Not all flowers are created equalThe pine barrens around the Douglas County Bird Sanctuary are an excellent place to search for wildflowers in the spring.
By: Emily Kram, The Daily Telegram
The pine barrens around the Douglas County Bird Sanctuary are an excellent place to search for wildflowers in the spring. After a recent controlled burn, much can be seen on the still charred ground: sand cherries sporting their white flowers, deep golden splashes of bellwort and a discarded beer can glinting in the sun.
A handful of people gathered at the Friends of the Bird Sanctuary club house near Solon Springs on May 31 to go on a walk and look for native wildflowers. But what began as search for blossoms quickly evolved into an impromptu litter clean-up.
Every few yards, another can, bottle or other piece of trash would be spotted and picked up. By the end of the hike, many who had attended returned to the club house with their hands full of litter.
Stephanie Krivinchuk, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, helped lead the wildflower hike. She has worked in the greenhouse at UWS as well as at The Garden House in Solon Springs and is pursuing her degree in biology with an emphasis in plant life. Also helping point out to identify flowers was Robbye Johnson, a self-taught naturalist who serves as the horticulturist at the UWS greenhouse.
The two women led the group to a small lake to begin the hike, pointing out wood anemone, Canada mayflower and polygala (gay-wings) along the way. Near the water’s edge, the delicate white flowers of lanceleaf violets dominated the landscape.
As the hike continued, more varieties of native wildflowers were found and discussed, but more litter was also found. The trash did lessen the enjoyment of the wildflower hike, although the wrappers and cans aren’t likely the largest threat to native wildflowers.
Invasive species, on the other hand, can destroy native plant populations.
In recent years, many gardeners have learned which plants to avoid or are switching to native plants. Still, some well-meaning gardeners wanting to go native end up doing more harm than good when they harvest plants directly from their habitat. Removing flowers from the wild is troublesome for two reasons. First, it depletes the native wildflowers in an area, slowing or preventing their spread. Second, not all flowers found are native.
If, during a walk, you see a flower you like, Johnson said the first step is always to get a book. Never dig up a wildflower and take it with you.
“Get a general field guide and look it up,” she said. “This stuff’s all in books.”
Johnson used a Peterson guide book to learn the basics, but any wildflower guide book will do.
Once the flower has been identified, it can easily be purchased from a nursery. Locally, both The Garden House and Pederson’s Gardens and Landscapes offer a wide variety of native plants.
“I’m trying really hard to advocate native. (But) where would we be without sweet lilacs or tomatoes or green peppers?” Krivinchuk said. “You don’t have to be a purist.”
There are, however, some invasive non-native plants you should avoid planting in your flower garden or around your house.
“European buckthorn is just horrible stuff,” Johnson said. “That’s a shrub, and they still sell it. You can still buy that stuff.”
When Johnson spots invasive plants, she pulls them, but sometimes that isn’t enough. One persistent invasive nemesis she has dealt with is snow on the mountain.
Johnson has seen the plant spread through the forests and kill off competing native flowers. To get rid of snow on the mountain, she recommends fighting it at the surface rather than underground.
“You leave a piece of root and you still have it,” Johnson said. “Beat it to death with a Weedeater; don’t let it make leaves.”
She attacks the plant about four times during the summer to prevent it from making leaves, and she said it eventually dies.
Many local greenhouses still sell flowers that have a tendency to spread and crowd out other plants, but non-invasive, native plants are beginning to catch on.
At The Garden House, Krivinchuk said the selection of local varieties of native plants has nearly tripled.
“Between rescues and collecting seeds, we’re really getting a large diversity,” she said.
In addition to keeping invasive plants out of a flower garden, Krivinchuk also suggests planting flowers that serve a purpose beyond just being pretty.
“Offer something to the bees and the birds and the butterflies,” Krivinchuk said.
And for those who like to enjoy flowers but not plant them, the UWS greenhouse is open to the public in the mornings and houses a collection of tropical and subtropical plants. Johnson said native plants won’t be found inside, though.
“The natives can’t grow in the greenhouse year round because they have to freeze,” Johnson said. “If they don’t freeze, they die.”
Plants to keep
out of your garden
Snow on the mountain
Achillea (the pearl)
Queen Anne’s lace
Butter and egg