Ten Reasons to Hike the July Prairie

“The article-as-numbered-list has several features that make it inherently captivating… there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data.”–Maria Konnikova


Dishes are piled in the sink. Freelance work needs completed; evinced by piles of paper and notes everywhere. Unread library books, now overdue, rattle around in the back seat of my Honda. My to-do list now spans several pages.

What to tackle first? None of these. Time to go for a prairie hike. Here are 10 reasons why:

#10: July’s prairie bouquets. Combine gray-headed coneflower, wild bergamot, and the various white prairie wildflowers. Result? Spectacular.


#9. The mesmerizing sounds of a prairie stream. This stream at Nachusa Grasslands was linked to a beaver pond until the beavers abandoned it last season. In only a year, the changes in the landscape are impressive.




#8. Unbelievably beautiful butterflies float the July prairie, like this black tiger swallowtail.


Sometimes you get a bonus: a double dose of fritillaries.


#7. Summer is all about springwater damselflies. This one’s a male.


#6. July is a great time to see different species of blazing star wildflowers in bud…


…and in bloom.


#5. Compass plants send their profusion of periscope blooms across the prairie.


#4. The delightful freckled wild horsemint is reason enough to hike the prairie right now. I think the flowers look like the circus came to town. What do they remind you of?


#3. Those July blues…blue vervain, that is. Almost purple, isn’t it?


#2. Signs of hope are everywhere. But especially here.


#1. And everywhere you look on the July prairie is the promise of future adventures.


My to-do list will still be there when I return home. But the July prairie won’t wait. Every day is different. Every day is full of surprises. When I look back on how I spent this day….


…I won’t have any regrets.


The opening quote is from Maria Konnikova, whose article “A List of Reasons our Brains Love Lists”  from The New Yorker explains these little scraps of paper I have laying around everywhere. Check it out.

All of the photos and the video clip this week are from Nachusa Grasslands, a Nature Conservancy site in Franklin Grove, IL, except the compass plants from Fermilab as noted (top to bottom): gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), and various white wildflowers; old beaver pond turned stream; black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes);  two meadow fritillary butterflies (Boloria bellona)–thanks Doug Taron for ID help; springwater dancer damselfly (Argia plana); rough blazing star in bud (Liatris aspera) ; blazing star in bloom (Liatris spp.); compass plants (Silphium laciniatum) at Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL; horsemint (Monarda punctata villicualis); blue vervain (Verbena hastata); monarch (Danaus plexippus) on swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); gravel two-track through the July prairie; prairie in my Honda’s rear view mirror.

8 responses to “Ten Reasons to Hike the July Prairie

  1. Jim Vanderpoel

    I was there on Saturday–I also saw a meadow fritillary, which was a first for me. I did not see the bison. The restoration was looking great!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The meadow fritillaries were new for me, too! And yes, the bison were in hiding when I was there as well. I think they like the cooler shadier areas in July. Thanks for the encouragement on the restoration — the staff and crew at Nachusa — and the restoration volunteers and stewards — are working hard towards that! Grateful for you reading and commenting, Jim.


  2. faithanncolburn

    I sold my farm about a year ago and really miss being able to walk the pastures I’d been tramping since I was a little kid. Trouble was, I couldn’t maintain the buildings. I just wanted to say, I’ve never seen anything out there that looks anything like the freckled wild horsemint. I live in Nebraska and I see you teach in the Chicago area. Is that where you found the plant you photographed?

    Liked by 1 person

    • So good to hear from you, Faithann! It sounds like your farm was a very special place. That wild horsemint also goes by the nickname “spotted beebalm.” It’s from Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, IL, about 90 miles west of Chicago. I had never seen it until a few years ago and it made me smile! If you get a chance to visit Nachusa Grasslands, you’ll see more than 700 different species of plants! Nice to know there is so much beauty — and hilarity! in the plant world, isn’t there? Thanks for reading, and for taking time to drop me a note. Hope you can find some new peaceful places to hike.


  3. Jim Vanderpoel

    I also saw that horsemint species and golden aster and a pink flower that I thought might be a meadow beauty–my phone died so I couldn’t get a picture:(. I loved seeing some plants that you don’t see at other Chicago area prairies.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful !!!!! Nice ending. Your Dad

    Liked by 1 person

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