On Saturday morning I went on a hike with the North Woods Native Plant Society, an informal group of natural history enthusiasts who put together outings in northern Wisconsin and the western Upper Peninsula every summer. This particular trip was to the Toy Lake Swamp State Natural Area, where we spent a little time exploring a plant community I wasn’t familiar with, a black ash swamp. It’s pretty unusual to stand in a forest where the canopy is composed almost completely of ash trees. (Emerald Ash Borer isn’t in this area – yet – but ash trees just aren’t all that common here.)
The understory was wet, green, and wild. There was no trail – we just bushwhacked through this, our boots getting soggy. The basic definition of a swamp is a wetland that is forested, and black ash, like red maples and some other deciduous trees, are well-adapted for growing in this saturated soil.
Because this was supposed to be about botany, we talked a little about sedges. Um… do not ever ask me to identify a sedge. I had to learn a bunch of grass species once for a job that involved doing plant surveys, and that was hard enough. The seed heads of sedges are cool-looking, though. If you don’t know, the way to distinguish sedges from grasses is to remember the mantra “sedges have edges” – if you roll the base of the stem between your fingers, a sedge will feel angular while a grass will feel round.
Also cool was this old Red-eyed Vireo nest, suspended from a branch.
Totally worth getting up at 7AM on a Saturday and driving an hour to meet up with a bunch of strangers and slog through a swamp!