The Native Plants that Impact Wisconsin Wildlife
With summer just around the corner, Wisconsin’s foliage is nearly in full bloom. These green trees, shrubs, weeds, and flowers not only provide a gorgeous background when classifying Snapshot photos, but are also critical for the health of our wildlife species. Plant cover provides food and habitat to these animals, and even reduces stress in humans. They are an irreplaceable part of the food chain as many of these plants feed insects, which in turn become food for bird, bats, fish, and so on up the line. Recognizing local plants can lend a new appreciation for the complexity and beauty of nature.
Here are just a few of the native Wisconsin plant species you may find this summer in state natural areas or even your own backyard!
Bee balm (Monarda sp.)
Bee balm (or wild bergamot) is a great food source for bees and other pollinators. You can usually see it covering large expanses in tallgrass prairies. This plant grows to about four feet tall and flowers in late July. The flowers can be pink, purple, and even red depending on the species. Bee balm is part of the mint family and its leaves are used in herbal teas. Native Americans have used wild bergamot for centuries as a medicine.
Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
Goldenrod is another common prairie plant. When their flowers bloom in the fall, they attract butterflies and bees. This plant even has its own species of beetle that has evolved along with it. The Goldenrod Leaf Miner (Microrhopala vittata) depends on the leaves of this plant for protection, food, and habitat to lay their eggs. If you look closely at the leaves of a goldenrod plant, you can often see the brown tracks and holes left by young munching larvae.
Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wild geranium can most often be spotted when walking through the woods in areas where the trees are sparse. These plants can be recognized by their uniquely shaped leaves with long lobes. Individual plants can grow up to 18 inches wide and 28 inches tall, and often grow in clusters. Their flowers bloom in late spring to early summer, so now is the perfect time to spot these woodland beauties!
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Milkweed is perhaps one of the most popular native plants. It has received wide acclaim as an essential place for Monarch butterflies to lay their eggs. With Monarch populations drastically decreasing, many home owners have opted to let milkweed sprout up in their lawns and gardens. But these five-foot-tall plants aren’t just nurseries for Monarchs, they also serve as food and shelter for hundreds of other species of insects, beetles, and caterpillars.
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
These graceful plants bloom white flowers in spring that turn into luscious dark berries. These berries are a great food source for many bird species, but are not palatable to deer. They are part of the asparagus family and they like growing in wet, shady areas of the woods. A large plant can get up to three feet tall.
Click here for more information on native Wisconsin plants, including how to grow them in your own yard.