Beauty in your backyard: Riverside Park showcases spring's beauty

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, May 4, 2014

JANESVILLE—Sunday's wildflower walk in Riverside Park featured steep stairs, uneven and narrow paths, and, occasionally, the unsettling feeling of being far to close to the edge of the rocky bluff.

But for the 50 or so people who made the trip, the chance to observe nature with the assistance of a well-known conservationist, made it more than worthwhile.

“This is one of the best places in the county to see spring wildflowers,” said Dave Bendlin, who led the group.

Sunday's tour, which was organized by Janesville Leisure Services and Friends of Riverside Park, started at the north pavilion then proceeded up a steep set of stairs to the Ice Age Trail.

Bendlin, a former high school biology teacher and a member of the Rock County Conservationists, led the group. The Friends' Pam VanBrocklin brought up the rear. Along the route of the two-hour walk they pointed out the natural features along the bluff that make it such a good home for wild flowers.

To date, the Friends group has recorded 29 types of wild flowers.

The bluff is home to a variety of “micro-climates” that allow wildflowers and ferns to thrive, Bendlin said. The shaded and damp cliffs, for example, allow rare ferns to grow.  Part of the cliff is limestone, another is sandstone, creating slightly different habitats.

A Canadian yew, hundreds of miles south of its native habitat home, has found a microclimate that suits it on the cliff. Bendlin said the shrub is a leftover from the Ice Age. The only other example he has seen was in northern Wisconsin.

It was the flowers that garnered the most attention, however.  Bellwort, blood root, cut leaf toothwort, Dutchman's breeches, early meadow rue, false Solomon's seal, fall rue anemone, wild ginger, May apple, sharp-lobed hepatica and miterwort were all in different stages of bloom..

 Along with the big picture, Bendlin shared botanical trivia including:

—The “doctrine of signatures” was a theory that held that plants that look like parts of the body could be used to treat that part of the body. Sharp-lobed hepatica, which is found along the trail, has a leaf that is shaped like a liver, leading people to suspect that it could be used to treat liver aliments. 

—The flowers of the wild ginger hang under its leaves and droop near the ground.  Beetles and other passing insects pollinate the plant.

—The ragged and damp edges of the bluff are home to a rare, red-stemmed spleenwort, a tiny fern with deep red stalks.

—Almost the only thing that can pollinate the flowers of the Dutchman' s breeches are large bumblebees.

A late spring means that the best blossoms are yet to come, Bendlin said.

“Come back in a week,” he said.

On Saturday, May 10, not only will the flowers be in bloom, but the Friends of Riverside Park also will be hosting a Bird City Festival from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with interactive projects for kids as well as a photography contest.

On at that same day, Bendlin will be leading a nature walk that includes wild flowers at Carver-Roehl Park, near Clinton. The walk starts a 9 a.m.

Last updated: 8:00 pm Sunday, May 4, 2014

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