10 Reasons to Hike the July Prairie

“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you would drop dead in ten seconds. See the world.” — Ray Bradbury


Hot. Humid. Did I mention, it’s hot?


So many reasons to stay inside with the air conditioning on, preferably while sipping a cold beverage.

WMGreen bottle fly and Peck's Skipper Ware Field MA 71319.jpg

And yet.  This is one of the most beautiful months on the tallgrass prairie. A new wildflower species seems to open—in vivid technicolor—every day.  Monarchs float like magnets toward milkweed. Tiny Halloween pennant dragonflies dazzle in their dance with the grasses and sedges.


Big bluestem shoots up, over our heads now in the wetter places, ready to unfurl its turkeyfoot at any moment. Switchgrass shakes out her seedheads. Compass plants burst into their first sunshine blooms.

Prairie cinquefoil’s clusters of flowers appear as if by magic. Invisible, until bloom time.


Inhale the smell of crisp mountain mint; the tang of bee balm. Listen! Is that a common yellow throat, yo-yo-ing its summer song? July is passing. Don’t miss it!

Not convinced?  Here are 10 reasons to hike the prairie this week. Let the countdown begin.

#10. Hummingbird moths, such as this snowberry clearwing, zip from bee balm bloom to bee balm bloom.

WMsnowberryclearwin hummingbird sphinx moth SPMA71419.jpg

#9. Rare plants, like this eastern prairie fringed orchid are no less beautiful for being just-past peak. Plus a bonus lady spotted beetle.

WMSpotted Lady Beetle with Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid 7152019.jpg

#8. Meadowhawk dragonflies. The Japanese haiku poet Basho wrote of the red Odonates: “Crimson pepper pod/add two wings/darting dragonfly.” Perfect.


#7. Michigan lilies. Enough said.


#6. Queen of the prairie, so pretty in royal pink (and smelling of roses!).


#5. Calico pennant dragonflies. This one’s a boy.


#4. Mountain mint in bloom. I can’t resist popping a leaf or two into my mouth. Bonus: a margined leatherwing beetle.

WMMargined Leatherwing Beetle on Mountain Mint Ware Field MA 71319.jpg

#3. July’s pop-up thunderstorms. The drama of being alone on the tallgrass prairie as one suddenly rolls in is a cheap adrenaline rush for the thrill seeker. Recommended action: Vamoose!


#2. Milkweed in bloom. Prairie milkweed…


…and butterflyweed, with a visiting monarch. Both native milkweeds are attractive to these famous flyers.


#1. Rattlesnake master: Silver spheres in the sunlight. So ethereal.


Ten reasons to put down your phone, close your laptop, and go discover what you can add to the above list on your prairie walk.

Ten good reasons to hike the prairie in July.

Ready? Let’s go.


The quote that opens this post is from writer Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), born in Waukegon, IL, and best known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. He wrote many works of fiction, including the Illinois classic based loosely on his childhood, Dandelion Wine.


All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): July at Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glen View, IL; green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) and Peck’s skipper (Polites peckius) on Illinois bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis), West Side prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; female Halloween pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) on a sedge, possibly Muhlenberg’s sedge? (Carex muehlenbergi), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; snowberry clearwing hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis) on bee balm (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; eastern prairie fringed orchid (Plantanthera leucophaea) with spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculata), Illinois preserve; meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum spp.) on purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), West Side field, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Michigan lily ( Lilium michiganense) with purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) in the background, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; male calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa), on purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; margined leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) on common mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), West Side field, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pop-up thunderstorm over the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) with a sprinkling of unknown ant species (Formicidae), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glen View, IL; butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) with a monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glen View, IL; rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. Thanks to Benjamin Vogt for his reminder of queen of the prairie’s fragrance.


Cindy’s Upcoming Speaking and Events:

August 2, 8-11:30 a.m., Prairie Ethnobotany: How People Have Used Prairie Plants Throughout History, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. Register here.

August 12, 7-8:30 p.m., Dragonflies and Damselflies: The Garden’s Frequent Flyers, Fox Valley Garden Club, Aurora, IL. Free and open to the Public. Details here.

August 19-22, 8-5 p.m. daily, National Association for Interpretation Certified Interpretive Guide Training, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. Register here.

August 29, 7-8:30 p.m., Summer Literary Series: Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit. Hope aboard the Morton Arboretum’s tram and enjoy a cool beverage, then listen to Cindy talk about the “prairie spirit” on the beautiful Schulenberg Prairie, the fourth oldest prairie restoration in the world. Register here.

See more at http://www.cindycrosby.com

11 responses to “10 Reasons to Hike the July Prairie

  1. Crosby.gillian

    I love this one! The monarch is beautiful and the thunderstorms make me think of being out on the truck looking for bison and getting caught in the rain. Such a fun memory! 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim Vanderpoel

    I agree that rattlesnake master, while not colorful, is an impressive flower once their population builds up. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Of course, I loved every image of the forms nature takes… the endless variation but was surprised by what I focused on (immediately and mostly throughout): Green, of all things!

    I thought of two short lines from Canto 81 (Ezra Pound and The Pisan Cantos: Learn of the green world what can be thy place / In scaled invention or true artistry.

    As usual, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, beautiful pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. wilddouglascounty

    I always love your appreciation of the details of the prairie, which I share deeply. One thing that I think would be useful to address is the issue that creates barriers to many people from visiting prairies, particularly this time of year: ticks and chiggers. My being in northeast Kansas, we have ample numbers of both, with ticks coming in a wide variety, and without taking appropriate preventative steps, many a person innocently seeking out the beauty of the prairie will leave with memories of a much less but persistent variety. You may be too far north for the chiggers, in which case you are blessed beyond words, but having arthropodic predators is probably something you’re familiar with and would be a worthy topic, along with the appropriate preventative strategies! Apologies in advance if you’ve already treated this in earlier posts, as I’m a relatively new reader. Thanks again as always for your capturing the many moments you do throughout the year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Wild Douglas County! Thank you so much for reading and taking time to comment. It’s an important issue. I’m fortunate here in the Chicago region not to deal with chiggers on my sites (I’ve had them elsewhere — ugh!) but ticks and mosquitoes, as well as biting flies of various types, are always a problem in the warmer season. I have a sensitivity to biting insects that developed after working up in the north woods, so I’m keenly cognizant of how to avoid them, especially when dragonfly monitoring in wetlands, where they are prevalent. Here are a few thoughts for you and also, for my readers:

      1) My book, The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction (with Northwestern University Press, 2017) has a whole chapter devoted to how to dress for hiking the prairie and also, how to dress for volunteering or working a steward day on a prairie. I hope you’ll check it out!

      2) There are two videos I’d recommend — required viewing for all my volunteers and dragonfly monitors:

      Tick Prevention Video (short! good info!)
      (two minutes each)

      Tick Removal Video (helpful! only a little creepy!)

      This has been a particularly bad tick season here, but if you launder your clothes immediately after getting home (I use a hot dryer for at least 30 minutes) and shower (washing your hair too!) this takes care of most hitchhikers.

      I’d also recommend looking at Consumer Reports July 2019 issue — there is a comparison of bug sprays (“natural” and Deet based) that tell you how various sprays worked in their trials.

      I should also mention — you can get a tick/mosquito bite anywhere — your backyard, a city park, etc — so it is good to do a tick check whenever you’ve been outdoors, not just the prairies or woodlands. It’s particularly important to check kids for ticks when they’ve been playing outside in woods or brushy areas.

      I hope this is helpful, and again, WDC, thank you for reading and taking time to comment! Happy, healthy hiking to you….

      Cindy 🙂


  6. I’ve been feeling so unmotivated to do my usual outdoor explorations lately because of the heat, but this has reminded me of all I could miss if I don’t get back out there. Loved all the photos, of course, but the dragonfly haiku is wonderful! Thanks.


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