August Prairie Rain

“…And the soft rain—imagine! imagine! the wild and wondrous journeys still to be ours.” —Mary Oliver

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It begins before dawn, with a tap-tap-tap on the windows. At last! Rain.

In my backyard, the plants perk up. From the Sun Sugar cherry tomatoes (everyone’s favorite this summer)…

Sun Sugar cherry tomatoes (Tomato Lycopersicon lycopersicum ‘Sun Sugar’), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…to the mixed kale…

Mixed varieties of kale (Brassica oleracea spp.), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…to the prairie patch along the backyard fence…

Crosby’s prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…it’s as if the earth heaves a sigh of relief. The rain perks me up, too. When was the last time we had a rainy day? I can’t remember.

Water drops bead and splash from Queen of the Prairie, its flowers fading to seed.

Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The wild asparagus drips, drips, drips.

Wild asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I walk through the grass in the rain and admire the insects braving the wet. A cucumber beetle peers over the top of a spent Royal Catchfly bloom. No cucumbers here, buddy.

Striped Cucumber Beetle (Acalymma vittatum ) on Royal Catchfly (Silene regia), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The Wild Quinine, Common Mountain Mint, and the last blooms of Butterfly Weed fall together in the best sort of bouquet.

Crosby’s front yard prairie pollinator patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Wait—what’s this? Many of my zinnia’s petals have been neatly stripped off, leaving only the centers. I don’t have to look far to find the culprit, just behind the bird feeders, eating Cup Plant seeds.

With two sock thistle feeders and plenty of feeders full of birdseed across the backyard, why eat my wildflower seeds? Ah, well.

Agastache—Hyssop—attracts a different kind of crowd.

Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia) with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I have a lot of Hyssop this year, gifted to me by generous friends. Last summer, I plopped it into an available space right by the patio without checking to see how tall it would get. Surprise! It towers over my head. Another surprise—sometimes Purple Giant Hyssop is sometimes…white! I won’t win any landscape design points for placing it where I did. And yet, I’m glad it’s where it is. Even in the rain, every little pollinator wants to stop and sip.

Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The pale pearl buds of blazing star will open any day.

Blazing Star (Liatris aspera), Crosby’s front yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

August and anticipation go hand in hand.

Jack Be Little Pumpkin (Curcubita pepo), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Summer is passing. Walking through the yard in the rain, I feel it. Goldenrod shows its metallics. Wildflowers go to seed. Autumn whispers: Not too long, now.

Crosby’s front yard prairie pollinator patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

My camera lens fogs up again and again. It feels like 100 percent humidity here, but I’m not complaining about the sauna treatment. Because it is raining! Finally.

Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata), Crosby’s front yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Welcome back, rain. We missed you.

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The opening quote is from Mary Oliver‘s poem, “Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me,” from What Do We Know. Oliver (1935-2019) was a force of nature who opened so many of our eyes and ears to the complexities and joys of the natural world. Read the full poem here.

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Join Cindy for a Program in August!

West Cook Wild Ones presents: A Brief History of Trees in America with Cindy on Sunday, August 21, 2:30-4 p.m. Central Time on Zoom. From oaks to maples to elms: trees changed the course of American history. Native Americans knew trees provided the necessities of life, from food to transportation to shelter. Trees built America’s railroads, influenced our literature and poetry, and informed our music. Discover the roles of a few of our favorite trees in building our nation—and their symbolism and influence on the way we think—as you reflect on the trees most meaningful to you. Free and open to the public. Join from anywhere in the world—but you must preregister. Register here.

In Praise of Prairie Pollinators

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”—Ray Bradbury

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August arrives on the tallgrass prairie.

Summer on the Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Listen! Do you hear the buzz and zip of wings?

Black-and-Gold Bumblebee (Bombus auricomus) on White Prairie Clover, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL (2021).

The patter of tiny insect feet?

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

Let’s hear it for the prairie pollinators!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) Crosby’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2021)

Bees bumble across the wildflowers.

Rusty-patched Bumblebee (Bombus affiinis) on purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) Big Rock, IL. (2021)

Ambling beetles browse the petals.

Margined Leatherwing Beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) on Common Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Ware Field Prairie Planting, Lisle, IL (2019).

Enjoy the aimless ants. Marvel over the butterflies, looking like so many windsurfers…

Orange Sulphur butterflies (Colias eurytheme), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2014).

Stay up late and enjoy the night fliers…

Beautiful Wood Nymph moth (Eudryas grata), Crosby’s prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2019)

…with their beautiful markings.

Possibly Harnessed Tiger moth (Apantesis phalerata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. (2020)

Seek out the wandering wasps, inspiring awe and a little trepidation.

One of the umbrella wasps (Polistes sp.) on aster (Symphyotrichum sp.) , Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL. (2020)

And these are just a few of our amazing pollinators!

Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. (2019)

Where would we be without these marvelous creatures?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) on Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2021)

Three cheers for the prairie pollinators!

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Long may they thrive.

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The opening quote for today’s post is by Illinois author Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) from his classic book, Dandelion Wine. This book was required reading in my Midwestern high school English classes back in the seventies, and a wonderful introduction to his more than 27 novels and story collections.

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Join Cindy for a Program in August!

West Cook Wild Ones presents: A Brief History of Trees in America with Cindy Crosby on Sunday, August 21, 2:30-4 p.m. Central Time on Zoom. From oaks to maples to elms: trees changed the course of American history. Native Americans knew trees provided the necessities of life, from food to transportation to shelter. Trees built America’s railroads, influenced our literature and poetry, and informed our music. Discover the roles of a few of our favorite trees in building our nation—and their symbolism and influence on the way we think—as you reflect on the trees most meaningful to you. Free and open to the public—join from anywhere in the world—but you must preregister. Register here.

‘Getting Shrubby With It’ in the July Prairie Garden

“We might think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden which is really nurturing us.” –Jenny Uglow

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How can it be the end of July?

In my backyard, the first thunderstorms in weeks water the parched prairie patch. Queen of the Prairie has weathered the recent drought amazingly well. It showers with us with pink flowers.

Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Queen of the Prairie is a great plant for our “subdivision slope” issue. Our backyard is at the confluence of two properties that are higher. Water drains from neighboring yards into ours. Fortunately, Queen of the Prairie helps soak up water run-off, and is deer and rabbit resistant. Next to its pink, lavender Sweet Joe Pye Weed is coming into bloom.

Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I’m not sure the recent rains are in time for the Cardinal Flowers; none are blooming yet this season. It’s still early, but I wonder. Cardinal Flower is capricious. One year, you see red everywhere, the next, zilch. Just when I think I’ve lost Cardinal Flower for good, however, up it pops. My fingers are crossed.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL (2019)

But I do spot a single scarlet flower in my new front yard prairie pollinator patch, which is coming along nicely for its first season. It’s not Cardinal Flower.

Front yard prairie pollinator patch, added this spring, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Yes! The Royal Catchfly, in its first year, gives me one bloom. It’s so low to the ground, I almost miss it.

Royal catchfly (Silene regia), Crosby front yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Despite the ongoing battles with the bunnies—and the lack of rainfall until recently— the vegetable garden is thriving. After fencing the raised bed, the chewed-off green bean plants are zipping skyward on their trellis.

Blue Lake Green Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris ‘Blue Lake’) and Cut and Come Again Zinnias (Zinnia pulmila), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The backyard and front yard prairie plantings both soldier on, despite carnage from the neighborhood bunnies’ prodigious appetite. In the new front yard prairie pollinator patch, the Sky Blue Asters, Blazing Star, and Pale Purple Coneflowers have sustained the worst damage. Although nibbled almost to death, they are still viable. If I was starting this planting again, I’d fence it. Too late! Instead I shoo the rabbits away when I water, and hope the foot traffic during the day is a deterrent.

We live in a neighborhood with a lot of walkers and bikers, so the sign and metal butterfly (below) are an important part of conveying what these wildflowers and grasses are all about.

Crosby’s front yard prairie pollinator patch, Glen Ellyn, IL.

In the backyard, New Jersey Tea, scissored by rabbit teeth, managed to put out a few blooms in early July. It’s now developing seeds for the first time. I feel a real sense of accomplishment, which is difficult to explain to those who haven’t tried growing this prairie shrub in rabbit-ish conditions.

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

2021 was our “Year of the Native Shrub,” and we attempted to rectify our lack of such in one fell swoop. We planted two Spice Bush, an American Hazelnut, a fall-blooming Witch Hazel , and five bush honeysuckles (the native Diervilla lonicera, not the invasive types). The pair of Spice Bush shrubs went into a sloped flower bed, where they may have to be eventually moved because of their height (ah, well). They are in a prime spot for Spice Bush Butterfly viewing from the patio. None sighted yet, but I live in hope. The Bush Honeysuckle is tough. Despite the lack of rainfall, all five honeysuckles are still alive and kicking.

Native Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicea), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

We also put in a long-desired Button Bush shrub close to the pond last fall, after first ripping out a bird-planted alder. The shrub doesn’t look like much right now….

Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…but I’m grateful it made it through the winter.

Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Now, it is putting on growth. Despite the drought. Despite the rabbits. When I see the towering specimens—up to eight feet high in the natural areas where I volunteer—I can dream of what this shrub will eventually look like.

Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) with Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius), The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Now I’m trying to decide what shrubs to plant in the deep shade along the front of the house. It currently hosts a few scraggly Japanese Spirea and crowded Hosta plants, all which were here when we purchased our home 24 years ago. Their days are numbered.

Unknown Hostas and Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica), Crosby’s front yard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Countless hours will pass this summer poring over native plant websites like Possibility Place and Prairie Moon, and planning purchases for next spring’s local native plant sales. Reading these plant sale lists is a welcome respite from the latest news cycle. Gardening is an act of hope.

And—any time in the garden and prairie is time well spent.

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Jenny Uglow (1947-) is an English writer and historian, known for her biographies and portrayal of scientific thought. Read more about her here.

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Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

One of the best things you can do for a home prairie is to invest in a good sign for your planting. Neighbors will have a better grasp of what you are up to; a few garden pieces (like my metal butterfly shown in the blog post today) also convey meaning without anyone reading a word. The Conservation Foundation has a great certification program with a sign in the Chicago Region; Wild Ones Native Plant groups, and Monarch WayStation signs are all available across the United States. Browse Etsy and online websites for more unique signs. Or make a sign yourself! Good signs are ambassadors for prairie.

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Join Cindy for a Program in August!

West Cook Wild Ones presents: A Brief History of Trees in America with Cindy Crosby on Sunday, August 21, 2:30-4 p.m. on Zoom. From oaks to maples to elms: trees changed the course of American history. Native Americans knew trees provided the necessities of life, from food to transportation to shelter. Trees built America’s railroads, influenced our literature and poetry, and informed our music. Discover the roles of a few of our favorite trees in building our nation—and their symbolism and influence on the way we think—as you reflect on the trees most meaningful to you. Free and open to the public—join from anywhere in the world—but you must preregister. Register here.

July on the Tallgrass Prairie

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” — Rachel Carson

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Walk with me into the tallgrass.

Sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Leave any worries you have at the gate.

Teneral meadowhawk (Sympetum sp.), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Look around. It’s July on the prairie; one of the most beautiful months of the year for wildflowers and critters of all kinds. Can you feel the tensions of the day dissolving?

Monkeyflower (Mimulous ringens), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Consider how many almost-invisible creatures are all around you. Focus as you walk. A flash of color—a small movement. What joy when you discover the citrine forktail damselfly, so tiny in the grasses!

Citrine forktail (Ischnura hastata), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

How could something so minuscule and colorful exist in this world, yet almost no one knows its name?

Citrine forktail (Ischnura hastata), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

What other names do we not know? What else are we overlooking?

Walk the shoreline of the prairie pond, trampled by bison hooves. Notice a fleet of butterflies puddling, each only an about inch or less.

A rare stray to Illinois, this marine blue butterfly (Leptotes marina) was spotted at Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, IL, on 7-18-22, in the company of two eastern tailed blues (on the right).

Pause to admire them. How many other unusual creatures do we miss each day?

Look closer.

Possibly a bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (ID correction welcome)

Even common creatures are uncommonly exciting when you watch them for a while.

Open your eyes. Really pay attention.

Eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

It’s difficult to believe the range of hues spread across the insect world, much less the natural world.

Springwater dancer damselflies in tandem (Argia plana), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Even a single feather is a piece of art.

Unknown bird feather, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

There is so much beauty all around us.

Nachusa Grasslands in July, Franklin Grove, IL.

The world can be a frightening place. It sometimes leaves us tattered and worn.

Common whitetail dragonfly (Plathemis lydia), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

But if you look carefully enough…

Female ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

…it keeps you hopeful.

Sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) and a red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Walk long enough, look closely enough, and you might begin to think that maybe….just maybe…change in the world is possible.

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Rachel Carson (1907-64) was a true force of nature, writing bestselling books that changed the world (Consider Silent Spring published 1962, 60 years ago). I admire Carson for her resilience, her willingness to speak out, and her love and dedication to her family. She firmly believed in wonder, and its power to change us and to change the world. Read more about her life here. I’ve began this blog with her quote before, but in the times we find ourselves in, I felt a need to hear it again for myself. You, too?

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Join Cindy for a Program in August!

West Cook Wild Ones presents: A Brief History of Trees in America with Cindy Crosby on Sunday, August 21, 2:30-4 p.m. on Zoom. From oaks to maples to elms: trees changed the course of American history. Native Americans knew trees provided the necessities of life, from food to transportation to shelter. Trees built America’s railroads, influenced our literature and poetry, and informed our music. Discover the roles of a few of our favorite trees in building our nation—and their symbolism and influence on the way we think—as you reflect on the trees most meaningful to you. Free and open to the public—join from anywhere in the world—but you must preregister. Register here.

Of Prairie Wildflowers and Wily Weevils

“If I had my way, I’d remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead.” –Roald Dahl

We need…rain. I keep looking to the skies for any sign of it. No luck.

What we will see on Wednesday is the full “Super Buck Moon” , sometimes called the “Thunder Moon”. On Monday, not quite at peak, it was still stunning.

Almost to full moon over Crosby’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Despite the lack of rain, the prairie pours out flowers.

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and prairie cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Acre after acre of wildflowers.

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens), prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), new jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) and other prairie species, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Not all is going smoothly in the grasslands, however. This is the season of the wonderful, wild, and wicked weevils. Two of the prairie’s evil weevils merit special attention: the sunflower head-clipping weevil and the wild indigo weevil. Let’s turn our attention first to the sunflower head-clipping weevil.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. (2020)

Looks innocent, doesn’t it? Then —see that compass plant with its flowerhead chopped off? 

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

That’s a signature weevil move. How about that prairie dock bloom? Or…was in bloom.

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Yup, the wily weevil was at work again.  Sometimes known by its nickname, “the head clipping weevil,” its scientific name is almost-almost!–unpronounceable: Haplorhynchites aeneus. Our wicked weevil is black, and about ⅓ inches long with a long, curved schnoz. Rather than knifing through the flower itself, the weevil severs the stem below the flower head. After the weevil applies the guillotine and girdles the flower’s peduncles (try saying that fast three times), the resiny sap of the compass plant bubbles to the surface and glistens in the sunshine. You can see the resiny sap on the plants in the winter, too, but it’s more crystalized.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL (November 2021)

Now, swipe your finger over that sticky sap, and you’ll get a taste of Native American chewing gum. Note: Don’t get the resinous sap in your hair. If you do, you’ll star in a completely different kind of episode of “Chopped.”

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba) and brown-belted bumblebee (Bombus griseocollis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

The sunflower head-clipping weevil is only one of many weevils on the prairie. The wild indigo weevil (Trichapion rostrum) is in the Family Brentidae, a group of straight-snouted weevils. This family is currently in flux—entomologists still haven’t decided who exactly is in it (#entomologicaldilemmas). This is a hungry, hungry weevil, which we find in the fall inside pods of white wild indigo. At only a quarter of an inch, the wild indigo weevil is (wait for it) the “lesser of two weevils.” (Da-da-dum).

Wild indigo weevils at work on white wild indigo seed pods, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. (2021)

Weevils have many devoted fans. There are weevil blogs, weevils websites, and weevil specialists. You could say that weevils are some of the stars of the insect world! I’m glad they specialize. Imagine if they cut the flower heads off of all prairie flowers. Yikes!

Prairie milkweed (Asclepias sullivanti), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

It’s bad enough they attack some of the sunflowers and some of the coneflowers. Destructive? Yup. Fascinating? Absolutely. Perhaps the most famous weevil is the Boll Weevil (Anthonomus grandis), featured in Elvis Presley’s song, “Little Sister.” Rock on, weevils! But leave some of the other prairie wildflowers to the bees and other insects, okay? 

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Who knows what other intriguing insects you’ll find in the tallgrass this week?

12-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Wildflowers, too.

Illinois tick trefoil (Desmodium illinoense), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Why not go for a hike and see what you discover?

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The opening quote is by Roald Dahl (1916-1990), a British spy, fighter pilot, and the author of James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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Join Cindy for a class or program this week!

Last call for Beginning Dragonfly and Damselfly ID offered as a blended class through The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL! Join Cindy on Zoom Thursday for an introduction to the fascinating world of dragonflies and damselflies. Then, meet your class on the prairie to discover some of these beautiful flying insects. Register here.

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Thanks to Teri P. for the Elvis Presley reference, and to the following sources on weevils: The Smithsonian online, the Chicago Botanic Garden (great blog post! check it out), North Carolina State extension, Wikipedia, and the Kansas State Extension, and many prairie mentors over the years who loved the “lesser of two weevils” pun, and shared it with me. I laughed every time.

A Moment of Prairie Peace

“When despair for the world grows in me… .” — Wendell Berry

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It’s tough to find words this morning. So—let’s go for a walk.

River jewelwing (Calopteryx aequabilis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

There is solace in watching damselflies. They flaunt and flirt and flutter in the cool July streams…

Ebony jewelwing damselflies (Calopteryx maculata) and river jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx aequabilis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Their cares are so different than my own. What do they worry about, I wonder?

Springwater dancer damselfly (Argia plana), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Perhaps they keep an eye out for darting tree swallows, or a floating frog.

American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Maybe they watch for a ravenous fish, lurking just beneath the stream’s surface. Or even a hungry dragonfly.

Virginia bunch-flower (Melanthium virginicum) and widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

As I walk and look around the prairie, I feel myself become calmer. The bumblebees and honeybees and native bees go about their life’s work of visiting flowers. Not a bad way to live.

Assorted bees on purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

The poet Mary Oliver writes in her poem, “Invitation”: “It is a serious thing/ just to be alive/ on this fresh morning/ in this broken world.”

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I wade into the stream and watch the damselflies. Some scout for insects. Others perch silently along the shoreline.

River bluet (Enallagma anna), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Others are busy dancing a tango with a partner…

Springwater dancer damselflies (Argia plana), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

…laying groundwork for the future.

Ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) ovipositing, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Today, all I can do is walk in this world. All I can do is look.

Male ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Pay attention.

Summer on the Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I don’t want to stop feeling. Or stop caring.

Eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) on unknown water lily , Lisle, IL.

I never want to be numb to the grief in this world, even when it feels overwhelming.

Fame Flower Knob, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

But it feels like too much sometimes.

And even though the world seems broken beyond repair right now, when I look around me….

Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Lisle, IL.

… I’m reminded of how beautiful it can be.

Calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa) , Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

What will it take for things to change?

Common buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Never give up. We need to leave this world a better place than we found it. Even when putting the pieces back together feels impossible.

I need that reminder today.

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Wendell Berry (1934-) is a writer, environmental activist, novelist, essayist, and farmer. The beginning of his poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” opens this blog. You can read the complete poem here. It’s a good one.

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Upcoming Classes and Programs

Learn more about dragonflies and damselflies in Beginning Dragonfly and Damselfly ID, a two-part class online and in-person. Join Cindy on Thursday, July 14, for a two-hour Zoom then Friday, July 15 for three hours in the field at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. Register here.

A Walk on the June Prairie

“Mystery whispered in the grass, played in the branches of trees overhead, was caught up and blown across the horizon line in clouds of dust at evening on the prairies.” — Sherwood Anderson

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Come walk with me. The prairie is calling. Who knows what we’ll see?

Coyote (Canis latrans), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

The prairie is awash in wildflowers.

Summer on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle IL.

Pale purple coneflowers bounce like badminton birdies across the tallgrass. Large elephant ears of prairie dock vie with the clear blue-violet spiderwort blooms, which open in the mornings and close when the sun is at its zenith.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Look along the trail. See the pale wild petunias? They pioneer their way along the path edges, and are a host plant for the buckeye butterfly. Oddly enough, they aren’t a close relative of the petunias we see in cultivated borders and flowering baskets.

Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Look up! See the clouds roll in across the unbearably bright prairie sky.

Skies over the Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL, in June.

Kneel down and there’s a whole world waiting to be discovered. Tiny creatures hide in the petals of smooth phlox…

Goldenrod soldier beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) on smooth phlox (Phlox glaberrima interior) Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

…or buzz along the just-opened flowers of leadplant.

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) with various insects, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Yet despite all the hustle and bustle, there is peace here.

Glade mallow (Napaea dioica), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

It’s also cooler this week after days of brutal heat and humidity. Such a respite. A relief.

Let’s walk to the bridge over Willoway Brook and sit for a while.

Bridge over Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Dangle your feet over the bridge. Look into the stream. The shadows of cruising stream bluet damselflies ripple when the sun breaks through the clouds.

Stream bluet damselflies (Enallagma exsulans), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Nearby, the female ebony jewelwing damselfly is poised for courtship. The male is just a few feet away, waiting to woo her.

Ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Other damselflies cover the vegetation in tandem, bumper-to-bumper. It’s rush hour.

Stream bluet damselflies (Enallagma exsulans), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Variable dancer damselflies offer a contrast in male and female Odonata coloration. Entomologists call this “sexual dimorphism,” which, simply put, means the female is different than the male in some way that doesn’t have to do with reproduction. In this case, color.

Variable (sometimes called “violet”) dancer damselflies (Argia fumipennis violacea), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. Male is on the left, female is on the right.

The American rubyspot damselfly stakes out its claim…

American rubyspot damselfly (Hetaerina americana), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

…while a twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly rests in the shade.

Twelve-spotted skimmer (Libellula pulchella), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Watch out for turtles! A dragonfly or damselfly would be a tasty snack for this red-eared slider.

Red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Life for damselflies and dragonflies is tenuous. The snap of a turtle’s jaws or smack of a bird’s beak and—it’s all over. But what glorious sparks of color these insects give to the summer prairie during their brief time here! They are rivaled in color only by the wildflowers, which are building toward their colorful summer crescendo.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Prairie coreopsis are splashes of sunshine across the prairie. Ants investigate the new buds.

Prairie coreopsis (Coreopsis palmata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

New Jersey tea, one of my favorite prairie shrubs, froths and foams like a cappuccino.

New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Carrion flower—-that strange member of the prairie community—twists and turns as it vines toward the sky. I inhale, and get a good sniff of the fragrance that spawned its name. Whew!

Carrion flower (Smilax ecirrhata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Culver’s root is one of the most elegant prairie wildflowers, and a magnet for pollinators. Today, though, it’s mostly bare of insects.

Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

There’s so much to discover on the prairie at the end of June.

Summer on the Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Why not go for a hike and see?

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Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941), whose quote kicks off this blog post, was best known for his short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio (also adapted as a well-known play). The quote was taken from The Tallgrass Prairie Reader, edited by John Price.

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Join Cindy for a Class or Program!

Wednesday, June 29: “100 Years Around the Morton Arboretum” –with Cindy and Library Collections Manager and Historian Rita Hassert. Enjoy stories of the past that commemorate this very special centennial. Join on Zoom June 29, 7-8:30 p.m. by registering here. 

Thursday, July 14 (Zoom online) and Friday, July 15 (in person field class): “Beginning Dragonfly and Damselfly Identification“: Discover these beautiful insects through this two-part class, offered by The Morton Arboretum. Space is limited — register here.

A Tallgrass Summer Solstice

“Ah summer! What power you have to make us suffer and like it.” — Russell Baker

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Happy Summer Solstice! The longest day of the year.

Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL.

And hello, first day of summer, astronomically speaking. We’re on track for one of the hottest days in the Chicago Region this year. Our local WGN weather bureau forecasts a high of 99 degrees and a heat index in the triple digits. Whew! Not a record, but close enough to make a little shade sound good.

Confused Eusarca Moth (Eusarca confusaria), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

We need rain. Despite this, the prairies overflow with flowers.

Summer on the Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

As I hike three prairies across two states this week, I chant the wildflower names to refresh my memory. Scurfy pea.

Scurfy pea (Psoralidium tenuiflorum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Northern bedstraw.

Northern bedstraw (Galium boreale), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Leadplant.

Leadplant (Amorpha canescens), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Bumblebees work the white wild indigo as the air hums with humidity.

Black and gold bumblebee (Bombus auricomus) on white wild indigo (Baptisia alba), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Ants explore goat rue.

Unknown ant on goat rue (Tephrosia virginiana), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

There are so many insects associated with these prairie wildflowers! So many insects unfamiliar to me. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.

Lance-leaved (sand) coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) with unknown insects, Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

I pause to admire a dragonfly, performing his balancing act.

Twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella), Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL.

I love the male twelve-spotted skimmer; one of the easiest dragonflies to remember. It looks just as you’d expect from the name. As I get older, and my recall is less reliable, I’ll take any low hanging fruit I can get.

And don’t get me started on the juvenile birds…

Immature Dickcissel (Spiza americana), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

…which may look different than their parents.

Dickcissel (Spiza americana), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

I spot my first buckeye butterfly of the season. Those rich colors!

Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

Then I puzzle over some wildflowers whose name I struggle to remember. I snap a photo with iNaturalist, my phone app.

Wild four o’clocks (Mirabilis nyctaginea), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

Wild four o’clocks! A non-native in Illinois. And this one?

Clasping (or “common”) Venus’ looking glass (Triodanis perfoliata), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

I have to look it up with my app, then revisit Gerould Wilhelm and Laura Rericha’s Flora of the Chicago Region when I return home. Venus’ looking glass is a weedy native, but no less pretty for that.

Well, at least I can identify these mammals without an app. No problem with the scientific name, either.

Bison (Bison bison), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

I love the juxtaposition of the bison against the semis on the highway. A reminder of the power of restoration.

All these wonders under June skies.

Half moon, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

So much waiting to be discovered.

Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

Hello, summer. Welcome back!

*****

Russell Baker (1925-2019) was a columnist for the New York Times who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Growing Up. He also followed Alistair Cooke as the host of Masterpiece Theater.

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Join Cindy for a Class or Program this Month

Wednesdays, June 22 and June 29: “100 Years Around the Morton Arboretum” –with Cindy and Library Collections Manager and Historian Rita Hassert at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. Enjoy stories of the past that commemorate this very special centennial. Join us in person June 22 from 6:30-8:30 pm (special exhibits on view for 30 minutes before the talk) by registering here (only a few spots left!); join us on Zoom June 29, 7-8:30 p.m. by registering here. Masks required for the in-person presentation.

Hot Times in the Tallgrass

“The month…had turned into a griddle where the days just lay there and sizzled.”—Sue Monk Kidd

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Look at that heat index. Yikes!

Unknown insect, Ware Field prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

Yesterday, I went out for a hike earlier than usual, anticipating the storms and heat wave on the way.

Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

Pale purple coneflowers are about to burst into bloom.

Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) with a tiny insect (unknown), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

So many flowers. I love this time of year!

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

The prairie planting is bright with foxglove beardtongue. One is usually a luxury. I’ve never seen so much in one place as I do on this hike.

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

The bumblebees love it.

Possibly the black-and-gold bumblebee (Bombus auricomus) on foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.
Possibly the black-and-gold bumblebee (Bombus auricomus) on foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

So do the other bees, in a myriad of patterns and sizes. I keep busy with my iNaturalist app, trying to name them all.

Possibly the orange-tipped wood-digger bee (Anthophora terminalis) on foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

So many pollinators! It’s difficult to tear my eyes away from the penstemon to see what other delights are here. But I do.

A tiny moth hangs out in the grasses.

Possibly the pasture grass-veneer moth (Crambus saltuellus), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

A katydid sprawls across cinquefoil, keeping a lookout. Or maybe it is camera shy?

Possibly the fork-tailed bush katydid (Scudderia furcata), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

Nearby, the weedy white campion blows its flower bubbles.

White campion (Silene latifolia), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

And look—there’s a spreadwing damselfly!

Unknown spreadwing damselfly (Lestes sp.), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

But which species? I’m not sure. I take as many photos as I can, and plan to page through my field guides when I return home. Speaking of which… .

Indian hemp/dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

The day is heating up. It’s hot! Hot! Hot! Time to head for home, my field guides, and air conditioning.

Blue flag iris (Iris virginica shrevei), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Wheaton, IL.

The late poet Mary Oliver wrote a poem, Why I Wake Early. She had the right idea, especially this week, in the heat of a Midwest summer. It’s a good poem to begin the morning. Watch now, how I start the day, in happiness, in kindness.

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Sue Monk Kidd (1948-), whose quote opens this blog, is known most widely for her bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees (2002). Mary Oliver (1935-2019) whose poem link is included here, was winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. I find her poems are solace for difficult times.

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Join Cindy for a class or program this summer!

Wednesdays, June 22 and June 29: “100 Years Around the Morton Arboretum” –with Cindy and Library Collections Manager and Historian Rita Hassert at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL. Enjoy stories of the past that commemorate this very special centennial. Join us in person June 22 from 6:30-8:30 pm (special exhibits on view for 30 minutes before the talk) by registering here; join us on Zoom June 29, 7-8:30 p.m. by registering here. Masks required for the in-person presentation.

*****

If you love the natural world, consider helping “Save Bell Bowl Prairie.” Read more here about simple actions you can take to keep this important Midwestern prairie remnant from being destroyed by a cargo road. Thank you for caring for our Midwestern “landscape of home.”

June Arrives on the Tallgrass Prairie

“Why are wildflowers so important to us who care for flowers? …to encounter them in their natural habitat is an extraordinary aesthetic pleasure… .” — Katharine S. White

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Hello, June! I can’t wait to see what you have in store.

In my backyard this week, an eastern blue jay has commandeered the peanut feeder. Jays tend to be, well, a little possessive, so the other songbirds aren’t as delighted as we are about this. The striking sapphire and cerulean blue feathers bring Jeff and me to the kitchen window to watch it, every time.

Eastern blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

It’s interesting to note that the “blues” we see are actually brown. The Cornell Lab tells me the brown pigment in the feathers, called melanin, look blue because of “light scattering” (read more here). Who knew? Evidently, the “blue” we see in other birds such as indigo buntings and bluebirds is also an optical illusion. Cool!

I remember when the Corvids were nearly wiped out by West Nile Virus almost two decades ago—and you didn’t see a jay or a crow anywhere. Now, when I hear a blue jay calling from the trees or see one at the backyard feeder I feel my spirits lift. It’s a story with a happy ending. We could use more of those.

Out on the prairie, a field sparrow sways on a new white wild indigo spear, singing its accelerating series of notes. I have trouble telling sparrows apart, so hearing the song always helps.

Field sparrow (Spizella pusilla) on white wild indigo (Baptisia alba), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Deep in the grasses I spy my first calico pennant dragonfly of the season. I don’t like to say I have favorites, but… how could I not?

Female calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

So beautiful! Other creatures aren’t quite as flamboyant, like this bee, deep into an investigation of the cream wild indigo.

Unknown bee on cream wild indigo (Baptisia bracteata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Or this tiny insect making a “beeline” for prairie alumroot.

Tiny insect (unknown) headed for prairie alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I discover another little critter strolling through the prairie phlox blossoms. Can you find it?

Prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa) with a critter, possibly the obscure plant bug (Plagiognathus obscurus), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

And nearby, a carolina saddlebags dragonfly perches on an old plant stalk, soaking up sunlight. We don’t see many of this species here, so it’s always a treat.

Carolina saddlebags dragonfly (Tramea carolina), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Compass plant leaves, backlit by the sun, are a reminder of their towering flowers which will dominate the prairie in July.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Many of the first spring wildflowers are focused on setting seed. Wood betony’s tall stalks remind me of corn on the cob with the kernels gnawed off.

Wood betony (Pendicularis canadensis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. Plus a tiny ant! Species unknown.

Nearby in the savanna, the snakeroot hums with more insect activity.

Common black snakeroot (Sanicula odorata) with one of the mining bees (Andrena sp.), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Lisle, IL.

Nearby a pasture rose opens, flushed with pink.

Pasture rose (Rosa carolina), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

What a pleasure it is to hike the prairie in early June!

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Why not go see?

*****

The opening quote is from Katharine S. White (1892-1977) from her only book, Onward and Upward in the Garden. White began working at The New Yorker in 1925, where she served as editor for 34 years. She shaped the magazine in a way that is still felt today. She married E.B. White, a writer at the magazine, who wrote many books including Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web; he was also the co-author of Elements of Style. Katharine’s book includes some lively critique of 1950’s seed and garden catalogs–fun reading.

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Join Cindy for a Program or Event

Tuesday, June 7, 7-8:30 p.m.: The Garden’s Frequent Fliers: Dragonflies and Damselflies, Crestwood Garden Club, Elmhurst, IL. (Closed in-person event for members; to become a member visit them here ).

Wednesday, June 8, 7-8:30 p.m. Lawn Chair Lecture: The Schulenberg Prairie’s 60th Anniversary. The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. Bring your lawn chair and enjoy sunset on the prairie as you hear about the people, plants, and creatures that have made this prairie such a treasure. Tickets are limited: Register here. (Note: This event may be moved inside if inclement weather makes it advisable; participants will be notified).

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If you love the natural world, consider helping “Save Bell Bowl Prairie.” Read more here about simple actions you can take to keep this important Midwestern prairie remnant from being destroyed by a cargo road. Thank you for caring for our Midwestern “landscape of home”!