Iltis Savanna

Iltis Savanna is a 21.5 acre complex of woods, savanna and dry prairie that is adjacent to Muralt Bluff in the southeast quarter of Section 25 of Mt. Pleasant Township in Green County, Wisconsin.  It was purchased by The Prairie Enthusiasts in December, 1999, and it is named for Dr. Hugh H. Iltis, eminent Professor of Botany at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and Director of the UW Herbarium from 1955 to 1993.

Site stewards
Prairie Bluff Chapter

Access & directions

Public access to Iltis Savanna is from the parking lot of Muralt Bluff, next to W2635 County F, between Monticello and Albany.  Take the hiking path up the steep bluff to the top of the hill, and then walk east toward the oak trees.  

Description & significance
South of these oaks is a 4-acre former agricultural crop field that was one large sumac clone when we began management.  Over the years we have removed these trees and brush, and we have begun to plant this parcel back to prairie.  Our first planting was in the fall of 2014 on the west end which borders Muralt Bluff.  We planted another strip in fall of 2015, and we will continue to plant about an acre a year with grasses and forbs that we collect from our other preserves. 
As you walk east along the north edge of this field, the woodlot to your left is an example of what happens when grazing animals are removed from a farmstead that has a few oak trees.  Walnuts, hickories, cherries, cedars and basswoods eventually crowd out the oaks, and the floral understory is filled in with blackberries, dogwood, sumac, prickly ash and honeysuckle.
Across this field is a locust grove that will be removed prior to planting.  We have funds available for this task through a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grant to help us restore prairie pollinators on behalf of the Monarch Butterfly Initiative.  We have planned to make these plantings rich with all species of milkweeds.
The core of Iltis Savanna is a mature bur and white oak savanna with some black and red oaks and an understory of woodland sedges.  The chapter has thinned out portions of the formerly dense woods by harvesting and selling basswood logs from the north end.  The best of the savanna occupies the crown of a north-south bluff with a thin limestone cap over sandstone.  Trout lily, blue cohosh and shooting stars are present in spring, while the asters and goldenrods dominate summer through fall.
Above the maintenance two-track is a steep west-facing bluff, partially covered with vines, brush and recovering prairie.  Between this bluff and the savanna is a dry prairie dominated by little bluestem, with both bird’s foot and prairie violet, spiderwort, violet wood sorrel, asters, goldenrods and blazing stars.  Hill’s thistle, a state-threatened plant, is common here. 
A keen eye will make out the former farm dump that lies at the bottom of a ravine on the side of the bluff.  For 10 years the chapter worked to clean up the dump, recycling metals, hauling off parts of cars, trucks and washing machines, toys, cans, bottles and glass.  Finally in 2012 we hired a contractor to bury what was left of the dump.  There was not enough topsoil to cover all of it, so a few truckloads of fill was brought in.  We began to plant prairie species – mostly little bluestem, dropseed and lead plant – over the dump.  The summer of 2016 will be the fourth growing season for this planting and the top portion is filling in nicely.  But the fill we brought in contained reed canary grass and all the clover seeds, which remain a problem.      
Iltis Savanna was probably the most degraded of all our sites at the time of purchase.  The aerial photo from 1939 shows a mostly open landscape, with so few open-grown oak trees that they can be counted.  Fire is an essential management tool here; to promote the growth of native sedges and forbs, and to retard the growth of the briars and brambles that are first to fill in the recently cleared spaces.

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