Tag Archives: backyard prairie

A Spring Prairie Ballot

“Every spring is…a perpetual astonishment.”—Brother Cadfael

*****

It’s election day in the Chicago Region. After casting my vote, I’ll be ready to clear my head of being buffaloed by a deluge of ads, strident television commercials, and unwanted texts (how did they get my phone number, anyway?)

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

I’m casting my vote for a prairie hike. A vote for spring.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) with spring bulbs, Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL (2022).

What’s on the ballot today? Warm weather for starters. This past week (and possibly today) we can expect tornadoes, severe storms, high winds, hail, and a deluge of rain that makes keeping my kayak handy sound like a good idea. I plan to keep a close eye on the weather radar and listen to weatherman Tom Skilling.

Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) over Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

In my backyard pond, the first marsh marigolds open.

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

Typically, it’s the first native plant in my yard to bloom each year, following my non-native daffodils, crocus, hyacinth, and snowdrops. It’s important not to confuse my marsh marigolds with the non-native, very aggressive lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) which takes over wet areas in neighborhoods and forest preserves.

Invasive non-native lesser celandine, sometimes called fig buttercup (Ficaria verna) Willowbrook Wildlife Center, DuPage Forest Preserve, Glen Ellyn, IL.(2022)

An easy way to tell the native and the non-native apart is to flip a bloom over. The lesser celandine has three green sepals on the back of the bloom; the marsh marigold does not.

The aggressive non-native lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) on the left; the native marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) on the lower right. (2022)

Worth watching for this spring, and learning the difference.

Red admiral butterflies are usually quick to show up around marsh marigold bloom time.

Red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

I’m on high alert for the first one in my backyard. As I walk around in the mud, looking for early butterflies, I see the purple hyacinths are in bloom. Ahhh! What a heavenly fragrance.

Purple hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

But what’s this? Some of our backyard wildlife has sampled the flowers, then ruthlessly tossed them aside.

Broken stem of purple hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis), on top of the prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Ugh. Looking closely, I find more hyacinth blooms, stripped and tossed into the prairie dropseed. My eyes narrow. I scan the yard for the culprit. Then, I look up.

Eastern fox squirrel (Sciuris niger), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL. (Undated)

“Who, me?” He’s blaming the chipmunks.

Moving away from the ruined hyacinths, I check the two native spicebush shrubs which seem to have escaped wildlife damage over the winter. The first flower buds are open!

Northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Charming! I recently read that all parts of Lindera benzoin are said to be edible, including the buds, twigs, flowers and fruit. This pair was planted in 2021, sourced from Possibility Place Nursery, knowing that northern spicebush is a host plant for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. I’ve never seen the spicebush swallowtail in my yard, but I have high hopes. How have my other native shrubs fared? No flowers on my witch hazel this year, but it’s still young. Next to it, the two-year-old native hazelnut shrub has its first catkins.

American hazelnut (Corylus americana), Crosby’s yard, Glen Ellyn, IL. Note the cut stems!

But—oh no oh no oh no—the bunnies have been busy. Lots of small branches sheared off. How could you? Wascally wabbits! The writer Michael Pollan once wrote in his book, Second Nature, that planting a garden clears the mind of any easy sentiments about wildlife, and nature in general. Hopefully, now that there is more green stuff available to eat, the eastern cottontails will leave my shrubs alone.

Meanwhile, Jacob’s ladder is in bud.

Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

And look at that shooting star! The bunchy leaves are crisp and healthy-looking.

Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadii or Primula meadia), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I can’t wait to see the flowers in early to mid-May.

Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia or Primula meadia), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. (2018)

The few flowers I have in my backyard are beautiful, but they pale in comparison to those massed on the remnant prairies.

Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia or Primula meadia), Beach Cemetery Prairie, Ogle County, IL. (2022)

In the raised beds, last year’s Italian parsley is resurrecting. My parsley is an open-pollinated biennial, which means if I let it grow this spring, it will eventually set seed. I’m not sure I want to do that—parsley seed doesn’t cost much—but it might be fun to see the flowers. It’s a good host plant for black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The garlic has put on noticeable growth. However, the raised beds need more compost and topsoil. Dirt has a way of settling.

Garlic (Allium sativum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

There are some noticeable plant absences. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, where, oh where, is my prairie smoke? And what has happened to the prairie alumroot? It’s coming up, although a bit nibbled.

Prairie alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

But no sign of the prairie smoke. Fingers crossed.

Out on the prairies, charred earth shows that the site staff and volunteers have been busy.

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

The storms and showers forecast for today will quickly mist them with green. Spring is here, and on her prairie and garden ballot are a hundred thousand unfolding miracles each day.

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

You only need to show up and pay attention.

Why not go see?

******

The opening quote is from Brother Cadfael, a fictional character in the book A Raven in the Foregate. His character was created by novelist Edith Pargeter (1913-1995) known by her pen name as Ellis Peters. “The Cadfael Chronicles” is a murder mystery series set in the Abbey of Shrewsbury during medieval times, and features this Welsh Benedictine monk, who joins the order after years spent as a soldier. The books were later adapted for television. Pargeter was the recipient of the Edgar Award and Silver Dagger Award for her writing, and authored many other books outside the series. If you haven’t read her books, I’d start with the first in “The Cadfael Chronicles,” A Morbid Taste for Bones.

******

Join Cindy for a Class or Program

Tonight! The Tallgrass Prairie: Grocery Store, Apothecary, and Love Charm Shop: April 4, 7-8:30 pm. Free and open to the public. Presented by the Winfield Area Gardeners. For more information and location, visit here.

A Brief History of Trees in America: April 5 (Closed event for the Illinois Garden Council). Chicago Western Suburbs.

Literary Gardens — In Person — April 11, 7-8:30 p.m., Glenview Garden Club and Glenview Public Library. Free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Register here.

Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers — Monday, April 17, 5-6 p.m., Rock River Garden Club, Dixon, IL. (Closed event for members)

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

Spring Wildflower and EthnobotanyWalk—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.

More classes and programs at www.cindycrosby.com

February on the Prairie

“The things most worth wanting are not available everywhere all the time.” —Alice Waters

*****

When you hear the word February, what comes to mind? Ice, maybe? Wind. Sleet. Snowstorms.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Hoffman Estates, IL.

Mud? We’ve had plenty of it this year, with warming temperatures in the Chicago Region and concentrated sunshine, turning our expectations for the frigid month upside down.

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Willoway Brook, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

It’s a rollercoaster month. 50 degrees. Freezing. Snow. Spring-like temperatures.

In my backyard, hip boots are necessary to navigate the mud. As I make my way to the compost pile, swinging a container of coffee grounds and wilted lettuce leaves, the birds at the feeders take flight. So many!

Juncos. Cardinals. House finches.

House finch (Haemorhous mexicanus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

A red-breasted nuthatch snatches a bit of suet.

Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

In the evenings, the mourning doves gather on the heated bird baths for warmth, keeping a sleepy lookout for the Cooper’s hawk that frequents the backyard.

Mourning dove posse (Zenaida macroura), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Did you know a group of mourning doves is called a “pitying” or “piteousness”? What a good collective noun! I see a few of these doves now, pecking along the porch for spilled seed.

In the mornings when I replenish the feeders, an eastern cottontail leaps away at my approach. She’s been snacking on birdseed. Birdseed? I read up on bunnies, and discover they like the sunflower, safflower, and other seeds that sift from the feeders.

Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

If I look closely where the rabbit is foraging, I see our first spring bulbs are budding and blooming. Mixing these bulbs into the native prairie dropseed plantings along the back porch, where the flowers are easily visible from my kitchen window, makes doing the dishes less of a drudgery.

Crocus (Crocus sp.) coming up in the prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

So cheerful! I’m ready for a few flowers. Bring them on!

Our herd of chubby squirrels barely acknowledges my treks through the backyard. Her again. They look up—hopefully?

Eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Then, they return to their feeder reconnaissance. Lately, they’ve been nibbling holes in the finch socks packed with Nyjer seed. I didn’t think they’d eat Nyjer seed! Oh bother! as Winnie the Pooh says. Guess I’ll have to put a squirrel baffle on that feeder pole.

Gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL. Look at those spring bulb leaves!

A glance at the prairie planting across the back of the yard tells me, yes, it’s February. Everything sags. The planting is in tatters. Most of the seeds have long fallen, and the skeletal remains of sneezeweed, Joe Pye, compass plant and prairie dock are bedraggled and worn.

I leave the native plants standing for insects who overwinter and use them as temporary housing. A friend suggested that I wait until temperatures are reliably in the 50s for a few weeks before I clean up my prairie patch, for that reason. I may also cut and stack some of the old foliage to the side if a prescribed burn is in the works before then. We’ll see what weather the end of the month brings.

Meanwhile, I visit nearby prairies. Just the sight of them lifts my spirits.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

The sheer masses of native plants look less forlorn than my small prairie patches; there’s beauty in the aggregate. Snow? Depends on where you are. The snow still lingers on prairies a few miles north, where last week’s storm left a few inches behind.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Hoffman Estates, IL.

Near me, the prairie trails are full of mud, with snow left in the shady spots. But—the joy of blazing blue skies! Those crosshatches of jet contrails and random clouds.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Hoffman Estates, IL.

The smell of decay and fresh green shoots spearing through the mud and slush. The sound of running water as I cross the bridge over Willoway Brook.

Bridge shadows over Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

The clamor of birds arriving and departing, both on the prairies and from my backyard feeders.

Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL (2022).

February.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Hoffman Estates, IL.

I’m going to miss you in a few weeks when we wrap up the month. Yes. Really.

Later, as I stand on the patio, I hear something. Faint, then…Louder. LOUDER.

Sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis), over Crosby’s house in Glen Ellyn, IL (2-20-23)

I shield my eyes against the sun. It’s the sandhill cranes! They’re back!

Sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis), over Crosby’s house in Glen Ellyn, IL (2-20-23).

My pulse quickens.

Spring? It’s on the way.

******

The opening quote was taken from This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader by Joan Dye Gussow (2001). In her book, she includes the quote from Alice Waters (1944-), an American chef, food activist, and author of several cookbooks and a memoir. Waters’ promotion of organic, sustainable food choices and gardening have been influential in promoting sustainability and healthy food, especially for school children who benefited from her School Lunch Initiative and Edible Schoolyard programs. Read more about Waters here.

******

Join Cindy for a class or program!

Literary Gardens —In Person— March 7, 7-8:30 p.m.—In person. 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.

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.

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.

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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 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.

Chasing the Blues in the Prairie Garden

“Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.”—Mary Oliver

*****

August takes its last steamy, stormy breaths.

Cumulonimbus clouds.

Tumultuous sunsets send me to the porch each evening to watch the show.

Sunset.

An unexpected health setback means no big hikes for a while. Instead, I go for walks around the yard. There is so much to see.

Look at the determination of this insect, making a beeline for the blazing star.

Possibly a Spurred Ceratina Carpenter Bee (Ceratina calcarata) headed for Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera).

I like its single-minded focus on what’s in front of it. A reminder to pay attention to what I can do, instead of what I can’t do right now.

And what’s this? A Marine Blue Butterfly sips nectar in the front yard prairie planting. Earlier, I saw one of these “rare strays” to Illinois at Nachusa Grasslands, 90 miles west. But that was on a 4,000 acre mosaic of prairies, woodlands, and wetlands, where you might expect to encounter an unusual insect. I’m stunned to see this butterfly in my small suburban front yard.

Marine Blue Butterfly (Leptotes marina) on Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera).

Would I have noticed this tiny, nondescript butterfly if I was busy with my normal prairie and dragonfly hikes in the bigger preserves? Probably not. Maybe it’s a reminder that “there’s no place like home.”

Common Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) on Cut and Come Again Zinnia (Zinnia pumila).

My sneezeweed, now in its second year, is covered with winged creatures. I try my phone app iNaturalist on them for identification, but none of my ID’s feel certain. The insect world is so big, and my ID skills are so limited.

Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale ) with (possibly) Spurred Ceratina Carpenter Bees (Ceratina calcarata).

As I walk, there’s a loud chatter at the feeders. A downy woodpecker stops mid-peck to see what all the fuss is about.

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens).

A noisy goldfinch and furious hummingbird battle over the hummingbird feeder. A water moat keeps ants from plundering the sugar water. The goldfinch seems to think the water moat is his personal watering hole. The hummer wants a nip of nectar.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) and Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).

The winner!

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis).

The defeated hummingbird brushes by my head in a whir of wings on his way to the neighbor’s feeder. I follow him with my eyes. And then I see it.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) on Cut and Come Again Zinnia (Zinnia pumila).

Not a hummingbird—but a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth! Its wings are mostly a blur as it works the zinnias.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) on Cut and Come Again Zinnia (Zinnia pumila).

One of the reasons I include non-native zinnias in my backyard plant mix is as nectar sources for hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, and bees. I watch this day-flying moth hover over flower after flower for a long time, marveling at its downy body and gorgeous wings.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) on Cut and Come Again Zinnia (Zinnia pumila).

When it flies away, I check the pond for visitors. Two frogs keep watch.

Froggie love (possibly Lithobates catesbeianus).

Kitschy, yup. But they started life in my grandparent’s garden, and now, they attend to mine. It’s a connection to the past that never fails to make me smile.

European Green Bottle Fly (Lucilia sericata) on Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia sp.).

A wasp nestles into the marsh marigold leaves. For the millionth time, I wish I knew more about wasp ID. Wasps are such a large group of insects! I believe it’s a paper wasp. You can see where the old-fashioned phrase “wasp waisted” comes from.

Possibly an Umbrella Paper Wasp (Polistes sp.) on Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).

A Margined Calligrapher—a type of hover fly—rests on Garlic Chive blooms. The chives, much like my pink garden Chives, have popped up all over the garden and close to the pond. Such a delicate insect!

Margined Calligrapher (Toxomerus marginatus), a type of hover fly, on Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum).

Almost a dozen Great Blue Lobelia blooms are “blue-ming” around the water, and the insects approve.

Spurred Ceratina Carpenter Bee (Ceratina calcarata) visiting Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).

A carpenter bee seems as enamored of it as I am. The flowers are deep sapphire! So very blue.

Meanwhile, any “blues” I had have passed.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) with Spurred Ceratina Carpenter Bee (Ceratina calcarata).

An hour walking through the prairie garden has a way of taking care of that. Even if only for the moment.

******

The opening quote is by Mary Oliver (1935-2019) from her poem, “Don’t Worry” (Felicity). Although much of her poetry is set in New England and Ohio, her love of nature and ability to connect with the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives through her words transcends geography. Read more here.

***All photos in today’s post are from the Crosby’s prairie plantings and garden in Glen Ellyn, IL.

*****

Join Cindy for a Program or Class this Autumn

Saturday, September 24 —In-Person Writing and Art Retreat at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: Spend a day immersed in nature with guided writing and art workshops. Set aside time to disconnect from the day-to-day and focus on the natural world through writing and art. Sessions will explore nature journaling, sketching, developing observation skills, and tapping into your creativity. Throughout the day, you will learn from professional writers and artists, take in the sites of the Arboretum, and explore nature with fellow creatives. Appropriate for all levels. Cindy will be teaching the morning sessions. Join me! Click here for more information and to register.

Find more programs and classes at http://www.cindycrosby.com .

In Praise of Prairie Pollinators

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”—Ray Bradbury

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August arrives on the tallgrass prairie.

Summer on the Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Listen! Do you hear the buzz and zip of wings?

Black-and-Gold Bumblebee (Bombus auricomus) on White Prairie Clover, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL (2021).

The patter of tiny insect feet?

Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. (2021)

Let’s hear it for the prairie pollinators!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) Crosby’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2021)

Bees bumble across the wildflowers.

Rusty-patched Bumblebee (Bombus affiinis) on purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) Big Rock, IL. (2021)

Ambling beetles browse the petals.

Margined Leatherwing Beetle (Chauliognathus marginatus) on Common Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Ware Field Prairie Planting, Lisle, IL (2019).

Enjoy the aimless ants. Marvel over the butterflies, looking like so many windsurfers…

Orange Sulphur butterflies (Colias eurytheme), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2014).

Stay up late and enjoy the night fliers…

Beautiful Wood Nymph moth (Eudryas grata), Crosby’s prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL. (2019)

…with their beautiful markings.

Possibly Harnessed Tiger moth (Apantesis phalerata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. (2020)

Seek out the wandering wasps, inspiring awe and a little trepidation.

One of the umbrella wasps (Polistes sp.) on aster (Symphyotrichum sp.) , Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL. (2020)

And these are just a few of our amazing pollinators!

Snowberry Clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL. (2019)

Where would we be without these marvelous creatures?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) on Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL (2021)

Three cheers for the prairie pollinators!

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Long may they thrive.

******

The opening quote for today’s post is by Illinois author Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) from his classic book, Dandelion Wine. This book was required reading in my Midwestern high school English classes back in the seventies, and a wonderful introduction to his more than 27 novels and story collections.

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Join Cindy for a Program in August!

West Cook Wild Ones presents: A Brief History of Trees in America with Cindy Crosby on Sunday, August 21, 2:30-4 p.m. Central Time on Zoom. From oaks to maples to elms: trees changed the course of American history. Native Americans knew trees provided the necessities of life, from food to transportation to shelter. Trees built America’s railroads, influenced our literature and poetry, and informed our music. Discover the roles of a few of our favorite trees in building our nation—and their symbolism and influence on the way we think—as you reflect on the trees most meaningful to you. Free and open to the public—join from anywhere in the world—but you must preregister. Register here.

April Prairie Snow

“Snow in April is abominable, like a slap in the face when you expect a kiss.” –Lucy Maud Montgomery

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It’s been a delightful week, full of adventures. A few days ago, Jeff and I found ourselves in Glenview, IL, to give a talk on prairie ethnobotany for the wonderful Glenview Gardeners and the Glenview Library. We arrived early to go for a hike on the Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie.

Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

Beautiful interpretive signs connect visitors with the 32-acre remnant prairie and its community, and the more than 160 species of plants, including the Eastern Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).

Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

It’s a favorite hotspot for birders; a little oasis in the middle of Glenview.

Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

As I paused to sniff a wild bergamot seed head, still fragrant with mint, joy took me by surprise.

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

Sometimes, in the midst of development and growing populations, prairie is recognized as the treasure it is. Kent Fuller Air Force Prairie is proof that prairies and development can co-exist. We can recognize our tallgrass heritage in Illinois, and make a place for prairie in Chicago’s growing suburbs.

View from the pavilion, Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie, Glenview, IL.

On such a gloomy, chilly day—seeing what has been accomplished here—I felt hopeful for the future.

******

Sunday evening, I checked the forecast before I nodded off to sleep.

Forecast April 17, 2022.

Surely nothing will stick.

But when I looked out my bedroom window Monday morning…

A dusting of snow.

Rattlesnake master—that early pioneer of the garden and just-burned prairies—stoically took it in stride.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The non-native violas, which self-seed all around the garden, didn’t seem to mind a little ice.

Violas (Viola sp.) in the snow, Crosby’s backyard garden, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Marsh marigolds, weighted with the weather du jour, kept on blooming.

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

Tucked under the eaves of the house the prairie alum root…

Prairie alum root (Heuchera richardsonii), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…the prairie smoke…

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…and the new shoots of prairie dropseed…

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

…seemed to thrive amid this unexpected turn of weather. It’s only a little snow. What’s the big deal? I could almost hear the plants scolding me for pouting. As I type this on Monday evening, more snow is falling. I’m tempted to complain with the poet T.S. Eliot that “April is the cruelest month,” but I’m going enjoy this twist of temperatures. One of the joys of living in the Midwest is the weather. Always a few surprises. I like that. Mostly.

Never a dull moment on the prairies.

******

The opening quote is from fictional character Anne Shirley, from the series “Anne of Green Gables,” written by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942).

*****

April Events (find more at http://www.cindycrosby.com)

April 25, 9:30-11am The Tallgrass Prairie: Grocery Store, Apothecary, and Love Charm Shop with Country Home and Garden Club, Barrington, IL (In person). Closed event. For more information on the garden club click here.

Join Cindy for one, two, or three Spring Wildflower Walks at The Morton Arboretum! Learn some of the stories behind these fascinating spring flowers. April 22 (woodland, sold out), April 28 (woodland) and May 6 (prairie, one spot open) (9-11 a.m.). In person. Register here.

Save Bell Bowl Prairie! Find out what you can do at www.savebellbowlprairie.org .

These Crazy-Cold Prairie Days

“If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.” —Lucy Larcom

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I’ve been looking up words in the thesaurus to describe the Chicago region’s prairie temperatures this week.

Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Here’s what I’ve found so far: Chilly. Freezing. Icy.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Frigid. Frosty.

Big bluestem, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Piercing. Numbing. Sharp.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Biting. Bitter.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Glacial. Wintry. Raw.

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Stinging. Subzero.

Unknown prairie plant, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Penetrating. Hypothermic. And did I say…. cold?

Prairie dock (Silphium terabinthinaceum), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

And….refreshing. These temperatures are a wake-up blast that jolts you clear down to your toes. Until you can’t feel your toes anymore.

What do you think? How would you describe the cold this week?

Ice bubbles, Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

After I hiked the prairie this weekend in the snow, rising temperatures and a misty rain laid an icy glaze across the sidewalks and driveways; shellacked the front steps to our house. It looked as if Mother Nature got down on her hands and knees and buffed the snow to a high gloss.

Iced snow, Glendale Heights, IL.

Monday’s sunshine helped melt it a bit. Now everything is slick with ice. It’s treacherous out there.

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I can see my backyard prairie patch from the kitchen window. What solace! The prairie dock leaves are brittle and brown; the compass plants curl like bass clefs. Wild bergamot satisfies my need for aesthetics as much in winter as it does in full bloom during the summer. Rattlesnake master’s spare silhouette is more striking now than it was in the warmer seasons.

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

Along the side of the house, prairie dropseed pleases in its mound-drape of leaves. What a pleasure this plant is. Every home owner should have it. So well-behaved.

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

But it’s the rough and tumble of joe pye, goldenrod, asters, swamp milkweed, cup plant, culver’s root, mountain mint and other prairie community members as a whole that I appreciate as much as parsing out a single species.

Crosby backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I’m reminded that underneath the snow is a world of color and motion and growth, just waiting to happen at the turn of the temperatures toward warmth. These bitter temperatures are a necessary pause in the life of the prairie.

New prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Meanwhile, I’ll wait for the ice to melt…

Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

… and remind myself that one of the reasons I planted prairie in my yard is for days just like this one. Is my backyard prairie good for the environment? Absolutely. Essential for pollinators? You bet. And…

Grayheaded coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

…it’s a winter pleasure that warms my spirits, as I look through the window on a brutally-cold, iced-in day.

******

Lucy Larcom (1824-1893) was a writer, abolitionist, and teacher. As one of nine children, whose father (a sea captain) died when she was eight, Larcom worked with her mother to run a boardinghouse to keep the family afloat in Lowell, Massachusetts. She worked in Lowell’s mills at eleven years old, where the “mill girls” established a literary circle and she became a friend of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was a support and encouragement. At twenty, she moved with an older sister to the Illinois prairies, where she taught school. She later moved back East and wrote for such magazines as the Atlantic. Her poetry collections include Similitudes, from the Ocean and Prairie (1853). She is best known for her autobiography, A New England Girlhood, Outlined from Memory which the Poetry Foundation calls “a richly detailed account of gender, and class in mid-nineteenth century New England.”

*****

Join Cindy for a program in January!

“100 Years Around the Morton Arboretum” — Wednesday, January 26, 6:30pm-8:30 pm. Watch history come to life in this special centennial-themed lecture about The Morton Arboretum. Celebrating 100 years, The Morton Arboretum has a fascinating past. Two of the Arboretum’s most knowledgeable historians, author Cindy Crosby and the ever-amazing library collections manager Rita Hassert, will share stories of the Mortons, the Arboretum, and the trees that make this place such a treasure. Join us in person, or tune in via Zoom from the comfort of your home. (Please note changes in venue may be made, pending COVID. Check the day before to ensure you know the most current details of this event). Register here.

Little Prairie in the Industrial Park

“Don’t it always seem to go—That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”–Joni Mitchell

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What a beautiful week in the Chicago Region.

West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

An excellent excuse to hike the West Chicago Prairie.

West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

It’s been a while since I’ve walked here. The 358-acre tallgrass preserve is off the beaten path, nestled into an industrial complex. Overhead, planes from the nearby DuPage Airport roar…

Small plane over West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

…while a long, low, whistle sounds from a train going by. The Prairie Path, a 61-mile hiking and biking trail that spans three counties, runs along one side of the prairie.

I look to the horizon. Development everywhere.

West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

It’s a reminder that this prairie is a part of the suburbs. People and prairie co-exist together.

Fall color has arrived. At last.

West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

My shoulders brush the tallgrass and spent wildflowers as I hike the challenging narrow grass trails.

Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

The spent seeds of goldenrod and other decaying plant flotsam and jetsam cling to my flannel shirt.

West Chicago Prairie hiking trail, West Chicago, IL.

I stop and pop a withered green mountain mint leaf into my mouth.

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

Mmmm. It still packs a little tang. Not as intense as the flavor was this summer, but still tangible and tasty.

Wild bergamot, another tasty plant, rims the trail. A close examination shows insects have commandeered the tiny tubed seed heads. At least, I think something—or “somethings” are in there? A few of the “tubes” seem to be sealed closed. A mystery.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

Maybe seeing these seed heads is a memo from Mother Nature to me to not be overly diligent in my garden clean-up this fall. Insects are overwintering in my native plants. As a gardener, I always struggle with how much plant material to keep and how much to compost or haul away. I’m always learning. Although I just cleaned up one brush pile, and still do some garden clean-up—especially in my vegetable garden—I now leave my prairie plants standing until early spring. One reward: I enjoy my backyard bergamot’s whimsical silhouette against the background of the snow through the winter.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Crosby backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I pinch a bit of the spent flowerhead and get a whiff of thymol. Bergamot is in the mint family. See that square stem? Thymol is its signature essential oil. I think bergamot smells like Earl Grey tea. Confusing, since the bergamot found in my Lipton’s isn’t the same. (Read about the bergamot used in Earl Grey tea here.) Some people say wild bergamot smells like oregano.

It’s cold, but the sun is hot on my shoulders. Even the chilly wind doesn’t bother me much. I’m glad I left my coat in the car.

West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

If I look in three directions, I can almost believe all the world is prairie. Yet, in one direction I see large buildings and towers; a reminder this prairie co-exists with many of the systems we depend on for shipping, agriculture, and transportation.

West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

After the mind-numbing battle to save Bell Bowl Prairie in October (see link here), a trip to West Chicago Prairie is an excellent reminder that industry, development, and prairies can co-exist. Kudos to the DuPage County Forest Preserve, the West Chicago Park District, and the West Chicago Prairie volunteers who keep the prairie thriving, even while it occupies what must certainly be costly land that could easily be developed.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

We need these prairie places.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

And, these prairie preserves need us to care for them. To manage them with fire. To clear brush. To collect and plant prairie seeds. Hiking this preserve today reaffirms that we can have prairie—and development—together.

Pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

I hope future generations will look back and see we did all we could to protect our last remaining prairies for them.

Mullein foxglove (Dasistoma macrophylla), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

Here in the “Prairie State,” let’s continue to make our prairie preserves a priority. Our need for infrastructure and development go hand in hand with our need for these last prairie places.

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

Our minds, bodies, and spirits benefit from hikes in the tallgrass. I feel more relaxed and less stressed after my prairie hike today.

Thanks, West Chicago Prairie.

West Chicago Prairie, West Chicago, IL.

You’re a good reminder that prairies and people need each other.

*****

The opening lines of today’s blog are from the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Canadian singer Joni Mitchell (1943-). Listen to her sing the full song here, then read more about her life and music here.

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Join Cindy for a class or program!

Winter Prairie Wonders: Discover the December Delights of the Tallgrass! Dec. 3 (Friday) 10-11:30 am (CST): Make yourself a cup of hot tea, snuggle under a warm afghan, and join prairie steward and writer Cindy Crosby virtually for this interactive online immersion into the tallgrass prairie in winter. See the aesthetic beauty of the snow-covered grasses and wildflowers in cold weather through colorful images of winter on the prairies. Follow animal tracks to see what creatures are out and about, and see how many you can identify. Learn how birds, pollinators, and mammals use winter prairie plants;  the seeds for nourishment and the grasses and spent wildflowers for overwintering, protection, and cover. Then, listen as Cindy shares brief readings about the prairie in winter that will engage your creativity and nourish your soul.  This is scheduled as a Zoom event through The Morton Arboretum. Register here.

Hello, October Prairie

The little bluestem was exquisite with turquoise and garnet and chartreuse; and the big bluestem waved its turkeyfeet of deep purple high against the October sky, past the warm russet of the Indian grass.” — May Theilgaard Watts

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Drip. Drip. Drip.

Rain at last. A welcome opening to October! Sure, we’ve had a few intermittent showers just west of Chicago in September, but rainfall is far below normal. The garden shows it. My prairie patch—so resilient—is also suffering. No amount of watering with the hose is quite the same as a good cloudburst.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Belmont Prairie, Downers Grove, IL.

Ahhhh. The air smells newly-washed…as it is. As I walk the neighborhood, the leaves drift down, released by wind and water.

Fallen leaves, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Welcome, rain! Stay awhile. We need you.

Road through Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Dry conditions suit prairie gentians. They linger on, adding their bright color to an increasingly sepia landscape.

Prairie gentian (Gentiana puberulenta), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Goldfinches work the pasture thistles.

Pasture thistle (Cirsium discolor), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Bright male goldfinches of spring and summer are gradually changing to the olive oil hues of autumn and winter. When I see them working over the seed pods in my backyard, I’m glad I left my prairie plants and some garden plants in seed for them. They love the common evening primrose seeds.

American goldfinches (Spinus tristis), Crosby backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL. (File photo)

This past week, the dragonflies put on a last-minute show. Most will be gone in mid-October; either migrated south, or their life cycle completed. It’s been great to see meadowhawks again. Usually ubiquitous in the summer and autumn, this group of skimmers have gone missing from my dragonfly routes on both prairies where I monitor this season. Suddenly, they are out in numbers. Mating in the wheel position…

Autumn meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) in the wheel position, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

…then flying to a good spot to oviposit, or lay eggs. Everywhere I turn, more autumn meadowhawks!

Autumn meadowhawks (Sympetrum vicinum) in “tandem oviposition”, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Ensuring new generations of meadowhawks to come on the prairie. A sign of hope. I love seeing that brilliant red—the bright scarlet of many of the species. Autumn meadowhawks have yellow-ish legs, which help separate them from other members of this difficult-to-identify group. The white-faced meadowhawks have, well…. you know.

White-faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

The face is unmistakeable. Many of the meadowhawks are confusing to ID, so I was grateful to see my first band-winged meadowhawk of the year last week, with its distinctive amber patches.

Band-winged Meadowhawk (Sympetrum semicinctum), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

If only all meadowhawks were this easy to distinguish as these three species! It’s a tough genus. I’m glad they showed up this season.

Other insects are busy in different pursuits. Some skeletonize plants, leaving emerald cut lace.

Skeletonized riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) leaf, Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Lisle, IL.

Northern leopard frogs, now in their adult stage, prepare for hibernation. As I hike through the prairie wetlands, looking for dragonflies, they spring through the prairie grasses and leap into the water.

Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Whenever I see them, I’m reminded of the Frog & Toad books I love to read to my grandchildren, and the value of true friendships, as evinced in those stories. Strong friendships, worth hanging on to.

Familiar bluet (Enallagma civile), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

As we begin to navigate our second pandemic autumn, I feel a renewed gratitude for close friends, an appreciation for family, and an appreciation for the peace and solace to be found in the natural world.

False solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum),Schulenberg Prairie Savanna, Lisle, IL.

I can’t wait to see what the prairie holds for us in October.

Schulenberg Prairie trail, Lisle, IL.

Why not go see for yourself?

*****

The opening quote is from Reading the Landscape of America by May Theilgaard Watts (1893-1975). Watts was the first naturalist on staff at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, and a poet, author, and newspaper columnist. Her drawings and words continue to illuminate how we understand a sense of “place.”

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Join Cindy for a program or class!

Wednesday, October 13, 10-11:30 a.m. (CT): “A Cultural History of Trees in America” ONLINE! Offered through The Morton Arboretum. Join Cindy from the comfort of your couch and discover the way trees have influenced our history, our music and literature, and the way we think about the world. Register here.

Friday, December 3: WINTER PRAIRIE WONDERS–ONLINE10-11:30 a.m. (CT)Discover the December Delights of the Tallgrass! Make yourself a cup of hot tea, snuggle under a warm afghan, and join prairie steward and writer Cindy Crosby virtually for this interactive online immersion into the tallgrass prairie in winter. See the aesthetic beauty of the snow-covered grasses and wildflowers in cold weather through colorful images of winter on the prairies. Follow animal tracks to see what creatures are out and about, and see how many you can identify. Learn how birds, pollinators, and mammals use winter prairie plants;  the seeds for nourishment and the grasses and spent wildflowers for overwintering, protection, and cover. Then, listen as Cindy shares brief readings about the prairie in winter that will engage your creativity and nourish your soul. Registration information here.