Native plants are important assets to a healthy Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Volunteers tend Gaylord Nelson Garden - Erica Peterson photo

June 2, 2023

After a winter of record-breaking snowfall – approaching 185 inches – the native plants are slowly emerging from the Gaylord Nelson Memorial Garden at park headquarters in Bayfield. Volunteers recently gathered to tease out the weeds and look for old friends that have been in residence since the garden’s establishment in 2006.

“It’s always good to see our early bloomers, pasqueflower (an important food source for nesting female bees) and prairie smoke,” said Erica Peterson, one of the garden volunteers.

Columbine was blooming and pollinators were busy in the wild geraniums. (Click to enlarge the photographs.)

Red Columbine flowers - Erica Peterson photo
Plantain-leaved Pussytoes - Erica Peterson photo

The volunteers noted that every year the garden surprises them. The plants periodically move around and change places. Sedges are giving way to pussy toes (an important food source for American painted lady butterflies), golden alexanders, happiest in wetter conditions are flourishing, but the tiny Canada mayflower is struggling. Such is the case as plants make subtle corrections to changing climate.

Native plants are those species that grew in the area before European settlement. They live in harmony with each other, playing an important and often overlooked role in their complex relationships with the animals, birds, insects, and trees of a healthy ecosystem. With naturally designed checks and balances natives seldom grow out of control, a tendency of some introduced species.

Prairie Coreopsis plant - Erica Peterson photo
Wild Bergamot - Erica Peterson photo

The National Park Service is busy checking, for example, the spread of non-native purple loosestrife, spotted knapweed, and tansy to the islands.

Park rangers appreciate all efforts on the Bayfield Peninsula to control invasive species and lessen the chance that they will impact the healthy ecosystem found in the lakeshore.

The garden remains an example of some of the common native plants found in the national lakeshore. The flowers are usually a buzz of pollinators throughout the summer. Friends of the Apostle Island National Lakeshore has added interpretive signs on display in time for Bayfield’s Garden Tour June 10th.

Volunteers tend Gaylord Nelson garden - Erica Peterson photo
Gaylord Nelson garden flowers - Erica Peterson photos

The garden serves as a living legacy to Wisconsin Senator and Governor Gaylord Nelson who helped inspire Earth Day in 1970 and in the same year established the Apostle Islands as a National Lakeshore.

Story and photos by Erica Peterson

We want to thank our green-thumbed volunteers for their hard work and to invite you to roll up your sleeves and pitch in to help the islands — planting beach grass, tending historic lighthouse gardens, clearing trails, assisting with events, and more. Sometimes the greatest gift is the gift of time. Sign up here to show your interest and we’ll be in touch. 

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