“To the uninitiated, the idea of a walk through a prairie might seem to be no more exciting than crossing a field of wheat, a cow pasture, or an unmowed blue-grass lawn. Nothing could be further than the truth.”—Dr. Robert Betz
This whirlwind week has overflowed with good people and natural area visits. From a wildflower program at Lowell Park in Dixon, IL, where the Rock River Garden Club was warm and welcoming and there were more Dutchman’s breeches than I’ve seen in one place ever…
…and bluebells chiming in…
…and wild ginger covering ravines, each with its jug-like flower ready for pollinators. The coloration suggests flies and beetles visit, but I discovered there’s a pretty intense argument about just who pollinates who among botanists. We do know it can self-pollinate, a great hedge against fate.
Also last week, a prairie program for the terrific Algonquin Garden Club members and volunteers at Dixie Briggs Prairie in Algonquin, IL…
…where a blue jay squawked his rusty-gate call…
…keeping me company as I hiked for a short while after the talk was over.
On Thursday, I strolled with students between thunderstorms to look for spring wildflowers in the Morton Arboretum’s beautiful woodlands.
And Saturday, listened to scientists present their findings on prairie at an all-day Science Symposium at Nachusa Grasslands on Earth Day.
Sunday, I talked to an amazing turnout of 200 supporters of The Land Conservancy of McHenry County about the prairie and its art, literature, and music. We discussed talented artists like Liz Anna Kozik and Julie Farstad who bring prairie to new audiences through their work, and musicians such as Peter Ostroushko or the Tallgrass Express who celebrate it in music.
It was a big week. I am inspired by the love so many have for our prairies, gardens, and natural areas. I’m grateful to be able to talk about the natural world, and swap knowledge with others on how best to appreciate and care for it.
By Monday evening, however, I feel a need to be alone and recharge. The best antidote to tiredness? A hike on the tallgrass prairie. Of course.
I drive to The Morton Arboretum. Most folks are out for a stroll in the Daffodil Glade, which has held its blooms through this mercurial weather week.
I cruise by, intent to reach the place I love most.
The sky is a-swoop with barn swallows, boomeranging in graceful arcs. Our “Tuesdays in the Tallgrass” stewardship season kickoff is in the morning, so I scout for work opportunities for our band of volunteers. Garlic mustard? Check.
No shortage of it to pull. I scan the front planting beds. They definitely need a good weeding after the rains this week. And yes –the prairie dropseed in the display beds needs divided—it’s threatening a take-over.
And then I spy it. Think pink!
It’s the prairie smoke. And look at that “smoke.”
Prairie smoke is a species we have lost over the years on this prairie. Our group re-planted it in 2022, and crossed our fingers.
Today is a day to celebrate!
I count the plants in bloom…one…five…ten… and more. Success. Stewardship is usually about small victories and incremental progress. Today, we made progress.
Not far away I see shooting star about to burst into flower. The cream gentian is up.
The hairy beardtongue only has its leaves but I know what’s on the way. And wow, look at that woodland phlox on the edge of the prairie. Such color!
New Jersey tea, one of our prairie shrubs, has tiny leaves.
Prairie dock’s velvet leaves belie how scratchy they’ll become in maturity.
And look—over there—the queen of the prairie leaves are up!
I reacquaint myself with the pussy toes. Hmmm. I have to consult my field guide to figure out which species it is. Each year, I puzzle over the same question. Each year, I have to relearn the name again. It’s always a pleasure.
The plant makes little silver patches across the just-burned prairies.
A red-winged blackbird calls to another across the prairie. The dying sun backlights the plants. Everything seems washed in green.
Amazing how a short evening hike on the prairie can be so restorative.
Spring on the prairie is underway.
How sweet it is.
The opening quote is from biology professor of Northeastern Illinois’ Dr. Robert Betz (1923-2007), from an essay called “What is a Prairie?” included in Torkel Korling’s The Prairie: Swell and Swale (1972). Dr. Betz is best known for his iconic work at Fermilab, establishing its prairie plantings. He was also known by his colleagues for his love of White Castle hamburgers. Betz was a pioneer in prairie restoration, and the author of a 14-page booklet Plants of the Chicago Region (1965) and The Prairie of the Illinois Country (published posthumously in 2011).
Spring Wildflower and Ethnobotany Walk— Saturday, April 29, 8:30-10:30 am at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL, and Thursday, May 4, 5-7 p.m. Registration information here. (Both walks are SOLD OUT, 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 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. Numbers may be limited, so register here soon!
More classes and programs at www.cindycrosby.com