Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium

Faville Grove Prairie - notes:

Courtesy - Charles Johannsen, from his video documentary "Aldo Leopold and the Wild Prairie Orchids", about the beginning of prairie preservation at Faville Grove in the 1930s. Please contact Mr. Johannsen at for further information about this video and other video work in a similar vein.

Aldo Leopold May 15, 1940

Wisconsin conservation will suffer a defeat when, at the end of this week, 75 cattle will be turned to pasture on the Faville Grove prairie, long known to botanists as one of the largest and best remnants of unplowed, ungrazed prairie sod left in the state. In it grow the white ladyslipper, the white fringed orchis, and some twenty other prairie wildflowers which originally carpeted half of southern Wisconsin, but most of which are now rare due to their inability to withstand cow or plow.

Thirty miles away a C.C.C. camp on the University of Wisconsin Arboretum has been busy for four years artificially replanting a prairie in order that botany classes and the public generally may know what a prairie looked like, and what the word "prairie" signifies in Wisconsin history. This synthetic prairie is costing the taxpayer twenty times as much as what it would have cost to buy the natural remnant at Faville Grove, it will be only a quarter as large, the ultimate survival of its transplanted wildflowers and grasses is uncertain, and it will always be synthetic. Yet no one has heard the appeals of the University Arboretum Committee for funds to buy the Faville Grove prairie, together with other remnants of rare native flora, and set them aside as historical and educational reservations. Our educational system is such that white fringed orchis means as little to the modern citizen of Wisconsin as it means to a cow. Indeed it means less, for the cow at least sees something to eat, whereas the citizen sees only three meaningless words.

In preparation for the hoped-for floral reservation at Faville Grove, the botany Department and the Department of Wildlife Management of the University have, during the last three years, mapped the location of each surviving colony of rare flowers, and each spring have counted the blooms. It was hoped to measure against these data the response of the flowers to complete future protection. The data will now serve to measure the rate at which destruction by grazing takes place. It is already known that with the possible exception of ladies tresses, all the rarer species succumb to pasturing. That is why they are rare. Few of them succumb to mowing, hence the past use of the Faville Grove prairie as haymeadow has not greatly injured its flora.

In my opinion no individual blame attaches to the owner of the Faville Grove prairie for converting it to pasture. The public taxes him on the land. It is not his obligation to provide the public with free botanical reservations, especially when all public institutions, from the public school to the federal land bank, urge him to squeeze every possible penny out of every possible acre. No public institution ever told him, or any other farmer, that natural resources not convertible into cash have any value to it or to him. The white fringed orchis is as irrelevant to the cultural and economic system into which he was born as the Taj Mahal or the Mona Lisa.

John Muir, who grew up amid the prairie flowers in Columbia County, foresaw their impending disappearance from the Wisconsin landscape. In about 1865 he offered to buy from his brother a small part of the meadow of the family homestead, to be fenced and set aside as a floral sanctuary or reservation. His offer was refused. I imagine that his brother feared not so much the loss of a few square rods of pasture as he feared the ridicule of his neighbors.

By 1965, when the rarer prairie flowers are gone, the cultural descendants of John Muir's brother may look at a picture of the legendary white fringed orchis and wish they could see one

Update/2nd draft of the same essay (other paragraphs remained the same)

20 March 20, 1941

On May 15, 1940, Cattle were turned to pasture on the Faville Prairie, long known to botanists as one of the largest and best remnants of unplowed, ungrazed prairie sod left in the state. In it grow the white ladyslipper, the white fringed orchis, the prairie clover, praire fringed gentian, Indian plantain, Turk's cap lily, compass plant, blazing star, prairie dock, and other prairie wildflowers which originally carpeted half of southern Wisconsin, but most of which are now rare due to their inability to withstand cow or plow.

Within the tract converted to prairie last year, the cattle demolished the prairie vegetation within a single season; if any of it was left, it was underground. By September the grazed area looked like any other pasture.

The loss of this tract, however, called public attention to the question of preserving prairie vegetation. An Adjacent tract, containing 60 acres, and botanically almost as good as the lost pasture, has now been purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Philip E. Miles of Madison, for the express purpose of protecting its flora. Mr. and Mrs. Miles are retaining title to the land, but will allow the University botanists to use it for research purposes.


The lands herein conveyed shall until the grantee shall otherwise direct, be known as "Stoughton Faville Prairie Preserve".

The grantee shall designate and preserve all the rest and remainder of the lands herein conveyed for the continuance and the propagation of native or indigenous prairie wild life, and shall make reasonable and proper efforts to eliminate or prevent the coming of intrusive or exotic vegetable growth.

Additional note from May 2004.

Ellen told a great story. In the video Mr. Johannsen says, "Mr. Faville donated the orchid to the arboretum in Madison, but it died out."
Ellen said the way they always heard the story was that the orchid was planted in the arboretum in a secret location. Only four people knew where it was planted, and they all died before telling anyone. So maybe the orchid is still there.

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