Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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Natural Communities:
Upland Herbaceous Communities


Click on community name for photo gallery.

Bracken grassland
These are open upland areas, in northern Wisconsin on sandy soils, dominated by bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinium), Penn sedge (Carex penyslvanica, Kalm's bromegrass (Bromus kalmii), and Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa). There may be a high cover of low shrubs such as blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium and V. myrtilloides), sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina), prairie willow (Salix humilis), and hazelnuts (Corylus spp.. Other common herbs include poverty oat-grass (Danthonia spicata), Lindley's aster (Aster ciliolatus), gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), and common strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). Exotics are often frequent. There is disagreement on whether bracken grassland should be considered a "natural community" in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Upper Great Lakes region.

Dry prairie
This grassland community occurs on dry, often loess-derived soils, usually on steep south or west facing slopes or at the summits of river bluffs with sandstone or dolomite near the surface. Short to medium-sized prairie grasses: little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), hairy grama (B. hirsuta), and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), are the dominants in this community. Common shrubs and forbs include lead plant (Amorpha canescens), silky aster (Aster sericeus), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), purple prairie-clover (Petalostemum purpureum), cylindrical blazing-star (Liatris cylindracea), and gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis). Stands on gravelly knolls in the Kettle Moraine region of southeastern Wisconsin and along the St. Croix River on the Minnesota – Wisconsin border may warrant recognition, at least at the subtype level.

Dry-mesic prairie
This grassland community occurs on slightly less droughty sites than Dry Prairie and has many of the same grasses, but taller species such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian-grass (Sorghastrum nutans) dominate. Needle grass (Stipa spartea) may also be present. The herb component is more diverse than in Dry Prairies, including many species that occur in both Dry and Mesic Prairies

Mesic prairie
This grassland community occurs on rich, moist, well-drained sites. The dominant plant is the tall grass, big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). The grasses little bluestem (Andropogon scoparius), indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), porcupine grass (Stipa spartea), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), and tall switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) are also frequent. The forb layer is diverse in the number, size, and physiognomy of the species. Common taxa include the prairie docks (Silphium spp.), lead plant (Amorpha canescens), heath and smooth asters (Aster ericoides and A. laevis), sand coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata), prairie sunflower (Helianthus laetiflorus), rattlesnake-master (Eryngium yuccifolium), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), prairie coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), and spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis).

Sand barrens
Sand Barrens are herbaceous upland communities that develop on unstable or semi-stabilized alluvial sands along major rivers such the Mississippi and Wisconsin. They are partly or perhaps wholly anthropogenic in origin, occurring on sites historically disturbed by plowing or very heavy grazing. Unvegetated “blow-outs” are characteristic features. Barrens, Dry Prairie and Sand Prairie species such as false-heather (Hudsonia tomentosa), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, sedges (Cyperus filiculmis and C. schweinitzii), sand cress (Arabis lyrata), three-awn grasses Aristida spp.), rock spikemoss (Selaginella rupestris), and the earthstar fungi (Geaster spp.) are present in this community. Many exotics are present, and rare disturbance dependent species such as fameflower (Talinum rugospermum) occur in some stands.

Sand prairie
This dry grassland community is composed of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), panic grass (Panicum spp.), and crab grass (Digitaria cognata). Common herbaceous species are western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), the sedges (Carex muhlenbergii and C. pensylvanica), poverty-oat grass (Danthonia spicata), flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), frostweed (Helianthemum canadense), common bush-clover (Lespedeza capitata), false-heather (Hudsonia tomentosa), long-bearded hawkweed (Hieracium longipilum), stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), horsebalm (Monarda punctata), and spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis). At least some stands are Barrens remnants now lacking appreciable woody cover, though extensive stands may have occurred historically on broad level terraces along the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Black, and Chippewa Rivers.


Offsite resources:
Virginia Kline's collection of the Vegetation of Wisconsin
Michigan Natural Features Inventory Community descriptions

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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