Site 6 John Muir Wayside/Prairie

"God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild."  John Muir

Although this Wisconsin Historical Marker was proposed about the time of the dedication of John Muir Park on County Road F in Marquette County in 1957, it wasn't installed and dedicated until September of 1969. Wisconsin has over 500 historical markers.  The link below will take you to a list of them at the Wisconsin Historic Society.

Looking to the east and to the west from this wayside will provide a view that may be similar to what John Muir would have seen walking this path. The tall grass prairie to the east offers a variety of seasonal wild flowers including the blue tint of  Spider Wort  (photo below), yellow faces of Brown Eyed Susans, Lead Plant, Cup Plant and in the fall, golden waves of Indian grass and Blue Stem.  To the west the wetland marsh and oak savanna are hunted by red tail and sharp shinned hawks, provide a home to nesting Sandhill cranes,and hosts a variety of ducks and local wildlife including fox, coyote, and white tailed deer. The near 300 acres you are viewing is held in private conservation easement through the Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust.  Please do not trespass, but enjoy the beauty of these native plant prairies that have been restored and are maintained by the owners of the land. 

         From the DNR website:  Wisconsin's prairies fall into three basic types. Combinations exist where two different types meet.

Wet Prairie: Lots of water, deep clay silt loam or peat soil, poor drainage. Marsh milkweed and prairie cordgrass are two species of plants common to the wet prairie.

Mesic Prairie: Some water, medium-deep silt or sandy loam soil, good drainage. These areas are dominated by tall grasses: big bluestem and Indian grass. Here you will also find rosinweed and yellow coneflower. By late summer, flowers of the mesic prairie may reach 4 to 6 feet high.

Dry Prairie: Little water, dry shallow soil over sand or limestone. Dry prairies on steep slopes are also called "goat prairies." Little bluestem, sideoats grama, and purple coneflowers can be found here.

Sometimes you may be lucky enough to see someone burning a prairie. It may be a private owner or the DNR on public land.  These burns must be well controlled and permitted.  They are done for a number of reasons.  Some specific advantages of prescribed burns include:

  • stimulating prairie grass growth and improve habitat for upland game and waterfowl;
  • creating pockets of open water for waterfowl amidst cattails proliferating in low areas;
  • improving cover type for upland nesting birds, such as pheasants, and spur native vegetative growth for songbirds; and
  • helping preserve grassland, savanna, and many forest plant communities sustained by natural fires prior to intensive European settlement

.Prior to European settlement, fires started by lightening, for instance, were not stopped like they are today and Indians burned the landscapes to improve hunting conditions.  Fewer fires allows scrub brush and trees to grow, crowding out prairies and changing the landscape. 

If you see a blackened field, don't despair.  It restores the health of the prairie quickly and the lush growth of prairie plants soon returns. 

From the DNR:

Many prairie plants are adapted for a dry, windy, hot climate. Leaves of prairie plants tend to be long and narrow to prevent overheating. Some plants have divided leaves or broad leaves held stiffly upright, to expose less surface to the sun. Fleshy, hairy leaves and sticky sap help hold in moisture. Plants also have buds at or below the soil surface and a lot of root mass below ground--an adaptation to the natural fires that occurred in the grassland ecosystems. Prairies need fire. Without it, invading trees and shrubs gradually turn grasslands into woodlands.

In places where grasslands neared the forest edge, oak trees spread out across the prairie. Settlers called these parklike grasslands "oak openings." Today, they are known as oak savannas. A prairie oak's shade creates a microclimate underneath its boughs, allowing prairie plant species with broader leaves to thrive in the cooler, more even temperatures and moister soils.

Prairie soil is rich soil. It is this richness that attracted European farmers and altered the prairie landscape. Today, only scattered remnants of tallgrass prairie and oak savanna remain in Wisconsin.

Turk's Cap Lily. You can see this along the roadsides as well as in prairies in Marquette County.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread; places to play in and places to pray in, where nature may heal and cheer, and give strength to body and soul alike.”John Muir

Prairie Dock.  From the Prairie Nursery: With leaves like elephant ears and flowers literally as high as an elephant's eye, Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) is a truly unique plant! Sunflower-like blooms appear on giant stalks for a month or longer. Very long-lived, individual plants can flourish for decades. Birds love the seeds.

Look for this along the roadsides of Marquette County.

Vervain

Hoary Puccoon

Culver's Root

Astor

The diversity of plant life on healthy prairies provides habitat for hundreds of species of insect and wildlife.  Marquette County is fortunate to have landowners who dedicate themselves to restoring and maintaining prairies.  One example of how loss of habitat effects wildlife is the Monarch Butterfly.  Its numbers have decreased drastically over the years. One reason is the reduction of Milkweed that used to grow throughout Wisconsin but has been killed by herbicides, destroyed by mowing, and seen as a weed by many people. It is critical in the life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly.  Above is a Monarch caterpillar on Whorled Milkweed, another species of the plant.  Below is a butterfly feeding on Butterfly Weed that can be found along roadsides and in prairies in Marquette County.  Below that is the familiar sight of Milkweed in fall sending out its seed. 

Find the birds and plants that John Muir loved in Marquette County

Below is a list of those he writes about in My Boyhood and Youth

Some are gone (the Passenger Pigeon and the Prairie Chicken), but how many can you find in the county?

 


Birds

1.      Bluejay

2.      Canada Geese

3.      Bluebird and nest

4.      Woodpecker..red headed

5.      Brown thrushes or thrasher

6.      Kingbirds , it would be the     eastern kingbird

7.      Night hawks 

       Hen hawks (a 1903 book described this as a red tailed or red shouldered hawk)

9.      Whip poor wills

10.  Flickers

11.  Woodpeckers,  “Speckledy” probably Downy or Hairy

12.  Sandhill Cranes

13.  Partridge 

14.  Common Jack Snipe

15.  Loons

16.  Quail

17.  Chickadees

18.  Nuthatches

19.  Robin

20.  Bobolinks

21.  Redwing blackbird

22.  Meadowlark

23.  Song sparrow

24.  Prairie chickens

25.  Bobwhites

29.  Wood ducks

30.  Swans

31.  Passenger Pigeon

 

 Flowers, trees, ferns, moss

1.      White pond lilies

2.      Orchids..yes, there are still orchids in Marquette County

3.      Marsh Marigolds

4.      Early yellow buttercups

5.      Deep purple violets

6.      Shag bark hickory

7.      Tamaracks

8.      Burr Oak

9.      Oaks

10.  White Oak

11.  Ferns: osmundas,claytoniana, regalis, cinnamonmea; sensitive and ostrich

12.  Grasses and sedges

13.  Pasque flower or wind flower  anemone patens nuttalliana

14.  Lady slippers (orchids)

15.  Turk's cap lily

16.  Butterfly weed

17.  Asters

18.  Golden rod

19.  Sunflower

20.  Daisy

21.  Liatris

22.  Wild strawberries

23.  Dewberries

24.  Cranberries, huckleberries

25.  Wild apples

26.  Hazelnuts

27.  Pitcher plant

28.  Wild rice