Propagating false toadflax, Comandra umbellata

by Bernie Buchholz, Steward at Nachusa Grasslands

Bastard toad flax (Comandra umbellata) is a hemi-parasitic plant prominent in most of the remnant prairies at Nachusa Grasslands.  It is known to lightly parasitize most all of its neighbors.  Despite collecting thousands of seed over the past 20+ years, we have had virtually no germination in our plantings.  We tried every imaginable combination of scarifying and stratifying, various planting depths and addition of soil from existing stems.

We decided to try a genetic rescue.  We’d move pollen from one population more than a mile to the receiving population and hope the resulting seeds would germinate.  The biggest challenge is that Comandra flowers are a few millimeters across.

With high precision tweezers under a microscope my wife harvested tiny pollen bearing anthers.  She then delivered it to the stigma of the receiving flowers that had been previously bagged with nylon netting to prevent the regular pollinators – flies and small bees – from beating us to it.  I held each stem against the wind, and she dabbed the stigmas with pollen, carefully avoiding the five surrounding anthers.

We’ll soon collect the resulting fruits, plant them, and hope to see seedlings next Spring.  In the meantime, the Chicago Botanic Gardens is looking for mycorrhizae associations among the various populations and a separate genetic analysis to determine if the Comandra is all part of a mammoth clone or distinct populations that we might cross pollinate.

2005 crew at Nachusa who collected Commandra and Stipa.

Update: Our limited experiment of twenty-five transfers yielded only a single fruit. But Emma Leavens, the researcher from Chicago Botanic Gardens, subsequently determined that some of our Comandra populations are significantly different genetically from others. We will use that information next year to select the most promising matches for cross pollination when we try a larger sample.

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Baseline vegetation survey linked to photos

By Bill Kleiman

For a recently protected tract I developed a baseline vegetation protocol that seems doable, statistically sound, understandable, and visual.

First I created numbered sequential random points.  There is a way to get GIS to randomize these points but I learned that later.  What I did was lay this aerial photo over a piece of cardboard and used a pin to make random holes.  Then I used GIS to enter the points by eye.

Then the team uploaded this map to Avenza maps app on our tablet.

The survey team walked to where they were hovering over each point on the tablet.  They placed a meter square quadrat and recorded species and cover.

Then they took a photo looking down and a photo looking north.  We used a range pole with numbered tags.  Example photo below.

Here is a link to a summary of the first baseline we did using this protocol:

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Seed drier

by Bill Kleiman, Nachusa Grassland Project Director

At Nachusa we hand harvest with scissors and buckets several thousand pounds of seed from a few hundred species of plants.  When we bring in our seed it typically needs some time to dry so it does not mold.  We have found that blowing in a small amount of air into a barrel of damp seed will dry it out quickly.  We have 51 drier tubes to dry 51 barrels of seed at one time!

This system is on its second year and we like it so I made a document if you want to build your own.  We placed this document on in the Stewardship tab at

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2019 Illinois Prescribed Fires Summary

July 2018 through June 2019

Summary of Illinois Prescribed Fires Accomplished

By Bill Kleiman with map work of Dave Holman

Our Fire Council map of Illinois Prescribed Fires Accomplished highlights our fire community on one interactive map.

Below, the speckles on Illinois are our fires last year.

Below is a view of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.  Red is the most recent fires.

A fire crew of Forest Preserve District of Cook County

Our annual summary of all fires accomplished, is on the Illinois Prescribed Fire Council website at


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Adding seed

by Stephen Packard

[Editor’s note:  For four decades Stephen Packard has been restoring a wide variety of sites.  His comments are notable, and blogposts are great.  I had asked Stephen for advice.   On a new acquisition, we are about to clear very dense brush on an upland savanna.  The habitat currently has few native plants with the main ground cover being exposed soil.  Should we start adding seed immediately?  With Stephen’s permission I share his response – Bill K ]

The studies I’ve seen suggest that there’s little “seed bank” in badly degraded prairies, savannas, and woodlands. In some marshes, there seems to be a helpful seedbank.

I’ve seen a lot of people try to rely on the seedbank, with dismal results.

We initially waited for “the seed bank to express itself” in some areas, and it just opened the ground to a lot of thuggish or invasive species that – far from reconstituting a natural ecosystem – burned poorly and allowed invasive brush to take over again.

I don’t seem to have any blog posts on quite that question. I do have this one:

It’s about how well it worked in a woodland (lots of leaf litter) to plant into dense leaves without a burn. It didn’t work.

Also of possible interest is this overall summary of some Somme Prairie Grove efforts, starting in 1979. Broadcasting seed into former pasture worked best. On the other hand, this experiment is very different from the site you describe – in that it included many small remnants of good or high quality and more than 250 species of savanna plants including many conservative and even endangered ones.

It includes the following:

Question: How well will a damaged ecosystem recover, and how much apparently missing biodiversity will just come back in response to remedial care?

Answer: Very few plant species that were not on our initial inventories came back from the seed bank or otherwise appeared. This was disappointing. On the other hand, many conservative species that had been present in small numbers increased dramatically. A few species (notably the endangered Bicknell’s geranium) did seem to emerge in response to the burns.

I suppose a wide variety of experiments are valuable. In more recent efforts I’ve been involved with, we’ve started seeding at the beginning, to get the jump on the thugs like tall goldenrod, to some degree.

Given the charged climate, rain acidity, nitrogen deposition, fragmentation, etc. – it seems to make less and less sense to limit seeding to species that were exactly on that site. We go farther south for seed, but not north. We imagine that the community of species that now best suit the site may be different to some degree from what was there 200 or 500 years ago.

Our goal seems more often to be to restore a high quality, diverse community, and then let the species sort out the rest.

Hope this is helpful.



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The Case of the Undead Buckthorn (Foliar Treatments with Triclopyr Herbicide)

By: Julianne Mason, Restoration Program Coordinator, Forest Preserve District of Will County

We have had a recurring issue over the past decade with common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) not truly dying after being foliar treated with triclopyr 3A herbicide in dolomite prairie habitats.  The buckthorns are 2-5’ tall, multi-stemmed re-sprouts that have been repeatedly top-killed by fire over the past several decades.  The buckthorns appear to die properly at first.  After the foliar herbicide treatment, the leaves yellow, then turn brown and fall off prematurely.  However, lots of the shrubs re-sprout vigorously the following year.  This has happened with foliar treatments done in the early summer, late summer, and fall.  Apparently buckthorn is a calciphile in its native habitat, so perhaps it is just particularly hard to kill in calcareous habitats here?  Has anyone else observed buckthorn or other invasive shrubs appearing to die after foliar herbicide treatments, only to rebound vigorously the following year?

Photo 1 caption:  Undead buckthorn.  Many of the buckthorns that had been foliar treated with triclopyr herbicide re-sprouted vigorously the following year.  Photo taken a year after the herbicide treatment.

Buckthorn does seem to die reliably from cut stump and basal bark treatments of triclopyr 4 herbicide in bark oil, in the same dolomite prairie habitats.  Therefore, I hypothesized that perhaps the ester formulation of triclopyr might be more effective than the amine formulation.  To test out this theory, I marked buckthorns that were foliar treated with triclopyr 3A or triclopyr 4 at concentrations of 2%, 5%, or 10% during September 2018 at Lockport Prairie.  All treatments included 1% MSO and 0.4% PenATrate II surfactants.  Around 50-100 shrubs were included in each treatment.  We put color coded flagging on each treated buckthorn to keep track of its treatment type.

All of the treated shrubs appeared to die after treatment; their leaves turned brown and fell off prematurely last fall.  However, many of them rebounded vigorously the following spring.  Contrary to my expectation, I didn’t see any significant difference in mortality rates between the two different formulations of triclopyr (3A or 4), as evaluated 1 year after treatment (YAT).  However, there was greater mortality using the 10% concentration of triclopyr herbicide compared to lower rates.

2% Concentration.  Despite the promising results immediately after treatment,  less than 10% of the buckthorns that had been foliar treated with 2% triclopyr were dead this summer (1 YAT); nearly half of them had re-sprouted vigorously from the base while the rest of them fully leafed out from the top.

5% Concentration.  Less than 25% of the buckthorns that had been foliar treated with 5% triclopyr were dead this summer (1 YAT).  Around one quarter of them fully leafed out from the top, while around half of them resprouted vigorously from the base. 

10% Concentration.  Around 70% of the buckthorns that had been foliar treated with 10% triclopyr were dead this summer (1 YAT).  Conversely, nearly one-third of the treated buckthorns had resprouted and were still alive.

Based on these results, I would recommend using 10% triclopyr as a foliar treatment and be sure to follow up on re-sprouting individuals the next year.  Or, I might try basal bark/base spraying them with triclopyr 4 in an oil-water emulsion.

Bottom Line:  Beware of invasive shrubs appearing to die right after foliar herbicide treatments, only to re-sprout the following year.  Has anyone else experienced a similar thing with buckthorn or other invasive shrubs?  I find it hard to believe that our buckthorns are truly unique.  It is a shame to spend time and money on treatments that are not effective.  Plus, herbicide treatments cause collateral damage to other plants.  It is a double shame to kill off-target species and not actually achieve the goal of addressing the invasive species population.  Mark some of your foliar treated shrubs and check them next year to make sure that the treatment actually worked.  Do you have undead invasive shrubs too??

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2019 GRN Workshop Schedule


5 p.m. pre-workshop dinner at Heartland Grill in the Sheraton Madison

Connect with other attendees at a casual dinner and social time. (Note: this event is not covered by conference fee.)



8:30 a.m. Workshop check-in and continental breakfast

UW Arboretum Visitor Center auditorium


9 a.m. Welcome

Opening remarks by Bill Kleiman and Chris Helzer of the GRN. Opening remarks by Arboretum Director Karen Oberhauser. Discussion of logistics and agenda by Mike Hansen


9:15 a.m. Arboretum land management and research

Presented by Michael Hansen and Brad Herrick


10 a.m. Restoring and protecting monarch habitat: suburban gardens aren’t enough

Presented by Karen Oberhauser


10:45 a.m. break


11 a.m. Pollinator conservation

Presented by Susan Carpenter, Arboretum native plant gardener


11:45 a.m. Lunch


12:45 p.m. Tours

Tour A: Aldo Leopold Foundation, Baraboo

Tour B: Faville Grove Sanctuary (Madison Audubon Society), Lake Mills

Tour C: Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area (The Nature Conservancy, The Prairie Enthusiasts). Thomson Prairie, Blue Mounds; Mounds View and Barneveld Prairies, Barneveld


~5:30 p.m. (as buses return from field tours) – Social gathering

Arboretum Visitor Center auditorium


6 p.m. Dinner and cash bar

Arboretum Visitor Center auditorium


8:30 p.m. Day 1 end




8:30 a.m. Continental breakfast

UW Arboretum Visitor Center auditorium


8:55 a.m. Welcome back and announcements


9 a.m. How seed mix design and first year management influence multifunctionality and cost effectiveness in prairie reconstruction

Presented by Justin Meissen, Tallgrass Prairie Center


9:45 a.m. 60 years of change in Wisconsin prairie remnants: resurveying the Curtis dataset

Presented by Amy Alstad, Driftless Area Land Conservancy


10:30 a.m. Break


10:45 a.m. But how do we get people to CARE?

Presented by Chris Helzer, The Nature Conservancy, Nebraska


11:30 a.m. Lunch


12:30 p.m. Tours

Tour A: Goose Pond Sanctuary (Madison Audubon Society) and Arlington Agricultural Research Station (UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences), Arlington

Tour B: Holy Wisdom Monastery and Walking Iron County Park (Dane County Parks), Middleton and Mazomanie

Tour C: Curtis and Greene Prairies (UW–Madison Arboretum), Madison


~4:30 p.m. (as buses return from field tours) – Workshop end

Thank you for coming and safe travels!

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