“The pleasure of a walk in the woods and the fields is enhanced a hundredfold by some little knowledge of the flowers which we meet at every turn.”–Mrs. William Starr Dana
Buckets of rain have doused the prairie to life in the Chicago region. Color it technicolor green. Even under cloudy skies.
In the neighboring savanna, oaks leaf out and invite exploration to see what’s emerging. They seem to say: “Go deeper in.”
So much new life all around us! Still need a push to get outside? Here are 10 reasons to hike the prairie this week.
10. Pasque flowers are going to seed, as marvelous in this new stage as they were in bloom. Maybe even more beautiful.
9. Prairie violets are out in profusion. Not your ordinary lawn violet. These are something special.
8. Bastard toadflax spangles the landscape with white. The name alone is worth going to see it!
7. Wood betony is spiraling into bloom. Looks like a carnival has come to the prairie, doesn’t it?
6. There’s nothing quite like the smell of wild hyacinth opening in the rain. Breathe deep. Mmmm.
5. New Jersey tea—a prairie shrub—spears its way through the soil and bursts into leaf.
4. Common valerian is in full bloom this week. Such a strange little wildflower! Supposedly, it smells like dirty socks, but I’ve never gotten a whiff of any unpleasant fragrance.
3. Jacob’s ladder covers whole patches of the prairie, adding its bright baby blues.
2. Wild coffee is about to flower. Its other quirky nicknames, “tinker’s weed” and “late horse gentian” are as odd as the plant’s unusual leaves, blooms, and later, bright orange fruits.
- Shooting star blankets the prairie in low-lying, pale-pink clouds. You don’t want to miss these wildflowers! Like their name implies, they’ll be gone before you know it.
Ten very different reasons to take a hike. But I could find a hundred reasons (and not just the wildflowers) to put on a rain jacket, get out of the house, and go for a walk on the spring prairie this week.
What about you?
The opening quote for this post is from How to Know the Wild Flowers (1893) by naturalist Francis Theodora Parsons, aka “Mrs. William Starr Dana” (1861-1952), a book I have long coveted and which my wonderful husband gave me for Mother’s Day. Parsons was educated at a school taught by Anna Botsford Comstock, who is noteworthy for her role in establishing the Nature Study Movement and especially, empowering women to explore the natural world. Parsons’ life was marred by several tragedies. After the loss of her first husband, Parsons went walking with her friend, the illustrator Marion Satterlee, for comfort. From those walks, the book came about. My 1989 edition has 100 lovely black and white drawings from Satterlee, plus 25 rich color illustrations from paintings by the artist Manabu C. Saito.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby from the Schulenberg Prairie and Savanna, The Morton Arboretum (top to bottom): Rainy May day on the prairie; oaks (Quercus spp.) leafing out; pasque flowers (Pulsatilla patens) going to seed; prairie violet (Viola pedatifida); bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata); wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) in bloom; wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides) in bloom; New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) in two different stages; common valerian (Valeriana edulis var. ciliata); Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans); wild coffee from afar and close up, sometimes called tinker’s weed or late horse gentian (Triosteum perfoliatum); shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia).