White Trout-Lily

Madison, WI.  On Sunday I went down to the Arboretum’s Wingra Oak Savanna with some friends to show them around the restoration project and to look at the nearby Council Springs, and Dancing Sands Springs.  And, of course, to botanize.

One of the highlights on this gorgeous spring day were the carpets of white trout-lily (Erythonium albidum) under the spreading open-grown bur and white oaks that provide the framework for the savanna.  The bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was past and the Jacob’s ladder ( Polemonium reptans) was just that day starting to flower.


White trout-lily a native Wisconsin woodland and savanna wildflower.

There were so many large colonies of white trout-lily at the Wingra Oak Savanna it was hard to take them all in; seemingly everywhere you looked was another patch.  But only a few flowering stems of yellow trout-lily were visible.

White trout-lily and its cousin, yellow trout-lily (Erythonium americanum) are true spring ephemerals, meaning they go dormant by late spring or early summer after producing seed, just after the tree canopy  closes in.   Trout-lilies like moist woods, forests, and apparently savannas.  The white variety is more common in southern Wisconsin; the yellow form common in the northern part of the state.

All trout-lilies grow from small underground vertical structures called corms, which are an enlarged, fleshy, solid base of a stem.   Each corm sends up two leaves and, usually, a single flower stalk.  However, both white and yellow trout-lily are notorious for producing sterile, non-flowering corms which produce dense colonies of single leaves.  Truly though, I don’t know what evolutionary advantage there is to a plant being sterile.

The leaves of trout-lilies are shaped like a fish and are mottled or spotted, giving it the appearance of the markings of a brook trout.


Each flower has six petals, called “tepals”, the term used when the petals and sepals look nearly alike.

Some think the tepals are shaped like a long canine tooth, hence the alternate common name of dog-tooth violet, despite the fact that the plant is not a violet but rather, is in the lily family (Lillaceae).  Other common names include Fawn Lily and Adder’s-tongue (Fassett, 1976).

Trout-lilies are clonal species meaning that while a given patch consists of many individual stems, they are all produced by common underground stems or stolons that arise from the mother corm and have an identical genetic makeup.  New colonies can be produced by seed.

Research has shown that trout-lily clones can live a long time.   Whitford (1951) studied the structure and age of a typical mesic forest stand in Green County, Wisconsin.  He determined “that the average age of a trout-lily colony was 145 years, ranging from 40 to 313 years.” (Curtis, 1959.)  This upper age estimate  was just six years after the explorer Nicolet in 1636 visited what would become Wisconsin.



Curtis, J.T. 1959.  The Vegetation of Wisconsin.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI.

Fassett, N. C. 1976.  Spring Flora of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI.

Whitford, P.W. 1951.  Estimation of the age of forest stands in the prairie-forest border region. PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Posted in Bagpipes and Bonfires, Council Spring, Restoration ecology, Spring ephemerals, Spring wildflowers, Springs | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Madison’s Well #14 Reaches Critical Chloride Contamination Level

Remedial Actions Triggered

Some Residents of Lake Wingra Watershed Affected

Madison, WI December 1–The Madison Water Utility announced yesterday that “Sodium levels in Well 14 are around 45 mg/L, higher than the recommended limit for people on salt-restricted diets. Chloride, the component of salt that causes the “salty” taste, has been measured at the well at 125 mg/L, or 50 percent of the EPA’s secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL) for the chemical.”

While the health of most people is not directly impacted by high sodium and chloride levels, elevated salt levels are a concern for those on salt-restricted diets.   High sodium and chloride levels do pose a threat to water quality and can contaminate the soil and adversely impact plants and soil organisms.

Contamination Levels Trigger Remediation Actions

The water quality policy of the Madison Water Utility requires that remediation actions be initiated when a contaminant, such as chloride, reaches 50% of its threshold.  The water utility outlined a series of remediation steps that include an analysis of the situation to determine which below-ground areas are contributing the most sodium chloride, to re-building the well in order to draw from a deeper aquifer, to on-site desalination, or even abandoning the well altogether.

Dudgeon-Monroe and Vilas Neighborhoods in Lake Wingra Watershed Affected

Well # 14, at 5130 University Avenue, is a major source of water for the near west side of Madison  and supplies the following neighborhoods across at least a couple of watersheds:  Spring Harbor, Glen Oak Hills, Hill Farms, Sunset Village, Regent, Dudgeon Monroe and Vilas. In addition, Well 14 serves the Village of Shorewood Hills and parts of the University of Wisconsin campus.   Although Well #14 is outside of the Lake Wingra Watershed, it supplies two large neighborhoods in the watershed:  Dudgeon Monroe and Vilas neighborhoods.  Click here to see a map of the location of well #14 and its “wellhead protection zone”.

Source of the salt

The Madison Water Utility points to de-icing salt, as the source of the contamination.  The utility cites road salt as a major contributor: “Every winter, about 140 tons of road salt are dumped on the two-mile stretch of University Ave. between Segoe Rd. and Allen Boulevard.”   The utility  also points to salt applied to sidewalks, parking lots, and driveways of both commercial and residential properties.  Even salt from water softeners contributes to the problem.

For a history of road salt use in Madison and chloride concentrations in its lakes, see this earlier blog post.

Other Wells Have Not Escaped a Salt Overdose

According to the Madison Water Utility, “Well #11 on Dempsey Rd., Well #6 on University Ave., and Well #16 on Mineral Point Rd. all show increasing levels of sodium and chloride, albeit at much lower levels than Well 14” (click here for chart). The water utility concludes “It’s possible that if nothing is done to decrease road salt use across our area, we will be looking at costly chloride mitigation efforts at some of those of wells and others in the coming decades.”

Chloride Contamination Concerns Go Beyond Water

As we reported in this blog over three years ago, chloride concentrations are a year-round concern in Madison and the surrounding area. In fact, each spring and summer rain, flushes accumulated salt from the soil and into our freshwater supplies. As we reported then:

“The road salt (usually sodium chloride) applied on our streets, sidewalks, and driveways to make winter driving and walking easier, does not just disappear once the storm is over. It mixes with melt water or rainfall and washes down the storm drain where it ends up in Madison lakes, the groundwater, and eventually our drinking water wells.”

Long-term Solutions Sought

“Rising levels of chloride in our groundwater and lakes should be a cause of concern to all of us,” says Madison Water Utility general manager Tom Heikkinen. “As a region, we are on an unsustainable path with respect to wintertime salt use and we need to figure out how to solve this problem now for the sake of future generations.”

We will report next time on some of these efforts to go on a reduced road-salt diet.


Posted in Chloride concentrations, Groundwater, Road salt, Road salt use | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Annual Chapter Meeting of SER Midwest Great Lakes March 24-27 in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Assembling the Restoration Community is Theme of Annual Meeting.

The Ninth Annual Chapter Meeting of the Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration will be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan from March 24 to March 26, 2017.  Next year’s meeting theme is Assembling the Restoration Community.  The meeting will be hosted by the Department of Biology at Grand Valley State University.

Deadline for Symposia and Workshop Proposals is Dec. 16, 2016

The call for workshop proposals and symposia proposals is now open! Meeting organizers encourage submission of workshop and symposium proposals directly related to the meeting theme,  or any topic related to ecological restoration. The deadline for submission of workshop and symposium proposals is December 16, 2016. Details here. Example of a correctly formatted proposal here.

The Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of SER was established in March 2008 and serves Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  The chapter promotes the science and practice of ecological restoration to assist with the recovery and management of degraded ecosystems throughout the Midwest and Great Lakes region of the United States.

Members receive opportunities to network with colleagues and showcase your work at annual chapter meetings and state events, discounted event registration, webinars and chapter communications highlighting regional restoration issues and news.

Other Annual Meeting Deadlines

December 16, 2016: Deadline for receipt of symposia and workshop proposals

January 6, 2017: Deadline for receipt of abstracts for contributed oral and poster presentations

February 1, 2017: Registration opens.

For more information about the 2017 annual meeting or to submit proposals contact SER MWGL at mwgl.ser@gmail.com


Posted in Restoration ecology | Leave a comment

Storm Water Management versus Ecological Restoration–a review of Pond #1


Fraying of Social and Ecological Connections

Sometimes changes to landscape features happen so gradually, and over such a long time frame that we come to take them for granted. If we see them at all, we consider them part of the background, or think the situation they represent is the way it has always been, the way people want it to be, and always should be. This is certainly true of the storm water pond and collapsed infrastructure on the southwest edge of Curtis Prairie.  It has left an open wound that continues to fester.

The storm water wound on Curtis Prairie has physical and symbolic implications beyond the confines of Curtis Prairie; it has poked a hole in the watershed’s social and ecological fabric.  The collapsed flume typifies the “broken windows” syndrome:  neglect begets further neglect until neglect becomes the norm.

As a result, the ecological and social fabric of our common home, our shared Lake Wingra Watershed, is slowly coming unraveled. The events that tear at a community’s ecological connections often start small and are unnoticed, by most. Like an ignored and un-mended rip in the fabric of a favorite jacket, the hole will eventually get so big the owner has to mend the jacket, or throw it away—out of embarrassment, if nothing else.

History of Storm Water Management Issues

In 1969 the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WIDOT) excavated (with University and Arboretum acquiescence) a 3 acre storm water detention pond in the iconic Curtis Prairie, the world’s first prairie restoration. The WIDOT expansion of the nearby Beltline Highway had increased stormwater runoff into the prairie, necessitating the detention pond to hold the silt-laden water coming from the roadway construction.

The pond was connected to the Beltline Highway (US 12-14-18-151) storm water outfall—about 100 yards distant—by a concrete raceway, or flume.

To add insult to injury, the new pond—the first of eventually six in the Arboretum—dug up research plots established to study the effect of prescribed fire on restored prairies. The state’s excavation compromised and ended the experiment.

Over the years the concrete flume became undermined and, in the summer of 1996, it collapsed. Storm water, however, continued to flow; and with it the erodible sandy soil of the Leopold Pines flowed downstream.

Concrete slabs of the former Pond #1 flume lie in disarray as if an earthquake has pushed them aside.

Concrete slabs of the former Pond #1 flume lie in disarray as if an earthquake has pushed them aside.

I worked at the Arboretum when the storm water flume collapsed. The financial and technical magnitude of the repair task was beyond the meager resources or capabilities of the UW-Madison Arboretum, a research unit of the university’s Graduate School. We sought advice and assistance from the WIDOT.  And the WIDOT offered to repair the broken flume to approximately the design and condition prior to its collapse. Arboretum officials considered the proposal but, on the advice of water resources and stormwater experts in the university and extension office, rejected the offer of help.

Instead of fixing the flume right away, a storm water committee was formed to consider Pond #1 and the entire scope of storm water issues afflicting the Arboretum.

Arboretum Storm Water Committee

The Arboretum Storm Water Committee, on which I served, consisted of university and Arboretum faculty and staff. One of the first things the Arboretum Storm Water Committee did was develop a set of storm water management values. These values were to “better guide the Arboretum storm water planning process, and to provide criteria for making decisions about future storm water management options.” (2006 UW-Arboretum Facility Storm Water Management Plan, p 5.)

Arboretum Storm Water Management Values

These values were developed and approved in 2004 by the Arboretum Committee, a University faculty governance committee.  They are published in the Arboretum’s 2006 report, “Facility Storm Water Management Plan”.

  • “Managing storm water on UW-Arboretum property should attempt to maintain (or restore) conditions of storm water transport and infiltration that best serve Arboretum restoration objectives, while protecting the environment.”
  • “Flows of storm water runoff onto Arboretum property resulting from the surrounding urban areas should be controlled to pre-settlement levels to the extent possible, and managed for minimum impact upon Arboretum ecosystems.”
  • “The quality of storm water runoff (e.g. nutrients, solids, temperature) entering Arboretum ecosystems and draining to surface waters, should be consistent with pre-settlement quality.”
  • Any construction of storm water management infrastructure (e.g. detention ponds and dikes) on Arboretum property should serve and enhance Arboretum restoration, teaching, research, and outreach goals.”
  • “UW-Arboretum should encourage wise storm water management practices throughout the surrounding watershed community, by example and through education.”

The values looked good on paper but never got traction among the engineering planners who generally viewed them at best, as irrelevant, or at worst, as an obstacle.

The former flume has become a small stream, carrying runoff from a portion of the watershed south of the Beltline.

The former flume has become a small stream, carrying runoff from a portion of the watershed south of the Beltline.

The storm water committee eventually developed a few conceptual plans to repair the collapsed flume, dredge the existing pond and better design it to meet City of Madison storm water management needs and requirements and Arboretum restoration and research needs and requirements. Trouble was, as we discovered, 1) the needs, and requirements of the City (and University?) and 2) of the Arboretum were entirely different. One group valued an engineering approach; the other valued an ecological approach. The values gulf between the two could never be bridged.

That philosophical obstacle, as well as financial ones, prevented development of construction designs and plans. The storm water committee could not secure sufficient funding from the University, the City, or the State to take on a project whose costs were estimated to exceed $1million.  So, here we sit in 2016 and no plans have been approved, let alone money allocated, to repair the collapsed flume and Pond #1 itself. A search of the UW-Madison Arboretum website turns up no mention of the Pond #1 flume, its current condition, nor plans to repair it.

Native Soil Continues To Be Lost

In the meantime, the Arboretum Storm Water Management Plan, (2006 p. 17) estimated that in the 10 years since the flume collapse, more than 1000 cubic yards of native soil was eroded from beneath the flume and accumulated in the pond. This overload of soil limited the capacity of the pond for containing storm flows and removing nutrients.

Time Passes

Twenty years later, as of this writing in early Nov. 2016, the collapsed flume has still not been repaired. It is estimated that in the 10 years between 2006 and 2016 at least an additional 1000 cubic yards of native soil have been washed away. The total over 20 years is a loss of 2000 cubic yards of native soil; and with it the native flora and fauna.

Access gate to the fenced off Pond #1 flume area.

Access gate to the fenced off Pond #1 flume area.

What’s Happened Since 1996 Here on Earth

In case you have forgotten, or were not alive in 1996, or are new to Madison, the collapsed flume is not normal and is not good for the Arboretum or the watershed. Twenty years is a long time to let a wound fester. The infection has now spread throughout Curtis Prairie, and beyond.

While time seems to stand still in parts of the watershed, much else in the world has changed since 1996.  In that time the United States has had three presidents: Bill Clinton (second term), George W. Bush (2 terms), and Barack Obama (soon to complete his 2nd term).

The Arboretum has had three directors, none of whom were able to produce a solution to the storm water problems afflicting Curtis Prairie. The Arboretum storm water planning project team and the later storm water committee, while they identified the problem, have failed to develop or carry out a solution.

But the collapsed storm water flume continues to send eroded native soil down the drain.

Technological Developments since 1996

Elsewhere there have been many developments and accomplishments since 1996:
In 1996 came MP3 formatting.
The DVD was invented in 1997 and Fujitsu released the first 42-inch plasma television.
In 1998 the first digital cameras were released.
Also in 1998 computer animation was introduced.
In 1999 there were two inventions that impact us all: WiFi and the search engine Google.
In 2000, Toyota introduced the first hybrid automobile.
In 2001 the iPod was introduced, and the first artificial liver was developed.
In 2005, YouTube was launched.
In 2007 the first iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs.
In 2016 the iPhone 7 was introduced.

In addition to items mentioned above, since 1996 there have been advances in artificial intelligence, driverless cars, virtual reality and the widespread use of wind and solar power.

All the while more native soil washed downstream and neither the state, nor the university, nor the city could muster the interest, moral resolve, or resources or overcome differences to carry out a repair to the collapsed Pond #1 flume.

Since 1996 in Outer Space

In terms of lunar and planetary exploration, NASA and private companies have accomplished much since 1996. For example:
The International Space Station has made countless orbits over the collapsed Pond #1 flume.
NASA has launched several missions to Mars and even landed exploratory rovers on the planet.
In 2005 NASA accomplished a fly-by of the Comet Hartley 2 as part of its Deep Impact mission.
In 2011 NASA launched a Jupiter orbiter.
The Hubble Space Telescope was repaired 4 times and continues to send amazing images back to earth. Launched in 1990, Hubble is expected to be retired in 2016.
In addition, there are the accomplishments of private companies such as Space X which is developing the ability to launch its own rockets for space exploration.

And the list goes on, and native soil continues to flow downstream, but still the collapsed Pond #1 flume lies in ruins on the edge of the world’s first prairie restoration.

Accomplishments Closer to Home

The Beltline Highway, again.

In November, 2016 the WIDOT is putting the finishing touches on an extensive $139 million project to expand, yet again, the Beltline Highway on the Arboretum’s southern boundary to six lanes (3 in each direction) from Seminole Highway west to Whitney Way, a distance of about two miles. The massive project began in March 2013 and is expected to conclude in early November, 2016. The project boundaries like the Arboretum, are within the Lake Wingra Watershed.

Although the State of Wisconsin can find the money for the Beltline project it can’t summon the resources to fix a 200 yard scar on the landscape. And during the highway project the Arboretum’s native soil continued to wash downstream.

A small wetland delta has formed from eroded soil has developed in the past 20 years.

A small wetland delta, formed from eroded soil,  has developed in the past 20 years.

On the Positive Side

I don’t approve of neglect as a strategy or tactic to solve problems.  But, ironically, and fortuitously, over the past twenty years neglect of the Pond #1 flume has proven to be a good teaching tool and demonstration project.    Eroded soil from underneath the flume and from the Evjue Pines on the Arboretum’s Grady Tract south of the Beltline, has formed a delta and small wetland at the mouth of the flume.

It has been documented (J. Zedler 2016 personal communication) that the wetland provides an important ecological function by denitrifying storm water inputs. Zedler also reminds me that a shallow pond is more likely to support denitrification than a deepened pond. And, because the threat to Arboretum is nitrogen (N) and not phosphorous and because there is no evidence that phosphorous escapes all the way the Lake Wingra, there is no need to dredge the pond. If the pond were dredged, and/or enlarged as the storm water engineers insist is necessary, these functions would be lost.

Whether or not these science based findings will be valued and influence future storm water management plans is an open question.    Whether or not Arboretum management can negotiate desirable restoration outcomes remains to be seen.

Posted in Curtis Prairie, Ecological restoration, Human impacts on restorations, Lake Wingra Watershed, Restoration ecology, Soil erosion, Storm water | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Look at Storm Water Management Pond #5

The City of Madison Engineering Division has, over the years as the City has expanded, installed six storm water detention ponds on UW-Madison Arboretum property.  This is Pond #5 on Monroe Street.

City of Madison storm water detention Pond #5 on Monroe Street.

City of Madison storm water detention Pond #5  looking NW towards Monroe Street.  The woody debris on top of the concrete culvert is not the work of beaver but marks the high water mark from this summer’s storms.

The storm water pond in Curtis Prairie is #1 (the first constructed); Pond #6 (formerly known as Secret Pond) is at the intersection of Nakoma Road and Manitou Way.

One of two storm water outlets in Pond #5 that direct storm water into the UW-Madison Arboretum's West Marsh.

One of two storm water outlets in Pond #5 that direct storm water into the UW-Madison Arboretum’s West Marsh.

The City of Madison’s six storm water detention ponds occupy over 25 acres in the UW-Madison Arboretum.

Storm water as it flows out of Pond #5 towards the Arboretum's West Marsh.

Storm water as it flows out of Pond #5 towards the Arboretum’s West Marsh. Notice the oily sheen on the water.  And this is how the water looks after “treatment” in the pond.

What is the bubbly, chocolate-colored substance (right center) floating on the surface?

Storm water flowing into West Marsh, traditionally a nesting site for a pair sandhill cranes.

Storm water flowing through a patch of reed canary grass on its way into West Marsh.

Because of the heavy rain overnight (2″ by 8am) and continuing this morning, the water level in the pond is likely to rise.

What a sight!

Green vegetation in lower left corner is garlic mustard; invasive cattails in the middle right.



Looking NW towards Monroe Street and its intersection with Glenway Street.  The red awnings belong to the Gates and Brovi restaurant.

Posted in City of Madison Engineering Division, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed, Marion Dunn Pond, Storm water | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Ray Schulenberg Planted the Prairie at Taylor University

Taylor University of Upland, Indiana in the east central part of the state

Taylor University of Upland, Indiana in the east central part of the state.

Last month I spent a few days in Indiana and took the opportunity to visit Taylor University in Upland, Indiana to see and photograph its famous prairie planted by Ray Schulenberg.  I had seen the prairie many years earlier but at the time, was not aware of who planted it or of its significance in the history of prairie restoration.  This time I approached the prairie with keen interest, and a deep appreciation of the time and effort that went into the project.

Ray Schulenberg is perhaps best known for his planting of the prairie (since named after him) at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois, begun in 1963.  But Schulenberg, who was honored for lifetime achievement at the 24th North American Prairie Conference in Normal, Illinois this summer, has planted scores of prairies at colleges, universities and other public spaces across the midwest.   Schulenberg could be considered the Johnny Appleseed of prairie restoration.

The prairie at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.

The prairie on the outskirts of the Taylor University campus in Upland, Indiana.

The university has grown and been built up over the years.  Although the campus is relatively compact,  I could not, at first, get my bearings among all the new buildings nor find the prairie.  I flagged down a campus police officer and asked for help and wondered if he could direct me to the prairie.  I received a big blank stare.  When I tried:  “where is the area they burn every year?”, his eyes lit up and I was directed to a spot on the edge of campus, near the intersection of two state highways.

A trademark of a Shulenberg prairie planting is an emphasis on grasses in the heart of the prairie, surrounded by a verge of forbs

A trademark of a Shulenberg prairie planting is an emphasis on grasses in the heart of the prairie, surrounded by a verge of forms.  Faculty and students conduct a prescribed management burn of the prairie each year.

One would imagine that east central Indiana is out of the prairie region of the midwestern United States and that a prairie planting would be a bit out of its range.  But, as I know from experience,  prairie remnants–especially along railroad rights-of-way–are not uncommon from Upland, through Marion, and on to Wabash, Indiana.

I don’t know if prairie once grew on the spot of Schulenberg’s prairie, it certainly does fit in  with the landscape.

Posted in Prairie forbs, Prairie restoration, Restoration ecology | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Council Ring Spring

The Council Spring flows from beneath the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council.

The Council Ring Spring flows from beneath the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council.

Located just off Arbor Drive and Monroe Street, in the UW-Madison Arboretum, the Council Ring Spring has an average annual flow of 221 gallons per minute. Situated below the Kenneth Jensen Wheeler Council Ring (designed by the famed landscape architect, Jens Jensen in honor of his nephew who died at a  young age) the Council Ring Spring is in the heart of one of Madison’s best known warbler-watching spots during the annual spring migration in May.

Bird habitat here is ideal:  fresh water,  food sources, vegetative cover, and a variety of nesting sites from ground level to the oak canopy of the nearby Wingra Oak Savanna.

The Council Spring as it flows towards Lake Wingra.

The Council Spring as it flows towards Ho-Nee-Um Pond then on to Lake Wingra.

The Council Ring Spring flows on to Ho-Nee-Um Pond, an artificial pond dug between March 1938 and October, 1939 by the National Park Service when it ran the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) housed at Camp Madison in the UW-Madison Arboretum.

The pond flows into Lake Wingra over two small dams about a foot above lake level at either end of a dredge spoil island that shields the pond from Lake Wingra. The pond was , for many years, also  supplied by a storm sewer pipe that used to enter Ho-Nee-Um Pond at the foot of Knickerbocker Street, making Ho-Nee-Um Pond a large storm water detention pond.   The storm water brought in urban sediment that gradually filled the pond to the point that in recent years it is barely navigable, even with a canoe.

The Council Spring area is a popular bird watching spot especially during the spring warbler migration.

The Council Ring Spring area is a popular bird watching spot especially during the spring warbler migration.

However, Ho-Nee-Um Pond did provide a sort of filtering function and captured some sediments and contaminants, perhaps protecting Lake Wingra a bit from the direct assault.   But A few years ago City of Madison Engineering re-routed the storm water pipes about a block or so east so that the storm water now flows directly into Lake Wingra.

I’m not sure that this  “cure”  is any more desirable than the problem it was intended to fix.  The larger issue, as the Friends of Lake Wingra (FoLW) have been pointing out for years, is that storm water continues to run into the lake.  According to a Friends of Lake Wingra report (2009)  one-third of Lake Wingra’s water supply is from storm water; this is up from an estimated 8% storm water contribution prior to European settlement of the Madison area.  The contribution of spring flow to Lake Wingra has fallen from an estimated 50% pre-settlement to 35% today (FoLW 2009).

This does not seem like a sustainable situation, neither for fish, wildlife, recreation, or for drinking water supplies.  See the Friends of Lake Wingra watershed management planning for their recommendations for change and improvement.


Lake Winga:  a vision for the future.  2009  Friends of Lake Wingra.  Madison, WI

Posted in Council Spring, Friends of Lake Wingra, Jens Jensen, Lake Wingra, Springs | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gorham Springs (aka Duck Pond Springs) on Nakoma Road: a review of “invasive species impacts”

Lake Wingra Duck Pond Springs in the UW-Madison Arboretum

Gorham Springs as it flows into a pond in the UW-Madison Arboretum, as it appeared in September, 2016.

Nakoma Road and  Monroe Street are two of the busiest thoroughfares in Madison.  But just a few feet away from where these two traffic arteries intersect, is one of the few remaining natural springs in the Lake Wingra Watershed.

Just below the graceful curve of Nakoma Road and beyond the old stone wall that guards the Arboretum, and at the base of Spring Trail Road, flows a scarce and valuable source of cold water for Lake Wingra–the Gorham Springs.    In a watershed where once there were over 30 springs, it is now one of only 13 that remain.

More Than Just One Spring

The Gorham Springs (also known as Duck Pond Springs) is actually a complex of 5 springlets that flow from deep underground and emerge at the base of the stone wall and into the pond in the UW-Madison Arboretum, across Nakoma Road from the old Spring Trail Tavern.  Because the single source of upwelling groundwater is divided into 5 spring channels, Gorham Springs has never had the fast-flowing appearance of some other springs in the Lake Wingra Watershed.

Duck Pond Springs.

Watercress and forget-me-not growing in one of the vegetation-clogged spring channels of Gorham Springs (aka Duck Pond Springs) as it appeared in September, 2016.

Aquatic Weeds

What is different this summer is that the spring channels are so thoroughly clogged with forget-me-not and watercress that a visitor can’t even see the water.  Although these species have grown in the Lake Wingra Watershed for many years, and probably as long as Europeans have been in the area, the extent of their abundance this summer is alarming.

Watercress (Nasturtium officiale) and Forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpiodes) are described in “Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region” (Black & Judziewicz 2008)  as “introduced–naturalized and ecologically invasive.”   Pictured above and below, they like to grow in, or near, cold-water streams.

One of several springlets that are part of the Duck Pond Springs complex.

One of several springlets that are part of the Duck Pond Springs complex, as it looked in September, 2016.

Perhaps part of the reason the springs are clogged with aquatic weeds is that the spring does not have a powerful enough flow rate to flush them out, or to at least push them aside.   The flow rate of Gorham Springs (measured as cubic feet per second) is relatively slow compared to, say, the Council Springs at nearby Arbor Drive, or Big Spring across the lake.  Or, alternatively, the aquatic plant growth is slowing down the flow rate?  No one knows.  At least, I have not found any research on the topic.

What Problems Are Caused by Watercress and Forget-me-not?

I admit that watercress and forget-me-not are not garden beauties and seeing them clog a cold-water stream is not appealing; but, are they ecological problems or just aesthetic issues?   Because these two plants are considered invasive by the WIDNR, periodic efforts have been made to physically remove them from the Gorham Springs area.  But a manager of such a situation needs to decide if the abundance of these two plants is an aesthetic issue or can they cause real and documented ecological harm–a manager needs some proof that a control effort would be worthwhile and would be successful before deciding to invest in such an effort.

The Claims of an Ecological Threat

So, let’s see what the invasive species literature says about watercress and forget-me-not.   One claim for the invasive status of forget-me-not and watercress is found in “Invasive Species of the Upper Midwest” (Czarapata, 2005).   Czarapata lists both watercress and forget-me-not as invasive species and describes control measure but offers no documentation as the nature of their ecological threats other than that the Wisconsin DNR lists the two species as “invasive”.

Another claim comes from Black & Judziewicz (2008) in which they describe both watercress and forget-me-not as “introduced–naturalized and invasive” as “defined by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Herbarium.”

The United State Agriculture Department (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service plant database lists forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpiodes) as invasive but this is based upon only the recommendation of the Wisconsin DNR invasive species section.

And finally, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources lists forget-me-not as an invasive species  and classifies it as “Restricted” under NR 40, DNR’s invasive species rule. The rule means that a person: “Cannot transport, transfer, or introduce without a permit.**Possession is allowed except for fish or crayfish. Control is encouraged but not required.”

The WIDNR cites several ecological threats posed by forget-me-not, including:
1.  “Aquatic forget-me-not can quickly crowd out native plant species and is able to form large monocultures, especially in situations where it is in or near a stream. This, in turn, affects community composition by reducing the number of native herbs.”
2.  “This species has the ability to escape water gardens and ponds and grow in undisturbed and natural environments. It can grow in wetlands, forests, bogs, swamps, marshes, lakes, streams and ponds.”
3.  “Aquatic forget-me-not is difficult to control due to its mechanisms for spreading. It is capable of abundant reproduction through spreading stolons (runners) and abundant seed production.”
4.  “Due to habitat competition, aquatic forget-me-not poses a threat to two threatened and endangered Wisconsin native plants; the threatened intermediate spike sedge (Eleolcharis intermedia) and the endangered winged monkey flower (Mimulus alatus).”

Watercress is not considered an invasive species by the Wisconsin DNR.

The Evidence

Through my investigations, here is what I have been able to find so far.  There may be other evidence out there that I am not aware of,  so if anyone if familiar with more recent literature, please let me know. I’m always eager to learn more.

The primary piece of evidence for the ecological harm caused by forget-me-not is found in this literature review , the Aquatic Invasive Species Literature conducted by the WIDNR.

  1.  Forget-me-not is documented to have a high rate of spread, and is shown to produce abundant seed and can spread through vegetative fragments.  It is also claimed to compete with native plants in wetland habitats but there are no reports cited in the DNR literature review that document forget-me-not outcompeting or crowding out native plants to the point that they are extirpated from a given site.
  2. The plant’s ability to escape cultivation is well documented, and its abundance in some situations is also well-known.  But what happens after it escapes and how it impacts ecosystems in which it establishes are less well-known, and no examples of this are cited in the literature that I have reviewed.
  3. The effectiveness, and cost/benefits of various control measures are not documented.  The DNR literature review states that some herbicides are non-selective and may  impact non-target species.  And, as the DNR literature review shows, the cost, efficacy, and timeframe of control efforts are “undocumented.”   My experience is that repeated,  hand-pulling, several times a year,  over several years is required to even make a dent in the populations of forget-me-not.
  4. To investigate its claims of the potential ecological threats of forget-me-not, the WIDNR used the traditional methods of examining  a variety of variables that constitute what is termed “Damage Potential” in terms of ecosystem impacts.  These potential ecosystem impacts included:

a. Ecosystem Impacts


Competes with native plants in wet habitats1


Can alter canopy layer and water flow


May reduce nutrients available to native plants10

Allelopathic Effects


Keystone Species


Ecosystem Engineer






Biotic Effects


Abiotic Effects



Provides shelter and food for macroinvertebrates1

As you can see, the majority of the possible  ecosystem impacts are “undocumented.”

I could find no documented cases–and the WIDNR does not cite any such examples–in which forget-me-not has impacted  the two species in Wisconsin that the WIDNR has said are potentially vulnerable to forget-me-not invasion:  the threatened intermediate spike sedge (Eleolcharis intermedia) and the endangered winged monkey flower (Mimulus alatus).

The most thorough documentation of potential ecosystem impacts comes from the Alaska Center for Conservation Science.  Alaska’s invasive impact assessment can be found here.  And, Alaska’s impact assessment for forget-me-not can be found here.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In brief, the Alaskan report says that forget-me-not has the potential for impacts on community structure, function, and interactions because it can compete with native species in aquatic environments, has the potential to form large monocultures, and has the potential to reduce the populations of native species but, like the WIDNR literature review does not cite any documented cases of these impacts happening.

Forget-me-not also, according to the Alaskan report,  contains alkaloids that are toxic to mammals and can cause weight loss.

But having the potential to cause an ecological impact is a long way from actually causing an ecological impact, let alone such an impact being documented in a scientific case study.

Whether or not these potential impacts are enough to justify calling forget-me-not invasive, let alone warrant the time and expense of a control program, is something that each individual institution and manager will have to decide on their own.

The scarcity of documented ecological impacts of forget-me-not suggest a rich field of research.  Please let me know if you are aware of more recent research that documents actual cases of ecological impacts of forget-me-not.



Black, M.R. and E. J. Judziewicz.  2008.  Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI.

Czarapata, E. J.  2005.  Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI.



Posted in Council Spring, Duck Pond Springs, Groundwater, Lake Wingra, Lake Wingra Watershed | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dane County Trout Stream Habitat Improvement Project Implemented

Harbison Branch of Token Creek, Dane County, Wisconsin

The newly dug channel of the Harbison Branch that reconnected the stream to Token Creek, Dane County, Wisconsin.

In 1934 the Wisconsin Conservation Department (WCD) annexed land on private property near the Village of Token Creek in northeastern Dane County for the development of a large carp pond as a commercial venture. For the project, the Wisconsin Conservation Department (now the Department of Natural Resources, WIDNR) re-directed a small un-named trout stream into the pond, thus radically altering the flow, temperature and effectiveness of the stream.  The small trout stream–now known as the Harbison Branch– and its fish populations were also affected.

The commercial venture sold carp to markets on the east and west coasts and thrived for a while but was not sustainable in the log run and the project was eventually abandoned.  But the carp pond remained–until this year.

A New Era and Renewal

John and Rose Mary Harbison, co-directors of the Token Creek Festival, have ‐ at their own expense ‐ restored the stream’s connection to Token Creek, eliminated the carp pond, and created a beautiful and ecologically vital terrain that once again enhances the Lake Mendota watershed.

James Addis, formerly Administrator of the Division of Resource Management and Director of the Bureaus of Fisheries Management and Science Services with the WIDNR, over saw the project.   Inter-Fauve, the stream and river restoration firm, implemented the project.

A section of the newly re-connected Harbison Branch of Token Creek.

A view  of newly re-connected Harbison Branch of Token Creek.

Setting and Hydrological Importance

The Harbison property is next to Token Creek County Park and is in the  Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area which “encompass approximately 900 acres in northeastern Dane County. Token Creek is the only cold water trout fishery in this region of Dane County, and the 27 square mile watershed provides nearly half of the base flow of water for Lake Mendota.” (Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area Master Plan Dane County, Wisconsin May 2011.)

According to Dane County Parks planners, “Token Creek is one of the most significant natural resources in northeastern Dane County.” (Token Creek County Park 2011)   This ecological and hydrological importance is recognized by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources which has classified Token Creek and its tributaries as cold water communities that support cold water species such as trout.  The cold water habitat qualities has led the Dane County Land Conservation division to classify the Token Creek watershed as “thermally sensitive” and as such “have special stormwater management regulations in place to prevent adversely impacting the temperature of the stream.” (Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area Master Plan Dane County, Wisconsin May 2011.)

Early Project Outcomes

A couple of project goals have been met within weeks of project completion.  Trout moved into the new Harbison Branch stream channel right away (Token Creek supports a reproducing population of brown trout).  And, according to Addis, thermal readings in the new stream channel proves that the water temperature has fallen back into the low 50 degree F range that is ideal for trout habitat.

The project also supports earlier and ongoing stream improvement efforts by Dane County Parks, WIDNR, and the Token Creek Watershed Association and Conservancy  which include:  removal of the mill-pond dam, bank stabilization, invasive species removal and adding fish habitat structures.

Future posts will report on how the project might benefit native species in general and  the existing sedge meadow remnants, in particular.


Hunt, Robert L.  1993.  Trout Stream Therapy.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, WI.

Token Creek County Park and Natural Resource Area Master Plan Dane County, Wisconsin May 2011.  Dane County Parks, Madison, WI.

Posted in Dane County Parks, Token Creek, Token Creek County Park, Token Creek Watershed | Tagged , | 1 Comment