Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of State Natural Area Photo: Thomas Meyer

Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie State Natural Area
Thomas Meyer

October 2012

Wisconsin, naturally

Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie

Notable: Cresting the brow of a low Driftless Area ridge, this small, but diverse, dry prairie harbors more than 130 native plant species. In autumn, the prairie blazes with color, from the muted hues of grasses such as big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian grass and northern drop-seed, to the more vibrant colors of fall-blooming asters, goldenrods and gentians. Earlier in the summer, visit the prairie to see striking displays of prairie lily, dwarf blazing star, purple prairie clover, compass plant and butterfly weed. In spring, look for pasque flower, yellow star-grass, wood betony, shooting star and prairie smoke. Several rare plant species also grow in the thin, rocky soil, including white camas, pomme-deprairie and the state-threatened roundstemmed false foxglove. The diverse flora attracts an equally diverse fauna, with several species of grassland birds, reptiles, butterflies and other insects finding refuge here. Eastern meadowlark, indigo bunting, eastern bluebird and kingbird are known to nest on or near the prairie. Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie was used by noted University of Wisconsin-Madison plant ecologist John Curtis as an outdoor classroom and featured in his classic book Vegetation of Wisconsin. The natural area was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1986 and recently transferred to The Prairie Enthusiasts, which now owns and manages the preserve.

How to get there: From the intersection of Highways 78 and KP in Black Earth, go west on KP 1.1 miles, then south on Highway F 0.25 mile, then west on Fesenfeld Road 0.2 mile to a small parking area south of the road. Please stay on the marked trails. Visit Wisconsin DNR (search "Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie") for information and a map of the site.