This Month in the Driftless, November 2020

Here's a recap of Driftless Area phenology from the past month, written by our very own Pat Trochlell.  Pat's inspiration comes from her career as a wetland ecologist with the Wisconsin DNR.  She and her husband, Ken Wade, live near and are stewards of TPE's 30-acre Parrish Oak Savanna, a diverse woodland ecosystem of over 240 native species.

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5 November 2020

As the leaves have fallen from most of the trees and shrubs, this is a good time of year to observe woody plants’ other characteristics. Bark, buds, and bud scales are important cues to species identification. Some characteristics are even more noticeable without leaves. One plant that falls into this category is bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), also known as yellow-bud hickory. Its sulfur-yellow buds are quite distinctive, especially in bright sunlight.

Yellow-bud hickory. Photo by Pat Trochlell

Another woody plant with distinctive buds is American basswood (Tilia americana) with reddish, smooth, rounded buds. American hazelnut (Corylus americana), with its orange and red fall foliage gone, is still easy to identify by its hairy twigs and dangling catkins.

Buds of American basswood. Photo by Pat Trochlell

Observing leaf scars on twigs can help you determine which species of ash tree you have, which may then tell you a lot about whether you’re in wetland or upland woods. Similarly, knowing that willows have a single bud scale and that most willows grow in wetlands can inform you about habitat. Fall is a great time to take a walk in the woods, and even though the leaves have fallen we can continue to botanize.

American hazelnut catkins. Photo by Pat Trochlell


12 November 2020

Last week’s unseasonably warm – some would say hot – weather led to an unusual opportunity for additional prescribed burning. Burning was occurring across the region, as evidenced by the number of smoke plumes which could be seen from high vantage points. This was especially fortuitous, considering most burning had been cancelled in spring. A very effective burn occurred at Parrish Oak Savanna. The burn was led by burn boss Andy Sleger, who did an awesome job of leading the intrepid crew and took some nice photos during and after the event.

The intrepid burn crew. Photo by Andy Sleger

Although we seldom think of mid-November as a prime time for flower blooms, some plants braved the cold. A lone zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) was seen blooming after fall leaves raked for a burn break exposed it. Another species that is only just starting to bloom is witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). The flowers are fragrant and pale to bright yellow, with 4 petals 1 to 2 cm in length. They are most distinctive because they open in the autumn and reach their peak when leaves are falling. With a flower blooming in fall you may ask what insect pollinates them. The answer is a moth called an owlet moth, which remains active on cold nights. Look for witch hazels in shady deciduous woods and on forest edges.

Witch-hazel in bloom. Photo by Pat Trochlell


19 November 2020

Recently, a group of TPE volunteers got together to play an important role in restoring a native plant community by spreading seeds in a wetland. When planting prairie seeds, you may have to do a lot of hill climbing, but wetlands are generally pretty flat. This may make working in wetlands sound like an easy task, but not when you sink in organic soils up to your knees. Waterproof boots help, but several of us seeders were dirt-covered by the time all the seed was planted.

Approaching the wetland. Photo by Ron Lutz II

For this particular wetland, the process of restoration began several years ago when cows were fenced out. Next, the site’s soils, hydrology and degraded plant community were evaluated. An ongoing process of invasive plant removal began, including the control of a large clone of cattails with help from a state-funded grant. Many hours of volunteer time have been spent both collecting and planting seeds. 

The ultimate goal for this wetland is to restore a southern sedge meadow, which will mimic the original plant community that occurred here prior to disturbance. It is expected to take several years to establish the key plants in this degraded system. But there is reason to hope for the future of this wetland. As we planted seeds, we saw that many species of native plants are already established, including a small green plant growing quite happily in a groundwater seep. The plant, cursed crowfoot (Ranunculus sceleratus), is a pioneer species that can come in quickly under very wet conditions. But it isn’t expected to remain on this site for long, as other mid- to late-successional species become established. But it is a welcome sign that wetlands are resilient. In time, this wetland may be able to return to its pre-disturbance condition.  

Cursed crowfoot thrives in a spring seep.  Photo by Pat Trochlell


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  • Patricia Trochlell
    published this page in Blog 2020-11-23 10:14:56 -0600