Just a quick post to mark the wild strawberry crop in our cabin yard. Five years ago, I planted about a half dozen strawberry plants and they spread like crazy. There are enough berries for a strawberry pie -- if only I wanted to pick that many! Think I'll just pick a few and leave the rest to the chipmunks.
I might have been wrong about how hard it would be to attract a pink lady’s slipper to my native plants yard. I thought it would require the skills of a master gardener or a cosmic convergence to attract this gorgeous orchid.
Now I’m thinking benign neglect helped as much as anything. I’ll explain in a bit.
This weekend I discovered three young pink lady’s slipper plants (Cypripedium acaule) in our cabin yard. They’re coming up at the edge of a grove of red pines, just shy of the bluff overlooking Lake 26. They have no flowers yet and it might be years before they’re mature enough to flower. Below is a photo of one of them. The young lady's slipper is in the lower right.
These spectacular pink orchids thrive in our acidic soil, but they need some help. The lady’s slipper seeds are teeny and hold no nutrients inside to help a young plant get started. They rely instead on a particular fungus in the soil to bring them food. The threads of the fungus attach themselves to the seed, break it open, and pass nutrients to the seed. When the orchid plant is more established, the fungus extracts nutrients from its roots. It’s a sweet deal for both orchid and fungus.
In my yard, I recognized the plant for its two leaves that seem to emerge from the ground with no stem. The leaves are a little fuzzy and have several parallel veins in them
Going forward, the plants will need not just a special fungus, but also bees to pollinate any flowers that appear. So now I’m rooting for fungus and bees. I will also continue my practice of benign neglect: create a great space for native flowers and grasses and then pretty much leave that space alone to see what happens.
A few links for more information:
Yesterday we drove up to the pine barrens, a wild and beautiful place in northern Burnett County that sand and fire helped create. When I see the barrens, I feel as though I'm looking into the past, and, of course, I also see a heavenly place for wildflowers.
Here's how "the barrens" began:
When the last glaciers were melting ten thousand years ago, rivers poured from them and dumped and sorted quartz sand over a million acres of northwestern Wisconsin. Today people call this million-acre swath of sand the Northwest Sands Ecological Area, or Northwest Sands for short. Today's pine barrens (and by the way, Lake 26) lie in the middle of this big swath of sand.
As the ice disappeared, trees like pines and oaks started to move in, but wildfires frequently swept across the land and the native Americans who eventually settled in the area probably also set fires to promote game and berry habitat. This created a savannah-type landscape in some areas. When federal government surveyors came through in the 1850s they described the landscape in northwestern Wisconsin (including the area around our lake) as "barrens," that is, relatively bare of trees.
Wildflowers love the barrens. Phlox (pink) and wood betony (yellow) were blooming this week.
The state of Wisconsin owns about 6,000 acres of pine barrens near the Namekagon River and maintains the brush prairie ecosystem with regular prescribed fires. Below is a photo of a patch the state burned a few years ago. The burned area is to the left of the road.
If you're interested in visiting the barrens, here are directions:
From Danbury, WI:
1. Hwy 35 north to Hwy 77; turn right or east on Hwy 77 to Namekagon Rd 13.6 miles
2. Turn left or north on Namekagon Trail Rd and cross the Namekagon River and drive up Namekagon Trail Rd to St. Croix Trail 5.9 miles
3. Turn right on St. Croix Trail
4. Turn left on Dry Landing Road and the barrens are to your right.
And here's a link to a map of the barrens:
For more information about the barrens, contact the Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area. Here's a link to their website: http://www.fnbwa.org/newhome
For years, my mother told us that marijuana grew in the roadside ditches in Burnett County. She pointed out a low, dark-green shrub in the sunny areas alongside the roads. “See?” she’d say with triumph and mischief in her voice. “Marijuana!”
We believed her. But after we bought the cabin from my parents and started spending more time in northwestern Wisconsin, critical thinking skills started to kick in. Really? Marijuana? And by the way, my mother never tried to smoke it.
I discovered that the low shrub is a native plant called sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) and not only is it NOT marijuana, it’s not even a fern. Below are photos of the two plants: first marijuana (courtesy of Commons Wikipedia) and then sweet fern.
You can see a vague resemblance.
I discovered sweet fern is related to wax myrtle and bayberry, plants with fragrant leaves, and sweet fern’s fragrance is reason alone to try growing it. It thrives in -- you guessed it -- nutrient-poor soil like ours, and one reason it can survive here is because it can fix nitrogen. I think of legumes when I think of nitrogen-fixers, but sweet fern uses a different bacteria than legumes use to turn atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form of nitrogen for itself and everybody else in its immediate neighborhood. In other words, sweet fern enriches the soil around it.
I didn’t know any of that when I decided I had to have sweet fern in my cabin yard. I just liked the look of it – kind of prehistoric (plus, it had the marijuana back story). Now I have two sweet fern plants, both purchased from Out Back Nursery near Hastings, MN. I planted them on the north side of our cabin, which is the sunny side. A couple shots of it:
Actually our land is adjacent to county land, and I planted the sweet fern plants just across the line on county land. I figure I have now increased the value of public land, but I doubt my act of generosity will prompt the county to show its gratitude by lowering our taxes.
For the most part, I’m just hoping the plants will grow big and strong and lead a quiet, shrubby life. They might need luck as well as adequate rain and all the usual things plants. need because life is hazardous here. A few years ago, the county foresters brought in a bobcat to cut down a few dead trees that were in danger of falling on our cabin. In the process, their bobcat squashed my (their?) sweet fern flat, but the plant came back the next spring, no problem.
Here’s a link to the Out Back Nursery. http://www.outbacknursery.com/index.htm
Site powered by Weebly. Managed by Porkbun