“As full of spirit as the month of May… .” —William Shakespeare
At last! It’s May on the tallgrass prairie. And what weather.
Bruise-colored clouds. Bone-chilling 40-ish degree temperatures. Sleet.
Hit me with some sunshine, May. Please.
Despite the weekend weather, Jeff suggested a prairie hike in the drizzle. I admit the siren call of a good book and the warmth of the fireplace made me hesitate. But I slipped on my boots and headed out.
As always, once we got there, the beauty of the prairie and savanna made up for the weather. In the savanna, the Virginia bluebells have held onto their blooms in the chilly temperatures.
The celandine poppies are bright spots in the rain.
As we leave the savanna and move onto the prairie, I note the first shooting star.
It’s the earliest of so many more shooting star blooms to come. I doublecheck the prairie smoke which is holding its flowers nicely in the cold weather. The Xerces Society tells me bumblebees are the primary pollinators for the prairie smoke, using a process called buzz pollination. Same for the shooting star. Cool!
The size of our prairie smoke is so tiny. But it packs a lot of punch—that hot pink–for such a little wildflower.
Low to the ground, the bastard toadflax offers its pearled cream blooms to those of us willing to get down on our knees to appreciate them.
Easier said to “kneel down” than done for some of us, but it’s a good way to eyeball these spring wildflowers. They bloom right at about early May’s grass height. Prairie wildflowers will continue to unfurl just above the grasses until July, when suddenly, the grasses will make a break for the sky, and the compass plant, cup plant, and prairie dock will hoist their sunny blooms high. Next we’ll have the autumn wildflowers—goldenrods, asters, bonesets—waving tall and signaling the season’s end. But autumn seems far away. For now, it’s all about new beginnings.
There is plenty to contemplate in this newly emerging prairie landscape. So much to imagine. So much to anticipate.
Everywhere, the cream wild indigo pushes its asparagus-looking stalks through the cindered earth. It, along with the wild white indigo, is toxic to mammals, so early farmers had to ensure their livestock didn’t graze on its leaves. I admire the indigo for its blue-hued stems and the gorgeous creamy blooms that will sprawl across the prairie in just a few weeks.
Meadow rue’s distinctive leaves catch the rain. Soon, it will be almost as tall as I am.
And look at those compass plant leaves! Miniature delights.
In an unburned part of the acreage, the first prairie violets bloom.
Unlike their cousins, the blue violets (Illinois’ state flower), prairie violets have distinctive deeply-lobed palmate leaves. We don’t have many of this species on this prairie, so I appreciate the prairie violets where I find them.
As we reach the bridge, Jeff and I pause to comment on the low water levels in Willoway Brook. As if in answer, the heavens open and rain begins. I pull my coat a little tighter around me.
The rain becomes sleet. Then graupel, that tiny soft hail. Brrrrr.
It’s been a tough day for a hike. We’re thoroughly chilled by the time we make it back to the parking lot and turn the heater on full blast. And yet.
I’m glad Jeff suggested we go for a prairie walk in the rain today.
Just think of what we would have missed if we stayed home!
What will you discover on your hike today?
I hope it is full of wonders.
The opening quote is from William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act 4, Scene 1. You can watch one performance of this play here.
Join Cindy for a Class or Program this Spring
Spring Wildflower and Ethnobotany Walk—Thursday, May 4, 5-7 p.m., The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL. Registration information here. (This walk is SOLD OUT; please call and ask to be put on a waiting list) Walks move indoors for a classroom program if weather prohibits meeting outside.
Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers—Thursday, May 11, 9:30-10:30 a.m. Sponsored by the Hilltop Gardeners Garden Club, Oswego Public Library, Oswego, IL. Free and open to the public. For more information closer to the date, check here.
Dragonflies and Damselflies: Frequent Fliers of the Garden and Prairie, Tuesday, May 16, 10-11:30 via Zoom with the Garden Club of Decatur, IL (closed event for members). For information on joining the club, visit here.
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.” Number of registrations available may be limited, so register here soon!
More classes and programs at www.cindycrosby.com