Tag Archives: joe pye weed

Cardinal Rules on the Prairie

“The contours and colors of words are inseparable from the feelings we create in relation to situations, to others, and to places.” — Robert MacFarlane

***

Cardinal rules on the prairie in early August… that is, cardinal flower rules. Suddenly, she mysteriously appears in the wetlands. Pops up beside the ponds. Strikes scarlet poses throughout the wet prairie.

P1110632.jpg

Her spiky raceme of racy red is unmistakable.

P1110562.jpg

Swallowtail butterflies like her. The hummingbirds approve. In my backyard prairie patch and pond they hover, drawn to that screaming scarlet. Come closer, the red flowers seem to entice the hummers. Wait until you see how sweet we taste.

P1110614.jpg

Read the field guide descriptions. Showy. There’s talk about her corollas, those lips! Juicy. Moist-loving. Look again. You can’t not think of a tube of bright red lipstick; maybe a mid-life crisis sports car. This is a sensual flower, make no mistake about it.

P1110561.jpg

Read on. This plant is “temperamental.” Her ecological value to wildlife is categorized as low. But really, who would expect something so ravishing to be useful as well as beautiful?

P1110573.jpg

Although… some Native American tribes found cardinal flower roots and flowers important in the making of love charms. The ground-up roots were slipped into food to end arguments and as an anti-divorce remedy. Fitting, perhaps, for a flower so striking, to have these supposed powers.

The prairie is not prodigious with its reds. Sure, there is a little royal catchfly sprinkled around. But not a whole lot else that’s scarlet. Purples?

P1110533.jpg

Oh my, everywhere from spring to fall. White — plenty of it. Yellows?

P1110288.jpg

The prairie seems to always have something yellow going on. Blue has a voice in August.

P1110553.jpg

Pinks. Yup.

P1110611.jpg

Even pink with a little orange thrown in for good measure.

P1110335.jpg

But red… now, that’s special.

P1110601.jpg

In my backyard, the cardinal flower is elusive. Some years it blooms. Others, it disappears and I wonder. Is it gone for good? This August, just as I gave up, a few bright spots appeared around the pond.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

Because what would August be in the wet prairie without those splashes of scarlet?

****

The opening quote is from Robert MacFarlane’s (1976-) Landmarks, a book that explores the critical importance of naming the natural world.  Read a review of Landmarks here.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), Nomia Meadow Farm, Franklin Grove, IL; cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Nomia Meadows Farm, Franklin Grove, IL; cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) , Nomia Meadows Farm, Franklin Grove, IL; cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Nomia Meadows Farm, Franklin Grove, IL; cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis,) Nomia Meadows Farm, Franklin Grove, IL: blue vervain (Verbena hastata), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; woodland sunflower (Helianthus divarcatus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), Nomia Meadows Farm, Franklin Grove, IL; bee and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Nomia Meadows Farm, Franklin Grove, IL; Joe Pye weed  (Eutrochium purpureum) with viceroy butterfly (Limenitus archippus) Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), Nomia Meadows Farm, Franklin Grove, IL.

Special thanks to John and Lisa Marie Ayres for permission to photograph Nomia Meadows Farm and its restored prairies and wetlands. If you haven’t stayed at their Bed and Breakfast, please take a look: Lincoln Way Inn Bed & Breakfast, Franklin Grove, IL. The most beautiful B&B I’ve ever stayed in; some lovely prairie-themed rooms.

Factual information and some good reading about the cardinal flower came from here: Illinois Wildflowers.

Ethnobotanical information on the cardinal flower is from page 312 of Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel Moerman (Timber Press). Fabulous book! Check it out.

America’s Favorite (Prairie) Pastime

“A baseball weighted your hand just so, and fit it…When you hit it with a bat it cracked – and your heart cracked, too, at the sound. It took a grass stain nicely….” — Annie Dillard

 

For baseball fans, July means the season is building to a crescendo. So it is also in the tallgrass.

July throws out every possible pitch on the prairie: thunderstorms, scorching hot days, high winds, foggy mornings, cool evenings. It keeps you slightly off-balance. Guessing. Unsure of what the next day or—even hour—in the tallgrass might bring.

P1000581.jpg

In the prairie wetlands, egrets crouch; umpire the prairie ponds and streams.

IMG_5731 (1).jpg

Cup plants have hit their stride. Towering and aggressive–up to 10 feet tall—their cheerful flowers team up with compass plant and prairie dock blooms to splash yellow across the prairie.

P1100902.jpg

Their perfoliate sandpapery leaves catch rainwater for thirsty goldfinches and other birds. Think of a scratchy catcher’s mitt.

P1100912.jpg

Big bluestem shoots up overnight, waving its turkey-footed seed heads. As Illinois state grass, it deserves an all-star role on the July prairie.

IMG_8421 (1)

Cordgrass blooms, subtle and easy to miss.

P1100922.jpg

But with the prairie roster overflowing with wildflowers…

P1100936.jpg

…big bluestem and the other grasses are sometimes overlooked, just as utility players often are beside their flashier teammates. Just wait until October, they seem to whisper.

P1000600.jpg

Gray-headed coneflowers shake out their lemon petal pennants, cheering on the season.

P1100883.jpg

In a few weeks, their gray seed heads will become dry and brittle with an amazing scent: an anise-citrus prairie potpourri. Mmmm.

P1010939.jpg

Joe Pye weed fills the prairie savanna with clouds of pale lavender. Their floral scorecards are marked with yellow tiger swallowtails and other butterflies, crazy for the nectar.

P1100899.jpg

Buckeyes surf the grasses; pop up along the paths.

P1090612.jpg

And every prairie clover bloom seems to sport a bee or butterfly.

P1100048.jpg

America’s favorite pastime might be baseball.

But the prairie in July knows how to hit a home run.

*****

The opening quote is from Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood (1987), her memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh. Among the awards Dillard has won for her writing is the Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), a sustained non-fiction narrative about the beauty and terror of the natural world.

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): fog over the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; great egret (Ardea alba), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), with unknown bee, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve, Downer’s Grove, IL; prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; prairie blooms, author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; Schulenberg prairie grasses at sunset, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; gray-headed coneflower seed heads (Ratibida pinnata), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL;  white prairie clover (Dalea candida) with wild indigo duskywing butterfly (Erynnis baptisiae most likely, although this is a difficult genus to ID), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL.

A Season on the Brink

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” — Hal Borland

***

February’s weather roller coaster continues its wild ride into the end of the month. The weather cools. Warms. Cools again.  Mornings are unexpectedly shrouded by fog.

P1050371.jpg

Milkweed bugs emerge early. Too early? Confused, they look for their signature plant and find only the last bleached-out stands of grasses and crumbling wildflowers.

p1050383-1

The brittle grasses, defeated by winter, wait.

P1050378.jpg

There’s a lick of flame. The tallgrass is intentionally torched…

img_9328

The flames consume the last elegant silver and gold seed heads; currency of the rich prairie landscape.

p1050125

In a flash, the muscled stems and starred coneflower seed heads…

P1050106.jpg

…and diverse species of grasses…

P1050092 (1).jpg

…of the past season disappear.

The landscape changes to one of smoke and ash.

pvsburn copy

A day or two passes. The prairie, sleek in the aftermath of fire, is a just-cleaned blackboard.

P1050315.jpg

What new memories will we chalk  upon it?

P1050336.jpg

Slowly, the signs of spring appear.  On the edge of the burned prairie, St. John’s wort leaves tentatively unfurl.

P1050363.jpg

Overhead, sandhill cranes scrawl their graceful cursive flight patterns as they head north.

p1050204

There’s a fresh smell in the air. A difference in the slant of the sun. It’s as if a window is opening to something new.

P1050268 (1).jpg

We feel it. Spring.  The heat of the prescribed fire. The emerging insects. The green of new leaves. The arrival of the sandhills.

On the last day of February, we wait for it.

A season on the brink.

***

Hal Borland (1900-1978) was an American nature writer and journalist. Born in Nebraska, he went on to school in Colorado, then to New York city as a writer for The New York Times. In 1968, he won the John Burroughs medal for distinguished nature writing for Hill Country Harvest.

****

All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom):  Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; tallgrass in February, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  prairie burn, Glen Ellyn, IL; wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; Canada wild rye (Elmyus canadensis), Nachusa Grasslands, The Nature Conservancy, Franklin Grove, IL; prairie burn, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL: after the burn, Burlington Prairie Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Burlington, IL; after the burn, Burlington Prairie Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Burlington, IL; Kalm’s St. John’s wort (Hypericum kalmianum), Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  sandhill cranes (Antigone canadensis) over author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL: railroad at Burlington Prairie Preserve, Kane County Forest Preserve and Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Burlington, IL.