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Wild Side: The summer wild flower show

Our 10-week-old golden retriever Jack is an energetic pup with sharp teeth.  I took him for a long walk around our place to introduce him to his territory as our new Chief of Homeland Security. I was hoping to wear him out a bit but that was wishful thinking. It was fun watching the little fur ball follow his nose and pounce into the tall grass. He’s following in the footsteps of our late Badger, who covered nearly every square inch of our place on many walks and hunting expeditions.

The setting was gorgeous. The late afternoon sun lit up the trees along the edge of the woods and the made the flowers in the prairie glow. We had burned most of our planted prairie in April. It greened up quickly after the burn. The grasses now are lush after all the rain in June. Many species of wildflowers are in bloom, attracting insects to pollinate them.

Orange greater fritillaries, yellow tiger swallowtails, red admirals, red-spotted purples and a surprising number of monarch butterflies patrolled the purple coneflowers probing for nectar. Both common and swamp milkweeds were blooming with pink flowers, hosting the green, white and black striped monarch butterfly larvae and several species of beetles that can tolerate the latex sap that is poisonous to most other insects.

Showy purple bergamot, spiky white of Culver’s root, red spears of blazing star, yellow gray-headed coneflowers and cup plants, clusters of white wild quinine, spikes of blue vervain, and purple clover were scattered throughout the prairie. Tall sunflowers, stiff goldenrod and rattlesnake master were ready to bloom. Carol was especially pleased to find a purple-fringed orchid.

We aren’t botanists but we do enjoy trying to identify the hundreds of plant species that live here. Botanizing, like butterfly watching or bird watching, is a great reason to be outdoors. Native plants are diverse enough to challenge the amateur scientist, providing fine days of observation and evenings of study.

Our interest in native plants has been advanced by The Prairie Enthusiasts (TPE). TPE is a private non-profit volunteer organization committed to the protection and management of native prairie and savanna of the Upper Midwest. The St. Croix Valley Chapter of TPE helps preserve some of the last remaining pieces of the once vast but now endangered prairie savannas in this region through land protection and management.

The St. Croix Valley Chapter of TPE manages four prairie and oak savanna areas in Pierce and St. Croix Counties in Wisconsin and one in Washington County, Minnesota. During winter we remove invasive red cedar and buckthorn and burn them on site. In the spring we conduct prescribed burns to rejuvenate native plants. In the summer we enjoy guided field trips to learn about native plants and their ecosystems. In the fall we collect seed to plant back into the restoration areas.

If you are interested in learning more about TPE, you can see their web site at or call Evanne Hunt at 715-381-1291. Don’t miss the St. Croix Chapter TPE Prairie Days on Aug. 23. You can learn about native ecosystems and enjoy the summer flower show.

Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at

--Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist