Autumn on the Tallgrass Prairie

“But what pencil has wandered over the grander scenes of the North American prairie? …I have gazed upon all the varied loveliness of my own, fair, native land, from the rising sun to its setting, and in vain have tasked my fancy to imagine a fairer. — Edmund Flagg


Gray clouds slide across the sky. Low temperatures send us to our closets, looking for heavy sweaters and winter jackets.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I’m tempted to stay inside. Duck out of any hiking.

Mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

But! Autumn is in full swing.

Native prairie and pollinator neighborhood planting, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Who would want to miss it?

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

October loves to surprise us. One day, it’s all sunshine and warmth, the next, there’s a hint of the Midwest winter to come.

College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

On the prairie this month, it’s all about the seeds. Fluffy seeds.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Seeds in crackly coats.

Tall cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Seeds soft as silk.

Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Seeds with the promise of a new generation.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Sure, there are still wildflowers in bloom.

Tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

And leaves full of color.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), College of DuPage Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Some leaves more beautiful than the flowers.

Prairie dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum), College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Forget the trees. The prairie stars in October’s fall color show.

College of DuPage, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL.

What a beautiful season to hike the tallgrass!

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and New England aster (Symphotrichum novae-angliae), neighborhood planting, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Why not go see?


The opening quote is from The Tallgrass Prairie Reader, edited by John T. Price (University of Iowa Press), from Edmund Flagg, who wrote about the Illinois prairie in 1838.


Upcoming Programs and Classes

Thursday, October 20, 2022 (10:15-11:30a.m.)—The Garden’s Frequent Fliers: Dragonflies and Damselflies, Lincolnshire Garden Club, Vernon Hills, Illinois. Closed event for members. For information on joining this garden club, please visit their website here.

Saturday, November 5, 2022 (10-11:30 am)Winter Prairie Wonders, hosted by Wild Ones of Gibson Woods, Indiana, in-person and via Zoom. Cindy will be broadcasting from Illinois. For more information on registering for the Zoom or for in-person registration, visit them here.

Saturday, November 12, 2022 (1-2:30 p.m.) Add a Little Prairie to Your Garden, hosted by the Antioch Garden Club, Antioch, IL. Free and open to the public, but you must register. For information and to inquire about registering for the event, visit the Wild Ones here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022 (6:30-8:30 p.m.) 100 Years Around the Arboretum. Join Cindy and Library Collections Manager Rita Hassert for a fun-filled evening and a celebratory cocktail as we toast the closing month of the Arboretum’s centennial year. Register here.

20 responses to “Autumn on the Tallgrass Prairie

  1. Exactly, why NOT! I’m heading out with our garden club to walk at Fullersburg FP this cold morning. It will be beautiful! Thanks for the “good morning” Cindy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cindy,

    I’m really impressed with your neighborhood plantings. One of my goals is to get my neighbors to do more native planting before I’m turned to ash. Any suggestions?



    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t it a good planting, Ron? I was impressed, too! I think the best way to inspire your neighbors is by introducing them to prairie wildflowers and their beauty and value to pollinators and birds— a good sign about pollinators or butterflies in the front yard helps, also. A thoughtful book might be something to share, maybe, on natural lawns? Especially if they are readers! I know you are doing great things for the natural world! I hope your neighbors take their cue from you! I know I could learn a lot from what you do! Cindy 🙂


  3. I love that neighborhood planting! Downers Grove has been converting areas to native plants. An easy way to see this is on the north sides of the underpass on Belmont between Ogden and Maple. They also plant in Bioswale areas where there are drainage ditches in front of houses. It’s so encouraging to see the village taking the lead and becoming a role model.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Paula — that planting is marvelous, and I’m so glad that you spotted the Downers Grove planting (I’m a fan of that one, too!). So glad you are enjoying the prairie plantings in Downers! Hope your week is wonderful —I appreciate you reading and taking time to write. Cindy 🙂


  4. Another lovely Tuesday message from you this morning.
    Thank you. How I do look forward to Tuesday and your
    words and photographs! I like to share with others.
    Next decent day Jane will take me out to her Prairie to
    See what is happening there. Wonderful “ SkyDog” display
    last Sat pm, as I was watching, between 4-5:30 here in
    Holt, MI. SE sky…hope others saw it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely note, Barb! Thank you for that encouragement today. I hope you have a beautiful hike with Jane, and keep your eyes on the skies — so much beauty everywhere…. I’m so grateful for your note! Cindy 🙂


  5. Thank you for making me aware of The Tallgrass Prairie Reader in a previous post. I ordered gift copies for my friends who help me teach prairie workshops here in Texas. And a copy for me too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Suzanne — you are awesome to share prairie through John T. Price’s terrific collection! Thank you for reading the blog, and thank you for supporting books and prairie through sharing both with your friends. Happy reading!


  6. William L Nettelhorst

    Hi Cindy. Been a while. As usual what you do is so special. Thank you. Aster flowers this year were low, Little Bluestem much lighter seed production, Indian grass and Compass plant went crazy, Great Blue Lobelia went from a few to many. I’m looking into protecting and providing maintenance for the Prairie area. Sounds like Glacial Lakes would do the legal and Native Niche LLC could provide the on going maintenance. The owner Jamie Sue Beaupre is in her 30’s and very knowledgeable about Prairie. Any ideas about how to create funding annually?
    You are so right about the fall colors. The red hues are magnificent. I’m a stone sculptor and envious of painters that can recreate those colors. A single stem of Big Blue has the complete rainbow. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, I love your descriptions of what your prairie was like this year! I wish I had more ideas for you on funding. I will ask around. We had very little compass plant seeds this season — glad yours did better. Your sculptures are fantastic! The prairie has so much amazing color right now. Your observation of the Big Bluestem is spot on. Enjoy the week, and let me know what you discover as far as funding — I’ll keep my ears open! Happy hiking! Cindy 🙂


  7. Every fall I’m amazed at how you find beauty in brown seedheads and leaves that are drying up, things I tend not to notice. So thanks for opening my eyes in that way. I do pay attention to crispy prairie dock leaves though — they seem like giant speckled potato chips!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so kind to read! I love the prairie dock also — what a great plant — I’m with you, the leaves are gorgeous all year round. Hope you see lots of them on your walks this week! Thank you for your encouraging words. Cindy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for bringing your colors and wonders to my desert day, Cindy!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for the beautiful Fall color pictures! Especially love the butterfly milkweed.
    Best time of the year to go out and take a hike!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. RoseMarie Harring

    the photos, really spoke to me, Cindy! Love the silky satiny texture of those seed fluffs!!! and the close ups…beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

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