Tom and Kathie Brock and other Prairie Enthusiasts tend to Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie State Natural Area, just south of the city of Black Earth, Wisconsin. The slow-moving traffic and small downtown belie its popularity for hunters, trout fishermen, and nature lovers. Black Earth Creek snakes its way through town and joins Garfoot Creek just west of the city limit. The Department of Natural Resources classifies both as Class I trout streams.
But, there is more to this area than fishing or hunting. Sunday, I set out to find some prairie beauties and capture a bit of their splendor with my camera. My quarry: June bloomers. The steep slopes of Rettenmund prairie harbor remnant grassland habitat. Seen from a distance, the milkweeds, black-eyed susans, spiderworts, sunflowers, and prairie clover create a Monet-like scene, scattered with points of color against the backdrop of paler grasses. Here, the two stars today were the wood lilies and butterfly milkweed. The two feet tall single-stemmed lilies shouted out with flame-orange brilliance as if to say “Look at me!”. Purple-brown spots dotted the inside of the six large petals forming a cup perched atop each stem. The smaller milkweed flowers, though, make up for their stature with abundance and originality. Each sprawling stem carries hundreds of orange-hooded flowers, petals curving downward and away as if to set the frame for the show.
Pleasant Valley Conservancy, about five miles to the west of the Rettenmund Natural Area, shelters a state endangered species – the purple milkweed. This oak savanna beauty first appeared after the Brocks began restoring their property in 1999. These plants announce their arrival with a showy display. The characteristic hooded milkweed flowers produce an eye-popping shade of magenta. It’s not hard to see them amongst the dull (by comparison) grassy surroundings, shaded by tall white oaks. But, they come and go, springing up some years and not others, according to Nature’s whims. It was my lucky day and truly a pleasure to capture a picture of these illusive gems.
All pictures by CartoGeek