Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

The bane of woodlands!!! This non-native plant can quickly overrun a woodland or savanna with a “take no prisoners” approach. When we purchased our land in 2005, the remnant oak-hickory woodland was a garlic mustard monoculture. We began in earnest to remove it.

Working smarter rather than harder, I use knowledge when I need workarounds. Determining the best answer for my goals and my unique piece of land requires a hybrid system of academic studies, biological sciences, and a dash of anecdotal evidence. I’m sharing in hopes it helps you, too.

Helpful Garlic Mustard Facts

  • Can self pollinate (Anderson et al. 1996; Chapman et al. 2012)
  • Seedbank persistance can be 3 years (Nuzzo 1991)
  • Seeds dispersed via foot traffic, animal fur, and water movement and not by wind (Cavers et al. 1978)

Garlic mustard
Garlic mustard

These two photos show the root system varies for each garlic mustard plant. We expect to see the taproot. The additional roots were a surprise.

Garlic mustard

A second year plant in bloom but not yet with silenes, the thin pod-like projectiles that house the seeds in a line like peas.

Garlic mustard

A line drawing that clearly shows the silenes. Source: unknown

Management Requires a Combination of Tools

Garlic mustard greens up in spring early, before many of the native plants. This is convenient.  Management can be timed so no collateral damage to spring ephemerals occur.


When we began controlling garlic mustard, we sprayed rosettes with 2% glyphosate in spring and again in the fall. Pulling those we missed was necessary follow up. In the first 6 years, we substantially decreased the infestation. But we began to notice deformed garlic mustard plants; they were growing, flowering, and appeared to be setting seed. I do not know if these seeds were viable. Were the plants becoming resistant to glyphosate? In 2011, we switched herbicides to Garlon 4® (sometimes mixed with water and sometimes mixed with bark oil) and are having better success. Whatever herbicide you choose, read and follow the label directions.

Hand pulling

There’s good news! “Uprooting plants at the flowering stage prevented production of any viable seed, while early- and late-fruiting plants were still able to produce viable seed (Chapman et al 2012).

The study further demonstrated height and seed production were correlated; 13” or shorter plants had low seed viability and 16” or taller plants had high seed viability (Chapman et al. 2012). The plant’s phenological stage is also a significant “tell;” early fruiting plants (silenes visible but flowers still attached) had significantly more viable seed than late-fruiting plants (silenes only) (Chapman et al. 2012).

Mowing or weed whacking

Mowing is effective for 2 reasons. Cutting at the ground level “resulted in 99% mortality and reduced seed production to virtually zero” (Nuzzo 1991). Cutting around 4” high had 74% mortality and 98% seed reduction (Nuzzo 1991; Chapman et al. 2012). Mowed plants late in the season typically do not regrow after mowing (Cavers et al 1978). Yet, some may appear to resprout, but they lack the stored resources after bolting and will not produce viable seed (Chapman et al 2012). Knowing the biology of this plant helps us to know mowing is effective.

We weed whack the larger patches as a triage method when we don’t have time to pull the plants before they set seed.


There are a couple ways to use fire – prescribed burns and flame weeding.

Prescribed burns can be effective at the proper timing. When garlic mustard is in the rosette stage, fire can kill it. We had a 10×10 patch of garlic mustard, burned it, and the following year, none returned. What did grow was non-native cool season grasses. Not sure which is worse! 

Flame weeding uses a backpack flame weeder works similar to herbiciding — a particular plant is targeted and zapped. Fire wandering away from the target is something to be prepared for but if done when humidity is high or when morning dew remains.


Grazing isn’t an effective tool for garlic mustard control. The plant contains a chemical that deters herbivory (Chapman et al 2012) and can add an unpleasant flavor to milk from animals grazing this (Cavers et al 1978). Unfortunately, we can’t depend on deer to graze it either; they find it “completely inedible” (Kalisz et al 2014). And more unfortunate, where deer are abundant so is garlic mustard because they depress native plants with their grazing.

For more info on prescribed fire, in general.

Combine Management Techniques

Using different management techniques and tools ensures biodiversity and saves resources! As much as we all want a single “magic bullet” there isn’t one. Mix and match these management tools and planning follow up ensures success.

The native plants returned once we controlled the garlic mustard. Plants that we now enjoy that were suppressed include shooting star, Indian pipe, bellwort, wild geranium, wood anemone, solomon’s seal, false Solomon seal, and yellow pimpernel to name a few. Diversity is the key to a good healthy environment.

Below is a picture of our “purple carpet” of wild geranium. When these bloom, the woods have a wonderful light perfumely aroma! This is the reward for our persistent work removing the garlic mustard.

Wild geranium in woods


Anderson, Roger C., Dhillion, Shivcharn S. and Kelley, Timothy M. (1996), Aspects of the Ecology of an Invasive Plant, Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), in Central Illinois. Restoration Ecology, 4: 181-191.

Cavers, Paul B., Heagy, Muriel I., & Kokron, Robert F. (1979). The biology of canadian weeds.: 35. Alliaria petiolata (M. Bieb.) Cavara and Grande. Canadian Journal of Plant Science59(1), 217-229.

Chapman, Julia I, Philip D. Cantino, Brian C. McCarthy. 2012. Seed Production in Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Prevented by Some Methods of Manual Removal.” Natural Areas Journal 32(3): 305-315.

Kalisz, Susan & Spigler, Rachel & Horvitz, Carol. (2014). In a long-term experimental demography study, excluding ungulates reversed invader’s explosive population growth rate and restored natives. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 111. 10.1073/pnas.1310121111.

Nuzzo V. 1991.  Experimental control of garlic mustard [Alliaria petiolata (Bieb.) Cavara & Grande] in northern Illinois using fire, herbicide, and cutting. Natural Areas Journal 11: 158-167.

Poison Ivy – Live and Let Live

I haven’t thought about poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) in a very long time. When a friend sent two photos of it for ID confirmation last week, it became a highlight of my week. As we discussed this plant, the initial response was to get rid of it. Yet it’s native and wildlife depend on native plants. How many depend on this “unpopular” plant? I had to know.

As humans, we immediately want to eradicate anything that might cause us harm. Rather than learn to live with it and understand its value, our reaction is to kill it and remove it.

What if…we left it?

Electing to live in harmony with poison ivy means my small piece of the earth could gain from the diversity and benefits of this native plant and I could keep myself safe. Solid identification skills, a grasp of what makes it hazardous, and a list of wildlife using the plant makes living with poison ivy safe and enjoyable.

Poison Ivy Has Leaves of Three, But…

Poison ivy can be tricky to identify. While the “leaves of three” mantra is what I grew up learning as a way to identify the plant, it was confusing as there are many plants with 3 leaves. Adding to the complexity of this plant is its color changes —  “reddish in the spring; green in the summer; and yellow, orange or red in the fall” (Wilson, nd). And compounding that, poison ivy can be found as a hairy-looking vine climbing a tree, a small shrub, or a mass collection of short plants. However you might encounter it, all parts (roots, stem, leaves) can cause a skin rash.

The oily substance in poison ivy is “…urushiol (oo-roo-shee-ohl). Its name comes from the Japanese word “urushi,” meaning lacquer”(Wilson, nd). When urushiol makes contact with the skin, the body sends the white blood cells to fight this foreign substance. As the body’s immune system neutralizes this foreign agent some normal tissue gets damaged in the process. This damage is what we see on our skin as a rash.


Wildlife Uses Poison Ivy

Studying the biota as we restore our land’s native ecosystems caused me look at these “plants that could hurt me” differently. Each native plant is a host to insects, meaning they require this plant to sustain the next generation. These insects, in turn, are the protein birds, reptiles, amphibians, and small mammals require to raise their young. Berries and seeds are adult food; the babies require protein and that means insects. Aha! I began to look at all native plants with new eyes.

A little research uncovered 153 invertebrates, 48 birds, and 7 mammals that depend on or use this plant in some way to sustain life. While not an exhaustive list, it is an impressive list.

Coleoptera (Beetles)

Altica chalybea (Habeck 1988)
Analeptura lineola (Senchina, 2005, Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Apsectus hispidus (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Astyleiopus variegatus  (Habeck 1988)
Astylidius parvus (Steyskal 1951, Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Astylopus macula (Senchina 2005)
Bassareus brunnipes (Habeck 1988)
Calligrapha floridana (Habeck 1988)
Chalcodermus aeneus (Habeck 1988)
Chauliognathus marginatus (Senchina, 2005)
Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus (Senchina, 2005, Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Cryptorhynchus fuscatus (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Ctenicera hamatus (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Derocrepis erythropus (Habeck 1988)
Diplotaxis bidentata (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Enoclerus rosmarus (Senchina, 2005, Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Euderces picipes – Senchina and Summerville 2007
Eugnamptus collaris (Habeck 1988)
Eupogonius  vestitus (Senchina 2005)
Eusphyrus walshi (Steyskal 1951, Senchina 2005)
Hypothenemus toxicodendri  (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Leiopus variegatus (Senchina 2005)
Leptostylus albescens (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Lepturges querci (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Lepturges signatus (Steyskal 1951, Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Madarellus undulatus  (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Molorchus sp. – Senchina and Summerville 2007
Oberea ocellata (Senchina 2005)
Orthaltica copalina  (Steyskal 1951, (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Pachnaeus opalis  (Habeck 1988)
Pachybrachys tridens  (Steyskal 1951, (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Phyllophaga uklei (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Pityophthorous consimilis (Senchina 2005)
Pityophthorous rhois (Senchina 2005)
Pityophthorus corruptus (Habeck 1988)
Pityophthorus crinalis (Habeck 1988)
Pityophthorus tutulus (Habeck 1988)
Saperda lateralis (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Saperda puncticollis (Steyskal 1951, Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Serica vespertina (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Strangalia acuminata (Senchina, 2005, Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Synchroa punctata  (Steyskal 1951, (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Thanasimus  dubius (Senchina 2005)
Trischidias atoma (Habeck 1988)
Xyleborus affinis (Habeck 1988, Senchina 2005)
Xyleborus ferrugineus (Habeck 1988)
Xyleborus pecanis (Senchina 2005)

Lepidoptera (Moths and butterflies)

Acronicta impleta (Habeck 1988)
Acronicta longa (Habeck 1988)
Amorbia humerosana (Habeck 1988)
Anavitrinelia pampinaria  (Habeck 1988)
Antepione thisoaria (Habeck 1988)
Archips argyrospila (Habeck 1988)
Caloptilia diversilobiella (Habeck 1988)
Caloptilia ovatiella (Habeck 1988)
Caloptilia rhoifoliella (Habeck 1988)
Cameraria guttifinitella (Habeck 1988)
Celastrina neglecta  (Senchina, 2008b, Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Choristoneura rosaceana (Habeck 1988)
Cingilia  cantenaria  (Habeck 1988)
Dichorda iridaria (Habeck 1988)
Ecpantheria scribonia (Habeck 1988)
Epipaschia superatalis (Habeck 1988)
Epipaschia zeleri (Habeck 1988)
Episimus argutanus (Habeck 1988)
Eutelia furcata (Habeck 1988)
Eutrapela clemataria (Habeck 1988)
Hyphantria cunea (Habeck 1988)
Lambdina fiscellaria somniaria (Habeck 1988)
Lophocampa maculata (Habeck 1988)
Lymantria dispar (Habeck 1988)
Marathyssa basalis (Habeck 1988)
Nystalea eutalanta (Habeck 1988)
Orgyia leucostigma (Habeck 1988)
Oxydia vesulia transponens (Habeck 1988)
Paectes oculatrix (Habeck 1988)
Platynota rostrana (Habeck 1988)
Prolimacodes badia (Habeck 1988)
Sibine stimulea (Habeck 1988)
Sparganothis reticulatana (Habeck 1988)
Stigmella rhoifoliella (Habeck 1988, Steyskal 1951)
Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis (Habeck 1988)
Xanthotype sp.  (Habeck 1988)

Hymenoptera (Bees, wasps, sawflies)

Agapostemon viriscens (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Andrena spp (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Andrena crataegi (Illinois wildflowers website)
Apis mellifera (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Arge humeralis (Habeck 1988)
Augochlora pura (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Bombus fervidus (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Cimbex  americana (Habeck 1988)
Eumenes fraternus (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Lasioglossum spp. (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Osmia lignaria (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Sceliphron caementarium (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Vespula sp. (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Xylocopa sp.  (Senchina and Summerville 2007)

Diptera (Flies)

Anthrax analis  (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Dasineura rhois (Habeck 1988)
Laphria sp. (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Lasioptera sp. (Habeck 1988)


Alconeura sp. (Habeck 1988)
Aulacorthum rhusifoliae (Habeck 1988)
Carolinaia caricis (Habeck 1988)
Carolinaia carolinensis (Habeck 1988)
Carolinaia rhois (Habeck 1988)
Clastoptera obtusa (Habeck 1988)
Coelidia sp (Habeck 1988)
Cyrpoptus belfragei (Habeck 1988)
Duplaspidiotus claviger (Habeck 1988)
Ferrisia virgata (Habeck 1988)
Glabromyzus schlingere (Habeck 1988)
Graphocephala versuta  (Habeck 1988)
Heterothrips vitis (Habeck 1988)
Lygaeus kalmii  (Senchina and Summerville 2007)
Metcalfa pruinosa (Habeck 1988)
Nezara viridula (Habeck 1988)
Orthezia insignis (Habeck 1988)
Osbornellus rotundus  (Habeck 1988)
Penthemiafloridensis (Habeck 1988)
Phenacoccus pettiti (Habeck 1988)
Pseudaonidia duplex (Habeck 1988)
Pseudococcus longisetosus (Habeck 1988)
Pulvinaria acericola (Habeck 1988)
Pulvinaria floccifera (Habeck 1988)
Pulvinaria rhois (Habeck 1988)
Pulvinaria urbicola (Habeck 1988)
Rugosana querci  (Habeck 1988)
Saissetia oleae (Habeck 1988)
Selenothrips rubrocinctus (Habeck 1988)

Acari (Mites)

Aculops rhois  (BugGuide website)
Aculops toxicophagus (Habeck 1988)
Eriophyes rhois (Habeck 1988)


Bluebird (Martin et al 1951)
Bobwhite (Martin et al 1951)
Bush-tit (Martin et al 1951)
Catbird (Martin et al 1951)
Cedar waxwing (Martin et al 1951)
Chickadee, Black-capped (Martin et al 1951)
Chickadee, Carolina (Martin et al 1951)
Chickadee, chesnut-backed (Martin et al 1951)
Chickadee, Mountain (Martin et al 1951)
Crow (Martin et al 1951)
Finch, Purple (Martin et al 1951)
Flicker, red-shafted (Martin et al 1951)
Flicker, Yellow-shafted (Habeck 1989, Martin et al 1951)
Grouse (Martin et al 1951)
Junco (Martin et al 1951)
Kinglet, Ruby-crowned (Martin et al 1951)
Magpie, American (Martin et al 1951)
Magpie, Yellow-billed (Martin et al 1951)
Mockingbird (Martin et al 1951)
Pheasant (Martin et al 1951)
Phoebe (Martin et al 1951)
Quail (Martin et al 1951)
Sapsucker, Red-breasted (Martin et al 1951)
Sapsucker, Yellow-bellied (Illinois wildflower website)
Sparrow, Fox (Martin et al 1951)
Sparrow, Golden-crowned (Martin et al 1951)
Sparrow, White-crowned (Martin et al 1951)
Sparrow, White-throated (Martin et al 1951)
Starling (Illinois wildflower website)
Thrasher, Brown (Martin et al 1951)
Thrasher, California (Martin et al 1951)
Thrush, Hermit (Martin et al 1951)
Thrush, Russet-backed (Martin et al 1951)
Thrush, Varied (Martin et al 1951)
Titmouse, Tufted (Martin et al 1951)
Towhee, Spotted (Martin et al 1951)
Turkey, Wild (Martin et al 1951)
Vireo, Warbling (Martin et al 1951)
Vireo, White-eyed (Martin et al 1951)
Warbler, Cape May (Martin et al 1951)
Warbler, Myrtle (Martin et al 1951)
Woodpecker, Downy (Martin et al 1951)
Woodpecker, Hairy (Martin et al 1951)
Woodpecker, pileated (Martin et al 1951)
Woodpecker, Red-bellied (Martin et al 1951)
Woodpecker, Red-cockaded (Martin et al 1951)
Wren, Cactus (Martin et al 1951)
Wren, Carolina (Martin et al 1951)
Wren-tits (Habeck 1989)


Black bear (Martin et al 1951)
Cottontail rabbit (Illinois wildflower website)
Deer, mule (Martin et al 1951)
Deer, White-tailed (Illinois wildflower website)
Muskrat (Martin et al 1951)
Pocket mice (Habeck 1989, Martin et al 1951)
Wood rat (Martin et al 1951)


BugGuide website,, Accessed 10 May 2020

Ewing, H.E., 2015. “Mites affecting the poison ivy.” The Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science, Volume 24

Habeck, Dale H. 1988. Insects associated with poison ivy and their potential as biological control agents. Proceedings VII International Symposium, Rome Italy

Illinois Wildflower website. Accessed 13 May 2020.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. 1951. American Wildlife and Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Senchina, David S. 2005. Beetle interactions with poison ivy and poison oak. The Coleopterists Bulletin, 59(2): 328-334.

Senchina, David S. and Keith S. Summerville. 2007. Great diversity of insect floral associates may partially explain ecological success of poison ivy. The Great Lake Entomologist 40(3, 4)

Steyskal, George. 1951. Insects feeding on plants of the Toxicodendron section of the genus Rhus. The Coleopterists Society 5(5/6): 75-77.

Wilson, Stephanie. How Poison Ivy Works. Accessed 13 May 2020

Confluence, our Water Ways in art

The Blanchardville Public Library’s summer theme is “Library’s Rock”  which makes the art exhibit depicting the hydrologic cycle perfect. Ten community artists came together (confluence) to create a beautiful and educational exhibit illustrating elements of the hydrologic cycle — our “water ways.”

Land use and water quality

All land uses have an effect on water flow and water quality; some are positive, some are negative. In healthy ecosystems receiving little human disturbance, most rainfall soaks into the soil rather than running off the ground, stream flows are fairly steady, and water quality is good. In built-up areas with pavement and buildings or agricultural areas where land is bare rainfall causes runoff and poorer water quality. In fact, land use practices are the most important water quality factor.


Runoff is the water draining off the land; it is a natural and necessary part of the landscape. Water will follow the rules of gravity and move from a higher point to a lower point. If the water is filtered through native plants’ roots, it is important for recharging our groundwater. Negative runoff situations arise when the land becomes bare. When the water runs off hard surfaces and accumulates contaminants. In urban areas, these hard surfaces are pavement and concrete. In rural areas, solid surfaces are created by bare land. Other runoff occurs in cropped lands via drain tiles or land tilled too close to a stream. These negative situations are mitigated with good conservation farming practices, maintaining native wetlands, planting native plants along streams, and ensuring stormwater is filtered before it enters our waterways.

Photo to the right: As the streambanks build up with erosion, the water channels scoop out the sides causing the land to cave. Drone photo by Jim Hess

Livestock create a direct channel for water runoff and the resulting erosion, emptying topsoil and manure into the stream.



Karst is a topography characterized by carbonate rock (limestone, dolomite, gypsum) that easily dissolves in rainwater forming cracks, sink holes and even large cave systems. Water quickly moves through the cracks in karst and enters the groundwater. These cracks act as direct conduits for pollutants to enter our groundwater, wells, springs, and streams. There are many regions in the world that have karst geology, southwestern Wisconsin is one of them so are areas of Mexico, Germany, and Florida to name a few.

Lafayette County is sensitive to water pollutants because of our karst landscape. Whenever material above the aquifer is permeable, pollutants can readily sink into groundwater supplies and our drinking water supplies. Good conservation practices can ease the statistic that croplands are responsible for 96% of nitrates leached into groundwater.

Karst landscape is particularly easy to see in the winter. Where the road cuts through the earth you can see the beautiful icicles! This is the water seeping through the rocks, then freezing.


Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand, and rock. It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations called aquifers. Groundwater is a necessary resource; it supplies drinking water for 51% of the total U.S. population and 99% of the rural population.

Groundwater is also a limited resource. It’s difficult to think this is possible when we currently average 34.5” every year, but only about 25% of all rainfall in the U.S. becomes groundwater. In the past that average has fluctuated from 21-44”annually.

Agriculture is the largest consumer of freshwater resources. In the United States 64% of groundwater is drawn down to irrigate crops. 


Well Depth and Construction

The safety of the water in your home is dependent upon proper well location and construction.  The well casing needs to extend into a confined aquifer, which must be quite deep in our karst landscape. As you can see from these diagrams, if the casing doesn’t extend deep enough, your water could be receiving contaminants from one half to one mile away from your home. The well should be located so rainwater flows away from it. Rainwater can pick up harmful bacteria and chemicals on the land’s surface.

Surface Water

Surface water is freshwater you see on the top or surface of the landscape. It includes rivers, streams, creeks, lakes, and reservoirs; these are vitally important to our everyday life. The amount and location of surface water changes, varying in response to climate and human activities.

Surface water represents only about 3% of all water on Earth. Freshwater lakes account for a mere 0.29% of the Earth’s freshwater. Lake Baikal in Asia has 20% of all fresh surface water; another 20% is stored in the Great Lakes.  What a precious resource we have near us!!

Runoff and erosion have negative effects for surface water and eventually our groundwater. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff causes the algal blooms on our lakes, subsequent deaths of animals, and a loss of tourism dollars. Excess nitrogen in the streams where livestock drink can cause disease. Pesticides are dangerous too and are found in surface water 97% of the time near agricultural areas and 61% of the time in other landscapes.


This shows how surface water is filtered thru confined and unconfined aquifers.

In karst landscape, it’s imperative your well supplying your drinking water is deep enough to draw from a confine aquifer.

Hydrologic Cycle

The hydrologic cycle is the way water moves through our world. Water falls to the ground in the form of precipitation which either evaporates into the atmosphere, soaks into the ground, or runs off into surface waters like lakes, rivers and oceans. The water that infiltrates into the ground is either picked up by plants and organisms that transpire it into the air or it becomes groundwater. Groundwater is stored in an aquifer. Some water spends hundreds of years beneath the surface in deep aquifers; other groundwater is drawn back to the surface through manmade wells. Shallow aquifers feed into our surface water through seeps or springs in the ground. All the water that evaporates enters the atmosphere, becomes clouds and the cycle continues.

The main elements of the hydrologic cycle are:

  1. Evaporation
  2. Precipitation
  3. Transpiration
  4. Runoff
  5. Infiltration



Precipitation is water released from clouds. It is visible to us in the form of rain, freezing rain, sleet, snow, or hail and is the primary method for water in the air to be delivered to earth. Most precipitation falls as rain. In our area, we expect an average of 34.5” of rainfall each year. Clouds are small droplets of water too small to fall to the ground. They create a vapor that appears as white fluffy objects in the sky. How many types of clouds can you name?


Evaporation is the process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapor. Studies have shown the oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers provide nearly 90% of the moisture in the atmosphere via evaporation, with the remaining 10 percent being contributed by plant transpiration. Once evaporated, a water molecule spends about 10 days in the air.

hydrologic cycle


Transpiration is how we describe plants’ breathing. Plants’ roots draw water and nutrients up into the stems and leaves; some of this water is returned to the air by transpiration. Transpiration rates vary widely depending on weather conditions. During dry periods, transpiration can contribute to the loss of moisture in the upper soil zone, which can have an effect on food-crop fields.

An acre of corn gives off about 3,000-4,000 gallons of water each day, and a large oak tree can transpire 40,000 gallons per year. Keeping the numerous oak savannas in Lafayette County healthy would be very good for us!!


A watershed is the land where all the water drains off of it before entering into a particular water body. Watersheds can vary in size and are determined by topography (the peaks and valleys). In southwestern Wisconsin, we are located in the Upper Mississippi watershed. Everything we do on our land here travels to the Mississippi River and eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico either from overland flow or through underground channels. Major watersheds like the Upper Mississippi are made up of many little watersheds. In fact each creek or pond has its own defined watershed.

What watershed do you live in?

Lafayette County, watersheds, conservation

A depiction of the watersheds in Lafayette County. Courtesy SWWRPC

Freshwater ecosystem

Freshwater ecosystems – such as wetlands, lakes and ponds, rivers, streams, and springs – are a critical part of the global water cycle. The water in these ecosystems is our surface waters; the ones our watershed catches and directs to our drinking water source.

Freshwater is also imperative to the survival of humans. We cannot stay alive without fresh water, yet we are facing a number of threats to our supply: 1) runoff from agricultural and urban areas, 2) draining of wetlands for agricultural uses and development, 3) overexploitation (i.e. high capacity wells) and pollution, and 4) invasion of exotic species.

All freshwater ultimately depends on the continued healthy functioning of organisms interacting in the aquatic environment. These organisms include fish, aquatic insects, amphibians, turtles, water fowl, and mammals such as otters and beavers. Freshwater is home to 40% of the world’s fish species. At present, more than 20% of these fish species are extinct or imperiled.

Fish living in our creeks and streams need clean, fresh water to survive. Lafayette County is home to one of the best smallmouth bass fishing places in the U.S. Yellowstone Lake is also a source of pride and brings in tourism. 



There are three basic types of freshwater ecosystems:

  • Lentic: slow moving water, including pools, ponds, and lakes.
  • Lotic: faster moving water, for example streams and rivers.
  • Wetlands: areas where the soil is saturated or inundated for at least part of the time.

What types of freshwater ecosystems do you have near where you live?

Insects are great indicators of safe, clean water because they are not highly mobile; they reside in the water for long periods of time. Insects offer a method of testing water less often and more accurately. Many of them are not tolerant of pollution and will die off when the waters become contaminated.


Freshwater ecosystem

Ducks and waterfowl are indicators of the environment. If they’re in trouble, we’ll soon be in trouble. They rely on wetland areas for food and nesting. The primary threat to waterfowl is the loss of wetland quality and function by agricultural activities that aren’t complying with conservation practices.

Freshwater ecosystem

Streambank Erosion

As topsoil erodes from higher elevation it collects along the streambanks which funnels water flow to continue cutting into and eroding the banks.

Where water is not slowed down it erodes the land, sending the topsoil to the streams where it builds up our stream bank sides or silts in our lakes. Our hilly Driftless Area landscape is conducive to erosion. Losing soil and nutrients to streams isn’t good for the farmers or the environment. Soil is precious and losing it hurts a farm’s productivity.

Streambanks historically were feathered out to allow water to ebb and flow. The steep-sided banks we often see in our streams are the topsoil from the ridge tops and hillsides that drained to the valley streams and built up along the edges. Once the streambanks are built up with this excess topsoil, water cannot gently flow but rather is blasted through the channels. This creates more and more erosion. With every turn of the stream the water grooves out more and more soil; eventually the hollowed out bank crumbles. This topsoil becomes nutrient-laden sediment, clogging our streams and lakes, and de-oxygenating the water. Insects and fish cannot thrive and the ecosystem begins to fail.


The stream in the photo on the left has been feathered to prevent the sides being “cut out” by the water flow. These steep banks of the right hand photo are caused by topsoil eroding down from higher ground and depositing along the streambanks. Then the water cuts into the banks.

Wetlands and Infiltration

The negative effects of runoff and erosion are prevented by the deep roots of native plants. Wetlands adjacent to streams are important and positive for healthy, safe, and clean water. The root systems of native plants reach deep into the soil, many of them stretching 12-20 feet downward. Nonnative plants do not have long roots. The root length allows more microbes to exist in the soil; these microbes are responsible for absorbing the additional nutrients from crops and livestock waste and pesticide runoff from urban areas.

Nonnative plants do not have the same nutrient-absorbing abilities as our natives. Their root structure is short; this means they are dependent on water supplied by precipitation. Native roots extend far into the soil where they can extract water in times of drought. This increases their importance as they can continue to filter surface water when other plants have died. This filtration service is the most significant method for purifying our drinking water.


Insects and Milkweed

Authors: Marci Hess and MJ Hatfield

Insects and milkweed plants have been a topic of much conversation lately. It is wonderful that monarchs and their corresponding host plants, milkweeds, are getting the attention and grant money they deserve. Yet there are a number of insects that utilize milkweeds and depend on them for various reason; many of these are less well known by the general public. By planting, encouraging and appreciating milkweeds, folks will be helping these insects, too.

Do you know how many types of milkweed are in your area? Can you name them? [Test yourself first then check the list at the bottom of this posting for milkweeds in The Driftless Area.]

There are some unique characteristics of milkweeds making it an intriguing plant. Milkweeds contain cardiac glycosides which are toxic to humans and mammals. Insects can sequester these in their systems, making them unpalatable to their predators. This chemical is usually in a low enough dose it does not kill the bird or mammal but it will make them vomit. Often it only takes once for these predators to learn not to do that again! Defensive systems are pretty remarkable. Do you think the plant or the insect evolved this defense first?

Another characteristic and plant defense is the white, milky sap that exudes when a leaf or stem is cut. Longhorn milkweed beetles are able to feed on milkweeds and dogbanes despite the latex secretion oozing from the leaves when they are cut. The beetles sever the midvein of the leaf, disconnecting its flow to the rest of the leaf. Once this is done, the beetles can freely nibble on the leaf tips without fear of having their mandibles glued shut with this sticky protective substance (Eisner, 2003:284).

Cerambycidae, milkweed, red milkweed beetle, Tetraopes tetrophthalmus

Leaf nibbled by Tetraopes tetrophthalmus (Red milkweed beetle)

“The cerambycid genus Tetraopes is the most diverse of the new world milkweed herbivores and the species are generally host specific, being restricted to single, different species of Asclepias, more often than most other milkweed insects” (Farrell 2001). Tetropes produce one generation annually. Eggs are laid at the base of the stem or cut into the stem. Either way, the larvae migrate to the roots, boring into the plant stem if the eggs weren’t laid there.  The adults feed on the leaves, flower buds, or blossoms.

Along with the Tetraopes tetrophthalmus, some of the other Tetraopes species you might find are, Tetraopes annulatus and Tetraopes femoratus.

Cerambycidae, milkweed, Tetraopes annulatus

Tetraopes annulatus


Cerambycidae, milkwee, Tetraopes femoratus

Tetraopes femoratus

Another beetle whose larvae participate in the vein cutting prior to feeding is the Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis). Common names can be misleading as this beetle is not host-specific to swamp milkweed.

Chyrsomelidae, milkweed, Labidomera clivicollis, Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle

Labidomera clivicollis (Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle) preparing to feed

The Milkweed Stem Weevil (Rhyssomatus lineaticollis) feeds on the stems of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and oviposits there as well. An interesting comment I read on BugGuide is the scar length the female cuts for ovipositing is an “accurate predictor of the number of eggs laid by the adult female.” Can you imagine being able to measure the slit and count the eggs laid by a 6mm insect?

Curculionidae, milkweed, Milkweed Stem Weevil, Rhyssomatus lineaticollis

Milkweed Stem Weevil, Rhyssomatus lineaticollis

Milkweed leaf-miner fly (Liriomyza asclepiadis) larvae feed on the foliage of milkweed. As the name implies, they “mine” between the outer layers of a leaf, leaving colorless mines that often turn brown. Leaf-miners are interesting because one can usually tell who the insect is by the characteristics of the mine and the type of plant being mined; even the frass pattern is unique enough to offer an ID for leaf-mining insects. Charley Eiseman and Noah Charney have a great book, Tracks and Sign of Insects, which show pictures of various leaf-mining activity. More photos of the larvae and the blotchy leaf-mining pattern of the Liriomyza asclepiadis can be found on BugGuide.  

Diptera, agromyzidae, Liriomyza asclepiadis, milkweed

Liriomyza asclepiadis larvae

Diptera, agromyzidae, Liriomyza asclepiadis, milkweed

Liriomyza asclepiadis adult

 Some of the more commonly found insects are the milkweed bugs in the Lygaeidae family. The small milkweed bug (Lygaeus kalmii) and the large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). The following pictures show two stages of the nymph growth and highlight their clustering habit.

Hemiptera, lygaeidae, Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, milkweed

Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, sucking on an Asclepias tuberosa stem

Hemiptera, lygaeidae, milkweed, lygaeus kalmii

Lygaeus kalmi

Hemiptera, lygaeidae, Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, milkweed

Large milkweed bug nymphs, Oncopeltus fasciatus, inside and outside of the milkweed pod.

Hemiptera, lygaeidae, Large milkweed bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, milkweed

Large milkweed bug nymphs clustering, Oncopeltus fasciatus

In the Hemiptera order there is an aphid that uses milkweeds, the oleander aphid or milkweed aphid (Aphis nerii).

Milkweed aphid, Aphis nerii, hemiptera, aphididae, milkweed

Milkweed aphid, Aphis nerii

Seems no matter what plant we pick, there’s a moth or two that use it! The moths sequester the secondary metabolite (compounds not directly related to primary functions) of the milkweeds making them unpalatable to bats. Dogbanes have this same chemical; the Euchaetes egle (Milkweed Tussock Moth) is munching a dogbane leaf in the photo. The bright colors of the caterpillars warn predators of their bad taste, but the adults warn with clicking sounds (Simmons and Conner 1996). Tussock moths are not to be handled without protection; they have urticating hairs between the soft ones which can irritate your skin. Cycnia collaris is a tiger moth who feeds on milkweeds; its caterpillar is a brilliant orange while the adult is white with a bright yellow edge.

Cycnia collaris, lepidoptera, erebidae, milkweed

Cycnia collaris caterpillar

Euchaetes egle,(Milkweed tussock moth, lepidoptera, erebidae, dogbane, apocynum

Euchaetes egle (Milkweed tussock moth) caterpillar munching on a dogbane (Apocynum sp) leaf.

Euchaetes egle,(Milkweed tussock moth, lepidoptera, erebidae, milkweed

Euchaetes egle caterpillars skeletonizing a milkweed. These are earlier instars (developmental stage) than the single one of the dogbane leaf.

Pollinators of milkweeds are diverse ranging from bees, wasps, flies, ants, to beetles. To ensure they are pollinated sufficiently, milkweeds have a mechanism in their flowers allowing them to capture and trap an insect for a period of time (Jolivet, 1998:189). This trapping is caused by a sticky substance and results in the pollinia sac attaching to the insect. The larger insects can carry this sac to the next plant, completing pollination. Small insects can suffocate if they cannot get free from this. Many of these smaller insects are careful and only dip their tongues into the blossoms like the small sweat bee, an Augochlora species shown below. Have you found an insect caught inside a milkweed blossom?

Geometrid, milkweed, lepidoptera

A geometrid moth stuck on a milkweed blossom

Augochlora, hymenoptera, halictidae, milkweed

Augochlora species

We did not include the monarch (Danaus plexipllus) in this article because most of you are familiar with them. The Xerces Society has many good resources about this butterfly and its relationship to milkweeds; one in particular is an article in their 2011 newsletter, Wings. A PDF can be accessed via this link:

We’re hoping this kindles some excitement and you’ll enjoy exploring milkweeds in more detail.


Eisner, Thomas. 2003. For Love of Insects. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Farrell, B.D., 2001. Evolutionary Assembly of the Milkweed Fauna: Cytochrome Oxidase I and the Age of Tetraopes Beetles. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 18(3): 467–478.

Jolivet, Pierre. 1998. Interrelationship Between Insects and Plants. Washington DC: CRC Press.

Simmons RB, and WE Conner, (1996). Acoustic cues in defense and courtship of Euchaetes egle Drury and E. bolteri Stretch. Journal of Insect Behavior 9: 909–919.


Asclepias viridiflora, A. hirtella, A. lanuginosa, A. tuberosa, A. ovalifolia, A. incarnata, A. syriaca, A. purpurascens, A. amplexicaulis, A. exaltata, A. verticillata, A. sullivantii, A. meadii, A.speciosa, and A. quadrifolia.

How to ID Sedges

Sedges often remain a mystery for many of us.  Sedges are mainly found in moist soil in full sun although there are also many species that enjoy woodlands and dry bluffs. You’ll find them in flower mostly during the months of April, May, and June. Sedges are differentiated from grasses by a number of characteristics, but the simplest one is the stem. A sedge stem is triangular and solid; a grass stem is round and hollow. There are some sedges that are annuals but all the of the Carex species are perennial. Whether you can ID the sedge or not, the good news is that you are very unlikely to encounter a non-native sedge species. 

John Larson and Nate Gingerich

John Larson and Nate Gingerich led a field trip and offered the following tips.

Equipment you’ll need with you:

  • A 10x loupe
  • A good field guide or two
  • Know the terminology and structural parts of a sedge. This takes times but it makes working through the dichotomous keys much easier!
  • Have a good metric ruler. Many of the IDs are dependent upon an accurate measurement. A millimeter or two can change the ultimate identification.
  • Take a plastic bag. This will keep whatever you collect fresh. When you do take specimens from the field, be sure to take 2 or 3 leaves and seed heads from the same plant.
  • Know the habitat. It helps to know where to look for sedges and also when you collect a portion to ID, make a note of the habitat. Sedges are mainly in moist soil but there are some that grow in woods and on dry, rocky bluffs. Knowing where the sedge is found can narrow down the ID. 

7 key elements that need attention

1. Basal leaf sheath

What color is it? Green or brown/purple? Basal leaf sheaths are described as purple/brown and green. This is often better determined in the field than on a specimen removed from the field.

Sedge ID

2. Back side of the leaf sheath

Look for distinctive veining; does the leaf sheath has interesting or unique lines?

sedge ID

3. Spike shape and configuration

Particularly determine how male and female flowers are arranged- are they on separate spikelets or are they combined in the same spikelets, and if combined which are on top and which are below? Scales, bracts, and leaves can be easily mistaken. Beaks can be in different shapes.

Sedge ID

4. Stigma numbers and shape

Stigmas can be curled in a couple of shapes and can have more than one.

Sedg ID

5. Summit of the leaf sheath

Look at the shape and texture of the top of front side of leaf sheath.  Is it firm, flimsy, clear, green, spotted, etc?  Does it end in a concave, convex, or straight line?

Terminal and lateral spike, leaf sheath, peduncle

Plant growth

Is it clumping or not?

Carex blanda

7. Habitat and location

It helps to know what county or part of a state the sedge is found

Additional Resources

  • Field Guide to Wisconsin Sedges by Andrew Hipp
  • Spring Flora of Wisconsin by Norman Fassett
  • Sedges: Carex by Robert Mohlenbrock
  • Sedges: Cyperus to Scleria by Robert Mohlenbrock
  • Woodland Carex of the Upper Midwest by Linda Curtis

Think Like a Seed

Our management plan is simple: remove the invasives and increase diversity. One way we increase diversity is by propagating plants and planting them into various areas. How many we plant out in a year varies. It depends on my success rate at getting the native seed to germinate and then how many plants survived the overwintering process. Every year is different.

Growing these plants has taught me a great deal about them. Not only about the individual plant but about how to think like a seed. Seeds have many ways to stimulate and delay germination. In the restoration world, we are amazed at how certain plants are abundant during certain years. If we are tracking the weather (temperature, rainfall, etc) we might find a few clues about why those plants are enjoying that particular year. It’s not all weather related though. Anthropogenic reasons must be included especially knowing what type of disturbance might have occurred. At our place, storms also create disturbance when trees are toppled.

Understanding how to propagate requires an understanding of how the seeds germinate and a base concept of seed dormancy. Dormancy is how a seed protects itself from sprouting up at times when it isn’t conducive to their continued existence, such as in the middle of a cold, snowy winter. Seeds are regulated by chemicals, hormones to be exact, that determine their dormancy requirements and their germination requirements. This physiological dormancy allows for flexibility, which is advantageous since nature is not predictable.

The first rule for germination is to create the environmental conditions required for the seed to germinate. Initially, I had to learn what it takes to penetrate the seed coat to get moisture inside to the embryo; they must take up liquid faster than they lose it. This very basic rule is the most important. It is why the substrate that you put the seed into for germination is critical and it drives the pre-germination process, too, explaining why most native seeds require a cold, moist period of time rather than simply a cold one. There are a number of seeds that need more intensive procedures, such as alternating from warm to cold to warm with each temperature period requiring a certain number of days. Chemically altering the seed coat can be effective as well. I have successfully used Giberellin Acid (GA-3), a natural plant hormone, to induce germination. Not every seed responds to this though. Norman Deno’s books are excellent references for this. 

Just about every aspect the seed determines their germination requirements: small seeds, location of the seed on the plant, and time of seed maturation. The environment under which the plant grew will affect the seed: temperature, light, day length, drought, and soil nutrients. There are many variables that determine germination and dormancy. I think this is why I’m always surprised, amazed, awed when I’ve successfully gotten a seed to sprout!

Sanguinaria canadensis, seed, Bloodroot

From this…Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot Seed)

Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot

to this…

Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot

Resulting in this. And the cycle starts over.


Deno, Norman C. 1993. Seed Germination Theory and Practice. Pennsylvania: Norman C. Deno. This has a couple of supplements that update the info and add new species to the original publication.

Fenner, Michael and Ken Thompson. 2005. The Ecology of Seeds. Cambridge UK: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Loewer, Peter. 1995. Seeds: The Definitive Guide to Growing, History, and Lore. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Young, James A. and Cheryl G. Young. 1968. Collecting, Processing, and Germinating Seeds of Wildland Plants. Portland, OR: Timber Press.