Category Archives: nature photography

April on the Prairie

“April is the cruelest month… .”—T.S. Eliot

*****

April in the Midwest is not for the faint of heart. We woke up Monday in the Chicago Region to blustery winds, falling snow, and temperatures which plunged down, down, down.

Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

After joking with friends earlier last week that we had gone straight from winter to summer—we’d even put the hummingbird feeder out— the weather gods must have taken notice. Take that!

Hummingbird feeder with no takers, Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Ah, well. It’s spring in Illinois.

The 100-acre Schulenberg Prairie where I’m a steward was burned last week. I was glad to see it, although the prescribed fire was later in the season than usual and nipped some of the newly-emerged plants.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I don’t think it will set back the rattlesnake master much.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

There were some casualties. Oh, the pasque flowers! They are always one of our first prairie wildflowers to bloom each spring. The name comes from the Hebrew “pasakh” for “Passover” and is also known as “Easter flower” for its bloom season. The flowers were right on time this year before the prescribed burn.

Pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (2016).

If you are a long-time reader of Tuesdays in the Tallgrass, you’ll remember we were down to one or two of these beautiful specimens a half dozen years ago. We collected seed from the mother plant, as well as sourced more seed from a generous forest preserve. Then the Arboretum’s wonderful greenhouse staff grew the seeds out for us. Pasque flower germinates poorly, so we were delighted to have 30 plants to place on the prairie.

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens) seedlings, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

So it’s a bit of a heartbreak to see them after the fire.

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

At least one flower escaped the flames! Just a little singed.

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I carefully count what’s left. One. Two. Three. Four. I hope there are more that I missed.

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

It’s the life of a prairie steward. Three steps forward. Two steps back. The fire was critical to the health of the prairie, so most plants will benefit. Poor pasque flowers! One of the hazards of being an early spring prairie bloomer. We’ll see if any other pasque flower plants made it as the weeks unfold.

As consolation, Jeff and I dropped in at the Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie in Glenview, IL, this past week. It’s one of my favorite prairies to visit.

Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

This evening it’s quiet, except for a rowdy flock of red-winged blackbirds and grackles. Almost 60! They move in large groups from tree to tree. The late slant of sun polishes the grackles’ blue and black to a high sheen.

Common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

It seems unfair that a flock of grackles is called “a plague.” As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, we have an inkling of what a “plague” is like, and this ain’t it. Another name for their flocks: An “annoyance” of grackles. Ha! I like the red-winged blackbird’s group names better: a “cloud,” “cluster,” or a “merl.”

We see a few house finches as we hike, hanging out on top of a birdhouse that I don’t believe was intended for them. The males are pretty in their raspberry breeding plumage.

House finches (Haemorhous mexicanus), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Bird names aside, we revel in naming some of the prairie plants we see still standing on the unburned prairie. Switchgrass.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Wild bergamot.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Dogbane, sometimes called Indian hemp.

Dogbane or Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Prairie dock, with a thicker-than-usual stem. Interesting! I wonder why?

Prairie dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

As we hike, we notice two visitors on the trail peering through their binoculars at…something. I look into the wetlands, but can’t see anything unusual.

Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Fortunately, they are—like so many birders—friendly and generous with their knowledge. “Look over here,” one of them says, pointing.

And then I see it. Virginia rail!

Virginia rail (Rallus limicola), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

The reclusive bird with “Ticket! Ticket!” call has always evaded my camera. I click shot after shot, unable to believe my luck.

Virginia rail (Rallus limicola), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

But that’s not all…

Sora!

Sora (Prozana carolina), Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Another bird I’ve not been able to get a photo of. Even though, as Cornell University tells us, it is “the most abundant and widespread rail (a family of small to mid-sized birds) in North America.” What bizarre calls this bird has! (Be sure and click to listen to several of the recordings to hear the “whinny” call.) We linger, watching and listening.

Thanking the generous birders profusely, we make our way back to the parking lot, admiring the now-closed interpretive center as we go.

Evelyn Pease Tyner Interpretive Center, Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

It was a short prairie hike.

But what a wealth of delights that April—this mercurial month—had for us on the prairie this week.

Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Who knows what else we’ll see this month on the prairies?

I can’t wait to find out.

****

The opening quote is from T.S. Eliot’s (1888-1965) “The Wasteland.” Read more about his life at the Poetry Foundation, or listen to Eliot read his words here.

*****

Join Cindy for a Program or Class this Spring

The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction—Tuesday, April 18, Algonquin Garden Club, 12:30-2 p.m. (Closed event for members)

Spring Wildflower and Ethnobotany Walk—Thursday, April 20, 8:30-10:30 am or Saturday, April 29, 8:30-10:30am at The Morton Arboretum. Registration information here. (Both walks SOLD OUT, ask to be put on a waiting list)

The Tallgrass Prairie in Popular Culture –Sunday, April 23, 2-5 p.m. The Land Conservancy’s 32nd Annual Celebration, High Tea at the McHenry Country Club, Woodstock, IL. Tickets are $45-$70 — available here. If you live in the area, please support the great work this organization does for prairies and our natural lands.

I’m excited to moderate “In Conversation Online with Robin Wall Kimmerer,” June 21, 2023, 7-8 pm via Zoom. Brought to you by Illinois Libraries Present. Numbers may be limited, so register here soon!

More classes and programs at www.cindycrosby.com

Tallgrass Prairie Dragons

“One dragonfly—even the most silent of ponds comes alive.”—Scott King

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They’re here. All around us. In the prairie wetlands. Scattered in the tallgrass ponds.

Dragons.

Sterling Pond, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Dragonflies, that is. When the sun shines on cold days. While the ice is deep on the prairie ponds.

Bison track (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2017)

“What?” you might say. “Cindy, there aren’t any dragonflies flying through the snow.” Truth. And yet…under the water’s surface, rumbling across the substrate of silty river bottoms, dragonfly nymphs are going about their business. They look a bit different in their larval stage, don’t they?

Hine’s emerald dragonfly nymph (Somatochlora hineana), Urban Stream Research Center, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL. (2019)

These tiny nymphs eat. Grow. Molt. Eat some more. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Until that magical day when nature tells each species GO!

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2017)

They emerge, exchanging a life in the water for a short life in the air.

Teneral dragonfly gaining its coloration, unknown species, Busse Woods, Schaumburg, IL. (2016)

Their lives will flare into color, channeling sunlight. And then, all too soon, their time is up. It might end with the snap of a bird bill. The splash of a fish, as it snatches the dragonfly in motion. Or a bullfrog, tonguing the dragonfly out of its flightpath.

Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), Crosby’s backyard pond, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2018).

Now you see it.

Widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (2019).

Now you don’t.

Widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) wings, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2020)

Or, if a dragonfly is lucky, it will live a few weeks before dying its natural death.

Calico pennant (Celithemus elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2020)

A life so short! Shouldn’t we admire them while we can?

And then, there are the migratory dragonflies. Big, bright, and ready to return to the Midwest this spring.

Common green darner (Anax junius), Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL. (2020).

Not all dragonflies migrate. But the ones that do—common green darners, wandering gliders, black saddlebags, and other migratory species—left in the autumn en masse, bound for warmer climes. The Gulf of Mexico, perhaps, or even Central America. And now, their progeny return singly. We’ll see them as early as March in Illinois, ready to complete the remarkable cycle.

The wandering glider, found on every continent but Antarctica, is known to travel more than 8,000 miles!

Wandering glider (Pantala flavescens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2016)

Dragonflies don’t have the excellent press agents that monarch butterflies do, so it’s up to citizen scientists, researchers, and organizations such as The Xerces Society to collect data and learn more about these far-ranging insects.

Black saddlebags (Tramea lacerata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2020)

For most of us, it’s enough to know dragonflies will soon be back in the Midwest to brighten our gardens and enliven our world. Returning migrants and also, the nymphs living in the water here, will appear. They’ll zip around stoplights, catch bugs at ballparks, and pose on wildflowers.

Blue dasher (Pachydiplax longipennis) on rough blazing star (Liatris aspera) , Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL. (2016)

Such motion!

Common green darner (Anax junius), Turtle Ponds, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2021)

Such color.

Carolina saddlebags (Tramea carolina), Ware Field, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2019)

Such pizzazz.

Eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera), Children’s Garden, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2022)

Though snow still flies in the Chicago region, my dragonfly “EDS”—early detection system—is on high alert. What species will I see first? When will I spot it? Where?

Great blue skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2021)

From that moment on, my days will see constant attention on the skies and wetlands. I can’t wait.

Let the dragonfly chasing season begin!

******

The opening quote is from Scott King (1965-2021) in his book with Ken Tennessen and Kobayashi Issa, Dragonfly Haiku (Red Dragonfly Press, 2016). King, an engineer who grew up in northern Minnesota, was also a naturalist who wrote several books about insects. He was the founder of Red Dragonfly Press, which relied on vintage typesetting and printing equipment, and he hand-bound the poetry chapbooks he published with needle and thread. In a tribute to Scott in the Minnesota Star Tribune, he was lauded by one friend as “that rare combination of technical genius and poetic soul.” Said another friend, “He was constantly drawing your attention to what is around you that you might not be seeing or noticing.”

*****

Requiem for Bell Bowl Prairie

On March 9, 2023, despite public opposition, one of Illinois last prairie remnants was bulldozed by the Chicago-Rockford International Airport. Once a prairie remnant is lost, we are unable to replicate it. Let this travesty be a wake-up call for all of us who love and care for tallgrass prairies anywhere. Wherever you hike, volunteer, or see a prairie, ask yourself—is this prairie legally protected? If not, advocate for its protection now. Let this be the last prairie remnant we lose in what we’re so proud to call “The Prairie State.”

****

Join Cindy for a Class or Program in March

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE — March 15, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by Bensonville Public Library. Free and open to the public, but you must register for the link by calling the library. Contact information here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE –March 16, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by the Rock Valley Wild Ones. This event was formerly a blended program and is now online only. Open to the public; but you must register. Contact information is here.

Literary Gardens — In Person —– Saturday, March 18, 9am-12:30 pm. Keynote for “Ready, Set, Grow!” Master Gardeners of Carroll, Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside Counties through The Illinois Extension. Dixon, IL. Registration ($25) is offered here.

The Morton Arboretum’s “Women in the Environment Series”: The Legacy of May T. Watts— (in person and online)—with lead instructor and Sterling Morton Librarian extraordinaire Rita Hassert. March 24, 10-11:30 a.m., Founders Room, Thornhill. Registration information available here.

Literary Gardens–In Person — Wednesday, March 29, 7-8:30 p.m. La Grange Park Public Library, LaGrange, IL. (free but limited to 25 people). For more information, contact the library here.

See Cindy’s website for more spring programs and classes.

The Tallgrass Prairie Whispers “Spring”

“There is always in February some one day, at least, when one smells the yet distant, but surely coming, summer.” — Gertrude Jekyll

*****

Sunday evening, Jeff and I stepped outside at twilight to see bright Venus and Jupiter shining in the west. They’ll move toward “the kiss”—an almost-conjunction in the sky—on March 1.

Venus and Jupiter over Crosby’s neighborhood, Glen Ellyn, IL.

As we stood outside in the dark, boots squelching in the melting snow, the smell of the air hit me. It was one part fresh mud, one part thaw, one part fresh laundry. The smell of spring.

Spring? It’s here, folks. Wednesday, March 1—tomorrow—is the first official day of meteorological spring for some; others look to the vernal equinox March 20 to declare the season officially open. No matter which date you choose, spring is here in the vagaries of weather.

Unknown asters, Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Ahh. The weather. Monday, two freak tornadoes touched down a few miles from our house. In…February?

Nest, Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Yep.

Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Some towns near us saw as much rain in a few hours as they usually receive in a month. Temperatures reached almost 60 degrees. It was the fifth warmest Feb 27 since the 1800’s, according to our Chicago weatherman Tom Skilling.

Wild bergamot (Monarada fistulosa), Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

It’s not only wild weather that says “spring.” Spring is here in the scent of February snowmelt.

Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

The call of the sandhill cranes headed north. The crocus’s purple petals splayed open in a pocket of sunshine between the porch and the house.

Crocus (Crocus sativus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Spring is here in the rustle of bleached grasses on the tallgrass prairies.

Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

We can hear “spring” announced by the crash-bang early morning thunderstorms that rattle the window blinds.

Sawtooth sunflowers (Helianthus grosseserratus), Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Spring drops its calling card in the slop of mud on the prairie trails.

Horse (Equus caballus) tracks, Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

As Jeff and I walked the prairie paths this weekend, we startled a host of American tree sparrows. They are winter residents in the Chicago region, and will soon head to their northern breeding grounds. Cornell University tells me American tree sparrows are a species in steep decline, so I’m heartened to see so many on my walks. I’ll miss them when they leave.

American tree sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

A string of geese pull each other across the sky.

Canada geese (Branta canadensis), Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Now there’s a species that’s thriving! I always think of bowling pins when I see them overhead.

Canada geese (Branta canadensis), Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

There’s a chatter of red-wing blackbirds which screech and swoop, visible at every turn on the prairie trails.

Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Along the trail, he last seedpods wait for prescribed fire to wipe the prairie clean. A fresh start.

Mullein Foxglove (Dasistoma macrophylla), Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Even at twilight the slant of the sun hints at the new season transition.

Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, IL.

Do you feel it? Take a deep breath. Soak it in.

Spring.

It’s here. At last.

******

The opening quote is by Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), known for her garden designs in Great Britain. The author of at least 15 books and thousands of articles, she was a painter until her eyesight began to fail, then her garden design talents moved to the fore.

*****

Join Cindy for a Class or Program in March!

Literary Gardens —In Person— March 7, 7-8:30 p.m,– Hosted by the ELA Library and Lake Zurich Garden Club. Location change — now at St. Matthews Lutheran Church, Hawthorn Woods, IL. Free and open to the public. For more information, visit here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE — March 15, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by Bensonville Public Library. Free and open to the public, but you must register for the link by calling the library. Contact information here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE –March 16, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by the Rock Valley Wild Ones. This event was formerly a blended program and is now online only. Open to the public; but you must register. Contact information is here.

Literary Gardens — In Person —– Saturday, March 18, 9am-12:30 pm. Keynote for “Ready, Set, Grow!” Master Gardeners of Carroll, Lee, Ogle, and Whiteside Counties through The Illinois Extension. Dixon, IL. Registration ($25) is offered here.

The Morton Arboretum’s “Women in the Environment Series”: The Legacy of May T. Watts— (in person and online)—with lead instructor and Sterling Morton Librarian extraordinaire Rita Hassert. March 24, 10-11:30 a.m., Founders Room, Thornhill. Registration information available here.

Literary Gardens–In Person — Wednesday, March 29, 7-8:30 p.m. La Grange Park Public Library, LaGrange, IL. (free but limited to 25 people). For more information, contact the library here.

See Cindy’s website for more spring programs and classes.

*****

Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL, needs your help! Find out more on saving this threatened prairie remnant at SaveBellBowlPrairie.

A Tallgrass Prairie Valentine

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“My own feeling for tallgrass prairie is that of a modern man fallen in love with the face in a faded tintype. Only the frame is still real; the rest is illusion and dream.”—John Madson

*******

Today, as we swap sweet valentine notes with friends, family, and loved ones, I’m writing to you, prairie.

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2022)

Yes, you.

Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL. (2022)

I’m talking to you, prairie remnants…

Beach Cemetery Prairie, Ogle County, IL. (2022)

…and backyard prairies, so lovingly planted…

Crosby’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2022)

…and front yard prairies, placed where neighbors can see…

Possibly the transverse banded drone (Eristalis transversa) on showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), Crosby’s front yard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2022)

…and street prairies, in the midst of suburban hustle and bustle.

Neighborhood cul-de-sac prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2022)

Cemetery prairies, where the native plants hung on for dear life as the tallgrass was plowed all around.

Vermont Cemetery Prairie, Naperville, IL (2020).

Prairies of a hundred acres.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2022)

Prairies of thousands of acres.

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2014)

Prairies tucked into the corners of churches and schools…

Prairie at Glenbard South High School, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2017)

…playgrounds and public spaces…

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), Prairie Walk Pond and Dragonfly Landing, Lisle, IL. (2018)

…in industrial parks…

Corporate prairie planting, Westmont, IL. (2018)

…and in places you might not expect.

International Crane Center, Baraboo, WI. (2017)

Old planted prairies that started a restoration movement…

Curtis Prairie, University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, Madison, WI. (2020)

… and prairies that remind us of the vision it takes to keep tallgrass alive in the hearts and minds of people.

Aldo Leopold’s “Shack,” Baraboo, WI. (2017)

Prairies that gave me new ways to think about the world.

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

Thank you, my landscape of home, for the thousands of hours of pleasure you’ve offered me.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN. (2021)

I’ve pulled your weeds…

Afton Prairie, DeKalb, IL. (2017)

…collected your seeds.

Planting pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2020)

Thank you for supporting the native bees…

Possibly the brown-belted bumblebee (Bombus griseocollis) on wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2020).

…and the butterflies…

Baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) on Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

…and the birds…

Dickcissel (Spiza americana) on great angelica (Angelica atropupurea), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2020)

…so many fascinating birds….

Northern harrier (Circus hudsonius), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2022)

…and myriad whimsical insects…

White-faced meadowhawk, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2014)

…by providing them with a healthy, diverse place to live.

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2017)

Thank you for your blooms, which add color to my life from March to October.

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2018)

Thank you, tallgrass prairie, for days full of sound and motion…

American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2018)

…for nights full of discovery…

Trevor Edmonson leads the first Mothapalooza on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (2019)

…for streams to wade through…

Early morning wading Clear Creek, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2017).

…for helping me understand the role of prescribed fire that causes you to flourish…

Prescribed burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2021)

…and for endless bridges to adventure.

Bridge over Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (Undated)

For the cool taste of mountain mint leaves in summer…

Common mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL. (2021)

…for the delights of prairie thunderstorms…

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2019)

…and for giving the displaced and threatened a home.

Bison (Bison bison), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2016)

You’ve taught me to see the small things. To pay attention.

Citrine forktail damselfly (Ischnura hastata), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

Thank you, tallgrass prairie.

Orland Grasslands, Orland Park, IL. (2017)

This is my love letter…

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) at sunset, Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2017)

…my valentine…

Fermilab, Batavia, IL. (2019)

…to you.

******

The opening quote is by John Madson (1923-1995) from his beautiful, thoughtful book on tallgrass prairie, Where the Sky Began. If you haven’t read it, February is the perfect month to do so.

******

Dragonflies and Damselflies —IN PERSON February 18, 10-11:30 a.m. (Note new earlier date). Hosted by Citizens for Conservation, Barrington, IL. For more information, click here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers—In Person February 20, 7:15-8:45 p.m. Hosted by the Suburban Garden Club, Indian Head Park, IL. Free and open to non-members. For more information, contact Cindy through her website contact space at http://www.cindycrosby.com.

Literary Gardens —In Person March 7, 7-8:30 p.m.—Hosted by the ELA Library and Lake Zurich Garden Club. Location change — now at St. Matthews Lutheran Church, Hawthorn Woods, IL. Free and open to the public. For more information, visit here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE — March 15, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by Bensonville Public Library. Free and open to the public, but you must register for the link by calling the library. Contact information click here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers ONLINE –March 16, 7-8:30 p.m., Hosted by the Rock Valley Wild Ones. This event was formerly a blended program and is now online only. Open to the public; but you must register. Contact information is here.

See Cindy’s website for more March programs and classes.

*****

Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL, needs your help! Find out more on saving this threatened prairie remnant at SaveBellBowlPrairie.

A Tallgrass Prairie Freeze

“Winter is an opportune season in which nature’s legions have time to ready themselves for a new debut come spring and beyond.“–Allen Young

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February can’t make up her mind. Freezing temps and blustery winds? Hot sunshine and snowmelt? Every morning is a weather package to unwrap, full of surprises.

Sunrise from Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

On a brutally cold afternoon with abundant sunshine this week, I trek through the snow on the Schulenberg Prairie. I’m a steward here so I’m excited to see the fence along the north edge of the prairie has been taken down. The new 18 acres purchased for natural areas is being cleared. It’s satisfying to see an overgrown area, full of buckthorn and honeysuckle, in the process of restoration.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. New acreage is at the far treeline, center.

Ten degrees. Five bluebirds hang around the edges of the prairie in the savanna, their sapphire plumage startling against the bright snow.

Eastern bluebird (Sialia silalis), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2019)

It’s our deepest snow of the year. Three inches? Four?

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I’m glad for the fluffy stuff. Snow will help replenish the prairie’s groundwater.

Tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

As I hike toward the bridge, I hear a sound, like the sizzle of hot oil in a skillet. Water running! Willoway Brook isn’t completely frozen.

Bridge over Willoway Brook, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I hang over the bridge railing. Yes, there is open water. But look at that ice!

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

So many winter patterns…

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

…flat discs…

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

…and ice crystals.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

How astonishing! I forget my frozen nose and fingers as I look for other marvels in the water. A fallen angel in the center of the stream, or a flying bird?

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Reed canary grass conjures ice sculptures by the stream’s edges.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

In other areas along the shoreline, the ice lays on the water surface like plastic wrap on Jell-O.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Wonder after wonder. I imagine the dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, waiting under the ice for spring. I think of them, and their bright colors aloft in only a few months.

Calico pennant dragonfly (Celithemis elisa), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (undated).

Soon. Very soon.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I feel joy thinking of the dragonflies to come. And delight in the ice and snow of the prairie today. One prairie. Many facets over the seasons. Always something interesting going on.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Just think. I almost stayed home by the fireplace today, with my stack of library books and warm afghan. I would have missed all this.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

However, the fireplace sounds good now, as my toes are frozen and my face chapped from the Arctic breezes blowing through the tallgrass.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I give the prairie a last look. Then shiver. Brrrr! Despite the sunshine, the wind is unstoppable. You can feel its bite and snap against exposed skin.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Time to head home.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

I hike through the savanna to the parking lot. Will my car start? Fingers crossed.

Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Thankfully, it does. The heater full blast feels good, and as I sip hot peppermint tea from my thermos I begin to thaw. But what a joy it has been, to hike the prairie in February.

Unknown asters and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

The prairie and its wonders are out there, waiting for you.

Why not go see?

****

The opening quote is from Allen M. Young from Small Creatures and Ordinary Places. These are thoughtful essays, celebrating katydids, butterflies, bats, odonates, cicadas, mice, hornets and more. I particularly enjoyed his passages on winter. Young also revised the “Golden Guide to Insects” for today’s readers—remember those little Golden Nature Guides you had as a kid? I still have one or two on my shelf. Young is the curator of zoology and vice-president of collections, research and public programs at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Check out Small Creatures here.

*****

Winter Prairie Wonders — Tuesday, February 7, 10-11:30 a.m. Discover the wonders of the prairie in winter as you hear readings about the season. Enjoy stories of the animals who call the prairie home. Hosted by the Northbrook Garden Club in Northbrook, IL. Free to non-members, but you must register by contacting NBKgardenclub@gmail.com for more information.

Dragonflies and Damselflies: The Garden’s Frequent Fliers –— Wednesday, February 8, noon-1:30 p.m. Hosted by Countryside Garden Club in Crystal Lake, IL. (Closed event for members)

The Tallgrass Prairie: Grocery Store, Apothecary, and Love Charm Shop— Thursday, February 9, 12:30-2 p.m. Hosted by Wheaton Garden Club in Wheaton, IL (closed event for members).

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers— February 20, 7:15-8:45 p.m. Hosted by the Suburban Garden Club, Indian Head Park, IL. Free and open to non-members. For more information, contact Cindy through her website contact space at http://www.cindycrosby.com.

See Cindy’s website for March programs and classes.

*****

Bell Bowl Prairie in Rockford, IL, needs your help! Find out more on saving this threatened prairie remnant at SaveBellBowlPrairie.

A Very Fermi Prairie Legend

“I had caught prairie fever.” — Dr. Robert Betz

*******

Most people know Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, as a particle physics and accelerator laboratory. But today, I’m here for the prairie.

Interpretive trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

Fermilab is a protected government area, so a guard checks my driver’s license at the gate, then makes me a guest tag to stick on my coat. He smiles as he hands me a map and waves my car through the checkpoint. I’m off to the interpretive trail…

Interpretive trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

… to see what delights the December prairie has in store for me this morning.

Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

You might wonder: What is tallgrass prairie doing at a place where phrases like “quantum gravity” and “traversable wormhole” are the norm?

Prairie dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

So glad you asked! The prairie was the dream of Dr. Robert “Bob” Betz, a Northeastern Illinois biology professor who was dubbed by the Chicago Tribune as “a pioneer in prairie preservation.” In 1975, Betz heard that Fermilab’s then-director Dr. Robert Wilson was looking for ideas on how to plant its thousands of acres in the Chicago suburbs.

Interpretive trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

As Betz tells the story in his book, The Prairie of the Illinois Country (published in 2011 after his death), he enlisted the help of The Morton Arboretum’s legendary Ray Schulenberg and Cook County Forest Preserve’s David Blenz to go with him to meet with Dr. Wilson to pitch the prairie project.

Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

Dr. Wilson, Betz said, listened to their ideas. He then proposed the interior of the accelerator ring for planting. “How long would it take to restore such a prairie?” Wilson asked the trio.

Prairie dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

Betz admitted it might take five years. Ten. Twenty or more.

White wild indigo (Baptisa alba macrophylla) Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

Betz writes that Dr. Wilson was quiet for a few seconds, “… and then he turned to us and said, ‘If that’s the case, I guess we should start this afternoon.’ “

Interpretive trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

What vision these men had! Their dream, coupled with the work of countless volunteers and staff, has birthed this restoration of Illinois’ native landscape across Fermilab’s vast campus today.

Interpretive trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

I wonder what Dr. Betz would think if he could hike with me this morning, and see the array of tallgrass prairie plants that shimmer under the winter sky…

Interpretive trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

… which changes every few moments, kaleidoscoping from dark clouds to blue sky; contrails to sunshine.

Interpretive trail, Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

Within view of the interpretative trail looms Wilson Hall, where the nation’s most intelligent scientists mingle and confer.

Wilson Hall, Fermilab, Batavia, IL.

I think of these scientists as I hike the prairie. The future, meeting the past. I think of Dr. Betz, and his willingness to dream big.

Common mountain mint (Pycanthemum virginianum), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

The slogan for Fermilab is this: “We bring the world together to solve the mysteries of matter, energy, space and time.”

Indian hemp or dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

The tallgrass prairie is full of mysteries.

Stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

It’s a restoration, hearkening to the past, but also the landscape of our future, holding hope for a healthier, more diverse natural world. Because of the work of Dr. Betz and the people who took time to introduce him to prairie in a way that seeded in him a life-long passion for saving and restoring the tallgrass, we can continue to learn about our “landscape of home” here, even as science moves us into the future.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), Fermilab Natural Areas, Batavia, IL.

Thanks, Dr. Betz.

You made a difference.

*****

Dr. Robert Betz (1923-2007) caught “prairie fever” after a nature outing with the also-legendary Floyd Swink (Plants of the Chicago Region, first edition 1969). Once Betz was hooked, he became a force of nature in Illinois for prairie conservation and restoration. At the end of his book, The Prairie of the Illinois Country, he writes: “Fortunately, in spite of all the tribulations the Prairie of the Illinois Country has undergone during the past 150 years, its remnants are still with us. But to continue the work that began decades ago to save, protect, restore, and enlarge these remnants, future generations must make a real effort to educate the public about their importance as a natural heritage and ecological treasure…. Hopefully, what this may mean in the future is there would be a plethora of people infected with the author’s ‘prairie fever.‘”

******

For more information on Dr. Betz’s work at Fermilab, check out Fermilab’s natural areas here, and Fermilab’s Batavia National Accelerator Laboratory here. Read more about Dr. Betz in his obituary here, or in this article by former Fermi staff member Ryan Campbell here. A tremendous thanks to all the stewards, staff, and volunteers who keep the Fermilab Natural Areas healthy and thriving. As Dr. Betz wrote, it is an “ecological treasure.”

****

Save Bell Bowl Prairie!

Bell Bowl Prairie at the Chicago-Rockford International Airport is once again under siege. Help save this important remnant prairie! See simple things you can do here. Thank you for keeping this ecological treasure intact.

A Frosty Prairie Morning

“It’s possible to understand the world from studying a leaf. You can comprehend the laws of aerodynamics, mathematics, poetry and biology through the complex beauty of such a perfect structure.” — Joy Harjo

*****

We wake up to fire and ice.

Crosby’s backyard prairie planting, Glen Ellyn, IL .

Worn-out leaves are alight with dawn; brushed with frost.

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The grass crackles with freeze as the rising sun illuminates each blade, sparks of light on a frigid morning. Swamp milkweed’s silk seed tufts are tattered almost beyond recognition by the night’s sharp whisper.

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Joe Pye weed becomes nature’s chandelier.

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

Prairie cordgrass arcs across my prairie planting, stripped bare of seeds.

Prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Our small suburban backyard, as familiar to me as my breath, is transformed into something mysterious.

Ironweed (Vernonia sp.), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Tallgrass prairie plant leaves, furred with frost, take on new personas.

Crosby’s front yard prairie planting, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Seedheads bow under the weight of the cold snap.

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

The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Goodbye, November.

Queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL. See the heart?

What a wild weather ride you have taken us on!

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

What a month of wonders you’ve given us to be grateful for.

Common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

See you next year, November.

*****

Joy Harjo (1951-) is our 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States. A writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, her words are often autobiographical, and incorporate myths and folklore. Her poetry makes you think (“I could hear my abandoned dreams making a racket in my soul”). Her books include Catching the Light, Poet Warrior, Crazy Brave, and An American Sunrise. I love this line from Secrets from the Center of the World where she writes, “I can hear the sizzle of newborn stars… .”

*****

Join Cindy for her last program of 2022!

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

November Arrives on the Tallgrass Prairie

“I can no more get enough of a wide prairie than I can of a sunrise…prairie grass is vivid, as if God had just dyed it” —William Quayle

*****

What a beautiful autumn it’s been! I love the opening days of the month; it always feels like a clean slate. A time of beginnings.

Unknowns insects catch the light like snowflakes, with the native but aggressive Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) in the foreground, Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

As I hiked the prairies and preserves this week, I felt as if I was in a gallery of Impressionist art. Artist Claude Monet would have loved the tallgrass prairie and the Midwestern landscape in the fall.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

The prairie ponds are our own version of Monet’s “Water Lily Pond.”

Prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), Prairie Pond Walk and Dragonfly Landing, Lisle, IL.

What an autumnal palette!

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Subtle shadings in the grasses.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Bright pops of unexpected color.

Sulphur butterfly (Colias sp.) on the non-native red clover (Trifolium pratense), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

A few surprising fliers, late in the season.

Autumn meadowhawk dragonfly (Sympetrum vicinum), Prairie Pond Walk and Dragonfly Landing, Lisle, IL.

So many different ways to see gold.

Prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), Prairie Pond Walk and Dragonfly Landing, Lisle, IL.

An endless procession of color; from lemon to ochre to rust.

Indian hemp or dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

You can see the season’s lateness in the skeletal trees, the lone bird’s nest devoid of its occupants.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

Everywhere, seeds spill.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

The last wildflowers are in bloom.

Asters (probably Symphyotrichum pilosum or lanceolatum), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Glen Ellyn, IL.

You might hear the red-winged blackbirds singing, high above the grasses.

Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

October passed in a blur.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

How can it be November already? The big holiday season is straight ahead, with a new year on the horizon.

Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, Downers Grove, IL.

The natural world is in transition. You can smell the crisp fragrance of change in the air.

What an exciting month to go for a hike!

***

The opening quote is from William A. Quayle (1860-1925), a Methodist minister who lived in Kansas, Indiana, and Chicago. This passage first appeared in The Prairie and the Sea (1905), and is reprinted in John T. Price’s edited collection, The Tallgrass Prairie Reader.

****

Join Cindy for a class or program!

Saturday, November 5, 2022 (10-11:30 am) —Winter Prairie Wonders, hosted by Wild Ones of Gibson Woods, Indiana, in-person and via Zoom. 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.

Those Spellbinding Tallgrass Trails

“There was still a little green in the grasses, and the dry tops of the fall grasses genuflected in the wind.” —Paul Gruchow

*******

It’s the last Tuesday in October on the prairie. What an incredible week it’s been! No tricks. Lots of treats.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL. Note the squiggly marks left by a leaf miner (possibly Stigmella intermedia or Caloptillia rhoifoliella), which becomes a moth at maturity.

Let’s go for hike and see.

Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

I’m hiking close to a planted prairie kame, a mound of gravel and sand deposited by the glaciers.

Prairie kame (on the right), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

Prairie kames seem to pop up lately, wherever I hike. Earlier this month, it was a kame in Kane County. (Try saying that three times fast). Today, it’s a kame here at the DuPage County Forest Preserve.

Prairie kame, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

Two kames in one month? A welcome occurrence.

Prairie kame interpretive sign, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

The trails by the prairie are lined with tree color.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

It would be a shame to walk quickly, and not take time to admire the leaves. Look at that sumac! It’s a jeweled kaleidoscope. Change your point of view and watch the light play with the colors and patterns.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

Beautiful? You bet. This sumac is native but a bit aggressive, so a mixed blessing on the prairie. Speaking of which…look at those tints and tones; shades and hues.

Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

Smooth blue asters, a pop of color.

Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

So many asters here that I struggle to identify! My iNaturalist app says to choose between common blue wood aster, Drummond’s aster, and a few others on the aster in the photo below. I’m still unsure; there’s a little “taxonomic instability”—as Illinois Wildflowers notes—between some of the species.

Aster (Symphyotrichum sp.), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

New England asters pump purples. At least there is one aster species easily identifiable!

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

More sumac glows, as beautiful as any flower.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

And the grasses! Let’s talk about the grasses. Look at the little bluestem…

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

…Indian grass…

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

…paired with “spook-tactular” switchgrass.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in foreground; switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in background, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

Bewitching big bluestem.

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

Sideoats grama—the state grass of Texas and an Illinois native—are all at peak.

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

The seeds of rosinweed mimic the recent flowers, now spent.

Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

Everywhere, the prairie wildflowers have gone to seed. A sea of fluff.

Wildflowers, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

The winds and rain will put paid to the glorious autumn foliage this week.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

I’ll keep the images of hiking this prairie trail tucked away in my mind to delight in this winter. When the snow flies, I’ll close my eyes and remember the colors…

Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

…and be haunted by the memories…

Sugar maple leaves (Acer saccharum) on the prairie kame trail, Blackwell Forest Preserve, Warrenville, IL.

…of this glorious autumn day in the prairie.

*****

The quote that kicks off this blog post is by Paul Gruchow (1947-2004) from his essay “Autumn” from Journal of a Prairie Year. His prairie essays are among my favorites, especially “What the Prairie Teaches Us” from Grass Roots: The Universe of Home. Both books are published by Milkweed Editions.

*****

Upcoming Programs and Classes

Saturday, November 5, 2022 (10-11:30 am) —Winter Prairie Wonders, hosted by Wild Ones of Gibson Woods, Indiana, in-person and via Zoom. 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.

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

*****

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?

*******

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.

*****

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.