Greene Prairie was planted from 1943 to 1958–almost single-handedly–by Dr. Henry Greene a UW-Madison botany professor and expert on parasitic fungi.
Looking southeast we see a matrix of the grass prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heteropepis) and the baby rattle-shaped rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium). The large elephant ear leaves of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) are in the lower right corner.
Although not in the Lake Wingra watershed, Greene Prairie is important for the quality of life of the broader Madison community. It is a social amenity, it provides critical wildlife habitat (think sandhill cranes and foxes) in an urban area, and it performs ecological services like infiltrating rainfall to the ground water.
Dr. Greene created a masterpiece that has withstood the test of time (until recently) as the second oldest restoration in the world (Curtis Prairie is the earliest restoration dating from 1935), but today this elegant prairie is threatened by storm water runoff and the pest plant reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). Reed canary grass since 1993 forms a near monoculture in the southern part of Greene Prairie. In 2007 reed canary grass occupied 9.8 acres of the 50 acre prairie (Wegener and Zedler, 2009.) The pest plant’s invasion and steady march across the prairie is driven by storm water runoff. To understand how and why storm water facilitates reed canary grass invasions, see the Zedler Lab Leaflet # 5.
The sustainable long-term solution is to direct storm water away from the Arboretum, not into it. Outdated and old-fashioned storm water management strategies and tactics that rely upon channels, ponds, concrete and riprap will not protect the treasured Greene Prairie.