“Perhaps it is because we have been so long without flowers that the earliest seem to be among the most beautiful.” — Jack Sanders
Gray skies. Tornados. Rainbows. Raw temperatures. Rain.
What a week it’s been! Not optimal for being outside. Nevertheless, I went out for a “short” hike on the Schulenberg Prairie Monday between rain showers. Two hours later, I didn’t want to go home.
There is so much to see on the prairie in May.
Common valerian—one of my favorite prairie plants—is in full bloom.
Such a strange, alien-esque sort of wildflower! It is sometimes called “tobacco root” or “edible valerian,” and despite reports of its toxicity, Native Americans knew how to prepare it as a food source. Early European explorers noted it had a “most peculiar taste.” The closer you look…
…the more unusual this plant seems. Bees, moths, and flies are often found around the blooms.
A white leaf edge causes the plant appear to glow. Later, the stems will turn bright pink. Gerould Wilhelm in his doorstopper book with Laura Rericha, Flora of the Chicago Region , gives this uncommon plant a C-value of “10.” It’s a stunning wildflower, although not conventionally pretty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The prairie violets are in bud and in bloom, with leaves that vary from deeply lobed…
… to fan-shaped.
Cream wild indigo, splattered with mud, spears its way toward the sky. Blooms are on their way.
Long-tongued bumblebees work the purple dead nettle for nectar. This non-native annual in the mint family is aggressive in garden beds and on the prairie’s edges, but we don’t have much of it in the prairie proper.
Leaves, as well as flowers, offer studies in contrast and color this month. Wood betony is on the brink of blooming.
Queen of the prairie, with her distinctive leaves, is almost as pretty at this stage as it will be in bloom.
Compass plants’ distinctive lacy leaves are May miniatures of their July selves.
In the nearby savanna, rue anemone trembles in the breeze.
Although they won’t fully open in the drizzle, yellow trout lilies splash light and color on a dreary day.
It’s a time of rapid change on the tallgrass prairie and savanna. Each day brings new blooms. Each week, the prairie grasses grow a little taller. It’s difficult to absorb it all.
But what a joy to try!
Why not go see?
The opening quote is from Jack Sanders’ (1944-) book, Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles: The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers. The book is jam-packed with fascinating lore about some of my favorite blooms. Thanks to Mary Vieregg for gifting me this book–it’s been a delight. A similar book from Sanders is The Secrets of Wildflowers. Happy reading!
Join Cindy for a Program or Class
May 3, 7-8:30 p.m.: Dragonflies and Damselflies: The Garden’s Frequent Fliers, at the Winfield Area Gardening Club (Open to the public!), Winfield, IL. For more information, click here.
May 5, evening: 60 Years on the Schulenberg Prairie, Morton Arboretum Natural Resource Volunteer Event (closed to the public).
May 18, 12:30-2 p.m.: 100 Years Around the Arboretum (With Rita Hassert), Morton Arboretum Volunteer Zoom Event (Closed to the public).
June 5, 2-3:30 pm.: Illinois’ Wild and Wonderful Early Bloomers, Downers Grove Public Library and Downers Grove Garden Club. Kick off National Garden Week with this in-person event! Open to the public. Click here for more information.
Time is running out for a precious Illinois prairie remnant. Save Bell Bowl Prairie! Find out what you can do to help at www.savebellbowlprairie.org