Beautifully Native and Notoriously Nasty Willow River Wildflowers!

By Ashely Goldbeck, Lead Naturalist 

Have you ever taken a hike at Willow River or Kinnickinnic State Park and stumbled across a beautiful wildflower or strange plant and wondered what it was? Or maybe you finished a hike through the prairie or along the river only to find you have obtained a nasty itch, burn or blister on your skin? Here at Willow River State Park, we have a variety of beautiful wild flowers. We also have a lot of poisonous and invasive plants to watch out for as well! While hiking along any park trail it is always beneficial to bring along a Wisconsin wild flower guide or sketch paper so you can document any new unidentifiable plants to research later. Another good rule of thumb; never touch any plants you are unable to positively identify! You never know what kind of tricks some plants may have up their stems, or worse, how much poison! In this article I will share with you some fascinating facts and photos of several plants within the park. With new species constantly popping up or blooming bi-annually, some of the plants you come across will vary by season, and certainly each year so note that this list is not complete. Last but not least, always be sure to share any sighting you find with us. We love hearing from you!

Make it A Family Adventure!

Get out and explore these locations together as a family! Bring some sketch paper, field guides and a camera. If hiking to these locations with little ones here are some great interactive questions to get their wheels spinning: 

  • What is your favorite wild flower? 

  • Can some wildflowers grow in snow?

  • What does native mean?

  • What does invasive mean?

  • Just because a flower is non-native does that mean it is invasive?

  • What is the difference between annual, bi-annual and perennial?

  • Can native wildflowers become invasive?

Now lets see how many you can find! Below is a list of plants and wildflowers previously documented here at Willow River State Park:



  • Blooms in the summer

  • Non-native perennial 

  • Likes dry, sunny, open fields or roadsides 

  • Originally planted to stop erosion from road construction, can also pull nitrogen from air and filter it into the soil to improve soil fertility

  • Can be seen on: Purple Trout Brook Trail, Gray Nelson Farm Trail  



  • Narrow lance shaped leaves that ooze milky sap when broken or rubbed against 

  • Blooms in the spring and summer

  • Non-native perennial 

  • Likes dry, sunny open fields or roadsides with disturbed soils

  • Aggressive European import, considered a noxious weed in Wisconsin. Special beetles are being released to eat in an attempt to control aggressive growth. This plant is poisonous. Will burn or blister skin on contact. Deadly to humans and animals if large amounts are ingested. 

  • Can be seen: Throughout the park


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