Autumn Arrives on the Tallgrass Prairie

“Thou blossom bright with autumn dew… .”—William Cullen Bryant


September on the prairie opens with a suite of delights, despite the dry weather in the Chicago region. Skies this past week veered between a celestial milky ice…

Schulenberg Prairie trail, Lisle, IL.

…to a startling aquamarine fleeced with clouds.

Ware Field plantings, Lisle, IL.

In my backyard mix of traditional garden and prairie, a Cooper’s hawk keeps an eye on the bird feeders. She considers the whole spread her personal salad bar. The chipmunks and hummingbirds won’t get close, but the squirrels take a more laissez-faire approach. Not a bunny in sight.

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) Crosby backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Fall wildflowers and grasses fling themselves into the new month, bent on completing their cycle of bloom and set seed; bloom and set seed; bloom and set seed.

Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii).

The low light filters through the now-golding tree leaves, a memo from nature that time is running out for warm season pursuits. I love the seed variety in the prairies and savannas. They range from sharp…

Bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Lisle, IL.

…to smooth.

False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Lisle, IL.

Pale asters froth up like foamy cappuccinos.

Ware Field planting in early September.

As I hike the prairie trails, I look for some of my fall favorites. White goldenrod, which looks like an aster, is tough to find but worth the hunt. That name! Such an oxymoron.

White goldenrod (Oligoneuron album), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Hyssop stands out in the savannas; a pollinator plant favorite.

Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariaefolia), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Lisle, IL.

But most of all, I delight in the gentians.

Autumn on the prairie, DuPage County, IL.

Welcome back.

Downy Gentian or sometimes called Prairie Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta), DuPage County, IL.

True, the cream gentians have been in bloom for at least a month now.

Cream (or “Yellowish”) Gentians (Gentiana alba), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

But the blue gentians are an extra dollop of delight.

Downy (or Prairie) Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta), DuPage County, IL.

As I admire the deep, deep, blues, I think a William Cullen Bryant poem about fringed gentians:

Blue-blue-as if that sky let fall

A flower from its cerulean wall.

I don’t find fringed gentians on my walk today, but I’ve seen them in previous years. I do discover, nearby in the tallgrass, the Stiff Gentians, sometimes called “Agueweed.” They are almost ready to open.

Stiff Gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia), DuPage County, IL.

Soon they’ll bloom, and add their tiny flowers to the prairies.

Stiff Gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia), Fermilab, Batavia, IL. (2018)

Cool breezes! That sunshine. What a day to go for a hike. I want to wander through the tallgrass, spangled with gentians, under September skies. Inhale prairie dropseed fragrance. Feel the tallgrass brush my shoulders. Feel the cares of the past week roll off my shoulders.

Possibly a Hybrid Bottle Gentian (Gentiana × pallidocyanea), DuPage County, IL.

Is there a better way to begin the month? If there is, I don’t know what it would be.

Why not go see?


The opening line is from William Cullen Bryant’s poem, To the Fringed Gentian. Click here to read the poem in its entirety on the Poetry Foundation’s website. You may know Bryant’s poetic line, “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again” — made famous by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior in his speech, “Give Us the Ballot.”


September 9, 9:30-11 am– in person–“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Oswego Hilltoppers Garden Club, Oswego Public Library. Please visit the club’s Facebook page for guest information, event updates pending Covid positivity in Illinois, and Covid protocol. Masks required for this event.

September 27, 7-8:30 p.m.–in person–“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Arlington Heights Garden Club. Please visit the club’s website here for guest information, event updates pending Covid positivity in Illinois, and Covid protocol.

15 responses to “Autumn Arrives on the Tallgrass Prairie

  1. Cindy your camerawork has become masterful. Lovely how well they tell the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely dreamy photo of the bottlebrush grass — that’s a tough one for me to photograph. And white goldenrod — what?! That’s a new one for me…very interesting to learn about this.

    So glad you shared pics of prairie gentian and jogged my memory of the ONE time I got to see that plant. The nectar guides inside are incredible!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Cindy, Your weekly posts are so appreciated, your perspective and your pictures. I’ve encouraged several friends to enjoy them as well; thanks for helping make these last couple years more interesting, beautiful (and bearable). I was driving down Leask Rd at dusk last night and the mist was extraordinary. I’m attaching my (not fantastic by any means) iPhone grab of the moment, as best I could from the side of the road, leaning over the fence. I’m sharing it with you only because it’s inspired by your prairie musings, and gorgeous pictures. Thanks! David Littlehale

    On Tue, Sep 7, 2021 at 6:41 AM Tuesdays in the Tallgrass wrote:

    > Cindy Crosby posted: ” “Thou blossom bright with autumn dew… > .”—William Cullen Bryant ****** September on the prairie opens with a > suite of delights, despite the dry weather in the Chicago region. Skies > this past week veered between a celestial milky ice… Schule” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely note, David — thank you so much. I don’t see the photo, but I bet it is amazing! Thank you for telling me about it, and also, for how you pay attention to prairie. I’m grateful for folks like you that get excited by it, as I do!
      Cindy 🙂


  4. What I a lovely site. I discovered in while searching for information for my birder addicted ten year old grandson, Gavin I have now subscribed.Can you tell me anything about the bird feeding moratorium in northern Illinois? He loves to fill the feeders at his home in River Side and ours in River Forest.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello, Modemjunkie, and thank you for following the blog! I was so delighted to hear about your grandson who loves birding. How wonderful that you can enjoy birding together! I have fun filling feeders with my grandkids as well. As far as I know, we have been spared the bird die-off that has happened in so many states (the most recent article I found was here: However, it’s possible that things have changed since this article came out. I would follow Illinois Birding Network on Facebook to get current updates. You might also call Willowbrook Wildlife Center and see what they are discovering ((630) 942-6200) — good luck! Let us know what you find out. Thank you for reading, and for subscribing! Cindy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you. I will follow up.

    Enjoy this gorgeous weather while it lasts.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Take care, Len, and thank you for sharing your love for the natural world! So glad to have you and your grandson along for the hikes each week. Cindy 🙂


      • Good news. I reached out to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources today. The confirmed that based on current information it should be safe to feed the birds again and gave us some guidance. The kids are excited to be able to feed the birds again and Gavin looks forward to seeing coming along on your hikes.

        Thanks again,

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This is GREAT news — thank you for sharing!!! And thank you for reading, Len. Cindy 🙂


  7. Hello, is it possible to attend your Illinois Prairie talk at Arlington Heights virtually, even if the event ends up being held in person? I live in Seattle so can’t attend in person 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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