The Sauk County Gardener: Oh Honey, it’s Time to Plant!

Jeannie Manis, Sauk County Master Gardeners Association (SCMGA) President

“A weed is a plant that is not only in the wrong place but intends to stay.” — Sara Stein

I recently had the pleasure of taking a guided tour of the Riverland Conversancy Merrimac Preserve on Hwy 113 located between Devil’s Lake State Park (near Roznos Meadow Trailhead) and the town of Merrimac. This is a very nice conservation area with tons of trails that is close to our home. Within the more than 1,600 acres, you can explore wetlands, prairies, oak savannas, woodlands, and various streams and lakes. It’s pretty spectacular. During our guided tour, we were able to enjoy some of the wildflowers that were just starting to bloom such as the lupine and marsh marigold. I really loved seeing the marsh marigold as it was a reminder of the ones that my grandmother had transplanted to her wet area of the yard. It made me consider my own yard to see if I had a place to plant some marsh marigold.

Celandine poppy showing flower details. Photo via Mid-West Farm Report

Unfortunately, the beautiful marsh marigold native has a look-alike invasive that you now need to keep an eye out for. As you garden, hike, or paddle down our area rivers, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking folks to watch for and report if they find lesser celandine (Ranunculus Ficaria). It’s an aggressive invasive plant that has bright yellow flowers that look similar to the marsh marigold. Lesser celandine is poisonous to both humans and livestock and unfortunately, will spread and eventually kill spring wildflowers. The lesser celandine has eight petals whereas the marsh marigold has five to nine larger petals. Check out this site for picture of the lesser celandine –

As I am currently trying to figure out how to best turn a section of my lawn back to primarily native plants, I’m always on the lookout for pretty wildflowers. Unfortunately, some of the pretty ones that I find turn out to be invasive plant species. Some examples include burning bush, creeping bellflower, purple loosestrife, yellow iris, multiflora rose, and Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which resembles garden phlox. We tend to associate invasives as noxious plants such as garlic mustard, buckthorn, and wild parsnip.

So what is the problem of having a pretty invasive plant species in your garden? We’d all like to think we can “control” the plants in our yards and on our property but unfortunately, people and animals can unknowingly move them around. Then the invasives spread out of control to other areas where they don’t have their natural plant competitors and insect predators to keep them in check. Although some of these invasives are pretty, they should be removed as much as possible to prevent them from spreading further.

The key is to know what plants are native and which are invasive species. Plus, some invasive plants are prohibited, and others are restricted. Prohibited invasive plants are ones that are not currently found in Wisconsin except in a few small areas but will survive and spread if they are allowed to and cause environmental damage. Restricted species are ones that are already here in Wisconsin and have been found to cause environmental damage and harm. Here’s current list of regulated invasive plants The lesser celandine is considered prohibited so there is a chance to still control this invasive plant species.

If you find some of these invasive plants, (1) don’t knowingly transplant them into your garden, (2) try to eradicate them from your property as they will eventually push out our Wisconsin natives and (3) report the suspected invasive species to the Wisconsin DNR. You can find instructions here for reporting them: – We have some amazing native plants – let’s do what we can to help them survive and flourish in our gardens, woodlands and prairies.

This week’s article is written by Jeannie Manis, a Wisconsin Certified Sauk County Master Gardener Volunteer. If you have any gardening questions, please contact the Extension Sauk County by emailing or calling the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension Sauk County office at 608-355-3250.