Back To Table of Contents| Back to Part II: Prairie Plants in Landscape Design| Glossary


Instead of traditional plantings, why not consider the use of native prairie plants in your gardening plans? Prairie plants are well suited to the soils and environment of Illinois. Consider the following before purchasing seed or nursery stock:

  • Prairie plants are perennials that do not require replanting every year like many herbaceous ornamentals.

  • Prairie plants are nearly free of disease and insects. Bluegrass lawns and ornamentals like roses and other flowers require constant care, including mowing and the application of fungicides, fertilizers, and insecticides.

  • Due to their extensive root systems, prairie plants are resistant to drought and dry conditions. Bluegrass, other turf grasses, and most ornamental plants are usually very susceptible to drought, often requiring frequent watering.

  • Native prairie shrubs are resistant to cold winter temperatures, unlike cultivated roses and other ornamentals which are killed or severely injured, especially if left unprotected.

  • Considerable variation may be found in the heights, leaf sizes and shapes, flower color, and flowering times of prairie plants compared to the monotonous uniformity of traditional plantings.

  • A prairie landscape is educational. Few areas of prairie remain in the state, so these plantings help individuals to learn about these plants which caused Illinois to be known as the prairie state.

  • Prairie plants attract butterflies and other interesting insects.

  • Prairie grasses are spectacular during the fall when they assume their russet, yellow, bronze, and orange colors. Many non native ornamental plants do not have any fall color.

  • Prairie plants, including shrubs, have ornamental features other than flowers that make them attractive throughout the year.

  • Using prairie plants will reduce noise, conserve gasoline and oil, reduce pollution, and help to reduce accidents associated with lawn mowers.

  • Prairie plantings provide valuable habitat for certain insects, birds, and other animals that live in grasslands.

  • Prairie plantings can serve as valuable benchmarks for the comparison of soils and soil organisms with sites having other uses.

    Many prairie plants, due to their use by Native Americans and pioneers, have an interesting story associated with them. Rattlesnake master was regarded as an antidote for the bite of the prairie rattlesnake (massasauga) by Native Americans who passed this belief on to the pioneers. Compass plant, a member of the sunflower family, received its name because its leaves are held vertically in a north to south plane, supposedly helping pioneers to find their way across the treeless prairies. Many others are reported to have medicinal values while others are known for the fragrances found in their flowers, fruits, stems, and leaves.


    Once you have made the decision to start a prairie garden, a planting site needs to be carefully selected and evaluated. It should be an area with good soil that is free of contaminants such as oil or tar, debris such as bricks or limestone rock, and without the potential of herbicide drift, salt spray, or any type of disturbance that will disrupt the prairie planting. The site should permit the graceful combination of the plants with physical factors such as sunlight, wind, and topography. Consider the following when selecting a prairie garden site.