Tag Archives: coneflower

August’s Prairie Alphabet

“There is another alphabet, whispering from every leaf, singing from every river, shimmering from every sky.”–Dejan Stojanovic

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Do you know your August prairie ABC’s? Let’s go for a hike in the tallgrass together and take a look at a few.

A is for Ashy Sunflower, a harbinger of late summer.

Ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

B is for Big Bluestem, Illinois’ state grass; Missouri’s as well.

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

C is for Tall Coreopsis, in full bloom at a prairie near you. Collecting seeds from this plant in October is an exercise in smelly hands. Such a pretty plant; such stinky seeds.

Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

D is for Dragonfly, those glints of glowing color across the grasses.

Halloween pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

E is for Echinacea, the purple coneflower, attracting pollinators. Its sister plant, the pale purple coneflower, is more likely to be found on prairies in my area.

Rusty-patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis), on purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Big Rock, IL.

F is for Flowering Spurge, Euphorbia corollata, in the same genus as poinsettia.

Flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollota), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

G is for Gaura, one of the few August pinks.

Biennial gaura (Guara biennis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

H is for Hawk, which spirals on thermals high overhead. Sometimes, a little reminder floats down into the tallgrass.

Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) feather Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I is for Indigo, now going to black-podded seed. Will the weevils save any seeds for us? Difficult to know. This pod has been ransacked.

White wild indigo (Baptisia alba) pods, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

J is for Joe Pye Weed, that butterfly magnet on the prairie’s edges.

Tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on Joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

K is for Kankakee Sands, where bison roam.

Bison (Bison bison), Kankakee Sands, Morocco, IN.

L is for Liatris, in full purple splendor this month.

American Painted lady (Vanessa virginiensis) on rough blazing star (Liatris aspera) Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

M is for Monarch, the Midwest’s poster child for pollination and conservation. Glad they are having such a good year in Illinois.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on unknown thistle, Franklin Creek State Natural Area, Franklin Grove, IL.

N is for New England Aster; the first blooms are all the buzz on the prairie.

New england aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

O is for Oenothera biennis, the common evening primrose, that staple of every farm lane and roadside wildflower stand. It’s native and occurs in every county of Illinois.

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), College of DuPage East Side Study Area, Glen Ellyn, IL.

P is for Prairie Dropseed. Love the smell? Or hate it? People are divided! I’m a fan.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Q is for Queen Anne’s Lace, that pretty invasive that is celebrated in a Mary Oliver poem and the impetus for many volunteer workdays on the prairie.

Queen anne’s lace (Daucus carota), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

R is for Ragweed, an unwelcome native. Poor, innocent goldenrod! It often takes the rap for ragweed’s allergy-producing pollen. Aaaahhhhhh-choo! Although goldenrod isn’t completely innocent. It’s a take-over specialist on the tallgrass prairie.

Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), Wolf Road Prairie, Westchester, IL.

S is for Silphiums; the cup plant, prairie dock, compass plant, and rosin weed. They are having a banner year in my part of prairie country.

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

T is for prairie Trails, that lead to adventure.

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

U is for Underground, where prairie roots plunge 15 or more feet deep, sequestering carbon. Like an upside-down forest.

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

V is for Vervain, both blue and hoary.

Blue vervain (Verbena hastata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

W is for Waterways; the ponds, streams, and rivers that cradle life on the prairies.

Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

X is for sphinX moths, which pollinate rare plants like the eastern prairie fringed orchid. Here’s one enjoying a wild bergamot bloom.

Snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis) on wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Y is for Yellow. The prairie is sprinkled with gold this month.

Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Z is for the Zip and Zag of black swallowtail butterflies, fluttering from flower to flower.

Black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes asterius), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL.

Now you know my August ABC’s. How many of these plants and prairie critters can you find on a prairie near you? What favorites would you add to my August prairie alphabet? Leave me a comment below, and let me know. Then go for a hike and see them for yourself.

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Dejan Stojanovic (1959-), whose quote opens this blog post, is a Serbian poet.

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Join Cindy for a class or program!

August 17, 7pm-8:30 pm —in person —“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Bloomingdale Garden Club, Bloomingdale, IL. Please visit http://www.bloomingdalegardenclub.org/events-new/ for more information and Covid safety protocol for the event and for current event updates.

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

New to the prairie? Want to introduce a friend or family member to the tallgrass? Check out The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction (Northwestern University Press). No jargon, no technical terms — just a fun guide to navigating prairie hikes and developing a deeper relationship with the beautiful grasslands that make the Midwest special.

Invincible Summer

“In the midst of winter  …

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I found there was within me …

 

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an invincible summer.

 

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And that makes me happy.

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For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me …

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within me, there is something stronger …

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 something better …

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pushing right back. “

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All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom):  prairie grasses, Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  prairie grasses, Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie ice, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; bison, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL;  Schulenberg Prairie savanna, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  Willoway Brook, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sky with tall prairie coreopsis seedheads (Coreopsis tripteris), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

Quote is from Albert Camus’ Return to Tipasa, 1952 or Lyrical and Critical Essays (1968) (several variations appear in translation) The first portion of the quote is well-documented; the second is more difficult to verify.  Camus and I don’t always agree, but I love this particular reflection.

A Little Prairie Soul Medicine

Ahhhhhh—chooo! 

Echinacea – the name almost sounds like a sneeze, doesn’t it?

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So perhaps it’s not surprising that the pale purple coneflower of the Illinois prairie, Echinacea pallida, is one of the three coneflowers used for medicine. Specifically,  for fighting colds.

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Two other species used medicinally are purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and narrow-leaved purple coneflower or “black Samson” (Echinacea angustifolia). I have the purple coneflower, purpurea, in my backyard garden. Pretty! The goldfinches love the seeds.

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Native Americans smeared the juice of coneflowers on their hands, then plunged their hands painlessly into boiling water or were able to handle hot items without flinching. When chewed, the coneflower root helped numb toothache pain. Coneflowers were also made into concoctions used as a remedy for sore throats and as an antidote for snakebite.

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The scientific name for pale purple coneflower comes from the Greek, echinos, meaning “sea urchin” or “hedgehog.” Take a look at the center dome. Yup. Appropriate, isn’t it?

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The Mayo Clinic notes that Echinacea sales make up to 10 percent of the dietary supplement market, but offers cautions as to results. There might be better cold remedies than this prairie icon.

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Maybe the best use of the pale purple coneflowers is as eye candy on days when the world seems like it is lacking in beauty.

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Or perhaps, the coneflower’s best use is as medicine for the soul.

Feel your spirits lift just looking at them? Me too.

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Against a backdrop of white wild indigo and bright blue spiderwort, could anything else be prettier? And yet… we could lose them all unless we continue to care for our prairies.

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As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke wrote,

…simply to be here is so much

and because what is here seems to need us,

this vanishing world that concerns us strangely —

us, the most vanishing of all.

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All photos of pale purple coneflower, Echinacea pallida, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; except garden photo of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) with bee balm (Monarda didyma, black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and gold flame honeysuckle (Lonicera x hecrottii), author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; bottom landscape photo of Schulenberg Prairie includes pale purple coneflowers, blue spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis, and  wild white indigo, Baptisia alba.

Rilke quote is from 9th Duino Elegy. Mayo Clinic information is found online: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/echinacea/background/HRB-20059246.  Info on medicinal uses and scientific meaning of the coneflowers is from Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest by Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa and Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel Moerman.