The Uncommon Beauty of the Oak Opening

I must admit, when I first encountered an Oak Opening, I had a hard time initially wrapping my brain around what was unique about the habitat. I looked up and could recognize that it contained oak trees, standing high in their far-reaching, craggy-branched splendor. “Ok, they’re oak trees,” I shrugged. Then one day it dawned on me: an Oak Opening possesses a vast amount of open space compared with what I understood a forest to look like.

A great distance of space can exist between trees, sometimes 100-feet from one another. This is why these habitats are also known as “Oak Openings,” and is the name for this one-acre area at Riveredge Nature Center overlooking the Milwaukee River. This portion of the property also boasts uniquely untilled original soil and a rarely seen guild of native plants. But what else is unique about Oak Openings?

The Oak Opening, as the name suggests, is a surprisingly open forest.

Oak Openings have become incredibly rare

The numbers of Oak Savanna (a somewhat similar habitat with less tree density than an oak opening) previously standing and currently in existence are staggering. Of the 5.5 million acres that once existed, according to the Natural Heritage Inventory, less than 500 acres exist that had plant assemblage similar to the original Oak Savannas. Similar to savannas, Oak Openings are one of the rarest and most threatened habitats in the world. Summarily, many of the plant and animal species that flourished in these systems have perished, or their populations have taken hits as they struggled to find other, less suitable habitats.

Autumn Oak leaves in the sun at Riveredge

Pre-settlement, wildfires and fires set by Native Americans took place across the US throughout the year, burning off smaller trees and invigorating understory plant seeds to sprout. Oaks have thick bark and a deep taproot, which equips them uniquely to tolerate fires more than other woody species. After a fire the only plants that stood throughout the charred landscape were oak trees, such as Bur Oak.

What happened to Oak Openings?

Prior to settlement, about half of Wisconsin was covered in Oak ecosystems (such as oak woodland, oak savanna, oak opening). When settlers moved west into this territory, these oak ecosystems appeared, and proved to be ideal areas for farmland and more readily cleared than a dense forest. Many of the soils were rich in nutrients after centuries of plants and animals had built up the soil. The removal of indigenous peoples, their customs, and traditional ecological knowledge, as well as the removal of fire fuel continuity by turning over original ground with the plow, worked to suppress fires that had been previously afforded greater affect on the landscape.

The Riveredge Maple Sugarbush, across Highway Y from the Oak Opening.

Oak trees provided ideal building material for houses and barns, and if any was left over it became firewood. Millions of linear board feet would be shipped to become furniture, tool handles, and flooring throughout cities such as Milwaukee. While the wood lasted, logging was a bustling business in Wisconsin.

In areas of Oak Savannas that still stood, without fire management or grazing by wild or domesticated animals, smaller trees would begin to grow up between oaks, competing for sunlight and rain. Invasive species such as Buckthorn would begin to fill in areas that were previously the domain of native plants that grow more slowly. When we picture a forest, this, comparably more cluttered, landscape is likely what we imagine.

Today, an oak opening gives the same reprieve from a forest’s overstory as it always has; however, it now represents some of the best of what many areas have lost. For ecologists, oak openings and other similar rare habitats now act as living libraries of species and their interconnected assemblages, to reconstruct in our restoration efforts.

This summer, experience Wisconsin’s natural heritage by visiting the Oak Opening at Riveredge Nature Center, and continue visiting throughout the seasons. This location is also one of our most picturesque locations from which to view the Milwaukee River. In this now uncommon location, you can experience the tranquility that can only be found within trees that live for hundreds of years.

Overlooking the Milwaukee River from the Oak Opening at Riveredge Nature Center.

What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Heal All

In Bloom

Bullhead Lily
Prairie Phlox
Canada Anemone
Fragrant White Water Lily
Lance Leaved Coreopsis
White Wild Indigo
Hoary Alyssum
Prairie Golden Aster
Wild Garlic
Spreading Dogbane
Pale Purple Coneflower
Tall Beardtongue
White Avens
Poke Milkweed
Heal All
Pale Spike Lobelia
Black Eyed Susan
Wild Quinine
False Sunflower
Enchanter’s Nightshade
Wild Leek
Fringed Loosestrife
Marsh Phlox
Butterfly Weed
Pretty Bedstraw
Indian Hemp
Common Milkweed
Downy Wood Mint


Flowers in Bud

Grey Headed Coneflower
Spotted Joe Pye Weed
Stinging Nettle
Common Boneset
Purple Prairie Clover
Compass Plant

What’s Blooming at Riveredge? An Updated Phenology Report

One of the fantastic Riveredge volunteers, who has been exploring Riveredge trails for years to both take photographs and record observations, is letting us know what she sees blooming at Riveredge. In scientific terms, this is called “Phenology.” What is phenology? It’s very similar to another word, phenomenon. Phenology means what happens, and when, in nature. Some of the most common examples are: when flowers are blooming, when buds are present, when specific migratory bird species return, when birds are nesting.

Chances are, you already notice phenology you just might not call it that. If you notice when your garden is blooming, when the trees are budding, or when butterflies return to the skies – you’re observing phenology! Read below to learn what you can find along the trails when you visit Riveredge Nature Center right now.

Spiderwort can be seen throughout Riveredge prairies.

In Bloom

Bullhead Lily
Blue Flag Iris
Canada Anemone
Tall Meadow Rue
Fragrant White Water Lily
Lance Leaved Coreopsis
Hairy Beardtongue
Blue Wild Indigo
White Wild Indigo
Hoary Alyssum
Prairie Golden Aster
Common Cinquefoil
Cow Parsnip
Large Flowered Beardtongue
Wild Garlic
Spreading Dogbane
Northern Bedstraw
Pale Purple Coneflower
Tall Beardtongue
White Avens
Poke Milkweed
Heal All
Pale Spike Lobelia
Black Eyed Susan
Wild Quinine
Wild Four O’Clock

Pale Purple Coneflower

Flower in Bud

Wild Leek

May 15 Riveredge Covid-19 Spring Update

Friday, May 15 2020


Dear Community,

Spring is feeling more like summer right now, and the beauty of Riveredge is really starting to grow. If you haven’t been out to Riveredge recently, now is the perfect time to come! Our little family has created a new habit of hiking most days together. Sometimes it’s a short hike near our home, and other days we venture farther away. Our pup loves to hike with us too, so we’ve found great use in the list of dog appropriate trails put together by Riveredge. We also cherish our time on the Riveredge trails (pup free) and have used those journeys to help our dog get reaccustomed to the days when we won’t all be home 24/7.

Visitor’s Center to Return to Regular Hours on Monday, June 15

I’m excited to announce that plans are underway to reopen the Visitor’s Center on Monday, June 15. Visitor’s Center hours are 8:30am – 4:30am Monday – Friday and 9:00am – 4:00pm on Saturday. As shown in the picture above we are asking that anyone entering the Visitor’s Center wear a facial covering and adhere to standard social distancing protocols. Additionally, entrance and exit will be one-way, so please exit either out the back porch door, or through the west door past the restrooms.

We are currently finalizing our “Reopening Plan for Riveredge,” working to acquire all needed supplies, and training our staff on the details of the plan. Rest assured that we are following recommendations by county, state, and national health authorities in relation to public spaces, group programming, and outdoor recreation. We are confident that our plans will greatly reduce risk due to virus transmission at Riveredge and allow all of us to return to full, yet modified, operations. To allow full transparency, we will place a list of our modifications and precautions on our website in the coming week.


In-Person Programming to Resume

We are excited to announce that small group nature programs will resume after May 26! We are confident that our plans for providing fun, educational programs at Riveredge not only follow, but exceed, recommendations set forth by the health authorities. A brand new, social distancing friendly Frog Fest is returning on Sunday, June 7! Summer programming will soon be listed on our online calendar. Please check it frequently as more and more programs will be listed as modifications for those programs are finalized.

Going forward, for the foreseeable future, participants must pre-register for ALL programs, including free programs and guided hikes. No day-of registrations will be allowed.

When you do come to a program, please read the details carefully. Some programs (like Frog Fest) also direct you to a sign-up genius to claim an arrival time for your family/group. All programs will have a designated arrival location at Riveredge. The utilization of our dispersed “home bases” allows excellent social distancing and the elimination of congregating groups.  Along with our 379 acres and 10 miles of trails, we will be using our River Outpost, Sugarbush House, Visitor’s Center, and Yurt Village for programming home bases this year. A new Farm upgrade will be completed this fall, adding yet another dispersed learning home base to our list.



I’m so very happy to announce that our ever popular “Nature Journeys” summer day camp program will return for the summer of 2020! After what seems like months of ambiguity and anxiety, we can now announce that our summer camp program has been modified to not only meet, but exceed, the recommendations by local and national health agencies. We have also closely followed the recommendations of the American Camping Association to inform this decision. Lots of details will be sent to currently registered camp families early next week. We do still have some spots available for summer camp 2020, and we are now accepting additional registrations on our summer camp page.

For those families who have a young person signed up for the uber popular Boundary Waters backcountry trip – a final determination has not yet been made about the status of this trip. We are optimistic, but we do have some additional facts and options to determine. You will be contacted next week regarding options and details for this incredible summer opportunity for your youth.


Virtual Programming

We also know that, for a variety of reasons, some individuals and families are not yet comfortable returning to in-person activities.  We plan to continue to provide our fun, and educational, Riveredge Virtual Naturalist videos throughout the summer as well as our popular Tea & Topics with Riveredge Zoom programs through June. We are looking into ways to provide a virtual summer camp option in August.  We know everyone’s situation is different.  At Riveredge, everyone is welcome, and we are enthusiastic about providing experiences that connect all of us with the natural world.


With Great Gratitude

Thank you to all of you for your gracious understanding, patience, and support over this time of great uncertainty. We have been humbled by the emails of support, stories of joy brought to you by the Riveredge land, and smiling faces hiking the trails. This is yet another time when the Riveredge Family shines brightly. We are all so excited to return and see each other in person (we appreciate Zoom, but, WOW, we miss seeing all of  you)!

We know that things will not be the same as they once were. Our utmost concern is the health and safety of YOU, all of our learners and visitors, our volunteers, and our staff. We’ll take precautions at Riveredge for months to come to minimize risk of virus transmission. We also know that time in nature is healing for our minds and bodies. We know that our youngest Riveredge Family members need each other and a summer of catching frogs.  And, we know that the Riveredge Family will look out for each other and work together to keep us all healthy.

Now, get on outside and enjoy the summer-like weather that has FINALLY arrived!

Keep Smiling!


Jessica Jens

Riveredge Executive Director
Riverdge Kid Since 2013

Welcome to The New River Outpost!


The River Outpost opens Friday, September 20!

The River Outpost provides an educational and support facility near the bank of the Milwaukee River, as well as a Watershed Interactive Table to support water quality citizen science efforts, the Lake Sturgeon restoration project, and educational programs for youth and adults. The goal of this exciting, new space is to serve as a watershed education hub for the Milwaukee River through education, river interaction experiences, and restoring Lake Sturgeon to local waterways.

Vital Community Partners

Students of The Riveredge School explore along the Milwaukee River.

The River Outpost was made possible by significant generous gifts from both West Bend Mutual Insurance Company and the Fund For Lake Michigan, as well as other generous community donors. Riveredge is fortunate to partner with community partners that value watershed education and protecting our local resources, including the Milwaukee River, Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes. These partners appreciate the impact of human land and water use on the ecosystems we all share.

River Outpost Celebration

To celebrate the opening of The River Outpost, Riveredge Nature Center is hosting a Community Celebration on Friday, September 20 from 4:00pm – 7:00pm, featuring a classic Wisconsin Friday Night Perch Fry (tickets for perch fry or baked cod dinners must be purchased in advance) and a live performance from Polka Fusion. Guests can explore the new facility, discover water critters in the Milwaukee River and through microscopes in the classroom, experience the watershed interactive technology table, sculpt artwork alongside the resident River Outpost artist Sally Duback, wander the Milwaukee River trails, and more. 

The River Outpost will be a hub for Milwaukee River and water quality education for all ages.

Additionally, everyone in attendance can meet the young Lake Sturgeon being raised in the Sturgeon Trailer that will be released into Lake Michigan during Sturgeon Fest on Saturday, September 28 at Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee. 

The River Outpost Location

Comprising 379 acres of wild Wisconsin, Riveredge has been working to increase its educational impacts with facilities that are usable in all four seasons, while identifying building sites that won’t negatively affect habitat. The River Outpost is located in a previously disturbed building site near the Milwaukee River, providing optimum proximity for guest experience without impacting existing flora and fauna.

Bug o’the Week – Fiery Skipper Butterfly

Greetings, BugFans,

The Fiery Skipper is one of a pair of distinctive skippers that was featured in a BOTW in 2013 (  It’s an uncommon migrant to Wisconsin, but the BugLady saw 11 Fiery Skippers decorating the vervain flowers at Waubedonia Park recently, and they seem to be having a good year statewide, so she decided they deserve a more complete biography.

Skippers, so-named for their rapid, bouncy flight, are butterflies that the Field Guide to Butterflies of North America refers to as a “group of mostly small and confusing creatures” (the majority of skippers are either brown and orange or orange and brown).  They are not moths, but they are often called “moth-like” because they are big-eyed, hairy, and chunky.  Their short-wings have to work extra hard to propel them through the air (at speeds up to 20 mph, according to one source).  Skippers have sometimes been called a transition group between butterflies and moths, but a genetic work-up places them squarely in the Superfamily Papilionoidea along with Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Red-spotted Purples and the rest.  Their antennae are different than a moth’s – ending with an elongate, hooked knob.

They are not moths, and the BugLady is dismayed when someone who should know better, like the University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, says in a publication about lawn pests that “Fiery skipper adults resemble butterflies and…..”  Or when an article in the Journal of the Acadian Entomological Society in 2012 says “The Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus Drury, 1773) … is a medium-sized skipper … commonly found on both American continents. Moths typically fly from early September to late October” [emphasis, the BugLady].

Here’s a nicely illustrated “how-to” (though the BugLady was dismayed to learn that there are skippers in Australia, too)

Fiery Skippers are in the skipper family Hesperiidae and the subfamily Hesperiinae, the Grass skippers (because their larvae eat various kinds of grass).  Grass skippers often sit with their front wings spread partly open and their hind wings a little less so.  Kentucky bluegrass is among the grasses on the Fiery Skipper caterpillar’s menu, and it’s considered a pest species in some areas because of the patches of dead, brown grass where caterpillars feed.  Caterpillars live on grass blades that they fold/roll lengthwise and web into a shelter.  Several sources pointed out that these shelters lie horizontally, close to the ground, below the blade of a lawn mower.  They pupate on the ground, and the adults emerge with only one thing on their mind – females immediately start scoping out good habitat for their eggs, and males sit on the tops of grasses watching for them.  Most reproductive activity takes place within their first few days as adults.  Here’s a nice set of pictures of their life cycle

There is a lot of variation within the species; females’ wings are more patterned than males’, and females can be notably un-fiery

Sometimes, when the BugLady is collecting information for a BOTW, her subject lets her know what story it wants her to tell.  In the case of the Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus), the story seems to be about where it lives.  Not in the short term – day-to-day it’s found in sunny, open spaces, often gardens, with flowers to nectar on and grass nearby for the larvae, from Canada to Argentina (with gaps in the Great Plains, Rockies, and Great Basin).  But this is a largely southern-to-tropical butterfly that none-the-less migrates from the southern/resident portions of its range to the northern US and into Canada in varying numbers from year to year.

And that’s a relatively new phenomenon.  According to the Massachusetts Butterfly site (whose data encompass 200+ years), the first Fiery Skippers were recorded in that state in 1940 (Rhode Island in 1911, Canadian Maritime Provinces in 1947).  In Butterflies of Wisconsin (1970), Ebner tells us that the earliest state records here were in 1952 and 1957.  He notes that the specimens “were rather fresh, perhaps being introduced here by stragglers that ventured into Wisconsin earlier during the same summers and layed [sic] their eggs.

In the south, around the Gulf of Mexico and in the desert southwest, they breed most of the year.  The butterflies that arrive here in early summer probably produce one brood that lives through the summer, but it’s too cold here for their caterpillars to survive the winter.  It’s possible that patterns connected to climate change are enhancing the weather that supports the Fiery Skipper’s tendency to travel, and it’s probable that the regions where caterpillars of this exquisite butterfly can overwinter will extend north.

A resource that the BugLady regularly checks includes a section on economic impact in its species information.  Fiery Skippers were given a plus for benefitting local economies via eco-tourism.  Butterfly fans in northern states may travel to Fiery Skipper sites in big years – indeed, the Massachusetts Butterfly folks initially scheduled field trips to the most reliable sites for the skipper.

Nota Bene: one of the hits that came up as the BugLady researched the Fiery Skipper was a range map on the Moth Photographer Group’s site at Mississippi State  She thought it might be another one of those skipper/moth deals, but it turns out that the group posts range maps for butterflies, just as they do for moths, but not pictures.  Good resource.

And this, by the BugLady’s count, is (drum roll) BOTW #550!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:

Summer Flowers Blossom Beautifully at Riveredge

Milkweed attracting a Monarch Butterfly at Riveredge Nature Center

Summertime is in full swing with flowers blooming in the prairies across Riveredge. Many plants have grown beyond eye-level (yes, for even adults!) and we can now watch the enjoy the phenological cascade of flowers that will appear in succession from now through September. Here’s a glimpse of what’s blooming right now across Riveredge.

Spiderwort at Riveredge Nature Center

Wow, Ohio Spiderwort Tradescantia ohiensis just seems to bloom forever. These flowers are now blooming in clusters throughout the prairie. Interestingly, whether blue or purple tells the tale of the air surrounding it. When growing in polluted air, Spiderwort turns from blue to purple.

Butterfly-weed blooming at Riveredge Nature Center

Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa stands out with the bushy glow of its orange flowers. These are a relatively common native plant that does well in gardens. As its name suggests, this plant attracts Monarch Butterflies. Butterfly Weed roots have historically been chewed to cure pulmonary ailments.

Daisy Fleabane at Riveredge Nature Center

Daisy Fleabane Erigeron strigosus is continuing to bloom its small white flowers. This is an extremely long blooming plant – colonies sometimes lasting up to two months. Earlier in the year it was noted that these more often had a pink or purple hue to the petals.

Black-eyed Susan at Riveredge Nature Center

Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta is what some people might consider the archetypal prairie flower, with its bright yellow leaves radiating straight out like spokes on a wagon wheel. This plant has been bred to show a variety of colors, but here we feature this flower in classic yellow. Parts of this plant have nutritional or remedy value, and portions are not edible.

Queen of the Prairie at Riveredge Nature Center

Queen of the Prairie Filipendula rubra is a fascinating flower to stumble upon with its slight bulbous pink flowers that almost seem to glow in the midday sunlight. These flowers haven’t yet opened and once they do will take on a blustery, bushy appearance.

Purple Coneflowers at Riveredge Nature Center

What would you call a gathering of Pale Purple Coneflowers (other than Echinacea pallida)? A cone-hort? A cone-henge? A cone-vention? These flowers are famous for their unique drooping pink/purple petals. The genus of this plant is named for hedgehogs; referencing the spiny appearance of the central brown portion of the flower.

St. Johns Wort at Riveredge Nature Center

It seems fitting that with its sunny yellow flowers and whimsical collection of anthers, St. John’s wort Hypericum perforatum has been use for years as medicinal cure for depression. This plant has also been mixed with Calendula (among other ingredients) to formulate the popular first-aid cream Hypercal.

Wild Bergamot at Riveredge Nature Center

Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa is also known as Bee Balm or Horse Mint, as it is in the mint family. This plant has a variety of medicinal purposes when steeped in a tea. Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies are attracted to this common resident of prairies and savannas.

Milkweed attracting a Monarch Butterfly at Riveredge Nature Center

Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca is blooming throughout Riveredge, and as common knowledge holds, attracts both larva and winged Monarch Butterflies. Other butterflies also use this species as a nectar source. If you have milkweed in your garden, multiple parts of the plant can be cooked and eaten.

Visit Riveredge for a hike today and see how many blooms you can identify!

Prairie Flowers are Beginning to Blossom at Riveredge

Within the past week prairie plants have shot up from the soil throughout Riveredge! Many are not yet blooming, but some have begun to display flowers. These pictures were taking in the last few days, and are a few of the plants you can find flowering throughout the prairies.

This weekend Riveredge hosts the Milwaukee Public Museum BioBlitz – a 24-hour celebration and race to find the most species in an area. Join us for free on Saturday, June 15 for the public portion of the BioBlitz from 10:00am – 3:00pm to meet MPM scientists and learn about their research. What’s a BioBlitz? Learn more here.

Daisy Fleabane at Riveredge Nature Center.

Daisy Fleabane Erigeron strigosus is blooming aplenty along the trails. This one is perfect for kids to learn to identify as it’s about perfect eye level for a three-year-old.

Red Clover at Riveredge Nature Center

Red Clover Trifolium pratense is a favorite of Bumblebees and increases soil fertility. Red Clover leaves and flowers are edible and it can even be ground into flour.

Slender Penstemon at Riveredge Nature Center

Slender Penstemon Penstemon gracilis also known as Slender Beardtongue is in the Snapdragon family. These can be seen in our Dry Prairie.

White Wild Indigo at Riveredge Nature Center

White Wild Indigo Baptisia alba is just barely beginning to show flowers. This showy legume grows tall and wide in the prairie, shaped like a bush. Despite how pretty it looks, this plant is toxic for humans and cows to eat.

Spiderwort Tradescantia occidentalis is just beginning to blossom and is immediately recognizable by the bright yellow anther against the purple backdrop. This species is named after John Tradescant the Younger (1608 – 1662), who was the head gardener for King Charles I of England.

Prairie Smoke at Riveredge Nature Center

Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum is beginning to display the reason for its name. The flower opens to display a wispy plume that blows in the the wind like a flowery smoke.

A few Sand Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata are just beginning to bloom at our Lorrie Otto Prairie. The interesting thing about Riveredge is that sometimes the same species in different locations will bloom at slightly different times depending on sunlight, soil type, and other factors.

Virginia Waterleaf at Riveredge Nature Center

Virginia Waterleaf Hydrophyllum virginianum looks like a flower that’s straight out of a Dr. Seuss book! These fascinating flowers can be found in shadier spots along the trails.

Blue False Indigo at Riveredge Nature Center

False Blue Indigo Baptisia australis is also known as Wild Blue Indigo and has many other colloquial names. It’s very similar in appearance to White Wild Indigo pictured above, but with deep blue-purple leaves, which seem presently a little farther along in blooming than the white.

Wild Four O’clock Mirabilis nyctaginea can be found beginning to bloom just outside of the backdoor the Riveredge Visitor’s Center. This plant is named for the time of day during which its flowers tend to open. This picture was taken around noon, and one could anticipate a showier flower later in the afternoon.

White Campion at Riveredge Nature Center

White Campion Silene latifolia is another that can be found close to the Visitor’s Center, and was introduced to North America in the early 1800’s. It’s flower petals tend to retract during the day.

Blue Flag Iris Iris versicolor is not a prairie plant, in fact it grows on the edges of ponds or along streams, but it’s blooming right now in its full splendor. Iris comes from the Greek word for rainbow, indicating its variety of colors.

Stop by and see what you discover at Riveredge – make sure to visit for the Milwaukee Public Museum BioBlitz on Saturday, June 15 from 10:00am!

Blooming Spring Flowers at Riveredge

Lesser Yellow Lady's-slipper at Riveredge Nature Center

Spring flowers are flourishing right now at Riveredge! These are known as ephemerals, meaning they won’t last long – so get here to experience these beauties soon!

Great White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum has been blooming for a few weeks along the Milwaukee River trails. “But that flower isn’t white?!” you say? Indeed! As trillium flowers age, they commonly turn pinkish or purple before the petals wilt.

Golden Alexander at Riveredge Nature Center

Golden Alexander Zizia aurea is one of the spring flowers blooming along the trails at Riveredge. It might not be immediately obvious, but this forb is in the carrot family.

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum is blooming throughout forested areas. This herbal plant has been used for pain relief throughout history.

Another example of Wild Geranium, this image better displays the vascular structure of the petals.

Swamp Buttercup Ranunculus septentrionalis can be found throughout our moisture-rich lowlands. It can easily be confused for Marsh Marigold, but its flowers are much more pointed.

Lesser Yellow Lady's-slipper Orchid

Lesser Yellow Lady’s-slipper Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin, or Small Yellow Lady’s-slipper, is one of the more elaborate flowers, so named because of its appearance (the image above may show a better angle of the slipper appearance. Learn about our Native Orchid Restoration Project here.

Small Yellow Lady's-slipper

Sometimes, don’t you just feel like a third slipper?

Prairie Smoke

Blooming Spring Flowers in the Prairie at Riveredge

Wild Columbine

One Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis was observed blooming in a shady spot adjacent to the dry prairie at Riveredge.

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum is springing up from the soil, but hasn’t yet opened to show the wispy tassels for which it is named.

Prairie Shooting Star

Prairie Shooting Star Dodecatheon meadia is just beginning to blossom in a few spots. This flower is easy to distinguish because it looks like it’s pointing to the ground.

Native Orchid Restoration Planting at Riveredge

Riveredge volunteers and staff, along with employees of Stantec, gathered to plant seedlings that will become the basis of our native orchid restoration project. Stantec, Smithsonian – North American Orchid Conservation Center, Sheboygan County, and Wisconsin Coastal Management Program are all partners in this wide-ranging orchid restoration project. Thank you to our friends at Sheboygan County, as well as American Transmission Company, for generously providing materials and labor to build the Orchid Shade House where these plants are being raised!

Melissa Curran of Stantec is the leader of this orchid restoration project throughout the Midwest. She explains to volunteers how to plant orchid seedlings in pots inside the Orchid Shade House at Riveredge.

The Journey of an Orchid Seed

Orchids seeds begin as tiny, difficult to see specks the size of dust, and are dispersed through the wind. Minnesota Landscape Arboretum propagates and provides the seedlings for this project.

Many people may not realize that orchids are native to the Midwest. Orchids throughout this region are terrestrial, meaning that these orchids grow in the soil. Epiphytic orchids, the types that grow with aerial roots, are more commonly known.

Terrestrial orchids have complex fungal relationships, and certain species of orchid seedlings will only grow with the help of certain species of fungus. These species relationships are still a part of the mystery scientists are trying to solve. In the interim, seedlings are raised in a media culture, which provides nutrients and functions as a surrogate fungal connection.

These orchid seedlings grow in clumps and have to be pulled apart delicate care.

A soil combination is mixed, which drains quickly and doesn’t retain more moisture than the plants prefer.

Thank You Orchid Restoration Volunteers!

Thanks to everyone who helped us plant our orchid seedlings! Many hands makes light work – if you’d like to volunteer to help restore orchids throughout the Midwest, learn about volunteering at Riveredge.

One orchid seedling is planted in every pot. These plants will harden off to become acquainted with the natural conditions in the wild inside our Orchid Shade House.

Of course, once the orchids are potted, that ever important ingredient – water! We’re still looking for volunteers to help water these fledgling flowers.

And voila! Two weeks after the initial planting a sea of orchid seedlings sprout their first leaves inside the Orchid Shade House! Some of these flowers will be planted at suitable locations throughout Riveredge. Many of the orchids are destined to be planted throughout the Midwest in habitats where they are likely to flourish, or will bolster or reestablish orchid populations that have existed historically.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel visited to chronicle our orchid planting day, read their story about the project here.