it works well on bruises.
A few more edible plants we encountered on our way out were American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), woodsorrel (Oxalis stricta) – only to be eaten in moderation - and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum),which has a characteristically square stem like other members of the mint family.
While this wrapped up our Food for Thought: Wild Edible Plants trip, Kelly mentioned she is also part of foraging field trip put on by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin in early summer in Spring Green. I you want to keep any eye out for info on the 2023 foraging trip, and other Natural Resource Foundation trips, check out this website:
Many thanks to our wonderful leaders Eve Emshwiller and Kelly Kearns and our intrepid attendees! Thanks as well to Friends field tripper extraordinaire Doris Dubielzig for providing me with her notes and photos. Report by Will Vuyk, with photos from Doris Dubielzig.
On Sunday, July 10th, Susan Carpenter led the Bees and other Native Pollinators event. In total we had 4 attendees join the trip. We began our journey looking at the rain gardens near the entrance of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve. We didn’t see bees (yet) but observed the various plant species growing. We then headed towards the Biocore Prairie where we saw a total of 7 bee species (i.e., B. rufocinctus, B. borealis). Susan handed out helpful material to help attendees identify male vs. female bees. Overall, it was a great event and attendees seemed to have fun from asking great questions to getting close and observing the bees. Report and photo by Diana Tapia Ramon.
Invasive Plants of the Preserve, presented Sunday morning, 12 June 2022 by Anne Pearce, Invasive Species Outreach Specialist at UW-Madison. We had a small but very engaged group for this Sunday morning walk. Anne began by providing the official definition of “invasive species,” that is, a non-native species that has the potential to cause harm (ecological or economic). People often use the phrase more broadly, but although a native species may be aggressive, or even “weedy,” it is not technically invasive.
Anne began by showing some invasive plants that are right near the entrance to the path towards Picnic Point. We saw reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea), and learned to recognize it by its large ligule where the leaf sheath meets the blade. This species covers large areas where it crowds out other kinds of plants and becomes the only species in the stand, especially in wet ground. Another plant that is very near to the trail entrance is European Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. opulus (a.k.a., Guelder-rose), an invasive species which is difficult to distinguish from the closely related native American highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus var. americanum, sometimes still sold under the older name Viburnum trilobum). The best way to distinguish between them visually is to use a hand lens (loupe) and examine the small glands that are at the top of the leaf stalks (petioles), just below the leaf blade. If the glands are concave, like tiny bowls, the shrub is the European invasive, whereas the glands are convex it is the native one (see more at https://extension.umaine.edu/cranberries/highbush-cranberry/). Unfortunately, those along the path toward Picnic Point are the invasive kind.
In beds around the trees along the stone wall we saw some other invasive species. There were two different bedstraw species (Galium spp.), one with Velcro-like hooks along the stem, and one without. The one with Velcro-like hooks (Galium aparine) is native, can stick to clothing, and is also known as cleavers. Smooth bedstraw (Galium mollugo), which lacks the sticky hairs, is a non-native, invasive species. Both species can be problematic weeds in gardens and farms. Another invasive species found in the same area near the entrance is known as goutweed, bishop’s weed, or bishop’s goutweed, Aegopodium podagraria, which is invasive by means of vegetative growth of rhizomes. It has been used as a ground cover because it spreads quickly, and is still sold for that purpose. However, the same characteristic makes it problematic. It is difficult to eradicate from gardens, and can even escape into forests if a garden with this plant is adjacent to a forest.
Bishop’s goutweed illustrates one of the ways that plants can be invasive; in this case by spreading vegetatively. A different way that a plant may become invasive is to spread by seeds, especially if the fruits are eaten by birds, and then dispersed after passing through the birds’ digestive tracts. We saw and discussed several shrubs that are in this category. The first was European buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica, which has fruit that is eaten by birds, and that then causes diarrhea (notice the word “cathartic” within the name?), causing the seeds to be spread in the birds’ feces. Similarly, several species of invasive bush honeysuckles (Lonicera × bella, L. morrowii and L. tatarica) are infamous for being dispersed by birds. Thanks to a lot of work by both staff and volunteers, much progress has been made in reducing the numbers of buckthorn and honeysuckle at the preserve, especially along the paths that are most visited, such as the path out to Picnic Point. One other shrub that is not yet as problematic as buckthorn and honeysuckle, but which has the potential to be just as invasive, is the winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus). It is commonly grown as an ornamental, and is beginning to appear in woods, similarly to the other invasive woody species. There is a similar species, wahoo, Euonymus atropurpureus, which is native to our area, and would make a good substitute for the non-native species. In response to a question about removing and replacing invasive shrubs, Anne suggested a decision tree available at https://woodyinvasives.org/ to help homeowners decide whether they should remove invasive species from their yards and gardens. She also distributed a handy brochure that lists non-invasive species that can be used as substitutes for invasive ornamental species. The brochure is also available here: https://woodyinvasives.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/LA-Brochure_WEB_FINAL.pdf
A few other invasive species that we learned about were either found along the trail or discussed in spite of our not seeing any. One participant spotted a single plant of greater celandine, Chelidonium majus, so that Anne could describe how to distinguish it from the similar looking native wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum). The plants are both in the poppy family and are not easy to tell apart by their leaves, although the native species has larger flowers. They are easiest to distinguish when they have fruit (seed pods), which are narrow and point up in the invasive celandine, but wider, hairy, and drooping in the native wood poppy (see images at https://bplant.org/compare/586-8527). We did not see porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), but discussed how problematic it is becoming in certain Madison neighborhoods. It is also difficult to distinguish from its close relative wild grapevine by leaves alone, but can be easily distinguished when its upward-facing, multicolored, pastel fruits (that look like porcelain) are ripening, which do not look like downward-hanging wild grapes. We also heard about the annual garlic mustard pull in early spring, during which many volunteers help to remove this invasive plant from the woods of the preserve.
The participants in this walk are undoubtedly better prepared to recognize and fight invasive plants after this interesting morning. Thanks, Anne! Report by Eve Emshwiller
Links to illustrations of highbush cranberry glands here:
These both come from this page:
Sunday's walk was fun. It was sunny, cool and windy, very comfortable. 17 participants, led by Jeff Koziol, Bluebird trail coordinator, were able to see a bluebird nest and eggs, a tree swallow nest with eggs and a house wren nest. We were able to let everyone identify flying bluebirds and tree swallows. Chuck Henderson gave us all a real treat by finding a yellow billed Cuckoo (sound only) and to observe a perching kingbird. There was a good discussion about problems with cavity nesting birds and loss of habitat, problems of a cold spring and loss of insects. Everyone learned about the problems of house sparrows and competition for nesting sites. We were able to observe the ideal bluebird habitat, the shortgrass prairie around house 5. This is the first year that boxes haven't been occupied by house sparrows!
Seth McGee, Biocore lab manager and Purple Martin (PUMA) House monitor, gave a well organized talk about purple martins. We all learned something new. Seth also talked about the Biocore Prairie. It was wonderful; he talked about the importance of fire to maintain the prairie and the ongoing study at the Biocore Prairie dividing the prairie into sections and selectively burning some sections with an unburned control section. Jeff was able to show people his plant I.D. app and how much it adds to a walk. If you are out on a hike or bird walk, why not check all the plants?
Seth added this information: PUMAs line their nests with green leaves shortly before the egg laying begins. "The gathering of green leaves is still somewhat of a mystery. BirdsOfTheWorld says that at least seven hypotheses have been offered to explain it and there seems to be few controlled studies investigating the role of green leaves. I'm going with "decorating the nursery. 😉"
Richard Ness, PUMA monitor, the next day added photos of Purple Martins gathering leaves from the nearby fruit trees for lining their nests, as a well a Cooper's Hawk standing guard nearby and keeping away unwanted sparrows. Report by Jeff Koziol and Seth Mcgee. Photos by Chuck Henrikson, Signe Holtz, Seth Mcgee and Paul Noeldner.
The spring wildflower planting was done at fire circle #3, next to the small beach at the Narrows on Picnic Point. Hundreds of forbs, sedges, grasses and shrubs were all planted to help stem the erosion and beautify the heavily used area. The Preserve student seasonal staff will do follow-up watering and monitoring of the plantings. Participants were Ann Burgess, Biz Nitschke, Doris Dubielzig, Roma Lenehan, Glenda Denniston, Kathi Dwelle, Rick and Nancy Lindroth, Kelly Kearns. Bryn Scriver was the Lakeshore Preserve Volunteer Coordinator.